Can motor oil be used for chainsaw bar oil?
Yes, you can use motor oil as a bar and chain oil substitute, but it’s not as good as conventional bar oil. Some guys use motor oil exclusively and haven’t had any problems, but others share negative experiences.
These are the pros and cons of using motor oil as a bar and chain lubricant for chainsaws.
Motor Oil As Bar And Chain Oil
There’s no right answer to whether or not you should or should not use motor oil as a bar oil – some guys do and some guys won’t.
However, one thing is for sure. If you have run out of bar oil and need something – anything – motor oil is fine. It’s not going to hurt your chainsaw as long as it’s clean. The same goes for vegetable oils.
Keep in mind that it may break your chainsaw warranty to use non-recommended lubricants, but no one is going to know if you do it once or twice.
Here are some comments from guys who have used motor oil, before we hear from those who haven’t or will no longer. The comments come from this thread in the Stihl Chainsaw FB group (you’ll need to be a member). The post is pictured above and, as you can see, it got 916 comments which are full of great advice and thoughts.
Pros Of Using Motor Oil For Bar Oil
David asked, “Anyone else run used motor oil for bar oil?” and these are some of the best responses.
Comments FOR using motor oil as bar oil:
- Been doing it for years with no problems. My dad did his entire life… modern oilers don’t handle it well though.
- Yeah, I use to use it all the time but found it a little bit thin. It’s fine, but you run through more of it.
- I ran it in a clapped-out Homelite and a Skilsaw brand chainsaw. That was it. I was poor.
- New oil is very expensive here in the Philippines. Everyone uses used motor oil.
- It’s ok but just watch out it can blow the oiler up as there might be metal filings it the waste oil.
- My dad used to only use used motor oil and he had more hours on his saws than a lot of loggers.
- I used brake fluid all year last year cause of the pandemic. It works great.
- Used to run motor oil in cold weather, but I quit working in cold weather so now I just use regular bar oil.
- My uncle ran used motor oil for in his saws for 30 years and never had a problem.
- I use used motor oil. No problem at all – strain it and you will be fine. Not being cheap just smart. Never had an issue in 23 years.
- I’ve never run used motor oil or bar lube. But I have used clean motor oil a couple of times when I’ve been halfway through a job and run out of chain and bar lube.
- I worked with a commercial tree crew, the guys used spent engine oil for bar oil if there was nothing left. Always worked just fine. It’s better than no oil.
And these are some longer positive comments:
I was adding up experience between myself, my dad, and my brother, and we have over 100 years of experience logging in Idaho and using USED motor oil with no issues…
Bar and chain oil is cheap when you use a gallon a year but when you go through a gallon every couple of days it adds up. I heard some companies your way are starting to use Canola with good results. I tried it myself and it smells good.
Of course, dealers and manufacturers won’t recommend it. That would be like me in the wood industry talking people into building a concrete house. That doesn’t make motor oil bad for your chainsaw though.
It’s not the point of saving money. It’s a point of… If you have some lightly used oil, why waste it?
I service home standby generators. I pull the oil out of those sometimes after it’s not had much use. The oil is totally clean looking with no impurities that is noticeable.
I think an honest answer to the question would be “depending on how much you use the saw.” To the guy that asked the question, he probably only does a total of a cord of wood a year.
How many of you have ever Fallen Timber for more than a few months?
I fell Timber and a lot of old-growth Timber – been at that for years and I used used motor oil often and I still got the same chain wear and bar wear which is all you’re dealing with anyway.
Every now and then I’d buy some bar oil and mix it so I got a little better viscosity out of it. But if you look at all the pictures of all of those old loggers that felled timber for 30 plus years in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, I got news for you that was used motor oil they were using. And they felled millions and millions of board feet of Timber with it.
It has nothing to do with being cheap!
If you pulled it out of your $10,000 car engine and it was protecting it, it will protect a bar. I’ve used it for over 30 years and have never had a bar or tip go bad.
Stop and think. The bar oil you pay $10 – $15 a gallon for is just cheap oil with stp added to make it sticky. In reality a chain spins so fast that nothing will stick. The drivers are the only thing that needs oil and used oil meets that need quite well.
And lastly, Joey said:
I only use it in everyone else’s saws…
Which might be the way to go!
Cons Of Using Motor Oil For Bar Oil
These are the less positive comments in response to the post asking “Anyone else run used motor oil for bar oil?”
It’s safe to say these guys are anti-motor oil for chainsaw bar oil.
Comments AGAINST using motor oil as bar oil:
- I would run it if I hated my chainsaws and the environment.
- No motor oil is too thin.
- Never unless I’m in a huge bind.
- “VISCOSITY”. Only bar oil has it. Essentially required for longer chain life.
- I would only give it something good to eat.
- It’s no good and will ruin the cap seals as well.
- Nope! Used motor oil is full of carcinogens, it gets vaporized and you breathe it in. Not a good plan.
- When the saw gets hot the oil does not lube the bar and chain very well.
- I use used motor oil. If it has been protecting a $10,000 car engine it will protect my $100 bar and chain when drained.
- You’ll have a viscosity problem. It may also have contaminants that might add to wearing problems on your bar and chain.
- Never, doesn’t have tackiness left to adhere well to the bar and chain. Also, small bits of metal will wear out the oiler as well as increase wear on the chain and bar.
- Great way to wear out bars faster especially the cheap ones nowadays. It will make your saw run hotter too as the bar is hotter with no lube.
- Wow, I would never. Good equipment should always be looked after. They last longer and they make enough money to not have to use junk.
And these are some longer negative responses:
No, all those carbon deposits from used oil can plug up your oiling system. If it will no longer lubricate your car, what makes you think it will lubricate your chainsaw bar.
Bar lubricants also contain additives to keep the oil on the bar called tackiness. You can get a gallon of good bar lubricant from Home Depot for about $10 a gallon – Echo Premium bar lubricant.I use it in all of my saws.
Never do that it is a very different oil from bar and chain oil.
Regular engine oil does not have enough tackiness to properly stick to the bar and chain and provide adequate lubricity. It will cause your bar and chain to wear out prematurely. Always use proper bar and chain oil because the cost of replacing a bar and chain isn’t worth the difference of using the proper bar and chain oil.
Also use a good brand bar and chain oil such as Echo, Stihl, or Husqvarna. Stay away from the cheap big box store stuf. I have worn out the bar and chain prematurely on my personal Stihl 039 by using cheap bar and chain oil. The way to get the best life out of a bar and chain is to make sure you use a high quality bar and chain oil and stay away from standard engine oil.
Some use motor oil andsome don’t. It’s a BAD idea for many reasons.
- It’s filthy,
- It’s hazmat,
- It’s not designed for it,
- It’s got metal files in it,
- It’s too thin and flies all over,
- It’s too thin and runs all over the saw and wherever you store it after you’re done working.
It’s too dirty and can cause cancer with skin contact. Sump oil is a well known carcinogen with skin contact. Clean oil not a problem.
No no no no and no again! Motor oil for bar oil is crappy. Full of metal particles with no oiling properties left and full of carcinogenic crap, not to mention wearing out bar chain and oiler!
I did years ago when I was young and dumb.
You would have to see the wear on my Bar to see how bad used oil for bar oil is. Its not just what it does to the bar, it’s what it is doing to the engine on the heat generated by the friction.
Don’t use anything but BAR OIL.
Using Motor Oil As Chainsaw Bar Oil
These are only a fraction of the 900 comments in the thread I linked to above.
You can go WAAAAY deeper if you’d like to and add your own thoughts there. I think the response shocked the guy who asked the question as well.
Ok I’m finally getting a chance to read and respond.
All we use anymore is motor oil; that and hydraulic oil. We used bar oil for years and maybe gained around an extra month out of a bar. We replace the chains once a week and a bars around 2-3 months.
Figure it up using 2 gallon of bar oil a week that’s around $20 a week that’s $80 a month. The bar only cost $49.
As far as saying it’s rough on your saw. We replace our saws at around a year old. Selling half a million dollars worth of white oak a year. That $1100 saw has done it’s job. You people act like it’s a $60,000 pickup!
Used motor oil is free. We also use it in our knuckle boom buck saw!
As you can imagine, there were plenty of responses to that.
One, by Byron, said:
So using your argument if the saw is cheap why care about the cheap oil but use the product for the job and pollute less. With 500,000 in oak sales a year what’s $1000 in a bio oil designed for the job?
Or even better buying a drum of it. And you can get for $5-6 a gallon so I understand it’s a savings but is it worth it if you’re saying the other expenses don’t really mean anything.
But it goes on and on for hundreds of comments – some which are worth reading!
Personally, I only use regular bar and chain oil in all of my chainsaws. That’s what’s being poured into the 011 at the very top of this article. But I’m not using them all day every day. They are just firewood saws for my family’s firewood needs each year.
Overall, after reading hundreds of comments (from other threads as well), I would say stick with bar oil. But about 50% of you aren’t going to agree with me, and that’s totally OK. We’ve all got to make up our own minds on this one!