Understanding chainsaw chain types does not need to be complicated.
There are only a few standard chains that most chainsaw users will require. Other types of chains are for commercial or professional use.
Different chains are available for different purposes, including uses, cutting speeds, skill levels, and safety requirements.
This guide will help you to wrap your head around chainsaw chain terminology and understand chainsaw chain types.
Types Of Chainsaw Chains
For the best overview of the different types of chainsaw chains, we recommend watching this video.
Corey Thayer, a pro tree feller, explains the different types and parts of a chainsaw chain.
He explains the basic (but important) terminology so that we can discuss chainsaw chains and understand how they work.
When looking to buy a new chain for your chainsaw, it’s always best to bring in the old one to the store – especially if you’re unsure about what you need. Most dealers won’t mind you bringing the entire saw in either.
Chainsaws are high-risk machines that need to be treated with respect and diligence. Getting the wrong chain could have dire consequences.
Another way to ensure you choose the correct chain is to check the chainsaw bar. More often than not, the bar will have the necessary chain specifications on it.
Understanding Chainsaw Chains
There are 3 main measurements you need to know when buying a new chain:
The chain gauge is the thickness of the drive links.
The drive links slip into the groove of the chain bar and come in different widths.
It’s important to have the correct chain gauge width because if it’s too wide it wither won’t fit in or not be able to run smoothly. Too small and the chain will be loose and dangerous.
The gauge is usually measured in thousandths of an inch. Common measurements include .043, 0.50, .058, and .063.
The chain pitch is the average distance between rivets.
This measurement is calculated by dividing the distance between 3 rivets by 2.
The chain pitch tells us how close together the chain links are on the chain. Common measurements include .325 and 3/8 chain pitch.
The chain length is simply the number of drive links.
The length of your chain will depend on the size of your bar. Longer bars require longer chains, while shorter bars require shorter chains. The chainsaw bar measurement is different from a chain length measurement.
A chainsaw chain is made up of many different parts.
This might more information than you need or want to know, but it’s helpful for understanding chainsaw chains.
A chain and cutter include:
- Drive link – holds chain on the bar
- Tie strap – connects chain parts
- Gullet – the area between the cutter and raker
- Cutter – cuts through the wood
- Top plate – cutting surface on top of the cutter
- Depth gauge/raker – determines how much wood is cut
- Rivet – holds the different parts of the chain together
- Body, toe, and heel – for reference
You don’t need to know all the different parts of types of chainsaw teeth, but the basics can help you to know how a chainsaw works and how to order a new chain.
Chainsaw Chain Types
There are two main types of chainsaw cutter:
As this illustration shows, a semi-chisel chain has a cutter with a rounded angle. The full-chisel chain has a square 90-degree angle.
The different types of cutters (full chisel vs semi-chisel) are used depending on the different use cases and levels of user experience.
1. Full Chisel Chain
The full chisel-chain is best for commercial use in forestry and logging.
It runs faster, becomes dull sooner, and requires more experience to sharpen (though using tools like the Granberg Chainsaw Sharpener can help). The cutting teeth are more sensitive to dirt and debris and will lose sharpness even sooner in these conditions.
It’s a popular chainsaw chain for farming, for frequent use on hobby farms, and chainsaw enthusiasts.
This type of chain cuts wood faster as it takes out larger chunks as it passes through the wood.
2. Semi Chisel Chain
The semi-chisel chain is common on home chainsaws.
The cutting teeth stay sharper for longer, are easier to sharpen, and are better for use on dirty wood.
A semi-chisel chain is less aggressive than a full-chisel or chipper chain and is less likely to kickback. It does cut slower, but for home and hobby applications this isn’t usually a problem.
3. Specialty Chains
There are other types of chainsaw chains as well, including:
- Low-profile cutters – safer to use for beginners, must be sharpened more frequently
- Carbide-tipped cutters – stays sharper longer and better in dirty conditions, though must be machine sharpened
- Chamfer-chisel – faster cutting with high-powered saws
- Chipper chain – even more rounded than the semi-chisel chain
- Ripping chain – a semi-chisel chain for cutting with the grain rather than against
Chains For Chainsaws
This is another helpful video about chainsaw chains from Yanasa TV.
Here are the important points to remember:
- The average chains from Lowes and other big-box retailers are generally semi-chisel, low-kickback chains
- Low-kickback chains are good for less experienced users for yard clean up, branch pruning, and firewood processing
- Semi-chisel chains may produce more wear on chainsaws
- The full-chisel chain will cut much more quickly but have more opportunity for kickback
- More suitable for experienced users and frequent use
- Most Stihl or Husqvarna chainsaws from dealers will come with full-chisel chains
- The ripping chain is designed for use on a chainsaw mill while held in place
Different Types Of Chainsaw Chains
Always remember that if you are new chainsaw chains and are looking for your first replacement, it’s best to go to your local dealer.
A specialist chainsaw dealer will know exactly what you need for your:
- brand of chainsaw
- bar size
- use case
Whether you are simply processing firewood or dropping trees, you need the right chain for the right job. It’s not worth taking the risk by getting the blade you think you need.
If you want to order a new chainsaw chain online and can’t make it into a store, the best place to go for advice is Facebook.
There are many large chainsaw groups on Facebook with tens of thousands of active members ready and willing to answer any questions.
If you post some photos of your chainsaw and what you want to use it for, there’s no doubt you will find a consensus on what type of chain you need to get!
These groups are great for all types of chainsaw advice, from what is the best chain and bar oil substitutes to recommendations on buying a secondhand chainsaw. Make sure you join a few today!
Some of our other chainsaw chain guides:
Or, check out this round-up of the best chainsaw sharpeners – we’ve got a range of options including bar-mounted, manual filing kits, bench and wall-mounted models.
Look after your chain and it will look after you!