What Does G Mean On Stihl Chainsaws? Stihl GEAR Drive Explained

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There are only 3 or 4 Stihl saws with the G designation and they all ended production over 30 years ago.

What does G mean on Stihl chainsaws?

G = Gear Drive or Getriebe (which is the German word for “gearbox” or “transmission”)

This means the saw has a gear reduction drive type rather than a direct drive, which 99% of chainsaws have.

Before logging chainsaws had the power that they do today, a gear drive system was a way for them to pull longer bars through very large trees. The gears slow the speed of the chain but allow the saw to pull through the wood with much more torque.

It’s an uncommon feature on what are now vintage chainsaws and hasn’t been used on new saws for decades. Besides Stihl, many other chainsaw companies also had gear-driven chainsaw models, such as McCulloch and Sears, and some of them also used G to designate the system.

Stihl G Meaning

stihl 090 g chainsaw
Image: @harrison_von_s “Very rare STIHL 090G GEAR DRIVE 106cc”

There are only a few Stihl saws with the G designation, and they are:

These are the models that are known to have gear-reduction drives.

The “G” in the model name stands for “Getriebe”, which is German for “gearbox” or “transmission”.

This signifies that the chainsaw has a gear reduction system. The Stihl 090 G, for example, has a gear reduction ratio of 2.5:1 (some sources say 2:1), meaning the engine’s speed is reduced by a factor of 2.5 before it’s transferred to the chain.

This gearing system allows these models to use a larger chain and bar than would be typically possible with direct-drive chainsaws.

Gear drive chainsaws, such as the Stihl 090 G and 041 G, are particularly effective in situations where a lot of torque is required, such as heavy-duty logging work, milling, or when using long bars for large-diameter wood.

@andrewmillson shared an 090 G on Instagram, stating:

This one is a 107cc with a 2:1 gear reduction this is where 090 “G” comes from. But still pulls hard.

The Chainsaw Guy has a video with an old 090 G. One fellow commented:

The 090G had the same engine as the 070, which is 106 cc. It was gear driven so it could pull the longer bars needed for cutting big tropical hardwoods. 

The Chainsaw Guy shared:

Since it’s a gear drive, the best bar is four foot and more, with full house chain. A three foot bar is minimum, maybe for milling up hardwoods.

A regular 090 is faster than the gear drive, but only up to maybe a 4 foot bar. Then the gear drive is best. I got this saw with a 52″bar, it looks very intimidating. I am selling it on ebay with a 3 foot bar.

On vintage saws, a gear-driven version is best for use with long bars.

Gear Drive Explanation

A gear reduction drive in chainsaws is a mechanism that reduces the speed of the motor output, while simultaneously increasing the torque or rotational force at the chain. This process happens via the use of gears with different numbers of teeth, which causes the rotation speed to decrease but the force to increase.

In simpler terms, a chainsaw engine spins very fast, but the chain of a chainsaw doesn’t need to – and indeed shouldn’t – move at the same speed as the engine.

A high-speed chain is more dangerous and less efficient. Therefore, the chainsaw needs a way to reduce the high rotational speed of the engine to a slower speed that’s more suitable for the chain. That’s where the gear reduction drive comes in.

However, gear drive chainsaws are generally heavier, more complex, and require more maintenance than direct-drive models due to the additional components involved. But their ability to handle larger jobs and more demanding tasks often outweighs these drawbacks for many professional users.

Gear Drive Vs Direct Drive Chainsaws

gear drive vs direct drive chainsaws
Image: @andrewmillson

Gear-drive chainsaws, like the Stihl 090 G or 041 G, are relatively rare compared to direct-drive models for several reasons:

1. Complexity and Cost:

Gear-drive systems add complexity to the chainsaw design. They require additional parts, which not only increases the cost of production but also leads to a heavier, bulkier product.

These factors can deter manufacturers from choosing a gear-drive design and consumers from purchasing these models, especially when a lighter, less expensive direct-drive chainsaw can meet their needs.

2. Maintenance:

The added complexity of a gear-drive system can also result in more maintenance. The gears will need to be lubricated regularly, and they can wear out over time, requiring replacement.

For many users, the additional maintenance required can be a drawback.

3. Evolving Technology:

Modern chainsaw engines are more efficient and powerful than their predecessors, and improvements in materials and design have allowed the production of lighter, stronger chains and bars. This means that even smaller, direct-drive chainsaws can now handle tasks that previously might have required a gear-drive system.

4. Demand and Use Case:

Most home users and many professionals do not need the extreme torque provided by a gear-drive chainsaw. For most cutting tasks, a direct-drive chainsaw provides ample power.

Gear-drive chainsaws are primarily used for heavy-duty tasks such as milling or dealing with particularly large trees, a niche market compared to general-purpose chainsaw use.

Despite these factors, gear-drive chainsaws still have their place in the market.

They can handle larger chains and bars and deliver higher torque, making them ideal for demanding tasks that require more power than what direct-drive models can provide. As such, they remain popular among certain professionals and chainsaw enthusiasts.

Gear Drive Chainsaws

chainsaw gear reduction drives
Image: @retroactiveantiques

Other chainsaw companies also use (or used) G to designate gear drives.

One example, pictured above, is the Sears U4G Chainsaw – another vintage model made in the 1950s. The McCulloch 1-80 is another old chainsaw from the 1960s that also had a gear drive.

Let us know if you have any questions in the comment section below, or next up, find out what R means on the Stihl 015 (it’s an even rarer Stihl designation than G).


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