Are Chainsaw Chains Interchangeable?

People who are new to chainsaws often get confused when it’s time to buy a new chain for their tool of choice. With so many brands and different types of chains, it can be hard to tell whether a particular chain will be a good fit for your specific model. 

To determine this, it’s essential to know the dimensions of the old chain and the tasks the chainsaw will perform.

But before anything else, let’s clear up one thing: 

Are chainsaw chains interchangeable? Several manufacturers produce chainsaw chains, and the different brands are not interchangeable with all models. If you replace your chain with another brand, you must know the exact gauge, length, and pitch of the old chain. Installing the wrong chain can result in bodily injury or damage to the machine.

Like all cutting tools, chainsaws become dull after frequent use, and if you fail to sharpen or replace the chains, you can damage the saw and possibly incur injuries. The length of chainsaw bars can vary from 6” to over 32” long. However, your choice of chains will vary depending on whether you have an electric or gas-powered model. Electric chainsaws are more suitable for smaller jobs and are not as powerful as gas-powered machines.

Understanding How Chains Differ Between Chainsaw Types

Before you take measurements to determine the appropriate chain replacement, you have to match the chain to the type of chainsaw. The chains available differ depending on whether you own an electric model or a gas-powered one.

Electric Chainsaws

Electric chainsaws are ideal for homeowners who use these machines for softwood pruning and tree felling. Electric models generally have shorter bars and are lighter and easier to handle. Besides the chain sizes, the most significant difference between an electric saw and a gas-powered saw is the power output.

Electric saws are not as powerful as gas-powered saws and cannot be used for heavy tasks like cutting hardwood or ripping logs into planks. If you want a saw to perform substantial work for several hours continuously, you should invest in a gas-powered saw.

If a specific chain is for electric chainsaws, it should be clearly indicated on its cover. You can always ask the seller if you aren’t sure. 

Gas-Powered Chainsaws

From simple pruning tasks to clearing a large group of hardwood trees, gas-powered chainsaws can accomplish any job with ease. For use around the yard, smaller models are more suitable than the large saws used by lumberjacks. Gas-powered saws, with a high-power output, can complete more tasks than electric models.

The chains for this type of saw are more robust, making them appropriate for heavier tasks. 

Measuring for Length and Pitch

If you own a new chainsaw, you can check the saw’s bar for the chain replacement dimensions. The information is stamped near the front of the saw’s bar and contains all the relevant specifications to replace the chain. 

However, frequent use will cause the stamp to fade, and eventually, it can become unreadable.

It won’t be easy to read the dimensions from this bar.

The first measurement you need to take is the chainsaw’s bar length. Measure the bar from the base of the body to the end of the cutting tip. Round to the nearest inch if you do not come up with a whole number. If the bar measures 13 ¾ inches, you can round the number to 14 inches.

Next, you need to determine the saw’s pitch. The pitch, also known as the chain size, is the distance between the saw’s links. Measure from the first rivet to the third rivet and divide the result by 2. The most common pitch measurement for chainsaws is ⅜ inch.  

The last measurement you need is the saw’s gauge. The gauge is the width of the saw’s bar groove. You can quickly determine the gauge by using a penny, dime, and quarter. Before inserting the coins into the bar groove, clean the groove by removing debris with a flat-head screwdriver.

The coin that fits into the bar groove, without being forced, determines the gauge. The coin’s circumference will give you the correct gauge, and the following chart displays the gauge sizes that correspond to the coins.

Coin Gauge (in inches)
Penny .058
Dime .050
Quarter .063

What Specialized Chains Are Available for Chainsaws?

Now that we know the dimensions of the chain we need, it’s time to dive into the various chain types that are available. 

In the last twenty-five years, engineers have developed specialized chains to perform specific tasks. Specialty chains are an improvement over the standard factory-installed chains because they are lighter and cut wood faster.

Ripping Chains

The most expensive type of chain is the ripping chain. Unlike other chains, the ripping chains cut along the wood’s grain rather than against it. It can perform cleaner, more precise cuts and is designed for milling logs into planks.

In comparison to other chain types, ripping chains use blades that cut at a lower angle. Typically, standard chains cut at a 30° angle, and ripping blades cut at a 10° angle. These specialized blades cut smaller pieces of wood from the lumber and can produce cleaner, even planks.

The OREGON 72RD072G ripping chain (buy on Amazon) is a good example of this type. 

Low-Profile Chains

For owners of electric chainsaws, the low-profile chains are an ideal choice. Low-profile chains are lighter than standard chains, and their lower height produces a shallower cut. The design allows low-horsepower electric models to cut faster (due to the lower weight) than conventional chains.

Another advantage low-profile chains have over standard ones is their ability to cut without placing stress on the saw’s motor. The lighter design is easier on the motor and can decrease the time you spend maintaining or repairing the saw.

For an affordable price, you can install a low-profile chain that quickly removes small limbs for pruning tasks. However, if your saw is designed for chains composed of more than 72 links, you cannot use a low-profile chain.

The OREGON 91VXL062G low profile chain (buy on Amazon) would be a good example of this type. 

Narrow Kerf Chains

As the name suggests, narrow kerf chains have narrower blades. Like the low-profile chains, narrow kerf chains are suitable for electric chainsaws. The chains produce narrow cuts, and their lightweight design is ideal for low-horsepower models.

One advantage of the narrow kerf design over the standard configuration is the improved safety feature. Narrow kerfs have a low-kickback design that is optimal for inexperienced users or homeowners who use chainsaws less frequently.

The Oregon 95TXL066G (buy from Amazon) comes to mind when thinking about this type.

What Types of Cutters Are Available for Chainsaw Chains?

The type of cutters available on chains is divided into two groups. This includes full chisel chains and semi-chisel chains.

Full Chisel Chains

For professional lumberjacks, construction workers, and landscapers, full chisel chains are highly recommended. The blades on the chains are square-shaped with sharp tips that mow through limbs with speed and efficiency.

Although they make quick work of any task, the full chisel chains are not suited for inexperienced users. For beginners, semi-chisel chains are a better choice.

Semi Chisel Chains

For small cutting chores, semi-chisel chains are a perfect choice. Unlike the full chisel chains, the blades of semi-chisel chains are rounded and take longer to become dull. The most significant advantage of semi-chisel blades is their resistance to dirt and debris.

Since semi-chisel chains require less maintenance or sharpening, they are ideal for a casual user or homeowner.

What Materials Are Chains Composed Of?

The three materials used to manufacture chains include chrome, carbide, and diamond. Chrome tipped chains are usually factory-installed, but carbide and diamond tips are used for specialized tasks.

Chrome Tips

The chrome-tipped blades are the most common and least expensive type of chain material. Most lumber-cutting tasks are performed with chrome tips. Both full chisel and semi-chisel chains use chrome, and unless you have to saw through extremely hard or durable materials, a chrome chain is all you need.

Carbide Tips

Carbide tips are suitable for sawing through hard materials and are helpful to rescuers and first responders who need a durable blade to cut through frozen lumber, rooftops, and waterlogged wood that cannot be cut with a chrome chain.

Carbide chains are more durable and take longer to dull than chrome blades. Another advantage of carbide chains is their resistance to high temperatures. Heated materials tend to soften the chrome tips and render them ineffective, but carbide chains can cut through hot substances without a reduction in performance.

Diamond Tips

The most robust and expensive chains are made with diamond tips. However, the chains are not designed to cut softer materials like tree limbs or lumber. Diamond chains are suited for powerful, high-end machines that cut through solid rocks and concrete.

Most homeowners will not have much use for a diamond-tipped chain.

Closing Remarks

Chainsaw chains come in a variety of sizes and blade configurations. When choosing a new chain, remember to check your saw’s specifications to ensure the chain will fit appropriately. A chain that hangs loosely on the bar is unsafe and can permanently damage your saw.

Always choose a chain that fits the task you’re performing. 

Peter Toth

Hi! I'm Peter, the owner of BackyardGadget. Working around the house has always been a big part of my life. I've created this site to share my experience, and to help people choose the right tools for the job. Thank you for stopping by!

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