Electric chainsaws are a popular choice among homeowners. They are a great alternative to gas-powered chainsaws, and have some distinct advantages over them. Electric chainsaws are more eco-friendly, lightweight, and are cheaper to operate. One of the questions new chainsaw users ask me is whether they need oil to run or not.
It is well known by most people that gas-powered chainsaws need oil to operate. But does that apply to electric chainsaws too?
Do electric chainsaws need oil? Electric chainsaws need oil for lubrication and protection of the chain and guide bar. The oil dripped on the guide bar is protecting it from damage and overheating. Unlike gas-powered chainsaws that need fuel mixed with oil, electric chainsaws do not need oil as a fuel component.
There is no getting around the fact that you will need oil for your chainsaw whether it’s electric or not. Of course there is more to it than that, so let’s take a more in-depth look.
Why do chainsaws need oil?
To better understand why chainsaws need oil in the first place, we need to make a few important distinctions between bar oil and the oil used in the fuel mix.
Oil maintains and extends the engine’s lifespan
Gas-powered chainsaws have 2-stroke engines that need oil mixed in their fuel to operate. This is done as a way to maintain the temperatures of the engine within “healthy” ranges by lubricating the pistons and the crankcase during the engine’s operation.
For example, if you try cutting something with your gas-powered chainsaw while it is running on raw gas (and no oil added to it), then chances are the engine will overheat and break in a few minutes. I previously wrote an article about the possible causes of a chainsaw overheating where I go into detail about this problem – you can read it here.
In comparison, electric chainsaws don’t have a gas-powered engine. They are run by an electric motor which uses only electricity as its power source. As a result, it doesn’t need any fuel or oil.
Bar oil protects and lubricates the guide bar and chain
The other main purpose of oil is lubricating and extending the lifespan of the guide bar and chain. Both types of chainsaws operate the same way on a fundamental level, so the chain and guide bar always needs to be adequately supplied and lubricated with oil regardless of what type of chainsaw you use.
Is there a difference between bar oil and motor oil?
The short answer is yes. They are different in both their function and composition. Let’s see what these are!
Motor oil characteristics
This kind of oil has one main characteristic that is important to understand – namely its viscosity (or weight) grade. The viscosity of the oil describes its properties and how well it flows in different temperatures. The most widely used oil viscosity grades are typically between 50, 40, 30 or lower in some instances.
The higher the viscosity number of the oil, the stickier and thicker it is. And the thicker the oil, the more protection it offers, generally speaking, against friction and heat. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you always want to use a thicker oil. Sometimes you need to use oil with lower viscosity.
What is unique to motor oils is that they can have multiple viscosity levels. The reason for this is that when the temperatures are low (during the winter, and while the engine is cold), you need an oil that has a lower viscosity.
A thicker oil during the winter is not going to offer much protection to the engine. For example, you may want a low viscosity of 5W which once heated will act as 30 (hence why you will see 5W30 on some oils).
Chain and bar oil characteristics
As I’ve said before, the purpose of bar oil is to lubricate and protect both the chain and guide bar.
And to actually do this it needs to be able to stick to the chain and not fly right off once you turn the chainsaw on.
Because of that bar oil is usually thicker and much stickier. Also, you may not be able to find any viscosity grading for it. However, a bottle of bar oil is going to be rated for either winter or summer use.
Since the bar oil is not going to be used in the same kind of environment as the motor oil (within the closed environment of an engine), it is typically single viscosity.
- During the summer, when the temperatures are generally high, this makes the oil thinner. If the oil is too thin, it will just fly off the chain as a result of the high speeds it runs at.
- And during the winter when the temperatures can get much lower, the oil tends to become thicker. If the oil is too viscous, it may not be able to flow well and offer adequate protection against friction and damage to the chain.
Using the wrong kind of oil for the guide bar can result in inadequate lubrication and damage to the chainsaw. Also, if you use the wrong type of oil it may start leaking from your chainsaw’s guide bar even when you aren’t using it – I have written an article about this phenomenon, you can check it out here.
Are there any alternatives for bar oil?
So far, I have covered the fact that two different types of oil can be used with the chainsaws, and that the motor oil is not the same as the bar and chain oil.
One of the downsides to bar oils is that they need to be frequently refilled depending on how often you use the chainsaw, the temperature, and so much more. And when we take into account the fact that bar oil can be rather expensive for some people (depending on the manufacturer), the cost can add up pretty quickly.
So naturally, you may be interested in what alternatives you can use.
But let me say this beforehand: I do not recommend any of these, and later I’ll explain why. The reason I decided to include them anyway is that sometimes you may need your chainsaw immediately – like in the case of a tree falling on your house during a storm – and in cases like that, a bad oil is better than no oil at all. Anyway, here we go:
Regular motor oil isn’t that good for this purpose because it doesn’t have the tackiness and stickiness that the bar oil possess. It simply won’t be able to provide adequate protection and lubrication in the long run.
But if you are in a pinch, it can be used if you don’t really have any other choice. Motor oil with a viscosity of 30 or 40 is generally considered an okay-ish alternative.
However, make sure you use clean oil that has not been used before. Used oils will have tiny metal particles, dust, or dirt that may damage your chain and guide bar. Additionally, you may need to keep an extra eye on the oil level in the chainsaw as you may generally end up using a lot more oil than you usually do.
Creative people have realized that vegetable oil can also be used as a lubricant for chainsaw chains. One of the most popular types of vegetable oil used for this is canola oil which has shown to provide better lubrication and tackiness compared to petroleum-based oils.
However, vegetable oil does have its downsides too. It tends to be thinner, harder to spot, and it is susceptible to oxidation.
A word of caution
This all may sound very good in theory. However, manufacturers often do not recommend the use of alternatives to the standard bar oils. More often than not, the use of an alternative oil may lead to the manufacturer voiding the warranty on your chainsaw.
Because of that, I do NOT recommend using any of these alternatives. The chainsaw has been designed to be used with a specific bar oil, which will keep the chain adequately lubricated and protected against friction.
If you use the recommended type of oil, you can be sure that the manufacturer will honor the warranty in case something unexpected happens to your chainsaw.
You can find more information about the recommended oil for your chainsaw in the users manual that came with it.
Is it normal for oil to come out of the chain?
While you are using your chainsaw, the chain will be continuously lubricated with oil. That way, the chain will run and cut smoothly, it will be more efficient while cutting, and the chain teeth will stay sharp for longer. Due to the high speeds the chain runs at it is normal for some oil to fling off the tip of the chain.
The actual amount of oil that will be lost this way depends on the viscosity and the outside temperature. Using the right oil for the right circumstances is recommended as this will reduce the oil output. For example, using a thinner oil (with lower viscosity) during the summer will result in higher output, and you will use more oil than necessary.
If you think your chainsaw is leaking oil, check out this article I wrote on the subject!