2018 Buyer's Guide

Bar and Chain Oil Substitutes

2018 Buyer's Guide

Bar and Chain Oil Substitutes

by Ollie Robinson

Whether you use a battery powered chainsaw to maintain your landscape or you use a gasoline powered saw to fell trees and cut firewood, maintenance is essential for this power tool. Without proper maintenance, a chainsaw will not perform as efficiently as it’s designed to, which can not only slow down the progress of whatever job you are using this tool for, but it could also put you in a dangerous situation.

Oiling the bar and chain is one of the most vital components of chainsaw maintenance. While this power tool contains several moving parts that need to be maintained, the bar and chain require the most attention. That’s because they connect with one another on a constant basis and as such, the rate of speed that the chain moves around the bar of the chainsaw results in intense friction if these elements aren’t lubricated properly. Heat will start building up in the saw as a result of this friction, which can do lead to a number of problems. It can do serious damage the saw, reduce its efficiency, shorten its lifespan, increase the amount of gas the saw uses, and put you at risk of injuries.

If the chain on your saw is running slow or you are burning through fuel faster than usual, there’s a pretty good chance that your chainsaw is running low on oil and you need to add some, and quickly! When the chain is moving slowly and you’re burning through fuel at a rapid rate, it means there’s a lot of friction between the chain and bar. A lot of friction means that there’s a lot of heat building up, which means your saw is being seriously damaged.

All chainsaw manufacturers recommend a specific type of bar and chain oil. The recommended oil is the best option to use for lubricating the bar and chain; however, what if that oil isn’t readily available in your area? How do you oil your bar and chain to reduce friction, heat, damage, and the various other issues that can occur when your saw isn’t properly lubricated?

No, you don’t just keep operating the saw and hope for the best; you improvise! Believe it or not, there are several substances that can be used as a substitute for chain oil, and these substitutes can be extremely effective. But, with that said, it’s important to note that, similar to the chain oil the manufacturer of your saw recommends, that substitute oils be selected with care in order to guarantee that it will do the intended job: effectively oil the chain and bar so that the chainsaw will work properly.

*Disclaimer* If your chainsaw has a warranty, check it before using a substitute oil outside of the manufacturer’s recommended oil to find out if it doing so will void your warranty.

What type of substitute oils can be used to lubricate your chainsaw’s bar and chain? In this guide, we offer useful tips to help you find the best option, and suggest substitute oils that can effectively lubricate your saw’s bar and chain.

Features to Look For

When selecting substitute oil for your chainsaw’s bar and chain, it’s important that the oil you choose has specific qualities. These qualities should be similar to the oil that manufacturer recommends. The oil the maker of your chainsaw suggest are selected because they feature key elements that will effectively lubricate the bar and chain, thus reducing friction and the buildup of heat between these two crucial components of your saw.

Typically, the bar and chain oils that are recommended by chainsaw manufacturers will offer the following qualities:

  • In order for a chainsaw oil to be effective, it’s important for it to offer the right amount of slipperiness in order. This quality prevents debris that your saw comes in contact with, such as wood pieces and tree sap, from clinging to the bar while it’s operating. Should debris cling to the chainsaw bar, the function of the tool will be significantly reduced. If the debris buildups up enough, it could severely damage the saw and make operating the saw very dangerous.
  • While it’s important for chainsaw oil to be slippery, it should also possess a certain degree of stickiness. When in full throttle, the average chainsaw operates at speeds of about 40 to 45 miles per hours. At this high rate of speed, if the oil is too slippery, the chain could potentially slip right off the bar! Plus, the oil could fly right off the chain, and therefore not serve its purpose, which means that you would end up operating your saw without lubrication. To avoid these issues, it’s important for the oil substitute that you use to lubricate your saw to have a certain degree of stickiness.
  • Eco-friendly. In addition to containing qualities that will lubricate your saw’s bar and chain effectively, the alternative oil you select should also be environmentally friendly. The substitute oil should not emit dangerous fumes while the saw is in operation, and it should be biodegradable. This may not seem like a crucial feature, but it is crucial, as every little step you take to reduce your carbon footprint can benefit the environment, which is exceedingly important.

Bar and Chain Oil Substitutes

There are various types of oils available that could potentially be used to lubricate your saw’s bar and chain; however, not all oils are suitable. For example, some may be too slippery, too sticky, or may have a negative impact on the environment. With that said, the oil substitutes mentioned below offer the three key elements that were mentioned above, making them excellent alternatives for your chainsaw’s lubrication needs.

Motor Oil

The most obvious choice for a bar and chain oil substitute is motor oil. It possess all of the important features that a saw lubricant should have, it can be purchased virtually anywhere (an automotive shop, a home supply store, a gas station, or even a grocery store), and it’s affordable.

It’s important to compare the weight of the motor oil that you are going to use with the season that you plan on using it in. According to experts, SAE 30 is the ideal weight for warm seasons, while during cold weather SAE 10 motor oil is recommended.

We do want to point out that while motor oil is a very efficient chainsaw oil, it’s easy to acquire, and it’s affordable, there are people who are opposed to using it as an alternative bar and chain lubricant. This is mainly due to the fact that it is not environmentally friendly, as it is not biodegradable. That being said, if used responsibly, it makes a suitable substitute.

Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil can be used for more than cooking; it can also effectively lubricate a chainsaw’s bar and chain! Like motor oil, it’s affordable and easy to acquire (just head to any market or store that sells groceries and you’ll be able to find it!); however, many claim that it’s a better option than motor oil, as it is biodegradable, which makes it an eco-friendly substitute. Furthermore, since it doesn’t put emit harmful fumes (which is also good for the environment), vegetable oil is also an ideal chainsaw lubricant to use if you will be using the saw in an environment where cleanliness is important. And, unlike motor oil, vegetable oil can also be used to saw through hunting kills without impeding the quality of the meat.

Vegetable oil also has a very high level of viscosity, resists shear, and has a high flash point. All of these factors combined make this substance a very high-quality barn and chain oil substitute.

However, there is one downside to using vegetable oil as a lubricant for your saw: it isn’t effective in cold weather. Therefore, if you need to lubricate your saw during the winter, you should use one of the other alternatives mentioned on this list.

Canola Oil

Next up on our list of substitutes for bar and chain oil is canola oil.

Many people think that canola oil and vegetable oil are interchangeable; however, the two substances differ. Vegetable oil is made of oils that come from a variety of different vegetables. Canola oil, on the other hand, is derived from the extracts of rapeseeds only. Another way in which these two oils differ is in their thinness; canola oil is much thinner than vegetable oil, which makes it a more versatile substance. Canola oil also has the ability to resist cold temperatures and expels virtually no fumes, thanks to its low vapor pressure. It can also be used to cut hunting kills without altering the quality of the meet.

Canola oil has long been used as an alternative for various types of oils, including engine and two-cycle oils, as well as grease. It can also be used as an effective substitute oil to lubricate a chainsaw’s bar and chain.

Drained Hydraulic Fluids

Hydraulic fluids that have been drained from vehicles or machinery can also be used as a substitute for chainsaw bar and chain oil. As long as you have a vehicle or any other machinery that uses hydraulic fluid, you can easily acquire this substitute by draining it from the equipment.

Hydraulic fluid has capabilities that are much like motor oil; however, the only difference is that it isn’t as viscous as motor oil, and therefore, it has a tendency to dry up a lot faster than motor oil and other substitute oils that are mentioned on this list. In order to improve its efficacy, you can mix it with a bit of the bar and chain oil that the manufacturer of your chainsaw recommends, motor oil, or any other substitute mentioned here. Doing so will make the hydraulic oil stickier, which will make it more effective and prolong the amount of time it lasts. If you use this substance on its own to lubricate your bar and chain, you will lose it quickly.

Drained Motor Oil

If you don’t have access to new motor oil, or you are looking for a way to repurpose the oil you drain from your car, motorcycle, tractor, or any other vehicle, you could use it as a lubricant for your chainsaw’s bar and chain. Drained motor oil works just like fresh motor oil, which makes it an effective substitute for the oil the manufacturer of your chainsaw recommends. Plus, since motor oil isn’t biodegradable, using drained oil is a good way to get more use out of the product and reduce the amount of oil you are putting into the environment.

If you opt for used motor oil, make sure you filter it before you apply it to your chainsaw. Also, when obtaining used motor oil, collect it while your engine is still warm. Doing so will make it easier to filter the oil, thus giving you cleaner oil to use for your saw.

Like new motor oil, you should also make sure that the drained oil you use is suitable for the season that you will be using the chainsaw in. As mentioned above, any oil with an SAE 30 weight is recommended for use during warm weather, while an SAE 10 weight is recommended for use during cold weather.

A Mixture of Diesel Bar Oil in Sub-Zero Temperatures

If you need a substitute bar and chain oil to lubricate your chainsaw and you are going to be working in below-zero conditions, diesel oil can be effective. This substance has the ability to withstand below-freezing temperatures, and features all of the same qualities as standard motor oil, which makes it an effective bar and chain oil substitute. However, like standard motor oil, diesel oil isn’t biodegradable, which means it isn’t environmentally friendly; however, if you are working in frigid temperatures and freezing is a concern, it can be an effective solution.

How to Achieve Operational Efficiency When Using Substitute Chain and Bar Oil

If you are unable to attain the recommended oil that the manufacturer recommends to use as lubrication for your chainsaw’s bar and chain, the substitutes listed above are all excellent alternatives. However, even if you can get your hands on the recommended oil, you still may want to consider using one of the substitutes mentioned on this list. Why? – Because chainsaw oil can be expensive, and all of the substitutes on this list are budget-friendly, which means you could save yourself a good bit of money if you opt to use them instead of the recommended oil. In fact, the cost of these alternatives compared to traditional chainsaw lubricant is so appealing that many users are opting to use them even if they do have access to the oils that are recommended by their chainsaw manufacturers.

However, while these substitutes may be cost-effective, you want to ensure that they are able to sustain the efficiency of your saw. You certainly don’t want to sacrifice your chainsaw just for the sake of saving a few bucks. As such, it is crucial that you make sure the substitute you plan on using resembles the recommended oil as closely as possible. Namely, the alternative oil should match the viscosity as much as possible to ensure that it will effectively lubricate your saw’s bar and chain.

In order to ensure that that the chain and bar oil substitute that you have selected will be able to allow your chainsaw to maintain operational efficiency, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • If you are using motor oil (either new or used) or used hydraulic fluid, consider mixing it with some original bar oil. Doing so will make these substances more viscous, and therefore will allow the oil to effectively lubricate the bar and chain. If you do not have access to original bar oil, make sure that you are oiling you keep tabs on your saw and look for signs that more lubrication is needed. Add more of the substitute oil at the first indication that more is needed.
  • If you are using vegetable oil or canola oil as a substitute to lubricate your saw’s bar and chain, be sure to check the amount of oil that on the saw before you use it. These oils have a tendency to leak, and therefore they can run off your saw and reduce their ability to effectively lubricate the tool.

What Not to Use

While there are several substances that can serve as effective alternatives to lubricate your chainsaw’s bar and chain other than the oil recommended by the manufacturer, there are some substances that you should avoid using.

For example, you should avoid using oils that are not fresh. The freshness of the substance will have a big impact on its ability to effectively lubricate your bar and chain; the older it is, the greater the chance that the substance will be effected by impurities, which could potentially damage the bar and chain. Additionally, while many people do use drained motor oil that has been removed from a car, motorcycle, boat, or any other vehicle as an alternative oil to lubricate the bar and chain of their saw’s, used oils shouldn’t be your first choice. Even if you go to great lengths to strain the oil, there is no way to remove all of the impurities. As such, there is a chance that the oil will not only fail to properly lubricate the bar and chain, but there is also a risk of damaging your saw with the impurities that are present in the used oil. Used oil or hydraulic fluids should be an absolute last resort. If you are going to use these substances as a substitute bar and chain oil, make sure that you go to great lengths to thoroughly strain the fluid. For instance, you should consider straining it multiple times before adding them to the oil reservoir on your chainsaw.

Other important tips that you should keep in mind while filling your chainsaw with lubricant include:

  • Make sure your chainsaw is not on when you add oil to the reservoir. Doing so will not only prevent the oil from properly lubricating the bar and chain, but it will also put you in serious risk of sustaining a severe injury.
  • Never, under any circumstances, should you run your chainsaw when there is no fluid in your bar oil reservoir. Check the bar oil reservoir before each use to ensure that it is filled. If the level is reaching a low point, make sure you add more before you start using the tool. If you operate a chainsaw when the bar oil reservoir is dry, you run the risk of doing serious damage to your chainsaw. Remember, the bar and chain on a saw create serious friction when they are not properly lubricated, which leads to the buildup of heat, which will ultimately damage your saw. In fact, the damage can be so severe that it will render the power tool unusable.

Final Thoughts

Whether you use your chainsaw on a constant basis or you only operate it once in a while, making sure that it is properly maintained before each and every use it paramount. Of all the things you need to do to maintain your chainsaw, ensuring that the bar and chain are properly lubricated is the most important. These elements are the most crucial parts of a chainsaw; they are not only responsible for making cuts, but they also come into contact with the materials that you are sawing through and go through a great deal of wear and tear. Additionally, they operate at very high speeds. All of these factors combined can lead to extensive damage if the bar and chain of this power tool are not properly lubricated.

Generally, the best option is to use the bar and chain oil that the manufacturer of your chainsaw recommends using. However, if you are unable to find the recommended oil, if it is too expensive, or if you simply want to save money for point of saving money, using one of the bar and chain oil substitutes mentioned on this list can be an effective way to maintain your saw.

If you are going to use any alternative oil, make sure that you heed caution before pouring it into your oil reservoir. Make sure that the substitute oil matches the viscosity of the original oil as closely as possible. Furthermore, try your best to use substitute substances that are fresh and have not been drained from another vehicle. Additionally, make sure that you check the oil reservoir before you use your saw, each and every time. If you find that the oil level is low, add more – either the recommended oil or one of the substitutes mentioned on this list. But, prior to adding more oil, make sure that the saw is turned off. The last thing you want to do is end up injuring yourself or damaging the chainsaw.

By using any of these alternative oils to lubricate the bar and chain on your chainsaw, you can ensure that it will operate effectively. A chainsaw is not only an investment; it’s a powerful tool that you rely on to get a job (or a variety of jobs) done. Making sure that you maintain this power tool will not only extend its life and ensure it is functioning properly, but it will improve your safety.

If you are unsure of how to add a bar and chain oil to your chainsaw, or you don’t know which substitute oil to use, speak to someone at your local hardware or home improvement store that has knowledge of power tools; specifically, chainsaws. A knowledgeable person will be glad to offer assistance and point you in the right direction so that you can get the most out of your chainsaw.

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