2018 Buyer's Guide

Chainsaw Chain Types

2018 Buyer's Guide

Chainsaw Chain Types

by Ollie Robinson

Of all the components of a chainsaw, the chain is one of the most important. Without it, the saw would not be able to make the fast and powerful cuts that it is designed to make. As you would expect, each time you use your chainsaw, the chain becomes worn as a result of regular wear-and-tear. When the chain is excessively worn, it will impact the efficiency and the safety of the saw. That’s why it’s extremely important to keep tabs on the chain on your saw and replace it when you start to notice signs that indicate it is wearing.

What are some of the signs that indicate your chainsaw’s chain needs to be changed? If it’s not cutting properly, it if seems to be struggling to make the cuts that it used to, or if it isn’t providing the same results that it once did, it’s time to change out the chain. Sure, you can sharpen the blades on the chain, but that can be a cumbersome and hazardous task, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience.

You might assume that changing your chainsaw’s chain is a pretty straightforward task; however, in reality, it’s a bit more involved than you might think. Why? – Because all chainsaw chains are not created equal. In other words, there are several different types of chains. Each type is intended for different uses, and as such, offers different results. Therefore, if you want to make smooth and even cuts with your saw, you aren’t going to want to use a chain that produced ragged cuts.

How can you tell which chainsaw chain you should purchase for your needs? In this guide, we discuss the different types of chainsaw chains so that you can choose an option that will yield the most effective – and safest – results.

Types of Chainsaw Chains

Believe it or not, there are several types of chainsaw chains. As mentioned, each type performs differently and is intended to for different purposes. Below, we discuss the different types of chainsaw chains, how they work, and what they are best used for.

Full Chisel Cutters

Full chisel cutter chainsaw chains feature teeth that have squared off corners, making them highly efficient for cutting at high speeds. They are best used for cutting hardwoods and when the smoothness of the cut isn’t important. For example, they are ideal for cutting down trees, sawing off tree limbs, and cutting firewood. However, while they are very powerful and capable of cutting at high speeds, there are some drawbacks to a full chisel chainsaw chain. First off, they are not the most durable chain and as such, they cannot withstand cutting woods in tough environments, such as dirty wood. Secondly, as mentioned, they are not ideal for making smooth cuts, so they are not best for softwoods or for creating use when the smoothness of the cut is important. Lastly, there is a high risk of kickback when using a full chisel chainsaw chain, which is due to the fact that they operate at such high speeds and they do not contain the safety elements that other chains feature.

To sum it up, if you are going to be felling trees or cutting hardwoods, a full chisel chain can be a great option, as it cuts quickly and is very powerful. However, avoid using this type of chain in cutting environments that would be considered “rough”, such as dirty wood. Also, make sure that you take the necessary precautions and are always aware of kickback, as it can easily occur with this type of chain.

Semi Chisel Cutters

Next up, there is the semi-chisel cutter. Unlike full chisel cutter chains which feature teeth with squared corners, the teeth on semi-chisel cutter chains have rounded edges. These chains cut slower than full chisel chainsaw chains, so they may not be the best choice if you need to saw quickly; for example, when you are cutting firewood. However, while the semi chisel chain cuts slower, it does offer some notable advantages.

Semi chisel cutters have the ability to handle softwoods with ease, thanks to the rounded edges of the teeth. They can also handle cutting through various types of woods, including dirty, frozen, and dry woods; in other words, they can be used in “rough” cutting environments, while full chisel cutters cannot. These chainsaw chains are also highly durable; in fact, they are much more durable than full chisel chains. Semi chisel chains are also able to create smoother cuts than full chisel chains, which makes them suitable for use when the smoothness of your cuts matters. Lastly, the major benefit of a semi-chisel chainsaw chain is they have lower kickback than full chisel chains, which makes them a safer option.

Overall, a semi-chisel chainsaw chain is ideal for most people and purposes. Their high durability, low kickback, ability to handle all types of woods – including soft woods, wet woods, and even dry woods – and the smooth cuts they provide make them a great option for all types of cutting needs.

Low Profile Cutters

Perhaps the most frequently used type of chainsaw chain is the low profile cutter. In fact, most chainsaws are fitted with this type of chain.

Low profile cutters feature teeth that have rounded edges, like the teeth on semi chisel chains. They are designed specifically for safety, as these chains feature elements between the teeth that are meant to prevent kickback from occurring. They can also handle various types of woods; however, they do not operate at speeds that are as high as the speeds full chisel chains can reach. However, because of the features that low profile cutter chains offer, they are a wise choice for individuals who do not have a lot of experience working with chainsaws.

It’s important to note that while low profile cutters may be very safe and can handle various types of cuts, they are not very durable. In fact, they tend to require more sharpening than the other types of chainsaw chains, which is something that you should keep in mind if you are considering using this type of chain. With that said, if you are a novice or you don’t plan on using your saw very often, a low profile cutter could be a good option for you.

Square Chisel Cutters

The square chisel cutter chainsaw chain is a special class of a full chisel cutter chain; these chains are considered professional grade chains. Square chisel cutters feature teeth with square edges and square radius edges. Of all the chainsaw chains available, these chains cut the fastest, which makes them an ideal choice if you are going to be sawing a lot of wood and speed is of the essence.

However, while square chisel cutters may be the fastest chains, there are some downsides. Since they operate at such high speeds, they are not very durable. In fact, the teeth tend to get dull very quickly, especially when they are used in “rough” cutting environments; for example, if you are cutting through dirty wood or dry wood, you will notice that the teeth will lose their sharpness a lot faster. In order to maintain the efficiency and the lifespan of a square chisel cutter chain, you will likely need to file it on a frequent basis. Furthermore, filing can be complicated. As such, this type of chainsaw chain is best suited for professionals who have a lot of experience working with and maintaining chainsaws.

Ripping Chains

Ripping chains are a specialized chainsaw chain. They feature cutters with shallow angles (usually at a 10-degree angle, when traditionally, the angle is between 25 and 35 degrees on other types of chains). These chains are also outfitted with a special type of grind. The shallow angles of the cutters and the grind allow these chains to cut parallel to the grain of the wood.

Ripping chains are made specifically for cutting large pieces of wood for the purpose of creating planks and boards. These chains are always semi-chisel and they are only meant to be used in chainsaw mills. The cuts that the chain produces offers a smooth finish, making them ideal for the cutting purposes that they are specifically designed to be used for.

Types of Chain Arrangements

In addition to featuring different types of teeth, chainsaw chains also feature different types of arrangements. In other words, the arrangement of the teeth refers to how the teeth are laid out on the chain. The arrangement of the teeth makes a difference in the safety of operation, as well as the manner in which it cuts. Below, we discuss the different types of arrangements for chainsaw chains.

Full Skip Chain

A full skip chain features the least amount of teeth on the chain, but the bar that the teeth are situated on is larger; 24 inches or larger. Most people would assume that fewer teeth would mean less power, but that’s not necessarily true. That’s because the arrangement of the teeth allows each one to take larger chunks out of the wood, which means that they cut very fast. In addition to the faster rate of speed at which they can cut, full skip chains can also be sharpened faster.

However, while full skip chains cut fast, the cuts that they make are not smooth. This type of chain arrangement is ideal for cutting large amounts of wood when the smoothness of the cut is not important; for example, if you are going to be sawing firewood or if you are going to be trimming limbs off of a large tree; however, it is not well-suited for jobs that require smooth cuts.

Something else that’s important to note: The full skip chain is specifically intended to be used with larger chainsaws, due to the space between the teeth and the larger bar that the chain is supposed to sit on. If you are using a smaller chainsaw, this type of chain arrangement will not be practical.

Semi Skip Chain

A semi-skip chain arrangement is considered a “mid-grade” chain in regard to the arrangement. The layout of this type of chain features either one or two links between the cutters. It cannot cut through wood as quickly as a full skip chain can; however, that does not mean that it is not powerful. This type of chain is definitely powerful enough to get serious cutting down relatively fast.

A chain with a semi skip arrangement is generally used by professionals who are doing specific types of cutting. It offers just the right amount of balance between efficiency and power; while it doesn’t cut as quickly as the full skip chain, it still cuts at a relatively fast speed, and the cuts that it makes are much smoother than the cuts that a full skip chain produces.

Full House / Standard Saw Chain

Last, but certainly not least, is the full house chain (also known as a standard saw chain). This type of chainsaw chain features the most teeth, which allows it to make extremely smooth cuts. Essentially, a full house chain is a full skip chain that sits on a larger bar. This type of chain can be used with chainsaws that feature a guide bar that is up to 24 inches long.

The downside of a full house or standard chainsaw chain is that it does not cut wood as quickly as full skip or semi skip chains; however, what it lacks in speed it makes up for in efficiency, specifically in terms of the types of cuts it produces. A full house chainsaw chain is best suited for jobs that require a smooth finish, such as sawing timer that will be used for building purposes.

Difference Between Chain Types

Which type of chain will best meet your needs? Below, we offer a side by side comparison of different types of chainsaw chains, including their pros and cons, so that you can determine which type of chain will best meet your specific needs.

Full Chisel Chain vs Semi Chisel Chain

As explained above, a full chisel chain features squared teeth, while the teeth on a semi-chisel chain are rounded. Semi chisel chains are a more popular choice than full chisel chains for several reasons; however, that is not to say that the full chisel chain does not offer benefits or that it is not useful.

  • Full Chisel Chain Pros
    • Cuts faster
    • Cuts more aggressively
    • The teeth are sharper
  • Full Chisel Chain Cons
    • Teeth dull quickly
    • Difficult to sharpen
    • Not as effective for cutting rough dirt 
  • Semi Chisel Chain Pros
    • Works well with rough woods (dirty, frozen, or dry, for example)
    • More durable than a full chisel chain
    • Less kickback risk
    • Easier to sharpen
    • Produces smoother cuts
  • Cons of a Semi Chisel Chain
    • Doesn’t cut as quickly as a full chisel chain

Low Profile Cutters vs Square Chisel Cutters

Low profile cutters are chainsaw chains that feature teeth with rounded edges. These chains are outfitted safety mechanisms between the teeth that are intended to reduce the amount of kickback that occurs. They are also capable of handling several different types of wood with ease. Square chisel cutters are deemed professional grade chainsaw chains. The teeth on these chains have squared edges, as well as square radius edges. To determine which one is a better choice for you, consider the following pros and cons of each.

  • Low profile cutter pros
    • They are perhaps the safest of all chainsaws, as they are specifically designed to reduce the chance of kickback.
    • They can cut through all types of wood, including hard, soft, dirty, froze, wet, and dry
    • They produce smooth finished cuts
  • Low profile cutter cons
    • They do not cut as quickly as square chisel cutters
    • They are not very durable; their teeth tend to dull quickly and they require more frequent sharpening
  • Square chisel cutter pros
    • They are the fastest of all chainsaw chains
    • They are suitable for cutting a large amount of wood at a rapid rate
  • Square chisel cutter cons
    • They are not very durable and require frequent sharpening
    • They are not ideal for use in “rough” cutting environments

Ripping Chains vs Square Chisel Cutters

Ripping chains are considered a specialized type of chainsaw in that they are intended for professional cutting purposes. They cutters on these chains have shallow angles which allow them to cut wood parallel to the grain and create very smooth finishes. The square chisel chain is a special type of full chisel cutter. The teeth on these chains feature square edges and square radius edges, which allows them to cut extremely fast, but the cuts they make are rougher than the cuts that ripping chains can produce.

  • Ripping chain pros
    • The cutters on these chains have shallow angles
    • They cut parallel to the grain of the wood
    • They produce smooth cuts
    • They are ideal for cutting wood for building applications
  • Ripping chain cons
    • They do not cut quickly
    • They may not cut through “rough” woods effectively
  • Square chisel cutter pros
    • They are the fastest chainsaw chains available
    • They are ideal for cutting large amounts of wood quickly
  • Square chisel cutter cons
    • They are not highly durable and require frequent sharpening
    • They are not suitable for cutting “rough” woods
    • There is a risk of kickback

Final Thoughts

A chainsaw is a very useful power tool. It is intended to make cutting through wood a much faster and easier task; however, in order for your chainsaw to do the job that it is meant to do – and do it safely – it is important to ensure that you are using the right type of chain.

As can be seen in this guide, there are several different types of chainsaw chains that feature different types of teeth, as well as different arrangements. Each type of chain offers benefits and disadvantages, and some are better suited for certain tasks than others.

In order to ensure that your chainsaw will offer you the most effective results, make sure that you determine your exact needs (what you are going to be using the chainsaw for) so that you can choose the correct chain.

With the information offered in this guide, you should be able to find the right chainsaw chain for your specific needs. Also, it’s important to remember that no matter what type of chain you choose, it is always of utmost importance to practice extreme care and exercise routine maintenance in order to yield the most efficient and safest results possible.