Types of Chainsaw Chains

Every chainsaw chain will eventually become so worn out that attempting to sharpen it again is no longer an option - when a chain has reached the end of its life, you will need to buy a new one.

Chainsaw sharpeners are excellent devices for keeping a chain in prime operating conditions but wear and tear will eventually take its toll on any chain, at which point a sharpener can no longer come to the rescue.
There are various types of chainsaw chains for cutting hardwood or softwood including semi chisel, full chisel, low profile cutters, ripping chain, square ground chain and skip chain.

The terms soft and hard can be a bit misleading when it comes to cutting. Softwood will actually blunt a chain more quickly than hardwood. Pores and fibrosity are the key factors when it comes to distinguishing between hardwood and softwood. 

The pore structure in hardwood provides natural gaps in the wood's fibre, which make cutting through it easier. Beech, oak, ash, maple, mahogany, hickory and walnut are good examples of hardwood.

Softwood does not have the pores found in hardwood, making it more fibrous. Its structure means it will blunt a chainsaw chain more quickly. Good examples of softwood are spruce, yew, pine and juniper.

Here's a simple description of the main types of chainsaw chain.

Standard Saw Chain

This is often referred to as a full house chain and has more teeth than other chains. It is found on most chainsaws which have a bar which is up to two feet in length. It cuts wood very smoothly and is often used in saw mills.

Low Profile Chain

The low profile 3/8” semi-chisel saw chain is the type found on the average chainsaw which is used in the UK by homeowners who just want to carry out small to medium tasks, such as cutting logs for their fire or maintaining small trees in their garden.

Low profile chains have low teeth with a round radius edge. They are lighter than many other types of chain and are usually easy to sharpen. They are renowned for having a low level of vibration and kickback.

Semi Chisel Chain

The teeth on semi chisel chains have rounded corners and are good at cutting dirty wood, tree stumps, hard wood, dry wood and frozen wood. The round radius and grid edge on the teeth makes this type of chain easy to sharpen with a file. This type of chain is excellent at cutting soft wood and stays sharp for a longer period of time than some other chains.

Full Chisel Chain

This type of chain has square-cornered teeth, a round grind profile and is excellent at cutting hardwood trees or clean softwood, There is a higher risk of kickbacks with full chisel chains due to the fact they don't have safety chain elements. These chains become dull more quickly than a semi chisel chain, so requires sharpening more often. This type of chain cuts quickly and accurately and is often the chain of choice for professional arborists and tree-felling businesses.

Ripping Chain

This is a specialist type of chain where the shallow angle cutting teeth are positioned at 10 degrees angle, unlike the more common setting of 25 to 35 degrees. These chains cut parallel to the grain of the wood. Ripping chain are semi-chisel and give a very smooth cut, so they are often found in saw mills where they are used to create timber boards and planks.

Square Ground Chain

This is a specialist type of chisel chain, normally used by professionals, which requires extremely precise filing and corner alignment. These chains are rapid cutters and can be quite difficult to sharpen - best results are obtained using a bench top electric sharpener, flat-headed manual file or even triangular file.

Full Skip Chain

This type of chain is ideal for cutting large softwood trees and leaves a rough finish on wood. These chains are very efficient and reasonably easy to sharpen but a downside of them is that they often vibrate more than some other chains and their kickback rate is quite high. Skip chains have two links between each cutting tooth which mean a tooth is able to cut a larger chip of wood.

Semi Skip Chain

This type of chain sits between the full house and full skip chain in design. Half of its teeth are close together, as on a standard chain, and the remainder of them are full skip 

There are several reputable brand names when it comes to chainsaw chains - as with most things in life, you get what you pay for so it makes sense avoid buying a cheap inferior quality chain just to save a few pennies - that's just false economy. It's definitely advisable to spend a bit more on a good quality chain from a company with a decent track record for making durable and reliable chains.

Among the names you can trust when it comes to chainsaw chains are Stihl, Oregon, Bosch, McCulloch, Rotatech, and Husqvarna. However, Stihl is the name that really stands out when it comes with top quality chains - let's take a quick look at this company with has a seriously impressive track record.

Stihl is an organization that is renowned for its top quality outdoor power equipment products. Stihl is often the choice of professionals and amateur enthusiasts alike who are looking for powerful, dependable, and long-lasting chainsaw chains. 

This company has become an industry leader and produces an impressive range outdoor tools which are made to the highest standards including hedge trimmers, blowers and chainsaws.

Stihl produces chains for its own chainsaws that can tackle all types of wood cutting, but many of their chains are also compatible with chainsaws of other brands. 

Every Stihl chainsaw chain is made with their very own exclusive and patented OILOMATIC lubricating feature. With Stihl chainsaw chains you can cut faster and smoother with great efficiency. No matter what type of wood cutting you need to do and whatever brand of chainsaw you have, you can still find the perfect match from within the Stihl chainsaw chain types. 

Stihl chains allow you to work with dirty or treated wood faster than most other chainsaw chain type available to buy. Identifying a Stihl chain is easy because of a special marketing number system the company uses. 

Stihl has most types of chainsaw covered including single humped drive link, full skip, semi-skip, harvester, classic cutter design and square ground. The different cutter shapes available are Comfort (low-vibration version), Duro (Carbide Tip), Duro Special (Carbide Tip), Micro, Rescue and Super (Chisel). The different pitches available on Stihl chainsaw chains are 1/4 inch, 0.325 inch, 3/8 inch, 0.404 inch, and STIHL PICCO (3/8 inch extended version).

As mentioned, there area various companies manufacturing chainsaw chains but Stihl chains are hard beat when it comes to quality and reliability.

If you need a super-tough chain for some particularly demanding cutting work, then you should probably consider buying a carbide tipped chain. These can take on just about any challenge you throw at them - they can slice through a range of materials including iron wood, corrugated tin, plastic, fibreglass, aluminium sheeting and charred wood. 

Carbide tipped chains are widely used in the demolition trade and get their extra strength from a coating of carbide. These chains make light work of frozen wood, logs with dirt or other foreign matter on them and many other materials that a standard chain wouldn't be able to tackle.

A layer of carbide is added to the tips of the chain by the process of electrolysis. This doesn't make the chain sharper, but makes it much stronger and durable.