There is a wide variety of chainsaws available, and everything from how they are powered to the size needs to be taken into account when dealing with basic chainsaw maintenance. No matter what type of saw you have, however, you will need to take regular care of your chain- and over time have it replaced.
Because of the wide variances in saw sizes, chains also reflect these differences, and getting the proper size chainsaw blade is very important. Not only do you need the right chain to run your saw, if you use the wrong sized one- you run some serious risks with your life. The following explains how you measure a chainsaw chain and also includes some important tips for chain care.
When to Replace Your Chainsaw Chain
If you are measuring for a saw, then you probably know it is time for a replacement. All chains need general maintenance to keep them lasting (see our article: How to Sharpen a Chainsaw), but if you have taken good care of your saw and it isn’t cutting as it should- it’s probably time for a new one. Other things to look for that indicate a replacement include:
- Teeth are worn or broken
- Chain tension will not stay tight, or is too tight and will not loosen
- Smoke is present when cutting
- Sawdust is left rather than wood chips
- Chain rattles feels or looks unbalanced
What You Need
To measure your chain all you truly need is a measuring tape and a few coins for a quick trick of the trade (have a penny, dime, and quarter handy). Being able to loosen it on the bar is needed as well, so a scrench or screwdriver should be nearby.
To remove and replace your chain, use a scrench or flat head screwdriver and socket wrench.
Chainsaw Terminology for Measuring
Before getting started with how to measure your chain, you need to understand what a few basic parts of it are called in order to understand what is being talked about.
The bar is what the chain sit and spins upon. This is the flat metal piece that has a grooved section into which the saw drive links sit within.
- Drive Links
A chain is secured to the bar by drive links that fit into the bar groove. These are opposite the cutting teeth along the bottom of the chain.
The gauge refers to how thick the drive links are. This keeps the chain from slipping off the bar.
Where to Find Chain Measurements
Measuring your chainsaw has less to do with the actual length of your chain, and everything to do with fit and safety. The measurement of a chainsaw is a combined knowledge of the pitch, gauge, and drive link number and is almost always located on the tip of your bar- saving you from having to do any measuring at all.
These numbers refer to the numbers you will find on a new chain packaging. But knowing how these numbers are derived is important also, especially since sometimes these wear off a well-used bar, or when you have extras laying around from various saws.
Step by Step Measurements
Measuring your chainsaw for fit is a simple process that doesn’t take up much time at all. Just follow these quick steps to a better understanding of choosing the right chain for your saw.
Step 1: Measure the Bar
To determine the size of your bar, you will measure what is called the “called length”. You do this with the bar and chain on, not off. Although this is not true for the chain measurement, it provides you a general number for bar replacement and chain size.
To measure your bar, measure from the front of your saw to the furthest cutting tip. Once measured, round up to the nearest inch. This will be your “called length” and what manufacturers use when referring to an 18” chainsaw, or 24” inch chainsaw for example.
Step 2: Measure the Pitch
Determining the pitch requires you to measure the distance between any 3 consecutive rivets and divide by 2. The resulting number is called the pitch- with larger numbers indicating a larger space between links that results in faster, more aggressive cutting. The smaller the space, the more likely the saw is used for removing small amounts of wood at a time and is most often found in saws built for home use.
Step 3: Measure the Gauge
Measuring the gauge can be tricky as there are incredibly small variations between the different gauge sizes. The best way to be sure of this size is to check the bar or the user’s manual. If this measurement can still not be found, then you can use a quick ‘trick of the trade’. Take your coins (quarter, dime, and penny) and slip them into the bar groove. You want the coin to slide in snug, without having to force it.
Penny: .058” gauge
Dime: .050” gauge
Quarter: .063” gauge
A .043” gauge also exists but is not as common. The most common is a .050” gauge
Step 4: Count the Drive Links
Once you have the above measurement, you can count the drive links to ensure you have the right replacement.. You may need to remove the chain to do this, but might be able to loosen the chain and then spin it above the bar to count. Be sure to mark where you started with a sharpie or something similar to get a correct count. It doesn’t hurt to double check either.
Tips to Keep Your Saw in Cutting Shape
The following are some helpful tips to keep your saw running smoothly and safely. No matter how well you care for your chain, you will need to eventually replace it, but good practices can keep it lasting longer and cutting as expected.
- Sharpen your chain at each gas tank fill up or every two hours
- Keep your bar and chain well oiled for easy movement and to keep from binding up
- Check your depth gauge every three to five times your sharpen your chain
- Rotate chain use to help extend the life of each
If you have ever wondered about what those numbers on a chainsaw bar meant, or was confused as to how you might match your existing chain to one in a store – worry no more. These numbers are fairly simple to figure out, and when you need to measure your chainsaw for fit, all you need is the pitch, gauge, and drive link amount to make a match.
If you have any further questions please let us know below, and as always, please share.