Two Letters Re: Advice on Chainsaws

Probably the best [chain]saws on the market are Stihl and Husqvarna. Unfortunately, as noted previously, they use a lot of plastic in the construction of them today.

One design feature you need to look at very carefully is the handle bar and how it is mounted to the saw. I own an 046 Magnum Stihl, which is supposed to be one of Stihl’s upper end, “pro” model saws. The handle bar wraps around to the right side and mounts with two self tapping screws into the gas tank. Any blow to the top of the handlebar results in shearing out these two screws and a ruined gas tank…..more than a hundred dollar repair. This has happened twice with this saw.

The odd thing is, several of the 030 series, a supposed “lesser” quality saw, have a handle bar design that fully wraps the saw and mounts down under it, which is far superior to the gas tank mount. My advise is take note of this design flaw and buy your saw accordingly.

Bottles of Stihl [two cycle gasoline mixing] oil for mixing (the 2.5 gallon mix size) cost a bit over $9 for a 6 pack a my local dealer. A case of 48 bottles runs 52 bucks. Thai is a savings of 20 bucks over the individual 6 pack size. – Andy in East Tennessee


I’ve had Homelites, McCullochs, several Stihls, currently down to one – an old Stihl 320AV, all-metal saw. I don’t know if other saws have this same issue, but I know the older mid-size Stihls do – chain size. My 320 came in either .325 inch chain pitch or 3/8 inch (.375″). The clutch drum has the chain drive sprocket on it, and a drum for one size won’t work for the other. Well, it will, for a while, then it’s toast.
It came with a 16″ bar, for which I have three chains, plus a 20″ bar and three chains for it, all in .325″ and spare clutch drums in both .325 and .375. I also have a chain breaker and peener tool, so I can take a 20″ chain and make it fit the 16″ bar. FYI, you can buy chain in bulk to make your own, but always securely peen the rivets. Never use a spring clip master link on a chainsaw. Buy lots of extra link pins and side plates for this. Make sure all the chains you buy are the right size.

When you buy a new chain, break it in by cutting gently with it for 5-10 minutes, then hand sharpen it with the right size round file to put a real good sharp edge on the cutting teeth. From the factory most chains aren’t as sharp as they could be. Easiest way to do it is in a vise, not on the bar. Don’t forget a flat file to adjust the depth guides. Clean the chain in a fire safe evaporating solvent using an old toothbrush, let it dry completely, and soak it in oil. I store my spare chains in wide mouth plastic jars immersed in oil, jars noticeably different; it’s a pain, and maybe more, to drive 30 miles to harvest some wood only to find you have a 20″ bar but only 16″ spare chains. The 70-90 weight hypoid lubricant – for auto differentials – works well for auto lubricators on saws. Soak chains in something thinner, though. If you change your own auto engine oil, filter that, stir in some graphite or molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) and use it for soaking chains. [JWR Adds: As previously mentioned in SurvivalBlog, it is not recommended that used engine oil be used , since it has been documented to be carcinogenic.]

Redundancy is good; I’d rather have two saws with 20″ bars than one big one with a 36″ bar, even if one of the saws is a cheapie.

Motorcycle shops are good sources of 2 stroke oil in quarts. Synthetic oil is good, stay away from castor oils, which burn gummy [and smoky] and require more maintenance. Best is the 6 or 12 packs of small bottles from lawn equipment dealers; each bottle is sized to mix with 1 gallon of gas, and if one bottle leaks it doesn’t affect the other 47 in the case. Warehouse clubs sometimes have this in quantity.

I can’t stress this enough: chainsaw safety. Learn how to use your saw safely, never, never, never break the safety rules, never cut alone, quit when you’re tired, never cut “in a hole,” plan all your cuts ahead of time, maintain secure footing. Chainsaw accidents are never minor. Develop the mindset that if you lose your footing you toss the saw away from you, so no one ever stands in front of you or close to you while cutting; saws are cheap, legs aren’t. You can cut through Kevlar safety chaps, by the way. If you’re cutting from top down you can throw the saw away from you; cutting “in a hole” means you have branches above and below the saw so you can’t toss it. Wood moves when it’s cut, sometimes springing up, sometimes rolling. Rarely do people understand just how much a few feet of 12″ diameter green oak weighs, or the energy in a trapped branch. It’s not at all hard to die in the woods from a chainsaw accident.

Spare parts are a must. I have two spare electronic ignition modules and coils for mine, EMP-protected in a steel ammo can, along with two sets of gaskets, seals, air filters, two pistons (one standard size, one .010″ oversize, both with two sets of rings), extra bearings, spark plugs, and an assortment of specialty bolts for specific points on the saw. You’d be surprised how many places on chainsaws that standard metric bolts won’t work because of [the small] head size [of those used on chainsaws]. Procure and toss in any specialty tools you might need to work on your model saw. For example, my Stihl requires extra-long metric Torx drivers.

I never take the chainsaw out without also taking a one-man buck saw, some shallow and steep hardwood wedges and a 4 pound [sledge] hammer. Once I misjudged which way a tree was balanced and wound up disassembling the saw, leaving the bar with the chain on it pinched in the cut. Came back the next day with another saw to drop the tree and retrieve my bar and chain. Since then I’ve gotten away with cutting an unbalanced tree from the wrong side by using the wedges to keep the cut open behind the bar.
Take the time to learn how to use your saw safely and efficiently. – Homer

JWR Adds: Kevlar safety chaps are available from Northern Tool & Equipment (Search on item # 181931.) Along with gloves, goggles, earmuffs and a safety helmet, I consider chaps a must. I agree with Homer’s recommendation on carrying a sledge hammer and wedges when felling. Don’t use metal wedges. Just one brief touch of the moving chain would mean a badly dulled chain at the very least, and perhaps a fire or trip to the hospital. For felling, use only hardwood wedges or the new plastic wedges available at saw shops.