How to Choose a Chainsaw Chain? An Elaborative Guide

Patrick McMann

Knowledge Based

Chainsaw chains – the unsung heroes of the lumberjack world! Without them, you’d be stuck with a glorified paperweight.

But let’s face it!

Since they are not one-size-fits-all, choosing the right chainsaw chain can be as confusing as trying to untangle a slinky. With so many different sizes, types, and features to choose from, it’s enough to make your head spin faster than the chainsaw itself.

But fear not, buddy! I won’t leave you high and dry – I’ll guide you through the process of identifying the correct chain specifications for your chainsaw and highlight the key factors to consider when choosing the perfect chain.

Sure, it may sound like a snooze-fest, but trust me, you’ll be slicing through wood like a hot knife through butter in no time.

choosing a perfect chainsaw chain

Understanding Chainsaw Chain Specifications

To choose the correct chainsaw chain for your needs, it’s crucial to have a solid understanding of the different varieties available and the specific factors that set them apart.

So, here are the three primary measurements used to describe chainsaw chains;

Number of Drive Links

The number of drive links on a chainsaw chain is an important specification to consider when choosing a replacement chain. The number of drive links refers to the number of links that sit in the guide bar’s groove and mesh with the saw’s drive sprocket.

To measure the number of drive links on your chainsaw chain, count the links that fit into the guide bar, excluding the cutter links. This can be done by removing the chain from the guide bar and laying it flat.

Drive Links

Drive links

It’s essential to ensure you have the correct number of drive links to ensure proper fit and function with your chainsaw.

In general, replacing your chainsaw chain with one having the same number of drive links as the original that came with your saw is recommended. This will ensure the chain is compatible with your saw and will operate correctly.

Pitch and Gauge Measurements of Chainsaw Chain

Pitch refers to the distance between any three consecutive rivets divided by two. Essentially, it’s the distance between the links on the chain. Pitch measurement is critical because it affects how the chain fits the bar and how the chain interacts with the sprocket.

Pitch Measurement

Pitch Measurement: X/2

Whereas, Gauge refers to the thickness of the drive links. The gauge determines the amount of space the drive links take up in the bar groove. It’s essential to have the correct gauge so the chain sits correctly on the bar and doesn’t come loose.

Straight Line View of Gauge

Straight line view of Guage 

Pitch and gauge measurements can be found on the chainsaw bar and chain or in the chainsaw manual.

However, to measure pitch, measure the distance between three rivets and divide by two. To measure the gauge, measure the thickness of the drive links.

The most common pitch sizes for chainsaw chains are 0.325″ and 3/8″, and the typical gauge sizes are 0.050″, 0.058″, and 0.063″.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Chainsaw Chains

While pitch, gauge, and drive link count are the three most important things to remember when selecting a chainsaw chain, a few other factors can make a big difference in performance and safety. So, let’s dive into some of these additional considerations!

Types of Chainsaw Chain Cutter

Here are the four basic styles of saw chains based on their cutter types:

A. Low-Profile Cutter

Low-profile, also known as Picco, chainsaw chains are a popular cutter type used for smaller jobs. They have a lower depth gauge and shorter teeth, making them easier to file and sharpen with the help of a chainsaw sharpener.

B. Chisel

The square-cornered teeth of the chisel chains make them the most effective at slicing through the timber. They are also designed to be easily sharpened and re-sharpened on the job site.

Chisel chains excel in linear cuts and are renowned for their quick, clean cuts. They’re also best for cutting hardwoods like oak, maple, and hickory, as they can easily slice through the rugged and dense wood.

However, they have a significant drawback in rapidly becoming dull when used on dirty or abrasive wood.

C. Semi-Chisel

Semi-chisel chainsaw chains provide a compromise between a low-profile chain’s simplicity of upkeep and a chisel chain’s durability.

The fact that a semi-chisel chain maintains its edge longer than a chisel chain is one of its primary advantages. This is due to the semi-chisel cutter’s rounded edge, which is less likely to chip or weaken than the chisel cutter’s sharper edge.

Semi-chisel chains can also be sharpened more readily than chisel chains but not as readily as low-profile chains.

D. Square Chipper

The square chipper’s design allows the chain to cut through wood faster than other cutters. However, this comes at the cost of increased dulling when the chain encounters abrasive cutting conditions.

The square chipper cutter is known for its aggressive cutting action, making it an ideal choice for professionals who need to cut through thick and dense wood quickly. This chain type is commonly used on 24 inches or longer bars chainsaws.

Despite its fast cutting speed, the square chipper chain may not be the best choice for all cutting applications. Its aggressive nature can result in excessive vibration, leading to user fatigue and decreased accuracy.

The square chipper chain may also not produce the smoothest cuts, making it less suitable for high-precision jobs.

Learn More: How to Keep a Chainsaw from Pinching?

Which Type of Chain is best for your Specific Task?

Each type of wood has unique characteristics, such as hardness and density, that affect the cutting process. Choosing the right saw chain ensures the best performance and optimal cutting efficiency.

In the upcoming section, I’ll share my suggestions on which saw chain is best suited for cutting different types of wood.


Softwoods like pine, fir, and spruce are more accessible to cut through than hardwoods due to their low density. To get the best results when cutting softwood, a low-profile chain like a 3/8″ Picco chain or a 0.325″ pitch chain with a 0.050″ gauge is recommended.

These chains have smaller teeth and are easier to file, making them ideal for small jobs.


Hardwoods like oak, maple, and hickory have a higher density and are, therefore, more challenging to cut through. To get the best performance when cutting hardwoods, it’s recommended to use a semi-chisel chain or a chisel chain.

Semi-chisel chains cut slower than chisel chains but stay sharp for longer. Chisel chains are fast-cutting and easier to grind but tend to dull more quickly.

Frozen Wood

When cutting frozen wood, it’s essential to have a saw chain that can handle the additional strain of the task. A full-skip chain or a semi-skip chain with a 0.063″ gauge is recommended for frozen wood.

These chains have fewer teeth, allowing them to cut through the wood without getting bogged down.

Dirty Wood

If you’re cutting dirty wood, a chain with a standard cutter is recommended. Standard chains have one tie strap between each cutter, making them ideal for smooth cuts in dirty wood.

Dry Wood

Dry wood is more brittle and prone to cracking than wet wood. To get the best results when cutting dry wood, it’s recommended to use a chain with a semi-chisel cutter. These chains are designed to stay sharp longer, making them ideal for cutting dry wood.

Can You Use a Different Brand Chain on Your Chainsaw?

Yes, you can use a different brand chain on your chainsaw as long as it fits the specifications of your saw. It is important to ensure that the chain’s pitch, gauge, and drive link count are compatible with your chainsaw.

Using a chain that does not fit these specifications can result in poor performance, increased wear and tear, and even safety hazards.

While it is generally safe to use a different chain brand, it is essential to note that some chainsaw manufacturers recommend using their branded chains for optimal performance. Additionally, using a non-branded chain may void the warranty of your chainsaw.

Suppose you use a different brand chain. In that case, it is important to ensure that it is made of high-quality materials and has undergone rigorous testing for durability and safety. Look for chains made by reputable manufacturers and have good reviews from other chainsaw users.

Ultimately, deciding to use a different brand chain on your chainsaw is up to you. Still, it is important to proceed cautiously and ensure that your chosen chain is compatible and of good quality.

How Do You Know if You Have the Right Size Chain?

Knowing if you have the right size chain for your chainsaw is important for optimal performance and safety. Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine if you have the right size chain:

Does the chain fit snugly around the bar?

The chain should fit snugly around the chainsaw bar without sagging or being too tight. A loose chain can increase the risk of kickback, while a chain that is too tight can cause excessive wear and tear on the bar and chain.

Are the drive links properly seated in the bar?

Make sure that the drive links on the chain are properly seated in the bar. If they are not, the chain will not rotate smoothly and can cause damage to the saw or create safety hazards.

Does the chain match the pitch, gauge, and drive link count of the bar?

Refer to the chainsaw owner’s manual to determine the appropriate pitch, gauge, and drive link count for your chainsaw bar. Make sure that the chain you are using matches these specifications. Using an incompatible chain can cause damage to the saw or create safety hazards.

Is the chain the appropriate length for the bar?

Ensure that the chain you are using is the appropriate length for the bar. A chain that is too long or too short can cause safety hazards or damage to the saw.

If you are unsure about any of these questions, reconsider the chain.


Are more teeth on a chainsaw chain better?

Not necessarily. A chain with more teeth or a smaller tooth spacing will create a smoother cut with less tearing and chipping of the wood. This is useful when you are cutting delicate or expensive wood that you want to preserve, such as hardwood flooring or decorative lumber.

However, a chain with more teeth will also cut more slowly, which may not be ideal if you are cutting through larger logs or need to complete your work quickly.

Does it matter what chain you put on a chainsaw?

Yes, it does matter what chain you put on a chainsaw. Chainsaw chains come in different sizes and styles, with variations in pitch, gauge, cutter types, and aggressiveness. Choosing the wrong chain can result in poor performance, increased risk of kickback, and potential damage to your chainsaw.

What does 72 mean on a chainsaw chain?

The number 72 on a chainsaw chain refers to the number of drive links on the chain. The drive links are part of the chain that sits inside the chainsaw bar groove and engages with the chainsaw’s sprocket to drive the chain around the bar.

What chainsaw chain cuts the fastest?

Among different types of chainsaw chains, a full-chisel chain cuts the fastest. This type of chain has square-cornered teeth that make it extremely efficient at cutting through wood quickly. However, it is also the most likely to become dull quickly and requires more maintenance than other types of chains.

Will a Husqvarna chain fit on a Stihl chainsaw?

The most important factors to consider when choosing a chainsaw chain are the pitch, gauge, and number of drive links, which need to match the specifications of your chainsaw’s guide bar. As long as the chain you are considering meets those specifications, it should be compatible with your chainsaw regardless of the brand.

Wrap Up!

And there you go, buddy!

So take a deep breath, head to your local hardware store or go online, and confidently select the perfect chainsaw chain for your next project. Happy cutting!

Patrick McMann