Shopping for chainsaw chains can be confusing, particularly if you’re new to the word of chainsaws. The internet is full of technical forums and advice from seemingly professional lumberjacks with no concept of the idea of layman’s terms, so let’s start by looking at what the different kinds of chainsaw chain actually are. You will see and hear all sorts of different terminologies when shopping for chainsaws or for new chainsaw chains, but they all boil down to three main titles – chisel chains, semi-chisel chains and skip chisel chains. Chisel chains are often also known as standard or full-complement chains.
Chisel chains have square cornered teeth, and are the fastest-cutting of the three types of chain. They have the most teeth of the three options, and the square tooth shape cuts clean softwood quickly and easily. These kinds of chains are the ones you’ll most often find in domestic chainsaws, and are often considered to be the best chainsaw chain for fast cuts like limbing or firewood chopping. The number of teeth on these chains make them the smoothest cutting choice.
Semi-chisel chains have rounded cornered teeth, and have fewer teeth than a standard chain. Half of the teeth are positioned close together, like a standard chain, and half are spread far apart like a skip-chisel chain. While this means that semi-chisel chains cut around 10% slower than full-chisel options, it also means that the teeth retain their sharpness longer. Hitting dirt doesn’t dull these chains as quickly as full-chisel chains, which makes these potentially the best chainsaw chain for cutting hard word, frozen wood or tree stumps.
Skip chisel chains have the fewest teeth of all, making them ideal for bigger cuts. Tasks that need chainsaws with long bars, such as tree felling, require the chain to carry woodchips for a long distance before spitting them out, and the extra space between teeth in a skip chisel chain allows for this. These kinds of chains tend to stay sharp the longest of all, but are the slowest cutting and can have a tendency to “grab” at the wood during use.
While skip chisel chains are the best chainsaw chain in terms of staying sharp for the longest and being able to comfortably undertake larger tasks, it’s worth noting that they also have the highest kick-back risk, and are prone to strong vibrations. Semi-chisel chains work well in the dirt and are the more versatile of the three styles, but aren’t as widely available as their more popular square-toothed siblings.
Overall, for non-professional use, the chisel chain is generally going to be the best chainsaw chain for you. With fast and easy cutting on a variety of jobs, and a lower risk of kick-back than alternatives, there’s a reason this is the chain style provided with most garden chainsaws these days. Chisel chains vibrate less than other chains, which not only means that you will likely feel more comfortable while using your chainsaw, but your arms won’t get tired as quickly as they might while using a skip-chisel chain – which requires you to keep using extra energy to hold your chainsaw still.
While they do need sharpening more often than chains with fewer teeth, if you’re just planning to tidy up the garden and do a spot of DIY this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. If you see yourself regularly chopping down trees and cutting logs on a daily basis, then perhaps the skip chisel chain would be a lower-maintenance choice.
In terms of brands and makes, don’t be afraid of mixing up suppliers when fitting a new chainsaw chain. While certain models are designed to work best with their own, originally-designed chain – for example the Power Sharp chainsaw and its unique “no tools needed for sharpening” chain design– in many cases a chainsaw is only as good as the chain you put on it, and it may be worth upgrading your tool by simply upgrading the chain. If you’re finding that your saw’s teeth are dulling too quickly, or that you’re struggling to get a clean cut, try another chain and see if you feel more comfortable cutting that way.