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How to Choose The Right Saw Chain For Your Chainsaw

On the surface, choosing a chainsaw chain should be easy… until you have a wall of 20 boxes behind the counter to choose from. If you’d like to know more about the different types of chains or the ‘sharp end’ of chain identification for your domestic STIHL chainsaw, this will be a great introduction. Read on to find out how to choose the right chainsaw chain for your chainsaw…

Step 1: How to Get The Right Size Chainsaw Chain

STIHL chainsaw chains and bar guide

There are three crucial parameters to pay close attention to when choosing a chainsaw chain. These are the length of the guide bar on your chainsaw (displayed in inches), the drive link gauge (displayed in millimetres) and the pitch (a combination of imperial and metric). These are explained in more detail below, but all three parameters need to be identical to the parameters displayed on your STIHL guide bar, and approved for your particular chainsaw model. If you’re unable to read the information on your guide bar, or want to change a parameter of your chain, always consult us first to check that the combination in question is suitable for your STIHL chainsaw.

Chain Pitch

 The chain pitch is the distance between every other rivet, in inches, divided by two. (The rivets are the circular pins holding the chain together). It does sound a bit complicated but luckily you don’t need to memorise that to pick the right chainsaw chain! There are 6 pitches available: ¼”, ¼” P, 3/8” P, 3/8”, .325”, .404”. Most STIHL homeowner chainsaws have a chain with a pitch that is either ¼” P or 3/8” P. Make sure the pitch you choose is the same as your chainsaw’s guide bar and drive sprocket – if it’s different, it won’t fit on the guide bar properly.

Please note that although 3/8” and 3/8” P, as well as ¼” and ¼” P look very similar, they should always be treated as entirely different pitches and are not interchangeable.

chainsaw bar guideChainsaw Guide Bar Length

This will impact the size of the loop of chain you need – STIHL chainsaws designed for domestic use are typically 12, 14 or 16 inches long.

Drive Link Gauge

This is the thickness of the drive link – a 1.1mm chain will sit perfectly in the groove of a 1.1mm guide bar. Using a 1.1mm chain in a 1.3mm guide bar will cause the chain to lean side to side, and increase the risk of the chain coming out of the guide bar.

Step 2: How to Choose The Right Type of Chainsaw Chain

choosing the right type of chainsaw chain

If you’re using your saw for firewood or small jobs around the garden, chances are you’ll need a Picco chain. A Picco chainsaw chain has a lower profile tooth, meaning the cutting teeth sit closer to the guide bar and are less aggressive than the chains we recommend for professional chainsaws. Look out for ‘Picco’ at the start of the chain description. Any chain with ‘Rapid’ in the name will have a larger tooth and be better suited to professional users.

The next thing to look out for is the word ‘Micro’ in the name. Reliable and comfortable to use, STIHL micro chains have a semi-chisel tooth which means they have a more rounded shape and are easier to sharpen. The alternative to Micro is Super; these chains offer higher performance, but lose their edge much quicker and require more experience to sharpen effectively.

Finally, we recommend that unless you’re a professional user needing to regularly bore into the wood (plunging with the nose of the guide bar), choosing a chain with humped drive links is always a wise idea. Humped drive links reduce kickback and vibration, and are denoted by a ‘3’ in the chain description. When we piece this altogether, you have a Picco Micro 3 chain, and more importantly an understanding of what this means! 

chainsaw chain replacementStep 3: Checking You Have The Right Chainsaw Chain

Let’s use a STIHL MS 181 chainsaw as an example to put the above information into practice. We can see from the information on the STIHL MS 181’s guide bar (below) that the pitch is 3/8” P, the length is 16” and the drive link gauge is 1.3mm. This is the information to look for on the chain box or description.

As the STIHL MS 181 chainsaw is a home owner saw ideal for firewood, we’d also like a Picco Micro 3 chain (low tooth profile for low vibration, semi chisel tooth for easier sharpening, and humped drive link for low kickback). This is often shortened to ‘PM3’ so look out for this on the chain packaging too. We can see all this information on the chain box below, and know this is the perfect chain for the MS 181 chainsaw.

Once you have the right chainsaw chain, it’s simple to change the chain. There are instructions in all of the Owners’ Manuals and you can get a copy of the right one for your chainsaw here. You can also watch the Stihl how-to video for a step-by-step guide.

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Whatever STIHL chainsaw chain you need for your chainsaw, you can be sure that you will get outstanding cutting performance. All STIHL chains are precision made in their factory in Switzerland and are perfectly matched to the guide bar and chainsaw to deliver the best performance.

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