Do Electric Chainsaws Need Oil?

With all of the different chainsaws out there, it can be difficult figuring out which one is the best option for your needs. Electric chainsaws are an attractive option for many people and come with a whole slew of advantages that make them a great choice for multiple situations.

Of course, the chainsaw itself is not the only consideration you need to account for when making this choice as the type of work as well as preparatory and maintenance tasks are also important factors. One of the big aspects to consider, and one of the big differences as well, is whether or not electric chainsaws need oil to function.

The short answer to this question is “technically, yes, but probably not in the way that you think” with the longer answer being a bit more nuanced. In this article, we will address not only that general question but the subtle differences that make the oil electric chainsaw need different than other types of chainsaw.

Gas Chainsaws

It might seem like an odd place to start, but quite often, a good way to figure out what something is, is by starting with what it is not. Aside from the fact that gas chainsaws require a fuel source and electric chainsaws do not, they also employ a combustion engine as opposed to an electric chainsaw’s motor.

While it might seem like a minor difference on the surface, the difference in how a chainsaw gets its power carries with it far-reaching implications for its general functioning and everyday care. Gas chainsaws, for example, always require oil to run regardless of any other factors, and it does not matter what kind of engine the gas chainsaw employs. Granted, the type of engine helps determine some of the details about the oil and how it is applied, but the point remains that a gas chainsaw unequivocally requires oil to work in the first place.

For a traditional gas chainsaw, like a 2-stroke engine, the oil needs to be mixed in with the fuel so that it can lubricate the crankshaft and the push rod which are open. For a 4-stroke engine, on the other hand, the crankcase is closed and separate from the aerated fuel which allows a 4-stroke engine to bathe the crankshaft and push rod in oil.

The 4-stroke’s design means that you do not have to worry about mixing the oil with the fuel beforehand and also allows the oil to better lubricate the piston. Regardless, both types of engines will require oil to maintain a properly functioning engine which would otherwise seize up after limited use without it.

It is worth noting that decades ago there were a few attempts to make a diesel-powered gas chainsaw which were fairly successful, all things considered. However, the unique requirements of a diesel engine, specifically the need for a pre-heated glow plug, combined with the limited electronics of the day led to the adoption of other engines over diesel models.

Essentially, diesel chainsaws required that you manually heat the glow plug before starting the chainsaw which takes additional time and some skill. Considering that chainsaws quickly entered the consumer market around this time, diesel models were often reserved for industrial chainsaws when they were used at all.

Electric Chainsaws

As opposed to gas chainsaws, electric chainsaws are not powered by combustion and instead rely on a consistent electric power source to turn the motor. Of course, just like with gas chainsaws, there are multiple types of motor configurations as well as different ways to provide a stable source of electricity.

Still, all of the motors used for electric chainsaws function on similar enough principles that it does not change the fact they do not require oil for the motor to function. This makes using electric chainsaws significantly easier and decreases the overhead cost of using them over time.

Regardless, while electric chainsaws may not require oil for their motor to function, that does not mean they do not require oil at all. Instead, electric chainsaws require oil in much the same way that every kind of chainsaw requires oil, including gas chainsaws, on a different part of the tool.

Chain and Bar Oil

The one area where a chainsaw requires oil regardless of the type, make, or model, is in lubricating the chainsaw chain along the bar. It is worth noting that lubricating the chainsaw bar and chain is just as vital for proper functioning for all chainsaws as it is to lubricate the crankcase for a gas chainsaw.

Granted, if the chainsaw bar and chain are not lubricated, it will not necessarily render the tool unusable– at least not at first– it will still cause significant problems every step of the way. The main issue bar and chain oil alleviates is friction generated as the chain passes along the bar.

Chain

This friction can create a number of issues, all of which can lead to the chain or bar failing and either needing to be replaced or even presenting a safety risk. For the chain itself, one of the main reasons to use chain oil is that it helps prevent the chain from getting too hot as it passes along the bar.

As the chain heats up, the metal begins to loosen– if only ever so slightly– but the hotter the chain gets, the more it inevitably loosens. In fairness, this is a natural process that occurs even when using chain oil which is why you should retighten your chain after warming it up for a couple of minutes.

However, the chain heating up becomes a much bigger issue without lubrication as the metal used for chainsaw chains is designed to function within specific temperature ranges and the oil helps keep the metal within those ranges.

Should the chainsaw chain exceed those temperature ranges, it is entirely possible that the metal loosens so much that the chain eventually snaps and can potentially cause injury or death depending on the safety measures of the chainsaw.

Keep in mind, that a chainsaw chain can overheat and snap even when properly oiled due to an increase in the temperature due to cutting hard materials for too long of an extended period. If you remove the lubricating oil which helps reduce the build up of heat through friction, that issue only magnifies and becomes a near inevitability rather than a potential risk.

Bar

While the chain may do all of the cutting and technically presents the risk of bodily harm or injury, the lubricating oil used for electric chainsaws does not just protect the chain. In fact, chainsaw chains tend to have a relatively limited lifespan regardless of their build or how you use them and will need to be replaced more often than most other parts of a chainsaw.

The chainsaw’s bar, on the other hand, is not as cut and dry and, with proper care and maintenance, can far outlast not just one chain but potentially dozens, if not dozens of scores. That said, if you do not properly care for the chainsaw bar, you can find yourself having to replace a part that often costs twice as much as the chain.

On the bright side, many chainsaw bars are sold with an included chainsaw chain, but that does not change the fact that you are spending money and time replacing a part you otherwise should not need to. Of course, the financial cost of replacing a chainsaw bar is not even the worst part of damage caused by not using bar and chain oil.

While the physical impacts are different, the risks posed by not lubricating a chainsaw’s chain remain present when not lubricating the bar too. Essentially, an unlubricated bar increases friction that generates heat which causes the metal to deform, though the effect is not quite the same as when the metal of a chainsaw chain heats up beyond its engineered temperature range.

Essentially, as the chain runs along an unlubricated bar, the bar begins to warp and deform, the bonds of the metal loosening much in the same way as with the chain. However, since the majority of the bar remains static and unmoving, the reshaping of the bar does not necessarily cause it to snap and break like it does with the chain.

Instead, the bar becomes misaligned, making the chain run along an uneven path that can cause anything from the chain coming off of the bar more often to the chain snapping much in the same way as if it were unlubricated itself. Thankfully, if you lubricate the chain, you generally end up lubricating the bar too, even if indirectly.

Debris

The final reason a chainsaw needs bar and chain oil, whether electric or gas-powered, is due to the sheer amount of debris that a chainsaw cutting wood generates. Not only does the chainsaw cutting wood create significant amounts of debris, but it also deposits that debris in a general area with a lot of energy.

This effect can cause plenty of issues with the chainsaw in general, especially if you do not take the time to regularly clear the debris from any opening in the chainsaw’s body. However, this issue compounds further with respect to the chain and bar as they are not only the parts closest to the debris but together responsible for its creation and energetic disbursement.

Basically, as the chain cuts into wood and the sawdust is flung within the general area of the chainsaw, there is a fairly high probability that some of the debris will slide in between the chain and the bar. If the bar and chain are properly lubricated, the debris will generally slide out from between the chain and bar as easily as it slid in.

However, if the bar and chain are not properly lubricated, it becomes quite easy for the debris to wedge itself between the chain and bar– especially if it is a larger piece of debris that gets trapped. While you may think this would simply jam the chain like throwing a wrench into gearworks, the more common result is that chain and bar become misaligned.

Much like when this happens without the inclusion of debris, a chain misaligned along the bar is more prone to coming loose from the bar due to improper chain tension. On top of that, a chain misaligned because of debris is more prone to snapping than in most other situations because the debris places additional tension on the chain.

As with an unlubricated bar or chain, this presents significant risk to the user’s safety and can damage the parts otherwise, requiring you to spend money to replace them. It also does not help matters that debris stuck in the chain can eventually dislodge within the crankcase and jam the crankshaft or cause further damage to the components within the chainsaw’s body.

Types of Oil

Most chainsaw manufacturers not only produce bar and chain oil for their products specifically, but they recommend that you use their particular brand of oil for their models of chainsaw. That said, most of the time, bar and chain oil formulas are not so specialized that you cannot use one for a different brand of chainsaw.

Of course, there are numerous types of oil available, and some of them can be put to good use lubricating a chainsaw’s bar and chain– so long as you understand their differences. For example, motor oil is a common substitute for bar and chain oil due to its often lower price and general prevalence.

If you own an automobile, you likely own motor oil and may not necessarily feel like purchasing separate oil to lubricate your chainsaw’s bar and chain. However, it is important to remember that different grades of motor oil are designed to work in different conditions whereas bar and chain oil work in most conditions.

For warmer conditions like during the summer, you need a motor oil with a higher viscosity so it does not become too thin and fail to properly lubricate the bar and chain. Conversely, colder temperatures like those during winter require a lower viscosity to prevent the oil from gumming up the chain and bar.

Some people also like to use vegetable oil as it is inexpensive, readily available, and more environmentally sustainable than either motor or bar and chain oil. That said, this is the least recommended type of oil to lubricate your bar and chain as it does not perform as well in more extreme conditions.

Conclusion

As we can see, while an electric chainsaw may not require oil for all of the same reasons that a gas chainsaw does, that does not mean you can do without oil altogether. Rather than the oil lubricating the motor of an electric chainsaw, it instead lubricates the bar and chain to prevent damage to either component and reduce the risk of them failing.

On top of that, most manufacturers recommend their chain oil, but there are a whole host of alternatives available– some of which are cheaper if a bit riskier. Regardless, it is important to make sure that your electric chainsaw’s bar and chain maintain adequate lubrication to keep yourself and your tool safe.