Bar and Chain Oil Substitutes: 10 Alternative Fluids You Can Use

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Look, if you want your chainsaw to run smoothly, you’ve got to keep it well-oiled. I’ve seen even the toughest chainsaws break down when they’re not lubricated properly. Trust me, the wrong bar oil can really mess things up.

Finding the right substitute for bar and chain oil can be a headache, so let’s clear up the confusion and talk about some alternatives that actually work and also what to pay attention to.

Watch the video below:

6 Effective Chainsaw Bar and Chain Oil Alternatives

1. Motor Oil

motor oil

When I need an alternative oil for my chainsaw, motor oil is my occasional solution. Apart from being a staple material in every garage, it has almost the same viscosity with a high flash point.

However, it’s not a good substitute oil for your chain and bar. If you aren’t careful, the motor oil can get thrown around as the blades spin at high speeds, making quite a mess in your work area.

The biggest drawback of using motor oil is that it has detergents, which eliminate the tacky factor built into bar and chain oil. So, even heavy-weight motor oils are thinner in viscosity than bar and chain oil, meaning they’re more likely to drip off the chain.

Pros

Cons

Safety Reminders for Using Motor Oil

Prepare for harmful motor oils spilling all over when cutting live trees. Motor oil is non-organic and can be detrimental to the people at the workplace who can inhale such. 

As such, always cover your nose and wear protective gear, such as a mask and shades. This way, you can avoid harmful oil from splatting on your eyes or mouth.

Steps for Applying Motor Oil

  1. Lay your saw on a flatbed or surface and find the bar oil reservoir.
  2. Remove the cover, and pour the clean engine oil through a small funnel.
  3. Use a clean rag to wipe excess oil.

2. Canola Oil

canola oil

Another safe lubrication alternative is canola oil. Canola is made from rapeseed oil, which is why it’s less sticky and clings better to chain, especially in cold areas or winter. 

The high viscosity of canola oil has served me well in frosty conditions. It’s the perfect blend for snowy days and those chilly work environments. In some places I’ve been to, canola oil is actually more cost-effective than the manufacturer’s recommended chain oil.

Pros

Cons

Safety Reminders for Using Canola Oil

Since canola oil is thinner than regular chain oil, it can cause possible problems on the chain and fly off when operating. It won’t stick on the chain, so it’s not a permanent solution but can be a good additive. 

The only good thing about canola is that even if it spills, it has a small vapor pressure that deters you from inhaling fumes, making it a safer option. 

Tips for Using Canola Oil

Like vegetable oils, canola oils are thinner in texture. So expect that it will fall off easily when used for your chainsaw, which is why you will have to refill it more frequently. 

I advise using this type of chainsaw bar oil alternative during the winter to maximize the oil and for it to stick better on your chainsaw.

3. Vegetable Oil

vegetable oil

The most common substitute that people talk about for bar and chain oil is vegetable oil; mostly due to the lower cost of vegetable oil. While it is an eco-friendly alternative, vegetable oil is of a lighter viscosity than bar and chain oil, so it will drip off the chain. 

Secondly, vegetable oil tends to become sticky, which will cause sawdust and other debris to stick to the sprocket and chain. It will probably clog the oil pump eventually, stopping all lubrication of the bar and chain.

That said, using vegetable oil in your chainsaw to trim trees poses no risk of harming your plants. Additionally, vegetable oils are readily available and might be already present in your kitchen.

Pros

Cons

Safety Reminders for Using Vegetable Oil

From my experience, it’s best to avoid reusing vegetable oil as a regular substitute for bar and chain oil. Also, it’s not recommended during the winter season, given its fair viscosity. 

You can use it without dilution, but it’s prone to clumping when placed at a cold temperature. 

Tips for Using Vegetable Oil

The drawback of using vegetable oil is that it tends to leak on your chainsaw and bar when used for the first time. So, tprevent chainsaw oil leaks when storing your chainsaw, locate the screw on the oiler flow that is usually found underneath the saw, and adjust it.

4. Hydraulic Fluid

Hydraulic fluid

Using hydraulic fluids will feel quite similar to traditional motor oil, especially in terms of viscosity and flash points.

Hydraulic fluid can also be used to hydrate the chainsaw guide and bar. You can also use it as an extender should your chain lubricant run out, but I do not recommended it as a permanent solution. 

Pros

Cons

Safety Reminders for Using Hydraulic Fluid

Hydraulic fluid can be dangerous if you don’t use protective gear such as masks and gloves. Like traditional motor oil, it can be harmful both for your skin and when inhaled. 

Therefore, apply proper safety when using hydraulic fluid as a chainsaw bar oil substitute to avoid insidious hydraulic injuries [1]. It’s also harmful to living plants and dangerous when used with high pressure. 

Tips for Using Hydraulic Fluid

Using hydraulic fluid can be a little difficult given its low viscosity, so I recommend diluting with other oils to improve the thickness of the hydraulic oil. 

If possible, pick an eco-friendly hydraulic oil and avoid using used hydraulic fluids which are more prone to contaminants.

5. Transmission Fluid

transmission fluid

While also commonly used as a chainsaw oil substitute, transmission fluid or ATF is notably tackier and runnier than normal lubricants with a thick viscosity. For that reason, I’d caution against relying on it as a long-term alternative.

Manufacturers add detergents to this oil to keep sludge from building up in the transmission. It also contains a small amount of silicone oil, as an anti-foaming agent. The big problem in using this oil for chainsaws is that it will run right off the bar and chain, not lubricating it well.

It can also be dangerous for your lungs when inhaled accidentally. Dangerous oils can be harmful and aren’t plant-friendly too.

Pros

Cons

Tips for Using Transmission Fluid

Although transmission fluid is not designed for use as bar and chain oil, the low viscosity and detergents make it an excellent product for cleaning chains that have been removed from the saw. They can also be used to coat a chain (dip the chain in the oil), before bagging it for storage.

6. Power Steering and Gear Fluid

Power Steering fluid

Power steering and gear fluids can also be used as an alternative solution to oil chains. Like the normal chain lubricant, a gear oil is lightweight and can prevent the chains from jamming. 

It can commonly eliminate friction when there’s not enough oil running on your chains. However, this oil is so thick that it will not pump well through the small oil pump and orifice that are typical in a chainsaw. There’s a good chance that the bar and chain will not be lubricated at all.

Pros

Cons

7. Coconut Oil

coconut oil

Of all the pantry oils that can be used as an alternative, coconut oil is a non-toxic substitute that’s advisable even in high temperatures such as summer. 

It’s a nonhazardous chainsaw bar oil substitute that works well in the long run.

Pros

Cons

8. Olive Oil

olive oil

You wouldn’t imagine using this pantry staple, but olive oil is another alternative bar oil. It has high viscosity making it apt as a chainsaw oiler. 

And let’s be honest, it’s a staple you can always find within arm’s reach in any kitchen.

Pros

Cons

9. Used Engine Oil

chainsaw bar oil

If you’re running out of fresh engine oil, you can drain oil from your motorbike or car and use it to keep your chainsaw running smoothly without stopping or idling. Used motor oil can also be an alternative chain lube for your chainsaw’s chain and bars. 

Pros

Cons

Safety Reminders for Used Engine Oil

Before using used motor oil on your chain, make sure it’s filtered multiple times to avoid harmful fumes from damaging your bars and chains. Filtering oil can make it cleaner, but it still poses a risk of unstable lubrication. 

How to Filter Drained Motor Oil

  1. To drain used motor oil, make sure the fluid is warm. 
  2. Use a proper purifier or bypass filtration to remove debris and dirt.

10. Used Hydraulic Fluids

Hydraulic fluid for chainsaw

You can bank on this option if you run out of regular oil. Their naturally high viscosity has ensured smooth sailing for my chainsaw and bar. Plus, with their high flash point, they’ll be reliable companions even on those frosty winter days.

Pros

Cons

Safety Reminders for Used Hydraulic Oil

Used hydraulic fluid can be harmful, much more if drained, so it’s recommended to equip yourself with proper safety gear and avoid skin contact. Also, ensure it’s filtered to prevent debris and dirt from clogging onto your chainsaw chains. 

How to Filter Drained Hydraulic Oil

  1. Place a clean cheesecloth or any filter cloth onto the funnel.
  2. Pour the oil into the funnel with a filter and do this multiple times until it looks cleaner and dirt-free.

Other Alternatives

Despite all these alternatives we’ve listed above, we still recommend re-stocking on your chain lubricants now and then. 

Hence if the above is unavailable, these are your last-resort options. But be mindful that these are not good long-term substitutes.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Substitute for Bar and Chain Oil

Flash Point

The oil’s flash point is vital in lubricating your saw chain. It allows the chainsaw bar and chain to withstand extreme speeds. 

Before choosing a chainsaw bar and chain oil substitute, make sure that the chainsaw oil you use has similar properties to your manufacturer’s recommended bar oil. 

Safety

When choosing an alternative bar and chain oil, always ensure that it’s fresh and clean to avoid possible damage to your chainsaw’s bar and chain. Over the years, I’ve observed that used oils can contain elements detrimental to the chainsaw bar oil reservoir.

person operating a Husqvarna chainsaw

Also, always switch off your chainsaw before re-filling the bar oil reservoir to avoid unnecessary accidents. 

Warranty Problems

One drawback of using an alternative bar and chain oil is warranty problems. Before using a substitute oil, check back with your manual and see if this won’t void your chain’s warranty. 

Chainsaws are equipped with warranty claims, but it has specific conditions, and you don’t want to waste the warranty should you proceed with bar oil substitutes. 

Stickiness or Viscosity

Viscosity is important when choosing a replacement oil because the oil needs to be very sticky, so it holds to the chain properly. If it’s too runny, it might result in the oil spilling to the bar, which nulls the lubricant’s purpose. 

Chain oils prevent the chains from drying up, but if it’s not sticky enough, the chains will still dry up. 

Environment Concerns

During my operations, I’ve noticed that some oil inevitably sheds off the bar. Hence, the oil choice can inadvertently impact the environment, both locally and in surrounding areas. Always prioritize eco-friendly oils to mitigate potential environmental and health risks.

mixing fuel for husqvarna chainsaw

Why Your Chainsaw Chain Requires Oil + Dos and Don’ts of Chainsaw Maintenance

The working part of any chainsaw is the cutting chain, which is similar in appearance to a bicycle chain, with saw teeth added. This chain passes around the saw’s “bar” with small extensions on the inner side of the chain riding in a slot in the bar. 

This metal-on-metal contact will eventually cause wear, perhaps to the point of failure, if it is not lubricated. Hence the need for bar and chain oil. The oil also serves as a solvent for tree sap, preventing that sap from building up on the saw’s chain and bar. 

This oil is pumped from a reservoir in the saw’s body to the hub of the drive sprocket, where it passes out through an orifice into the slot in the bar. As the chain travels around the bar, it spreads the oil, lubricating the entire chain and bar. 

For this to work, a fairly heavy oil is needed, as a lighter oil will drip out, rather than sticking to the metal parts. It is slightly “tacky” as compared to other oils, to help it hold in place, doing its job. It is these characteristics that make bar and chain oil different than other oils that we can buy.

Dos and Donts

Increased Friction

To avoid burning your chain and guarantee the longevity of your machine, it is a must to apply proper lubrication on your chainsaw guide bar and the chain. 

lubricating saw chain

This will prevent the bar and chain from rubbing against each other, which can generate intense friction and risk damage to your engine. Bar oils will prevent unnecessary clogging and increase your chainsaw bars’ longer use. 

On average, a well-oiled bar can last up to 20 times more than if dried up. 

Toxic Formulas

To preserve the manufacturer’s warranty, it’s crucial to use non-toxic oils and formulas for your machine. Your power tools may be your best friend, but proper maintenance is compulsory. 

It’s no surprise to me that many in the forestry profession lean towards oils like sunflower or soybean – they’re not only safe but also have a lesser impact on our environment than options like used oil or gear oil.

Why Choose A Substitute For Your Bar and Chain Oil

Even when there’s a preferred oil or your chainsaw bar, woodworkers and professional arborists are still split on using a chainsaw bar oil alternative mainly for two reasons. 

First, doing so is environment-friendly and cheaper for most states. Environmentalists always suggest using a safer bar oil substitute such as canola and vegetable because it’s nonhazardous for humans and the environment. 

bar and chain oil

The main drawback of chainsaw oil is the excessive fumes that are harmful when ingested. Since sawing involves close contact, there’s always a possibility that inhalation happens, even with protective safety gears. 

Must-Know Tips When Using Alternative Fluids For A Chainsaw Bar and Chain

Should you find yourself in a position where you need to use other oils as a substitute for bar and chain oil, I’d recommend cleaning out the saw’s oil reservoir and pump as soon as reasonably possible afterwards, then filling them with the proper oil. 

Run the saw a bit, so as to cause a small amount of the bar and chain oil to pass through the pump and orifice, replacing any other oil in it. Store the saw with the chain and bar covered, to protect them from dirt accumulation sticking to the oil.

FAQ

How much bar oil should you put on a chainsaw?

Observe how much oil your chainsaw needs by starting with the standard 2-3 tablespoons per operation. If you notice the chain becoming gritty, add more oil to the bar. 

Generally, a chainsaw needs enough lubrication to extend its longevity. Bar oils are curated specifically for the chain to withstand extreme heat and pressure, which is common when using your saw. 

How long does a chainsaw chain oil last before expiring?

Chainsaw oils can go bad if stored for more than a year. Manufacturers recommend using your bar oils within a year to achieve the best quality. Hence, it can work for only a maximum of three years in storage. 

Conclusion

Even tree fellers and professional arborists see lubrication as a touchy subject when dealing with chainsaws, which is why there are a lot of questions running around about what possible oil substitutes to use. 

But even with all this, I’d just like to say that while you can use these alternative oils in a chainsaw, they are only meant as emergency replacements if you don’t have bar and chain oil available. They’re not meant to be used regularly, as they will cause faster wear on the chainsaw’s bar and chain, making it necessary to replace them sooner. They may also clog the oil pump, necessitating its replacement.

Still, I hope this article has enlightened you on the best second-option bar and chain oil substitute you can use should you run out of bar oil in the future.

Rich Profile Pic

Rich is a second-generation woodworker, having grown up in his dad’s workshop, “making sawdust.” Fifty years later, he’s still studying and working on improving his own woodworking skills, while also helping new woodworkers “catch the bug” for the smell of fresh sawdust. While Rich has done some custom woodworking projects, his greatest thrill is helping the next generation of woodworkers along, regardless of their age. His background as an engineer and a writer just adds to his ability to teach his true passion, woodworking.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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