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

bar and chain oil

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A chainsaw is guaranteed to be an efficient power tool, provided that a user keeps it well lubricated. But no matter how heavy-duty this machine is, it will surely fold with the wrong bar oil. 

Therefore, procuring a suitable alternative is always a trouble for most users. Let’s break all the myths and discover apt bar and chain oil substitutes, as recommended by our experts. 

6 Effective Chainsaw Bar and Chain Oil Alternatives

1. Motor Oil

motor oil

Motor oil makes a decent occasional oil substitute for your chainsaw. Apart from its common use in every garage, it has the perfect viscosity and lower flammability. 

However, we don’t recommend using it as a good substitute oil for your chain and bar. You don’t want to spill motor oil over your working area since using it on spinning blades and at high speeds means flipping oil everywhere while you’re working. 

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. 

Always cover your nose and wear protective gear, such as a mask and shades. This way, you can avoid the 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. Made from rapeseed, 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 makes it an ideal diluting solution on snowy days and in low-temperature conditions. Also, there are areas where canola oil is cheaper 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. 

Hence, 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. 

We advise using this 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

Vegetable oils are also deemed a safe alternative to your chainsaw. Not to mention, it’s best to trim trees without thinking the oil can harm your plants. Also, it’s easily available; you probably have one in your kitchen right now. 

Pros

Cons

Safety Reminders for Using Vegetable Oil

Never use used vegetable oil as a regular bar and chain oil substitute. 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. To prevent leaks, locate the screw on the oiler flow, usually found underneath the saw, and adjust it.

4. Hydraulic Fluid

Hydraulic fluid

Hydraulic oils are close and alike to traditional motor oil and bar oil in terms of oil viscosity and flash point. 

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

Pros

Cons

Safety Reminders for Using Hydraulic Fluid

Hydraulic fluid can be dangerous without protective gear such as masks and gloves. Like traditional motor oil, It can be harmful both for your skin and when inhaled. 

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 we recommend diluting it 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 are tacky and runnier than normal lubricants which thick viscosity. This is why we don’t advise using it as alternative oil in the long run.

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

Pros

Cons

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. 

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. 

Also, it’s handy because every pantry has olive oil almost daily.

Pros

Cons

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.

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

This is another option you can bank on if you run out of regular oil. The high viscosity of hydraulic fluid allows efficient lubrication for your chainsaw and bar. It also has a high flash point making it apt even during winter.

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.

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. Used oils tend to have toxic substances that are harmful 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

Oils come off the bar when sawing, which is why your choice of oil can be one cause of environmental issues not only at your place but in the nearby areas too. When choosing a substitute oil, ensure it’s not hazardous to prevent health concerns. 

mixing fuel for husqvarna chainsaw

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

Chainsaw chains are made of metal, which requires oil and constant lubrication. To increase the lifespan of chainsaws, it needs oil for the bar and chain to glide easily. This lubrication prevents friction that can cause damage to your chains. 

Dos and Donts:

  1. Do not force a chainsaw if there’s no lubricant. When a chain lacks oil, it can cause overheating and lead to excessive fuel consumption, which can be detrimental to your chainsaw. 
  2. Mix chainsaw bar oil substitutes with other diluting oils to achieve viscosity similar to the recommended bar and chain oil by your chainsaw manufacturers.
  3. Do filter used oil before applying it to your chains to prevent dirt and debris from clogging the oil pump. 
  4. Don’t use a chainsaw bar oil alternative that has no similar properties to the oil specified by your chainsaw manufacturer to prevent the bar and chain from getting glued up. 

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. 

This is why tree-fellers prefer pantry staples like sunflower oil and soybean oil rather than gear oil or used oil, as it’s safer and environment-friendly.

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

Chainsaws are regularly programmed to function with fuel and oil, and these two should run out simultaneously. 

However, when using substitute oils, the oil quality can differ, causing one to run out before the other. If this happens, thoroughly observe the trend to know which to top up first to keep it running efficiently. 

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. 

To optimize maximum saw performance, manufacturers recommend specific brands. Hence, we 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.

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
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