The History of Chainsaws: Origin, Invention, and Evolution

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Have you ever wondered how chainsaws started? How it came into life, and what was used back then instead of these machines we now enjoy for its convenience? 

If you’re also wondering about this, you’ve come to the right place. Let us take you a little back to glance at the history of chainsaws and what was used before in cutting timbers and wood.

The Onset of Chainsaw Use

Tracing back to the development of chain saws in the 1920s, it is impeccable to note how much this has helped civilization. For years, buildings were monopolized with woodwork, making it challenging for woodworkers without power tools. 

Like how the human race evolved, and so did forest work. Chain saws alleviated the once-humongous work of cutting, logging trees, and finessing woodwork. 

It was also a way of cutting time-consuming work such as felling, which was very dangerous back then. The onset of these saws has made it more plausible to maximize forests, which were the center of human civilization. 

operating an electric chainsaw on a log

Chainsaw units have also impacted the timber industry in such a way that they allowed the manufacturing of more complex tools used to create more advanced machines. 

Simply put, this simple tool made human life more efficient in creating house structures and providing ease for everyday use.

Who Invented the Chainsaw?

The chainsaw was first invented and conceptualized by two German doctors, John Aitken and James Jeffray. However, it was used as a bone cutter and mostly for medical purposes. 

It was called “osteotome,” which meant bone cutter. Hence German Orthopaedist Bernhard Heine was behind the roll-out of the first chainsaw, which had small sharp edges and small cutting teeth designed at certain angles for maximum cutting impact. 

It also has a sprocket wheel that allows the chain to turn over the guide bar and aid the small cutting teeth to rip objects. While this may have very little power compared to the chainsaws we have now, it was the framework for the powerful tool we have today.

Stihl 034 Magnum

Moving forward, the first chainsaw used for cutting wood was patented by Andreas Stihl. Stihl patented two chain saws, mainly the 116-pound electric model and a 139-pound gas model, which the US troops brought home in 1941 to imitate. 

Its Evolution in the 1900s

Earlier in the 19th century, individuals started to thirst for saw innovations. However, all inventions back then were unwieldy, heavy, and weren’t progressive beyond their prototype phase. 

It was also a recurring case with machines powered by steam engines. The first circular and band saws were manufactured in England, but there was still a division of work with aces mainly used for felling. 

Since the heavy axes weren’t enough and the demand for stronger cutting tools was raised, this prompted researchers in the 1900s to study and redesign chain saws so they could be utilized as powerful tools for commercial carpentry and forestry use. 

Motorized saws prompted increased timber production since chain saws were brought into the light.

Dolmar Chainsaw

It was Samuel J. Bens who made the first-ever endless chain saw possible. Since then, manufacturers and researchers have sought more powerful attributes to the chainsaw to cater to heavy and sturdier wood types. 

Come 1947, one-person saws were created using aluminum alloys and forged steel parts. Woodworkers were still calling for less heavy saws since these first chain saws were humongous in weight. 

It was in 1949 when McCulloch Motors Corp. debuted the lightest chainsaw then, which was only 25-pound. It was called Model 3-25. Through this, chainsaw users can hold their equipment for longer periods.

Stihl then introduced another feature, the anti-vibration handle, which utilizes buffer elements to absorb vibrations produced by the chain.  

When was the Gas-Powered Chainsaw Invented?

Stihl patented the first gas-powered chainsaw in 1926, but the official manufacturing date was 1927. The Dolmar Chainsaw company began replicating the gas-powered chain saws for market production. 

person starting a Coocheer Chainsaw 62CC 20-inch Gas Powered Chainsaw

These gas-powered chainsaws are equipped with more power than electric units. It was maximized in the 1930s and was deployed to meet the wood and timber demand in World War II [1]

As time progressed, alongside the industrial revolution, the chain saw design also improved and was replaced with aluminum and steel components to achieve lighter weight. 

When was the Electric Chainsaw Invented?

German Mechanical Engineer Andreas Stihl invented the first electric chainsaw in 1926. It weighed more than 60 kilograms and required two persons to operate. 

They developed this electric chainsaw, especially for woodcutting purposes, and up to date, Stihl is the largest and oldest chain saw manufacturer in the world. 

The Modern Chainsaw

Looking back to where the first chainsaw units were used, it is hard to believe that it was intended on human bones without thinking of the now-popular franchise “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” But since then, the evolution of chain saws has been deemed world revolutionary. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - 1974

From weighing a hundred pounds, being operated by two people, and now to portable cutting tools which can be handheld by a single person. 

In 1959, now-industry giant Husqvarna developed a machine with cutting-edge mufflers that reduce noise levels completely. 

The company also made the anti-vibration mechanism a huge success, allowing it to export chainsaw machines to the North American continent. Husqvarna also introduced the Auto-tune function, another breakthrough in the chain saw industry. 

Future of Chainsaws

Companies also started into existence, offering an array of chain saws with different blade types and features such as an automatic chain brake, rear and front handles, anti-vibration, and even cordless ones. 

Technology also made it possible to prioritize user convenience, deeming safety as an important metric in producing one. This paves the way for low kickback chain bars and pulls cords system for ultimate ease. 

chainsaw anti-vibration system

Safety standards became a huge concern, which prompted Husqvarna to revolutionize chain saws with an automatic chain break. This breakthrough happened in 1973 and has lessened chainsaw-related injuries since then. 

The company Husqvarna also designed lightweight composite materials to make such handier in the 1980s.

Husqvarna continued to innovate and monopolize the chainsaw industry with huge upgrades such as the Autotune function, ergonomic body, and regulated fuel flow minimizing exhaust emissions. 

In 2012, Husqvarna also launched battery products that helped simplify maintenance and chainsaw vibration levels.  

It’s close to saying that the chain saw industry would innovate over and over, and this revolution is endless. The future relies solely on consumers’ demand for efficiency and innovation and the industry of manufacturers willing to supplement these needs. 

person operating a Husqvarna chainsaw

As long as woodwork and pieces are cut or fallen, the chain saw industry would only continue to thrive and improve. 

FAQ

When were chainsaws first used to cut wood?

Chainsaws were first used to cut wood in the middle of the 18th century after they delivered solid cutting advantages for forestry owners. 

It wasn’t until the early 19th century that chain saws became widely popular. The first one-man chainsaw built to cut wood was produced in the 1950s and weighed about double the weight of chainsaws. 

How did people cut firewood before chainsaws?

People relied on the axe to cut firewood before chainsaws. Cutting firewood or timber was a load of work before this power tool was created. 

Axes were built either with stone, copper, and bronze, depending on the culture, and were deemed vital for cutting and felling trees into the 19th century. 

Conclusion

History may seem boring, but knowing where your most prized possessions came from and what has contributed to their evolution is another way of appreciating how much ease it has brought to your life today. 

The history of chainsaws may not be as grand, but it surely is enough to make you pamper your tool, given how much it has done to make your job easier.  

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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