Types of Oil for a Chainsaw: What to Use For Electric, Gas Chainsaws

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Much like the engine in your car, a gas-powered chainsaw requires regular oil changes to maintain its peak performance. The right oil can make all the difference in how your chainsaw operates, while the wrong choice might lead to issues down the road.

Drawing from my years of expertise with these machines, I’ll walk you through selecting the appropriate oil for electric, gas, and other types of chainsaws. Let’s get started!

The Importance of Using Chainsaw Oil

Basically, oil keeps the parts of a gas-powered engine working properly. If you don’t have oil, there’s a high chance of ruining your saw. Also, if there’s no oil in the engine’s piston or cylinder, it can be prone to overheating, scoring such parts, which destroys the saw’s function.

The absence of oil in your saw could lead to permanent damage, which is not noticeable at first. The damage could take a long time to appear, and you can see signs around six months if you’re constantly ignoring the use of chainsaw oil. 

What Happens if the Chainsaw Oil Has Gone Bad?

When your chainsaw engine oil goes bad, it can adversely impact your engine’s performance. Two-cycle oils can offer a shelf life of up to five years, but once opened, they should be used within two years to maintain their effectiveness.

leaking chainsaw

I always recommend jotting down the date when you crack open an oil container. That way, if it’s still sitting around after two years, you know it’s time to dispose of it. Stale oil can have a noticeable impact on your saw’s performance, and it’s a small step to prevent potential issues.

Here’s what happens if the chainsaw oil has gone bad:

What Kind of Oil to Use on Your Chainsaw

#1: 2-Stroke Oil

First, you can opt for a 2-stroke oil mix. Here you must mix oil and gas in a specific ratio for two-cycle engines. But, it is important to mix the right oil ratio to avoid insufficient lubrication, performance issues, smoky exhaust, leaking, and power loss.  

BEST 2 Stroke OIL for use in a chainsaw,

Gas to Oil Ratio

As mentioned, you need to know the right gas-to-oil ratio. So, if you have a pre-1998 model, you should use a 32:1 ratio. On newer models, you should use a 40:1 or 50:1 ratio. 

Alternatively, I suggest checking the engine housing to make sure that it clearly states the appropriate ratio.

#2: 4-Stroke Oil

When running four-cycle engines, both gas and oil are put into separate reservoirs. Four-cycle engines use four-stroke oil, which contains special additives. 

These are used to support the various stages of the engine, such as the intake, exhaust, power, and compression.

#3: Motor Oil

Motor oil is another type of chainsaw oil you can use. Although you can use it to replace lubricant, it is not good for your chainsaw engine. It is not advisable to use motor oil on your chainsaws.

Always use the oil that the manufacturer recommends for your chainsaw. Before you start using it, read the user manual to learn more about its properties.

motor oil for chainsaw

To protect yourself while cutting trees, remember that you should use a good quality glove and a perfect mixture of gasoline and oil. Knowing the right ratio of both fuels is also important to ensure that your engine runs smoothly.

#4: Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil is a good choice for those looking for a lighter and thinner oil for their chainsaw. However, for the engine, you should always use the oil recommended by the chainsaw manufacturer. This can also help prevent the saw from sticking while cutting.

#5: 10W30 Oil

Although 10W30 oil is not ideal as a chainsaw bar oil, you can use it as a substitute. Its multi-weight properties make it ideal for use in both winter and summer.

When 10W30 oil gets heated up, it becomes thicker, which makes it ideal for winter use. However, it can also become thick and hard to handle if the chainsaw gets dropped.

This issue is caused by the oil’s unsuitable properties for the bar. Remember, when you use alternative products, some problems may arise. So, if you’re considering the 10W30 oil, expect issues to arise along the process, like chainsaw overheating, shutting down, etc. 

10w30oil

#6: 10W40 Oil

While it’s technically possible to use 10W40 oil as a substitute for chainsaw bar oil, I wouldn’t recommend it. This oil is pretty similar to 10W30, and both are essentially motor oils.

I’ve always been a stickler for using the right products for the right tools. While in a pinch you might consider using these oils as a temporary solution, I’d strongly advise against making it a habit. Unless, of course, your chainsaw’s manufacturer specifically mentions it’s okay. 

There are cons to using alternative products. The 10W40 oil, in particular, is only for the bar and shouldn’t be used as a replacement for the engine or as a mixer oil. 

What Oil Should I Use for an Electric Chainsaw?

Regarding electric chainsaws, you only need to use the type of oil recommended by the manufacturer. Alternatives are not an option here.  

While you can use substitution oils for gas-powered saws, this is not the case with electric saws, even with their bar. But why? 

Cavigillo Electric Chainsaw

Using just any type of oil that is not recommended by the manufacturer can potentially damage the chainsaw and the engine. Check with your chainsaw manufacturer for the oil type you need to use. You shouldn’t use vegetable oil and motor oil. 

Checking Your Chainsaw Engine's Oil

If you have a two-cycle engine and have properly mixed the oil and gas, it’s easy to check the oil level in your tank.

Some models of chainsaws feature a translucent tank, which allows you to see the gas mixture in the tank easily. But for those chainsaws with no apparent tank, you can add fuel [1] and check the tank opening to see the oil’s level. 

For small jobs, a half tank of fuel will be enough. But, if you have a big job ahead of you, you may want to fill up the tank right at the top.

On the other hand, if your chainsaw features a four-cycle engine, you’ll need to use a dipstick to check the engine’s oil level. Here’s how: 

check oil in chainsaw

Changing Your Chainsaw Engine's Oil

Although the exact steps to changing your chainsaw oil and fuel will vary depending on the model, these are the general steps that will help you get started:

However, there’s another method when using a four-cycle engine. You’ll need to change the fuel as it’s separated from the gas. Here’s how: 

checking chainsaw oil level

Pro-Tip: It’s important to have your owner’s manual handy when it comes to your chainsaw. This will give you the necessary details and directions to make the most of your equipment.

Checking Your Chainsaw's Bar and Chain Oil

In addition to the oil for your engine, you also need to provide your chainsaw with bar-and-chain oil. This will help keep the chain in good condition and make it easier to cut.

When running a chainsaw, it uses bar-and-chain oil to maintain its performance. You’ll need to add around one tank of this to your tank every time you fill up. 

It’s easy to keep up with this by filling the reservoir with oil every time you fill up. Some models have a level gauge that shows how much oil is in the tank.

checking chainsaw bar and oil

Reminder: Recognizing the environmental concerns associated with petroleum-based products, there has been a rising preference for biobased and biodegradable oils, both for engines and for bar-and-chain applications. 

When you’re in the market for chainsaw oil, I’d personally recommend opting for these eco-friendly alternatives over the traditional petroleum-based variants. Making this switch is a step toward more sustainable practices.

Types of Bar and Chain Oil

Bar and chain oil has two different types: winter and summer, and each has distinct viscosity. Summer oils are heavier and thicker, formulated for hot working conditions. 

On the other hand, winter oils are lighter and thinner, allowing chainsaws to run smoothly in cold working conditions.

Conclusion

While there are different types of oils available for chainsaws, there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all substitute for engine oil. I always advise chainsaw owners to refer to their specific brand or the model’s configurations before making any decisions.

Manufacturers typically provide recommendations for the ideal oil for optimal performance. While vegetable oil has emerged as a suitable alternative for me in some cases, it’s still essential to confirm its compatibility with your particular chainsaw. Safety and performance should always be at the forefront of these choices.

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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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