Why Were Chainsaws Invented? (Its Original Use + Facts)

craftsman chainsaw

If you buy something through our posts, we may get a small commission. Read more here.

Chainsaws are considered an indispensable tool in woodworking today, but did you know it wasn’t originally made for this purpose? So why were chainsaws invented in the first place?  

Is it possible that the original chainsaw was invented for medical procedures, specifically for child delivery? In this guide, our research team will discuss its evolution into the modern chainsaws we use in cutting wood and trees today. 

Who Invented Chainsaws?

The very first chainsaw was a far cry from the huge electrically-operated power tools we now use for cutting wood and huge trees. 

In fact, it was two Scottish doctors, John Aitken and James Jeffray who invented the chainsaw designed from a watch chain and specifically made for childbirth. Jeffray was infamous as an Anatomy and Botany professor at Glasgow University for 58 years.

Poulan Chainsaws

What Were Chainsaws Made for Originally?

Dating back to the 1780s, two Scottish surgeons, John Aitken and James Jeffray saw the need to create a tool to help with childbirth. 

Knives were perceived as ineffective and time-consuming when conducting symphysiotomy. It’s the procedure carried out for pregnant women, whose babies are faced in a breech position.

With the invention of a hand-crank powered professional chainsaw, these two Scottish doctors were able to find more space in the birth canal, and alleviate the laborious removal of pelvic bone easier.

Were Chainsaws Invented for Childbirth?

The Tiktok rumor about chainsaws originally invented for childbirth is actually a fact. Back then, childbirth delivery was even more difficult and a C-section was not possible for mothers due to the lack of proper tools and anesthetic. 

First chainsaw used for childbirth

This would lead doctors to result in the messy procedure of cutting with knives which often took long, endangering the mothers in the process. 

As morbid as it may sound, the medical chainsaw had little teeth and is used in replacement of the small knife that’s commonly used for the childbirth surgical procedure. 

What is a Symphysiotomy?

Symphysiotomy is no longer performed in modern medicine, thanks to modern surgery.

delivering a baby in an operating room

But it’s a butchering procedure where the doctors divide the cartilage of the pubic symphysis, of the pelvic joint, to widen a women’s pelvis. 

This was utilized for many years before the operating room was made available for caesarean section was made safer. 

When did they stop using chainsaws in childbirth?

Even if chainsaws were invented originally for childbirth, they eventually posed risks for mothers who experienced bladder injury and long-term walking difficulty after such a procedure. 

Symphysiotomy became less common in the late 20th century, after the decline in maternal death statistics of caesarian section brought about by improvements and better clinical practices. 

Evolution of Chainsaws: The First Chainsaw Made for Wood Cutting

The use of a chainsaw in medical practice lasted until the 20th century. German orthopaedist Bernhard Heine created another version of the chainsaw, this time for bone-cutting operations on diseased bone [1]

operating an electric chainsaw on a log

However, it was easily replaced by the Gigli twisted wire too. It wasn’t long gone when people realized that the chainsaw model can be maximized out of the medical field.

The first woodcutting chainsaw was invented by Stihl chainsaw company founder – Andreas Stihl. It’s also surprising for a lot of woodworkers to know that chainsaws were originally powered electrically, unlike the modern chainsaw we now have which runs on gasoline.

FAQ

When was the gas-powered chainsaw invented?

The first gas-powered chainsaw was invented in 1927, by the founder of Dolmar Chainsaws – Emil Lerp. However, the Stihl Chainsaw company also launched its own version of gas-powered chainsaws in 1929, two years after inventing the first electric chainsaw.

What did the first chainsaw look like?

The first chainsaw looked like a manual egg-beater, but instead of whisks attached, it had chains and is almost sized like the modern-day kitchen knife. 

Did Robert McCulloch invent the chainsaw?

No, Robert McCulloh was only 15 when the first chainsaw by Andreas Stihl was made, which makes it impossible for him to have invented it.

What is the oldest chainsaw brand?

The oldest chainsaw is traced back to 1926, and it was built by the top-selling chainsaw brand in the US today – Stihl Chainsaw Company. 

Who invented the portable chainsaw?

The first one-man-operated portable chainsaw that runs on gas, was invented by the Dolmar Chainsaw company in 1952. 

Conclusion

Anything with the word chainsaw being associated with surgery is terrifying, but learning about the history of the day-to-day products we use is surprisingly interesting and thought-provoking. Now that you know why chainsaws were invented in the first place, aren’t you curious about what other power tools have a weird origin story? 

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 and women. 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