Why Were Chainsaws Invented? Fact Checked 2024

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Chainsaws, a vital tool in contemporary woodworking, harbor a fascinating origin story that may surprise you. It’s intriguing to note that these versatile machines weren’t initially crafted for the purpose they now serve so proficiently. Delving into their history, you might wonder if the original chainsaw was conceived with a quite unexpected purpose in mind: aiding in medical procedures, particularly during child delivery.

In this post, let’s embark on a journey to uncover the remarkable evolution of these tools, ultimately leading to the modern chainsaws that have become indispensable for wood and tree cutting today.

Who Invented Chainsaws?

The very first chainsaw was a far cry from the huge electrically-operated power tools woodworkers 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 the history of 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?

Thanks to modern surgery, symphysiotomy is no longer performed in modern medicine.

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 running on gasoline.

If you want to know how chainsaws have evolved through the years, read The History of Chainsaws.

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

The mere association of the word “chainsaw” with surgery may understandably evoke a sense of trepidation; however, delving into the intriguing history of everyday products can prove to be surprisingly captivating and contemplative. 

Having uncovered the origin behind the invention of chainsaws, you might find yourself intrigued by the peculiar genesis stories of various other power tools.

(Read Also: Who Made the Black Max Chainsaw?)

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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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