A Brief History & Evaluation of The Chainsaw OR Chain Saws

Whenever people mention tree removal, two items are likely to get into your mind: the chainsaw and axe. The evolution of axes will make enough sense at the first glance. We can place the wedge along with its sharpened edge closer to the end of primitive carving tools from millennia and centuries before. Now, what about the chainsaws? How did the strange tool come into existence? You might believe it or not, chainsaws have their beginning in medicine. Yes, James Jeffray and John Aitken, Scottish doctors, worked independently but came up with similar basic tools in 1780s for the purpose of cutting bones, not wood.

The first chainsaws involved only a few advancements and were so heavy that they required at least two men to use them effectively – it was impossible for a single person to operate them. That was in the 1940s. After the end of the World Wars, cutters managed to use chainsaws to cut wood in the same way we use the modern saws. The wars allowed more advancement in the metal manufacturers needed to manufacture the machines. The chainsaws also became more common. After the Second World War, the chainsaw was not used in medical world to cut bones, but in forestry to fell large trees and cut small tree limbs.

It can be hard to believe that something that people initially used to cut bones eventually became the chainsaw we use today. That clearly shows how something can change over a very long time particularly if people have a vision of seeing something applied in more than one task.

How chainsaws were invented

Image Credit: Wikipedia

The first hand saw featured a chain with toothed connects on one side that ran between the saw’s two handles. The user would replace one handle with an arched needle, pass it through the patient’s soft tissues surrounding the bone and then replace the handle. At that time, sawing would begin.

It was not until later in 1830s that the saw design was expanded to develop something that closely resembled the modern chainsaws. A German doctor, Bernhard Heine, decided to close the serrated chain loop and developed a better hand-cracked bone saw. Despite creating an introductory, hand powered version of the modern-day chain saw, it took the world almost another century to create the chainsaw as we know it today.

Naturally, people applied the basic idea for many other solutions. Today, it is used for many common applications such as cutting down trees. Patent for the debut electric chain saw was granted to Andreas Stihl in Germany, in the year 1926. The first electric chainsaw weighted around 140 pounds and needed at least two people to operate it. However, due to the Great Depression onset, adoption of electric chainsaws was very slow.

In the year 1927 Emil Lerp, another German, introduced the debut gasoline powered chainsaw – Stihl had to develop another version in the year 1929 – that suffered many problems similar to those of Stihl’s version. The machine’s weight stood at around 125 pounds and needed two men to operate.

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The two men began their companies with an aim of producing and selling their inventions. Stihl began his company STIHL while Lerp started the Dolmar Company. Even though Makita, a Japanese company acquired the STIHL Company in 1991, it is still producing chainsaws.

Despite the slower start in 1920s, Andrea Stihl’s company has remained the leading chainsaws producer globally. Undoubtedly, flannel-wearing arborists and lumberjacks are using his invention. What’s more, the chainsaw has remained the most reliable tool in tree care service and logging industry.

The First Osteotome

Most individuals believe that the osteotome was the first chainsaw. With help of this special instrument, orthopaedics stood out as a specialty. Invented in 1830 by German Bernard Heine, the machine had a chain that moved around its guiding blade. To move the chain, the user had to turn the sprocket wheel handle.

A number of major chainsaws manufacturers claim that they had invented they invented the first chainsaw. However, most of this claim point to earlier and later 1920s. Actually, the 1830 osteotome predates them all.

Another claim shows that a California inventor, Muir, was the first man to combine a chain with a blade for use in logging tasks – technically developing the first ever wood chainsaw. However, his machine weighed hundreds of pounds, required a crane and several men to operate. The invention was neither a practical or commercial success.

Among the earlier automatic logging chainsaws include the 1861 Hamilton saw, which had a look similar to that of the spinning wheel and was hand-cracked to function. American riding saw is the other earlier version developed in the 1880s. Cutters could sit on this chainsaw that resembled a towing machine.

The first gas powered chainsaw

Evidently, the osteotome featured tiny cutting teeth with slanted edges that Bernard Heine linked with a long chain that he simply moved by rotating a wheel. Another early type of chainsaw was a saw that moved forth and back when cranked. The third type, known as the American Riding Machine looked like a rowing machine, but with cutters.

Now, the first gas powered chainsaw appeared for the first time in the year 1926. The saw was water cooled; two-cylinder operated and featured a marine type motor bent at 90 degrees from the normal position. To saw through a ten-foot log, the machine took around 4.5 minutes.

In the same year, a German engineer, Andreas Stihl, invented the first electric chainsaw known as the Cutoff Chainsaw for Electric Power and Stihl also started the first steam boiler company. On the same year, a machine accepted as the First real chainsaw was made. It is also known as the first fully mobile chainsaw.

The modern chainsaws are mobile gas-powered tools that run on smaller engines. Joseph Buford Cox, an expert operator of chainsaws, is the inventor of the modern chainsaw. Again, in 1972, Atom Industries released their fashion of chainsaws which included some with electronically ignited features and others with self-cleaning systems.

Oregon’s contribution in chainsaw development

In the late 1960s and earlier 1970s, people worked more towards reducing kickback associated hazards in the chainsaw world. Therefore, they had to conduct more research and develop better chainsaws. The development of kickback test machine started in 1970 but was finalised in 1972 after creation of a 3rd generation kickback test machine.

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The Oregon® test machine assured development of reduced-kickback products. The low profile chains which included the 91 series released in 1974 and the 76 series released in 1976 are some of the first.

Earlier research on kickback showed that small bar-nose size was more effective in kickback control. Oregon® Guard Tip bars, nicknamed the banana bars (because of their asymmetrical shape), introduced in 1977 represented a bigger stride in the chainsaw market.

Intensive cooperation towards kickback-performance standard started in late 1970s – the US Consumer Product Safety Commission worked with several chainsaw manufacturers to see the progress. Engineers from Oregon played an important role in what resulted to the ANSI B175.1 safety standards in 1985.

In the same year (1985), Blount, Inc. an international manufacturing and Construction Company purchased the Omark Industries which was Oregon Saw Chain’s parent company. Blount merged with Lehman Brothers Merchant Banking Partners in 1999.

Oregon Cutting Systems form part of the Blount’s Outdoor Products Group. Dixon Industries, Inc., Windsor Forestry Tools, LLC and Frederic Manufacturing Corp, situated in Missouri, Kansas City, form part of Blount’s Outdoor Products Group. Dixon has been producing zero-turning-radius lawn mowers since the year 1974. Frederick is among the few global companies producing top-notch Silver Streak-brand accessories for outdoor products such as lawn mowers.

In October 2000, Forestry Tools of Milan was integrated into the Outdoor Products Group. They have been manufacturing chainsaw cutting chains and guide bars similar to those Oregon Cutting Systems produces.

Joseph Buford Cox Contribution in chainsaw development

Joseph Buford Cox produced what is currently known as chipper-type chain for chainsaws. His design was based on timber beetle larva C-shaped jaws. Buford worked alongside his wife Violet to develop the Oregon Saw Chain Company. Later, Buford started a small casting company known as OMARK – the modern Omark Industries.

Omark Industries later acquired Oregon Saw Industries but it later became a subsidiary of Blount, Inc. in the year 1985. Later in 1999, Blount joined with the Lehman Brothers Merchant Banking partners to form what we know as the Oregon Cutting Systems Division of Blount, Inc. A large percentage of chains in the market boast Oregon Chain, which is based on Joseph Buford Cox’s invention.

The Future of Chainsaws

Chainsaw manufacturers rarely announce exciting and innovative news relating to their products development. It is not a secret that chainsaws have not changed a lot within the last few decades. Actually, there are incremental innovations and changes that occur naturally as technology evolves. That happens with many industries, and the chainsaw industry is not an exception.

The design of chainsaws has stagnated for a long time and it is not obvious that companies are investing money, time and other resources into developing more innovative chainsaws technology. Possibly, we might start seeing companies incorporating the greatest and latest technology into their products. In other words, they might start offering ultra-safe chainsaws for homeowners and chainsaws with in-built Wi-Fi to inform you about the general health of the chainsaw.

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In what might be known as a new beginning in the world of chainsaws, two engineers have developed a professional chainsaw powered by the exact same turbine applied in jet engine. The two people behind the high-powered machine are Matt Santjer and Ander Prager, who are currently working for STIHL – the topping chainsaws producer in the United States. The two unveiled the jet engine powered chainsaw at the Reno Air Races.

The machine features a Wren Turboprop turbine along with a customised exhaust. Surprisingly, the engineers fitted the casing back onto the machine, making it extremely hard to identify the strong engine running it.

According to the designers, the chainsaw is fully functional with zero vibration, automatic start and great weight to power ratio. In addition, the engineers claim that the engine has four times fuel consumption and shooting flames. Even though the machine stands out as the first of its kind, STIHL has not confirmed whether it will make it into the market.

Why a turbine jet engine on chainsaws


There are several reasons why chainsaw manufacturers might start using jet engines. First, jet engines chainsaw have higher power-to-weight ratio as compared to the reciprocating engines. That represents the total amount of power the user gets out of an engine as compared to the total weight of the engine. For a jet engine powered machine, it is great. Jet engines are also smaller than the reciprocating counterparts of similar power.

However, on the downside, turbine jet engines chainsaw are expensive than the reciprocating engines of the same size. The engines spin at very high speeds. And due to their higher operating temperatures, their design and manufacture is a big problem on both the materials and engineering standpoint. The engines also use more fuel when idling. They also prefer constant loads, not fluctuating ones. That might explain why it is not the engine running your vehicle.

Ego also developed a battery operated chainsaw, which features a powerful 56V battery. STIHL, on the other hand developed a beautiful machine using the Carbon Concept. Actually, the manufacturer incorporated several ideas from other industries current design trends. Looking at the concept closely, you are likely to think about the products from Apple. You will rarely see a white chainsaw.

STIHL will definitely release the best chainsaws into the market in the future. The chainsaw utilises carbon-based materials that translate into the best weight-to-power ratio of the available chainsaws (1.11Kg/KW). Use of carbon fibre will eventually allow development of powerful professional-grade chainsaws that are ultra-light and therefore more comfortable to operate for long periods. In addition to being durable carbon fibre is five times stronger than steel.

Even more, STIHL engineers have replaced the carburettor with a fuel-injection system that is electronically controlled. The primary benefit of the fuel-injection system is that it allows precise and accurate air/fuel mixture control and therefore the machine can function at the maximum efficiency and still produce fewer emissions. Fuel injection is also reliable and needs minimal maintenance.

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