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History of Chain Saw

A chain saw is a portable gasoline, electric, or battery powered saw which cuts with a set of teeth attached to a rotating chain driven along a guide bar. It is used in activities such as tree felling, limbing, bucking, pruning, cutting firebreaks in wildland fire suppression and harvesting of firewood. Chainsaws with specially designed bar and chain combinations have been developed as tools for use in chainsaw art and chainsaw mills.  These kinds of saws have been developed over the decades and led to an increase in timber production in comparison to the time when the non-motorized saws and axes were used. In this article we will go through more details about the history of chain saws and see how have been revolutionized over the years till now.

Early Chain Saw

Chainsaws have had a huge impact on the timber and forestry industries. Although today we take them for granted, our ancestors collected wood using axes and other heavy objects which was a strenuous and time-consuming procedure. And that was their reality, from antiquity until the conception of the first modern chainsaw.

The axe has the oldest tradition of all wood cutting tools used by humans. Its use reaches so far back in human history that it’s form in stone, copper, bronze and iron reflects the different forms of culture. It remained one of the most important and widely used tools for felling trees right into the 19th Century.

Around 5000 B.C. Germanic tribes invented the first saw. They nicked small teeth into half-moon shaped flints. Whether these saws were used for working on wood is not known. After the discovery of copper this was used, in the form of bronze, to produce axes and saws (with axes not only could trees be felled, but also adversaries). Around 750 B.C. iron replaced bronze as a working material but saws remained out of bronze for many centuries. However, they were used less in the forests and more by artisans, doctors and surgeons.

There is no information on other uses of the saw up until the 8th Century A.C. From this time on, they were used by artisans but not by lumberjacks. Up until the 16th Century there is no proof, that hand saws were used in forestry work. On the other hand, saw mills, which cut trunks into planks, had already been around for some time in the forest. Around 1500 Leonardo da Vinci also spent some time on saws. He sketched – as far as is known – the first saw teeth which worked both by pulling and pushing. Up until now the tools had worked either by pushing (Europe) or by pulling (Asia).

Around 1800 the first circular and band saws were produced in England. At this time there was still a division of work between the axe and the saw: the felling and debranching was carried out using an axe, and the cutting to length was done using a saw. This inferior role of the saw remained for a long time. To some extent the saw was unknown and in certain places the felling of trees using a saw was forbidden. On the other hand, in 1752 Empress Maria Theresa decreed that trees should no longer be felled “in the old way with the chopper, but with the saw near to the roots”, so as, on the one hand to have less wastage of timber and on the other a better fertilization (saw dust decomposes quicker than wood shavings). This decree like many others was ignored.

This was because kneeling down was against the body motoric of lumberjacks at that time. On top of this saws were about six times more expensive than axes. Lumberjacks could not afford them. Employers then provided the saws, which meant that lumberjacks sank from being self-employed artisans to wage workers. Timber thieves however preferred the saw because in comparison to the axe it was a quieter tool to work with. This led to timber thefts using a saw being punished harder than those using an axe.

Although the saw was already known in antiquity (Egypt, Rome), it was only widely put into use in the forest in central Europe towards the middle of the 18th Century. The saw brought not only an increased yield in timber but also many other advantages for forestry owners. However, for the lumberjacks they brought mainly disadvantages. In the middle of the 19th Century there were also forward-looking individuals who built mechanical saws, which could be taken into the forests like drag saws. Most of these inventions were however very heavy, unwieldy and never really progressed beyond the prototype stage. The same happened to machines which were powered by steam engines fueled with the resulting wood waste.

chain saw history

Development of The Chain Saw in 19th Century

It was not until the 1920’s that someone invented a proper chainsaw. Three names should be mentioned: Wolf (USA), Westfelt (Sweden) and Stihl (Germany). The latter is the largest and oldest chain saw producer in the world. (founded 1926, annual turnover 2004, 1,6 Mia. Euro). In the beginning the idea was to make heavy forestry work lighter using a machine. This should also lead to an increase in productivity and therefore profit. The main phases in the development of the chainsaw were:

1926: Stihl developed the first electro-chainsaw

1927: Dolmar developed the first petrol chain saw (source: Dolmar)

1950: the first one-man chain saw

1964: antivibration system

1972: chain brake

1982: quickstop (automatic chain brake)

1989: Catalyser

1991: Automatic start

At the end of the 1920’s the first petrol chainsaws were produced. In the beginning they were 2 men chainsaws. This was due to technical considerations and the similarity to traditional saws. Although the chainsaw made forestry work much easier it took decades for it to establish itself. The main reasons for this were the weight of the machines, their unwieldiness and susceptibility to breaking down, as well as the large amount of energy needed by two people. The first two-man chainsaw weighed over 60 Kilos, but progress was not to be stopped. The aim was to develop a lighter, more powerful saw which could be used by one person.

chain saw

The first one-man chainsaw was produced in 1950 and it was still quite heavy. In 1959 they weighed about 12 Kg (today chainsaws weigh around 4-5 kg, heavy duty chainsaws between 7 and 9 kg) and soon people were raving: “the one-man chainsaws are taking over the forests and timber yards, will the singing of the saw be replaced by the rattling of chainsaws?” (Niggli). At the end of the 50’s there was a shortage of lumberjacks and the hope was that the chainsaw would make forestry work more attractive for young people. As with the change over from the axe to the saw, the introduction of the chainsaw also had its opponents some of whom only wanted to impose restrictions. For instance, in 1957, it was said that it was not worth while using chainsaws for lugging on pine wood and that a clean cut debranching could only be carried out using an axe. Another example were the sinking piecework rates which came about due to the increased efficiency of the chainsaw and which led to the lumberjacks returning to the use of the hand saw.

The Modern Chain Saws

Tool producers have come a long way from heavy axes and primary saws to the modern chain saws of today. In fact, manufacturers are trying their best to produce sturdier and more powerful chainsaws in order to satisfy the users’ needs in the best way ever.

Today’s chainsaws have multiple important features in comparison with past; they are more powerful saws with a better performance. One the best examples of in this area is the Ronix 4645Pro Gasoline Chain Saw with 40-45cm cutting capacity. It is equipped with the Japanese top brand, Walbro high-quality carburetor which has made it to function more effectively with longer lifetime. Comfort and safety are also the other main features of the Ronix 4645Pro. To make the body anti-vibrated, it is connected to the engine by using springs and rubber in order to make the operations more comfortable and reduce fatigue during working for long hours.

ronix chain saw

All in all, the future of the chainsaw industry lies with those who know what their customers need; those who know how to deliver, while always looking for new ways to innovate and drive the industry forward. They strive to create chainsaws that cut more, longer and better. Success does not slow down innovation.       

Related Article: Everything About Power Tools History

Taylor Miller

This is Taylor Miller; I have 24 years of age and I have graduated with the bachelor of mechanical engineering. After years of working in different tool shops as a seller, I decided to open my own tool shop. As it is always hard for many people to choose a power tool, I see the need to explain everything about power tools.

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