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Don’t Make This Mistake: The Dangers of Running Your Chainsaw Without Bar Oil

By: Author John Cunningham. Published: 2020/03/11 at 7:18 am

A chainsaw is a super-efficient kit. Even after twenty years of working with them, they still amaze me with how they tackle a big job and make it look so easy.

So, can you run a chainsaw without bar oil? Running a chainsaw without bar oil will cause mechanical problems and some serious safety issues, such as:

  • Kickback
  • Chain failure
  • Dulls the chain
  • Increased bar & chain wear
  • Increased engine load
  • Increased engine heat soak

On this page, you’ll learn why running a saw without bar oil increases the risk of injury and is bad for your saw. You’ll also learn the most common reason chainsaw bar oil stops flowing to the bar and chain.

No Bar Oil = No Saw

Increased Kickback

Chainsaws are dangerous; stating the obvious, I know. However, accidents are too frequent; statistically, most are due to operator error. So what is chainsaw kickback? Kickback occurs when the tip of the saw meets timber at full throttle.

The saw is violently thrown upwards and backward toward the operator. So, chain friction throws the saw backward instead of cutting the timber.

Not all kickback is violent, but it can be and is especially dangerous if the operator isn’t aware of or expecting it. You can reduce kickback by never allowing the bar’s tip to contact the timber. Use the bottom of the bar only. Support your material to help prevent a pinch point when finishing the cut.

Why Does a Dry Chain Increase Kickback?

A lack of lube on the chain will add more friction and increase the risk of kickback. Your chain brake is, as you know, built into the handle and is designed to lock the chain in the event of kickback.

When a violent kickback occurs, your top bar hand (left) impacts the chain brake automatically and engages the brake. You should, from time to time, check that your chain brake works without issue. Having the right kit is really important. The chain can easily grab hoodies with dangling strings or torn clothes. Wear tight clothing; chaps work great.

Good solid work boots and a hard hat if working under falling branches. I would encourage all saw owners to enlist on a training day. Your local hardware store will likely know where these types of day courses are held.

Chain Failure

Chain failure is a serious safety concern. The chain is linked together, just like a bicycle chain. The links wear out and can break. Running your saw without bar oil will increase the chances of a break. Chain oil helps everything move freely, but it also helps cool the chain. When the chain is dry, it’s wearing the links as it moves around the bar.

Chain Damage

Your saw is fitted with a chain catch. As its name suggests, it’s designed to catch a flying chain. And while they’re effective, I’d rather not test them. Chain teeth breaking off and flying from the saw chain as it wears is a real concern, especially when you run a saw without bar oil.

A chain can also seize in the bar, which can cause damage to the engine in addition to a new bar and chain.

Sharp is Safer Than Dull

Bar oil also helps the saw cut. The sticky bar oil coats the chain and teeth and helps the cutting process. Friction dulls a chainsaw pretty quickly.

Nail Strike – If you’ve ever hit a nail with your chain, you’ll know that kind of friction will dull the chain instantly. Bar oil helps reduce friction and heat. Both are the main drivers for dulling your chain.

You’ll find you’ll learn harder on a chainsaw with a dull chain, which, of course, increases friction and heat and compounds the problem.

Increased Bar & Chain Wear

No bar oil equals increased friction and heat. That adds up to a huge increase in chain and bar wear. Without bar oil, the chain teeth, drivers, and links will all wear far more quickly. The increased friction can cause teeth to break. The added wear on the chain can cause the links to become loose and stretch.

A symptom of a worn stretched chain is constantly having to adjust chain tension. The bar, too, is suffering. Heat build-up on the bottom side of the bar at the contact patch is enough to burn the metal and distort the bar. A bar, as you know, must be thru. The rails also wear out and become concave. There’s no repair for this damage.

Bar Damage – The bar and chain need to be replaced.

Increased Engine Load

It’s a chain reaction. The saw engine is overheating because it’s working so hard. It’s working hard because the chain is dull, and the dull chain is caused by a lack of chain oil. A saw that is working harder for longer is at risk of overheating, and on a two-stroke, that’s bad news. It usually means it’s for the junkyard.

Increased Heat Soak

So what’s heat soak? This is the transfer of heat from the chain and bar to the chainsaw body and engine. The chain sprocket located on the engine drives the chain. It’s not uncommon for a really hot saw to melt the plastic chain brake cover and other plastic components like the oil pumps that are located around the chain sprocket.

The saw engine itself is at risk. As you know, two-stroke engines are air-cooled and can suffer from overheating. An engine driving a dry bar and chain is already working hard. Adding heat soak will increase the chances of overheating and killing it.

For a list of common chainsaw tools, check out “Chainsaw parts & tools.”

Common Bar Lube Problems

A dry bar and chain is a common issue, and in some cases, it’s easily fixed. Chainsaws use a simple oil pump to move the super thick and sticky bar oil from the reservoir to the bar. The rotating chain then distributes the lube around the bar.

Saw Oil Port

Common problems include:

  • Blocked saw oil port – remove the bar and chain, clean the port, and run the saw to check the feed.
  • Blocked bar oil port – remove bar and clean the port hole and rail.
  • Blocked oil pump feed – compressed air from the oil port back to the tank can help clear it.
  • Wrong oil type – debris in waste oil causes lots of bar oil issues, a full clean-out is needed.
  • Faulty lube hose – replacing the hose solves the problem.
  • Faulty pump – replacing most pumps is easy and inexpensive.

Chain Oil Port

You may also find the “Chainsaw trouble-shooting” section helpful.

Related Questions

Chainsaw won’t start after sitting? Stale gas is the number one reason your chainsaw won’t start after sitting idle. Empty the old gas and try replacing it with fresh gas. If it still doesn’t start, you’ll need to clean your carburetor.

Should I run the saw at full throttle? A chainsaw is capable of running at full throttle when cutting timber. However, always allow a saw to warm up before operating at full throttle.

About the Author

John Cunningham is a Red Seal Qualified automotive technician with over twenty-five years of experience working on all types of equipment, grass machinery, ATVs, Dirt bikes, cars, and trucks. When not writing how-to articles, he may be found in his happy place – Restoring classic machinery.

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