Running Chainsaw Without Bar Oil

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

So can you run a chainsaw without bar oil? No, running a chainsaw without bar oil will cause all kinds of problems, and some serious safety issues, such as:

  • Kickback
  • Chain breaking
  • 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 risk of injury and why it’s bad for your saw. You’ll also learn the most common reason chainsaw bar oil stops flowing to the bar and chain.

Chainsaw chain

Teeth damage

Increased kickback

Chainsaws are dangerous, stating the obvious I know. But accidents are too frequent and 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 backwards towards the operator. So, instead of cutting the timber, chain friction throws the saw backwards.

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 tip of the bar come in contact with timber, use the bottom of the bar only. Support your material to help prevent a pinch point when finishing the cut.

So why does a dry chain increase kickback? 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, hoodies with dangling strings or torn clothes can easily be grabbed by the blade, wear tight clothing, chaps work great. Good solid work boots, and 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 type day courses are held.

Chainsaw sprocket and chain

Sprocket & chain

Chain breaking

A chain break 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 increases 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.

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 it.

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

Mower tilted to the correct side

Sharp is safer than dull

Dulls chain

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.

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

You’ll find you’ll lean harder on a chainsaw with a dull blade, this increases friction, heat and compounds the problem.

Chainsaw bar wear

Bar wear

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. 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 oil pump that are located around the chain sprocket.

The saw engine itself is at risk, as you know 2 stroke engines are air cooled and can suffer from overheating. An engine driving an dry bar and chain is already working hard, adding heat soak will increase the chances of it overheating and grenading.

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.

Common problems include:

  • Blocked saw oil port – remove the bar and chain, clean port and run saw to check 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.
Chainsaw oil port Mower air filter check

Keep the oil ports clean

Related Questions

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

Auto Technician and Writer at | Website

John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Lawnmowerfixed.com. I've been a mechanic for over twenty years, I use my knowledge and experience to write "How to" articles that help fellow gear-heads with all aspects of mechanical repairs, from lawn mowers to classic cars.