Bar and Chain Oil Alternatives

Bar and Chain Oil Alternatives

Whether you’re a professional arborist or a weekend firewood warrior, you will use a lot of bar and chain oil.  For me that means bringing about a gallon of the stuff into the woods, which also means most of it will also stay in the woods after I’m done.  With the way chainsaws operate, bar and chain oil will naturally be thrown off the chain during operation, in all directions.

Standard chain & bar oils are petroleum-based, sometimes formulated from reclaim engine oil, which is not always good for the environment.  If you have sensitive skin then its even more of a problem.

What if you’re your stuck 100 miles from the closest store and your out of chain oil?  Is there anything you can MacGyver for  as an oil and chain alternative?  Why yes you can!  But before we get into that, there are a

Alternative 1 : Environmentally Safe Bar & Chain Oils

There are two reasons why you would be looking at bar and chain oil alternatives.  Either you are looking for something with less of an impact on the environment  OR you are in a pinch. If you’re concerned about finding an alternative that is more friendly to the family dog and was designed from the start to be used as bar and chain oil, there are many great products.

Green Earth Technologies and similar brands have create a bar and chain oil that works great with your chains but also has less of an impact on environment.  Its biodegradable and is created from mostly plant oils.  If you need to use your chain saw around your garden or maybe to butcher an elk or deer, I would highly recommend using this oil alternative.

Alternative 2 : Vegetable Oil

If your in a pinch, it is possible to use some vegetable oils as a substitute for your standard bar and oil.  Some people even use it in their chainsaws when having to quarter a deer (which is much more sanitary than using a traditional petroleum based oil).

Not any house old vegetable oil will do, you don’t want to pull a Kramer on your chain saw.  There are a few drawbacks with using a vegetable oil for your saw, one of them being that it does not do well in cold temperatures.

The positives of using a vegetable based oil lubricant are many:

  • Provides good lubrication
  • Great resistance to shear
  • Has a high flash point
  • Has a high viscosity index
  • Low environmental impact
  • Easier to clean from clothes and the saws

If you do decide to try a vegetable based oil, make sure that your chainsaw was built to use an alternative like this.

Alternative 3 : Canola Oil

Aren’t canola and vegetable oil the same thing?  Yes and no.  Vegetable oil is more broad and could encompass many different kinds of plant based oils while canola oil is specifically derived from rapeseeds and is generally thinner.

This versatile oil is already being used in a lot of machinery such as greases, engine oils, two cycle oils and some hydraulic fluids.  But how well does this alternative oil perform with a chainsaw chain?  Actually really well.

Benefits Include:

  • Its biodegradable, much like standard vegetable oil
  • Very low vapor pressure (which means less fumes for you to breathe in)
  • Reduction in skin irritation.  Canola oil is a lot like the kinds of oils our skins produce
  • Great performance under low temperatures
  • High flash point
  • Easier to clean from clothes and the saws

Because of the thickness of most vegetable oils, you will get a lot of leaks.  And because its clear you will not always see where they are coming from.  Personally I have gotten into the habit of putting my chainsaw on a piece off cardboard in our garage (after it has cooled down) to not only catch these leaks but  to get an idea of where they are coming from.

Additional Bar and Chain Oil Alternatives

Using drained motor oil.  This is not as looney as it sounds since most chain oils are derivatives of old used motor oil.  You will want to strain the oil while it’s still warm after coming out of your vehicle.  Some suggest straining up to three times to make sure you get it as clean as possible.

There are some drawbacks of using old motor oil.  Its messy.  Unlike standard chain oil that’s design to be sticky, motor oil will fling all over the place.  And it stains.

It’s not environmentally safe or healthy.  There is a reason why we properly dispose of old motor oil and we don’t just chuck it out in the woods.  Using motor oil is great for a pinch but should not be relied on as your main bar and chain oil.

Other reported substitutes:

  • Using hydraulic oil
  • Using a mixture of diesel-bar oil in subzero temperatures.

While there are many bar and chain oil alternatives, keep in mind that chain saws are designed to use petroleum based oils which are meant to prolong the life of your saw.  Using anything other than what the manufacture suggest can lead to a voided warranty or a very heavy paper weight.

Also keep in mind that bar and chain oils are not the same kind of gas and oil mixtures used for the engine themselves.

How much bar and chain oil you will need depends on the saw.  If you know how to measure a chainsaw bar, the longer the bar the more bar and chain oil you will need.

** Before using any kind of bar and chain oil alternative, make sure that you will NOT void your chain saws warranty by using an alternative.  Most chain saws are designed to work with their own brand of bar and chain oil for optimal performance.

4 thoughts on “Bar and Chain Oil Alternatives

  1. I found vegetable oil too sticky and tended to cause wood fibres and dust to stick on the blade and also get into the gearing and form a thick paste with wood dust. Would not recommend it.

    1. Thanks Paul. I would guess it would be o.k. in a tight situation where the access to bar and chain oil is not readily available. I always keep extra bottles of 30 Wt motor oil on hand for emergency needs. Again thanks.

  2. do not use veg oil as bar oil you will take a day toclean the residue from yoursaw if chain saw not cleaned thoroughly after use, a mix of diesel and other oil is very good just to make a light oil mix

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