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Do Electric Chainsaws Need Bar Oil

Not everyone wants the hassle of a gasoline powered chainsaw.  For those of you with occasional pruning or wood cutting needs, an electric chainsaw fits the bill.  

However, while electric chainsaws are quieter and cleaner to operate, they are far from being maintenance free.  Much like their gas powered cousins, they still have moving parts that need lubrication and attention.  

But do electric chainsaws actually need bar oil to work?  Yes.  Electric chainsaws require bar oil to operate.  Bar oil provides essential lubrication to the chain and bar as it cuts.  Without bar oil, excess heat and friction can cause binding on the chain and will eventually damage the motor. 

A well oiled saw will help you cut wood for years.  So keep reading and I’ll share everything you need to know about using bar oil in an electric chainsaw.  We’ll also take a look at what you can do in a pinch if you run out of bar oil.

What happens if you run a chainsaw without bar oil

Running a chainsaw without bar oil is a lot like driving a car with the emergency brake on.  Nothing good will come of this, I promise!  A chain without lubrication heats up from severe friction and has the potential to cause several problems.  All of which are dangerous to the user and the saw.

Without bar oil, gas and electric chainsaws develop the following problems:

  • Faster dulling of the chain (excess heat softens the metal teeth)
  • Sudden chain linkage failure
  • Increased bar wear
  • Potential heat soak that leads to engine damage
  • Excessive engine load and wear

It’s also important to mention that this damage can happen fast.  Sometimes within just a few minutes of use.  Even if something doesn’t fail the first time, repeated abuse from running without bar oil will exacerbate the problem and lead to catastrophic failure eventually.

While broken chains, dull teeth and bar wear are obvious issues resulting from under lubrication, engine wear and heat soak are a bit more insidious.  The damage done won’t be apparent until it’s too late.  

Engine wear in an electric chainsaw means the sprocket that drives the chain encounters too much resistance and the motor over works to compensate.  In general, engine wear shortens the life of the saw.

Although heat soak is something that afflicts gas motors more, electric saws suffer a similar fate.  As the motor works to overcome rotational resistance on a dry chain, excess heat builds up and leads to motor failure or melted parts.  Usually the only fix is replacing the entire saw.

Can you use motor oil as bar oil 

At this point you likely understand that running your saw without bar oil isn’t an option.  But what do you do if you’re out of bar oil?  The cutting job still needs to get done, right? 

Luckily, motor oil is an effective lubricant too.  After all, it keeps your vehicle engine functioning smooth.  

In a pinch, using new motor oil is a viable alternative to bar oil.  As a rule of thumb, use SAE 30 weight in summer and SAE 10 weight for winter cutting. 

Just keep in mind that motor oil is not as “tacky” as bar oil so more will sling off as the chain rotates at high rates.  You’ll need to keep a close eye on the reservoir level and top it off regularly.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that you should never substitute used motor oil for bar oil.  Used motor oil contains abrasive bits of metal and grit that can wreak havoc on a bar and chain.  Only use new motor oil.

Okay, so you don’t have bar oil or motor oil sitting around.  Not a problem.  Head to the pantry and grab some vegetable oil instead.  Vegetable or canola oil can handle high heat and is reasonably viscous enough to use as a bar oil alternative.

I don’t recommend using vegetable oil all the time in your electric saw but for a quick job it does the trick.

How do you oil an electric chainsaw

Adding bar and chain oil to an electric chain saw is a cinch.  With only a few minutes of time and 4 simple steps, you can greatly increase the life and function of the saw.

To add bar oil to electric chainsaws, here’s what you need to do:

Step 1:  

Unplug your electric chainsaw from the power source and place it on a level work surface.  Use a drip pan or towel under the saw so any oil spills are easy to clean up.  Make sure the saw has had a chance to cool a little before filling with oil.  

Step 2:

Cutting wood dumps a lot of dust and debris around the oil fill cap which sits on top of the saw.  Wipe away debris with a clean shop rag before removing the cap to prevent material from falling into the oil reservoir.  Little wood bits can easily plug the small oil ports that keep your chain lubricated.  Once the area around the cap is clean, remove the cap.

Step 3:  

Place a small funnel in the fill neck and carefully add the bar and chain oil.  Look for a fill line on the reservoir and fill to that mark.  Try not to over fill the reservoir.  

Step 4:

Let the funnel sit for 30 seconds to allow excess oil to drip off.  Remove the funnel and replace the reservoir cap.  Wipe up any oil drips and you’re all set.

If by chance you over fill the reservoir on the saw, simply pour a little back into your oil jug or discard it.

How often do you add bar oil 

At some point you’ll need to add more bar oil to an electric or gas chainsaw.  It’s hard to say how long a full reservoir will last though.  Factors like the reservoir size, the type and brand of oil and the speed at which you cut all play a part in bar oil consumption rates.  

On a gas powered chainsaw, bar oil is fed at a specific rate where a full reservoir of oil (or less) lasts for one tank of fuel mix.  So each time you add gas, check the bar oil as well.

On an electric chain saw, the oil consumption rate varies by brand.  The key is to keep an eye on the oil level every so often.  I usually check every 30 minutes or so if I’m cutting continuously.  If you are unsure, just add a some oil.  Don’t let it run dry

Luckily, most electric saws have transparent reservoirs that clearly show the oil level so checking is easy and fast.

A bigger problem to watch for is oil levels that don’t decrease with use.  If it seems like you cut a lot of wood without using any, there’s a problem with the oil feed mechanism.

Most commonly the oil feed port has a blockage.  This will require the bar to be removed.  You can then access the oil port which is located at the rear of the bar.  Look for debris that is clogging the port.

Continual oil feed problems should be looked at by a professional at your local saw shop or garden center.  For DIY savvy individuals, check the pump or lube hose for blockages.  Use compressed air to blow out stubborn clogs.

Best bar oil for electric chainsaws

Electric chainsaw manufacturers usually recommend the use of specific brands or types of bar and chain oil.  They may even produce bar and chain oil designed for their own saws.  Either way, be sure to look in the owner’s manual for specifications.  Sometimes using other brands of oil can void the warranty so read the fine print.

When the manufacturer recommended oil is not available, think about the following when selecting a good bar oil:

  • Find a heat tolerant oil that maintains viscosity during all-season use.  Oils that thin out on hot days won’t last long or lubricate well.  Conversely, oil that get gummy on cold winter days won’t pump fast enough to provide adequate lubrication.  
  • Make sure to use oil that is designed to reduce “throw-off”.  These tacky oils have what it takes to cling to the fast moving chain without slinging off. 
  • For environmental conscious saw owners or when pruning sensitive ornamentals or fruit trees, consider using a vegetable-based oil.  This is not the same as straight cooking oil like I mentioned before.  These are designed for use in chainsaws and work quite well. 

You can buy bar oil at most hardware stores or garden centers that sell chainsaws.  Online options are also available and you can get premium and specialty types from Amazon in most cases.

To help simplify your choices, here are the cream of the crop bar oils that I recommend.

Best for general purpose:  Oregon 54-026 Bar and Chain Oil

It’s hard to beat the quality of Oregon’s premium bar and chain oil.  This all season oil is a consistent performer at any temperature and it’s reasonably priced and the most popular pick for pro’s and homeowners alike.

Best for extreme cold:  Stihl Winter Grade Bar and Chain Oil

For those of you who depend on wood heat in frigid winter temperatures, get a bar oil that won’t gum up on you.  The Stihl Winter Grade oil is designed to flow better at low temps than conventional bar oil.  If you’re a serious wood cutter, keep a jug on hand during deep freezes.

Best for the environment:  Renewable Lubricants Bio-Pro Bar/Chair Oil

This non-toxic oil is great for when a little extra care is needed to keep pets, kids and trees safe from harmful pollutants.  Designed with the same tackiness and anti-wear additives as other types of oil, it will certainly stand up to the most abusive situations.  

Best on a Budget:  Husqvarna Premium Bar and Chain Oil

When the dollar matters, you can’t go wrong with Husqvarna’s Premium oils.  Great for all season use and blended with high tack and anti-wear in mind.  For most average electric or gas chainsaw uses around the house, you won’t find a better budget friendly oil.

Final thoughts

Electric chainsaws are awesome tools that can be used by novice and pro wood cutters alike.  You’ll get the most from your tools with proper care and maintenance so always keep the oil reservoir full and your saw will keep cutting season after season.