Chainsaw Bar and Chain Oil Substitute: Top Picks & Reviews

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Anyone who has ever used a chainsaw knows how crucial it is to keep the chain and bar sufficiently oiled. This proper lubrication will keep the chainsaw blades running smoothly and prevent friction from occurring which can cause damage to your tool and also dangerous heat build-up.

Your chainsaw’s manufacturer will have recommendations for what bar and chain oil works best for your specific chainsaw, and you will be able to find this information in the user’s manual, or by contacting them directly. However, the lubricants they recommend can often be costly and maybe the recommended choice simply is not available when you need it.

Fear no more! We have compiled a list of common alternatives to expensive chainsaw bar and chain oil, including our reviews of each one in hope that we can save you time and money!

What Oil Can Be Used For Chainsaw Bar Oil?

As mentioned already, you should first be checking your manufacturer’s instructions before adding any alternative bar oil to your chainsaw. Generally, chainsaws are capable of handling a wide range of lubricants, which is good. You’ll find that vegetable and canola oils work well, and automobile motor oil will too, as long as you adhere to the SAE ratings and use the appropriate oil weight for the time of year.

It’s advised to always use fresh oils rather than used oils. Most oils will appear quite similar to the eye, but you don’t want to fill up with the wrong oil accidentally. This rule applies to chainsaws just like it does to automobiles and large engine machines because chainsaws are just as sensitive when it comes to bar oil. 

Bar oil plays a specific and important role in the performance of the chainsaw. First of all, the bar oil needs to be slippery and thin enough to help the chain rotate around the bar smoothly and through the wood chips and wood pulp without any issues.

An oil with an SAE rating of 5-10 should suffice. But, the oil should be tacky enough to stick to the bar at high speeds. Therefore, an oil with an SAE rating of 30 would be ideal. And of course, a multi-weight oil is an obvious winner for use.

4 Best Chainsaw Bar and Chain Oil Substitutes

Now, let’s get stuck into the bar and chain oil substitutes. Here are the top 6 options for a chainsaw oil substitute:

  1. Vegetable oil
  2. Canola oil
  3. Motor oil
  4. Diluted hydraulic oil

1. Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil is one of the safest alternatives available to oil your chainsaw, hence why we’re starting here! Given that it is completely non-toxic and biodegradable, it can be used to trim live trees without the danger of hurting you or the plants! And what makes it even better is how cheap it is, you probably even have some in your kitchen already.

Traditional chain saw bar and chain oils are petroleum-based, which of course comes with some environmental drawbacks and health hazards. These vegetable oil-based lubricants operate efficiently, even at low temperatures. While also being environmentally conscious, bio-degradable, and resulting in fewer health problems from inhalation or ingestion.

The viscosity of vegetable oil also means that you will be able to use it without dilution if required. But the tradeoff here is that this oil is typically prone to clumping and becoming unusable in colder weather environments.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • High flash point
  • Non-toxic and biodegradable
  • Sticky and fairly viscous

Cons

  • It will clump at lower temperatures

2. Canola Oil

Similar to vegetable oil, canola oil is another super-safe and cheap chainsaw oil substitute. Canola is made solely from rapeseed oil and is generally significantly less sticky than vegetable oil.

Canola oil will cling to the chain much better when used in lower temperatures. It has to be said, some do-it-yourselfers advocate using canola oil straight out of your pantry as a bar and chain oil alternative and you will likely come across reviews swearing to this.

One drawback is its viscosity, as it does not make canola oil a great permanent solution, but it can be incredibly useful for diluting other oils or use on snowy days!

Pros

  • Non-toxic and biodegradable
  • Produces little to no fumes
  • Performs well in lower temperatures
  • Has a high flash point

Cons

  • Not very sticky, better as an additive

3. Motor Oil

If you don’t have either of the previous oils at hand, motor oil can make a decent, last-resort oil for your chainsaw. You will find it sitting around in most people’s garages, likely yours, and it has excellent viscosity along with a high flash point.

Chainsaw bar and chain oil aren’t rated by SAE like traditional automobile motor oils are. Instead, chainsaw bar and chain oil manufacturers recommend summer and winter weights. If your manufacturer’s recommended bar and chain oil is unavailable, many users swear by using SAE 30-weight motor oil to lube your chain during the summer and then SAE 10-weight during the winter.

However, it should be noted that motor oil should not be used to replace the chain and bar oil recommended by your chainsaw’s manufacturer, only a temporary solution. When using a chainsaw, droplets of oil are flung everywhere by the spinning blades. This includes the air, the surrounding environment, and the operator.

Motor oil is toxic to plants, so you should not use it in your garden or on living trees. And you surely don’t want to be possibly breathing in motor oil on a regular basis now do you? Yeah, I didn’t think so. That’s why it is better to use it sparingly or in emergencies as an occasional dilution of safe oil.

Pros

  • Is incredibly viscous and will stay on the chain
  • Has a high flash point
  • Easily found in most garages

Cons

  • Contains cleaners, not just oil
  • It May be harmful to inhale
  • Cannot be used on living plants

4. Diluted Hydraulic Fluid

Hydraulic fluid has similar traits to motor oil in that it also has a high flash point and superior lubrication abilities. You will find it being used in automotive brake systems, so, you may already have some hydraulic fluid in your garage.

A drawback here is that hydraulic fluid is significantly less viscous and will not stick to the chain well. But if you are dangerously low on your regular oil, hydraulic oil can be added to what you’ve got left to extend your usage period, hence, why I’ve labeled this suggestion as diluted.

It’s very important you don’t ever use hydraulic fluid without proper safety gear. It can be extremely dangerous at high pressures, and you should seek to avoid any contact with skin or inhalation. Just to reiterate, the hydraulic fluid should be a backup like motor oil, but never your go-to alternative.

Pros

  • Discourages rust and corrosion
  • Good for use in extremely low temperatures
  • High flash point

Cons

  • Is extremely dangerous and should never contact with the skin, or be inhaled
  • Mineral oil-based and not sticky
  • Can be harmful to living plants

Emergency Options for Chainsaw Bar Oil Substitute

Now, if you don’t have any of the four options listed above available, and you need a quick fix to finish the last 15 minutes of a job, these two options below can keep you cutting:

  1. Diluted drained motor oil
  2. Diluted drained hydraulic fluid

As mentioned above, motor oil and hydraulic fluid can be mixed with the existing chainsaw bar and chain oil to extend its lifespan. However, by no means, should these be seen as permanent solutions.

On top of this, it’s generally recommended for your safety that you only attempt to use hydraulic fluid with your chainsaw if you are experienced in handling dangerous materials. Safety first!

1. Diluted Drained Motor Oil

As a backup to add volume to your last bit of chainsaw oil, used motor oil is a super cheap, effective way to finish your task. If you have a car parked on your property, you will definitely have some used motor oil to nab!

You should first filter the motor oil to prevent clogs and nasty buildup. Bare in mind that used motor oil has already been through an engine and will have collected contaminants on its way. Used oils often contain water and air, and some will have additives and abrasive particles like metal that could very easily damage your chainsaw.

I would like to reiterate, that this certainly isn’t the safest option for you or any plants within proximity. It’s not recommended to use motor oil on a regular basis anyway, never mind motor oil that has been drained from a car engine.

Filtering used motor oil is a messy, time-consuming, and not-so-easy process. I will provide some tips for the process further down this article.

Pros

  • High flash point
  • Very sticky and viscous

Cons

  • Contains cleaners, not just oil
  • It may be harmful to inhale
  • Using used oil may affect long-term performance
  • The filtering process may not remove all contaminants

2. Diluted Drained Hydraulic Fluids

Hydraulic fluid that has been drained from other machinery is also another great short-term way to lubricate your chainsaw, or even stretch out your usual chainsaw bar and chain oil.

One of the main things you must keep in mind, however, is the hazards that hydraulic fluid can potentially cause. We must emphasize how it is inadvisable to allow any to come into contact with your skin, and when highly pressurized it is extremely dangerous.

On top of this, we now have a used hydraulic fluid that is full of contaminants from its use and is likely to be degraded in some way. These contaminants will include water, air, and even abrasive substances that have managed to leak into the fluid.

Once again, filtering is advised, but it is not advised to push for long-term use of used hydraulic fluid because this may affect the lifespan of your chainsaw.

Pros

  • High flash point
  • Good for use in extremely low temperatures

Cons

  • Hazardous
  • Filtering may not remove all contaminants
  • Cannot use around living trees
  • Not so sticky due to the mineral base
  • Can affect long-term performance

How to Filter Used Motor Oil and Hydraulic Fluid

Filtered used oil is not the same as reclaimed or recycled oil, which is free of contaminants, impurities, and debris. With filtered oil, you’re simply removing the larger debris like tiny shards of metal but it does not remove the impurities caused by combustion.

Again, before providing some filtering methods, we’d like to remind you that filtered used motor oil is not a good long-term solution for chainsaw bar and chain oil.

Because you generally won’t be needing a large amount of motor oil or hydraulic fluid as you’re topping up your remaining chainsaw oil, you could filter the used oil or fluid in several ways:

Filtering Motor Oil

Method 1: The Quick & Easy Way

The first and most obvious method is to use a large, empty plastic bottle, a funnel, and some clean, semi-porous fabric cloth. Stretch the fabric across the funnel and pour the oil gently through the fabric.

Method 2: The Long & Time-Consuming Way

Save your used motor oil in a 55-gallon steel drum, cover it, and let sit for a month or two. The debris and loose materials will eventually settle to the bottom. When you see a clear separation between viscous fluids you can skim the oil from the top, being careful not to disturb the surface tension too much.

I’m giving you this method as an example, but we all know the likelihood is we’re not going to do this as we should only be using used motor oil in an emergency.

Filtering Hydraulic Fluid

You could filter your used hydraulic fluid the quick & easy way mentioned above for motor oil, but, you’d be getting into foolish territory. Anybody who’s familiar with hydraulic fluid would be using a special hydraulic fluid filtration cart.

Chainsaw Bar & Chain Oil Substitute Key Considerations

Whether you use bar and chain oil, traditional motor oil, or a vegetable oil-based lubricant, always make sure you’re using fresh oil when you fill your chain saw’s bar oil reservoir.

Although it’s possible, as we have detailed in this article, we advise against ever using waste oil that you drained from your car or boat. When seeking a bar and chain oil substitute, you should always keep the following in mind as they’re your key considerations:

  • Safety & Ecology
  • Viscosity
  • Flash point

Safety & Ecology

Because chainsaws will undoubtedly splatter the bar and chain oil you choose all over the place, it is recommended to only use non-toxic oil whenever it’s possible. For some projects like pruning a living tree, sawing in your garden, or working near a river or pond, non-toxic oil is essential.

Viscosity

Chainsaw lubricant needs to be suitably viscous and tacky in order to stick to the rapidly spinning chain. If an oil is too thin it won’t coat the chain at all and will just be spat out!

Flash Point

The “flash point” of any given substance is the lowest temperature at which its vapors can ignite. The higher the flash point, the hotter the substance needs to be before there is any chance of combustion.

Therefore, choosing a bar and chain oil with a high flash point is incredibly vital due to the extreme speeds and resulting temperatures that chainsaws can reach.

When deviating from the manufacturer’s recommended bar and chain oil you should stick to high flash point alternatives, to avoid fires and harmful fumes.

Chainsaw Chain & Bar Substitute Oil Tips

Remember, safety first. You should never try to fill your bar oil reservoir when your chain saw is running and never run your chain saw when the bar oil reservoir is dry.

If your chainsaw suddenly starts using more fuel than usual, the reason is that there is probably increased friction between the bar and the chain. It could be that the substitute oil you started using just isn’t cutting it anymore, or maybe it is running low.

It’s generally advised to top up your fuel and oil together so that you never run out of oil and cause damage to your chainsaw. As your chainsaw’s blades rotate when you’re operating it, they will also be flinging the oil you are using to lubricate it off into the air. For safety, your regular bar and chain oil should be non-toxic, you should cover any exposed skin before starting, and only use the chainsaw in an area that has proper ventilation.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What can you use to substitute bar and chain oil?

Yes, it’s possible to use substitute bar and chain oil and you may already have some perfect picks at hand! Vegetable oil and canola oil are perfect options, with many users swearing by their use, and given that they are so cheap. Other options include motor oil and hydraulic fluid, but these should generally only be used in emergencies and if you’re topping up the last bit of your bar and chain oil to finish a task.

What oil can you use instead of chain oil?

Using vegetable oil as chain oil is a great choice as it poses no threat to the environment. Vegetable oils have natural properties including good lubricity, resistance to shear, a high flash point, and a high viscosity index. Another similar environmentally-friendly option is canola oil.

Can I use motor oil instead of bar and chain oil?

If you don’t have other options, motor oil can make a decent, last-resort oil for your chainsaw. If your manufacturer’s recommended bar and chain oil is unavailable, many chainsaw users swear by using SAE 30-weight motor oil to lube your chain during the summer and SAE 10-weight during the winter. However, you should be aware that motor oil is toxic to plants, so you should not use it in your garden or on living trees.

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