Automatic vs Adjustable Bar and Chain Oilers
Types of Chainsaw Oiling Mechanisms
You know about oil for your engine, but how much do you know about oil for your chainsaw’s bar and chain?
Bar and chain oil is essential for keeping your saw running smoothly and preventing damage to its moving parts. Whether your saw is gas-powered or electric, it needs that oil to reduce the friction that otherwise would create too much heat.
Every chainsaw has a mechanism inside it that applies oil to the chain while the chain runs. However, not every chainsaw uses the same type of mechanism.
Chainsaw oilers can be either fixed flow/automatic or adjustable. Which type are you likely to find inside your saw, and what should you know about how it works?
Bar and Chain Oilers: The Basics
Your saw’s bar and chain oil mechanism includes the oil reservoir, which can be seen through a window on the side of the saw’s body, and a pump inside the saw that works in tandem with the crankshaft gear to release chain oil any time the saw’s running.
In fact, with clutch-driven oilers, oil is released only when the chain runs. By preventing oil from being released at idle, these systems conserve fluid and save you money.
Once the oil is released, it’s delivered to the chain through ports on the bar. It then lubricates several parts:
- The bearing surfaces of the chain, which allow it to move along the bar
- The bar groove, where the chain drivers run
- The sprocket in the nose of the bar, if the bar has one
All bar and chain oil contains tackifiers, substances that help it adhere to the metal at high speeds. Also, all bar and chain oil is available in two forms: a standard grade (30W) ideal for use in warmer months, and a lighter winter grade (10W) ideal for colder weather that would cause the oil to thicken.
In the past, chainsaw oiling mechanisms used manual pumps. These required the user to press a button at regular intervals to distribute oil and keep the bar and chain lubricated. As you can imagine, they weren’t exactly efficient systems. Often, users simply forgot to press the pump.
This is why today’s saws contain automatic chain oiling systems and why, even with all the basic features that chain oilers have in common, you can find these systems available in two different styles.
Automatic/Fixed Flow Chainsaw Oilers
Many homeowner-grade chainsaws use what are known as true automatic oilers, also called fixed flow oilers.
As their name suggests, automatic or fixed flow oilers provide a consistent amount of oil whenever the saw is running. Any time you use your saw, you’ll get the same amount of oil on your chain.
There are several reasons why truly automatic oilers are common features on electric saws and homeowner gas saws:
- They’re convenient—there’s no need to adjust them or remember to press a pump
- They eliminate the worry of using the right amount of oil for proper lubrication
- They work well with the smaller bars and shorter chains that homeowner saws use
Convenience and peace of mind are the biggest advantages of fixed flow oilers. With the rate of oil flow being a consistent detail that you can depend on, you’re free to go about your light sawing and pruning tasks without stopping to check that your chain is adequately coated.
That convenience does come with one drawback, however: you won’t be able to adjust the flow rate for your working conditions. In some cases, it’s better to have more oil on your bar and chain:
- Working in high temperatures
- Working with hard or dense woods
- Working with an older or slightly worn bar or chain
For most casual chainsaw users, adjusting for these conditions won’t be an issue. It’s good simply to know that, in exchange for having a saw that can release more chain oil in tough times, you’ll have a saw that’s easy and almost worry-free to care for while in use.
Adjustable Flow Chainsaw Oilers
Adjustable chain oilers also are sometimes listed as automatic/adjustable flow oilers, a name that can be confusing.
Adjustable flow oilers still deliver oil to the bar and chain automatically without the need for a manual pump. The adjustable part comes from the fact that, before each use or between each cut (always with the saw shut off!), you can modify the amount of oil that will be released.
On almost every saw with this type of system, you can fine-tune the oiler by turning a screw on the oil pump that will be visible on the body or powerhead of the saw. Turn the screw one way to increase the flow and the opposite way to reduce it.
If homeowner chainsaws are the ones most likely to be fitted with fixed flow oilers, then professional chainsaws (as well as farm and ranch saws) are the ones most likely to use adjustable flow oilers, for the opposite reasons:
- They can be adjusted for the variety of working conditions that professionals often face
- They can release more oil to lubricate the larger bars and longer chains that professional saws can be fitted with
Getting the right amount of oil for the equipment and the working conditions is the benefit of an adjustable oiler. However, having to stop to turn a screw can be inconvenient, and it can be tricky to know exactly how much oil you need on your chain, although one recommendation is to use the minimum flow setting with bars under 15", the maximum flow setting for bars over 20", and a medium setting for bars in between.
Still, with professional-grade gear comes professional-grade knowledge, and the adjustable oilers on commercial and semi-pro saws allow you to get to know what your saw needs.
The Importance of Bar and Chain Oil
Whether your chainsaw has a fixed flow or an adjustable flow oiling system, it’s important that your saw has all the oil it needs.
Check the oil level in the reservoir before every use, and check that the pump is working by running your saw with the tip of the bar about an inch above a log or a piece of wood. If you see oil splatters on the wood, your oiler is in good shape.
Good chainsaw maintenance includes using bar and chain oil. When you understand the type of oiling system your saw has, you’ll understand how to keep it running well and which types of cleanup projects your saw was meant to handle.