What Do the Numbers On a Chainsaw Chain Mean?

Since chainsaws vary greatly in terms of both size and their intended application, chainsaw chains need to be just as diverse. This is why chainsaw chains come in a wide variety of size, style, and feature combinations. One of the easiest ways to identify a cutter chain is to look at the numbers displayed on the packaging, on the chainsaw’s guide bar, or on the chain itself.

Why is it so important to know what these numbers mean? Because when it’s time to replace your chainsaw chain, it’s vital that you have the right measurements. Purchasing the wrong chain for your tool means that it will either not fit onto your chainsaw at all or, even worse, that it will be too loose, causing it to work inefficiently or even fly off, injuring the user.

Once you have the correct measurements, there are still other decisions that you have to make like choosing from a variety of features and styles designed for specific applications. Luckily, this step is much easier. That’s why the first thing we should discuss is the three measurements that are absolutely vital when you’re on the market for a replacement chainsaw chain.

The three numbers that you’ll find on chain packaging are the pitch, gauge, and number of drive links. These numbers describe the various aspects of each chain and you need to ensure that they’re compatible with your chainsaw if you want your tool to run safely and efficiently.


The pitch of a chainsaw chain refers to the distance between its links. This number has nothing to do with the length of the chain or the number of links, instead it simply measures the space between the links. Most chainsaws will have this number stamped on the tool or mentioned in the user manual. If you can’t find this number, don’t worry because we’ll explain how to calculate the pitch of your chain later on in this article.

Chainsaw chains come in one of several pitch sizes such as ¼”, .325″, 3/8″, 3/8″ low profile, and .404″. The most common pitch today is 3/8″ low profile followed by regular 3/8″ pitch. These chains make narrow kerf cuts which remove a small amount of material at a time, allowing them to work well with less power. If you own a chainsaw measuring less than 18″ that’s designed for home or light commercial use, there’s a good chance that your chain has this pitch size.

Compare this to the wider .404″ pitch chains which feature a larger space between links. Due to this design, chains with a .404″ pitch are great for fast, aggressive cutting work. This is why they’re normally found on the top professional chainsaws as well as models used by fire departments and first responders.


A chain is secured on a chainsaw by drive links which fit into the tool’s guide bar. You’ll find the drive links on the bottom of the chain, opposite the cutting teeth. The gauge of your chain is simply how thick the drive links are. You need to choose the right gauge because a replacement chain with a gauge that is too thick won’t fit and one with a gauge that’s too small will simply slip off of the tool.

The gauge of your chain will be measured in inches and can be one of 4 sizes: .043″, .050″, .058″, and .063″. The most common size on the market is .050″. This number will be displayed on the chain packaging and can normally be found stamped onto the chainsaw’s guide bar as well.

If you can’t find this number on your tool, it’s best to look in your instruction manual instead of trying to determine the measurement on your own. This is because the difference between all of these measurements is incredibly small and it’s very tough to get the right measurement without an appropriate tool like a pair of calipers.

Drive Links

We mentioned the drive links when discussing the gauge of a chain. But another important number that you need to determine is the number of drive links on your chain. While chainsaws are sold based on the length of their guide bar, the best way to ensure that you are purchasing the right replacement chain is go by the number of drive links needed.

Some chainsaws will have this number printed on the tool or listed in the user manual. But if you are unsure, you can simple take the chain off and count the drive links yourself. Since the overall length of a chainsaw chain is determined by using a combination of pitch and the number of drive links, this is a very important step to take if you want to buy the right chain for your tool.

How Do You Measure the Pitch of a Chain?

Earlier in this article, we talked about the pitch of a chainsaw chain. While most manufacturers make it easy to find this number, sometimes it won’t be that easy. Luckily, it’s incredibly easy to take this measurement yourself.

If you can’t find the pitch number printed on your tool or in the user manual, simply measure the distance between the middle points of any 3 consecutive rivets on the chain. Once you have this number, just divide it by 2. That’s the pitch number of your chain!

So, a chain with a pitch of 3/8″ would have a measurement of 3/4″. Once you divide that measurement by 2, you’d have your pitch of 3/8″.

What is a Full Chisel Chainsaw Chain?

Besides the measurements of a chain, another thing you need to consider is the type of chain. There are several styles available but one of the most popular types of chainsaw chains on the market is the full chisel chain. A full chisel chain is built to deliver impressive, fast-cutting performance. These chains are designed with square cornered teeth which take big chunks out of soft and hardwood, making them aggressive when cutting.

While full chisel chains are very popular, you need to keep in mind that, like any style, it has some advantages and disadvantages that you need to consider. The main advantage of a full chisel chains is that it cuts faster and more aggressively than any other option on the market.

They have the sharpest teeth, allowing them to handle even the most demanding of cutting conditions with ease. Due to their design, there are also some disadvantages when it comes to using a full chisel chain. The main issue has to do with their teeth.

While full chisel chains have the sharpest teeth available, they also dull faster than the rounded corners found on semi chisel chains.  Due to this poor edge retention, full chisel chains are not suited for cutting dirty wood and are much more sensitive to dirt and hard objects like rocks.

Also, since these chains cut faster and more aggressively, they also have a higher risk of kickback where a tooth binds in the wood, causing the tool to bounce back towards the user. Despite these disadvantages, if you are looking for a chain that can tackle clean, hardwood with impressive power and speed, a high-quality full chisel chain is one of the best purchases you can make.

Can You Put a Chainsaw Chain on Backwards?

Installing a replacement chainsaw chain is relatively easy. But one of the most common installation problems is that you can easily put the chain on your tool backwards. At first glance, you might not notice the difference but you’ll know something is wrong when you put your tool to work and notice that it isn’t cutting into the wood.

The best way to ensure that you put you chainsaw chain on correctly is to do a quick visual inspection. When a chain is installed correctly, the sharp edges of the teeth on the top portion of the chainsaw’s guide bar will be pointing away from you and the sharp edges on the bottom of the bar will be pointing to you.

As long as the edges are pointed in this direction you can rest assured that your chain is properly installed and ready to tackle whatever task you throw at it.

About the Author

Bob Robinson has been a tool enthusiast and lawn care expert for the past 11 years. First working with John Deere to reduce their impact on the environment, whilst building his love for writing in his spare time. Now, Bob runs the editorial team at BestofMachinery and tends to his garden in his spare time.

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