Why Were Chainsaws Invented – Chainsaw History

The Osteotome Saw: image credit Wikimedia Commons

The chainsaws we know and use today are highly tuned complicated pieces of technology. Modern Chainsaws are able to output extremely high RPMs, high horsepower, be massively efficient in operation, and offer an abundance of safety features. However, chainsaws have not always been as advanced as today and actually spawned from the most unlikely place.

Why Were Chainsaws Invented?

The chainsaw was invented to perform a childbirth procedure known as a symphysiotomy. This procedure is where the doctor cut through the pubic bone of a woman in labor to help deliver her baby. The symphysiotomy was eventually replaced

with more advanced procedures that were less damaging to mothers.

The Gigli Saw: image credit Wikimedia Commons

Technically the first chainsaw that used a chain to cut was developed by two Scottish doctors, John Aitken and James Jeffray between the years 1783–1785.

This device was a “Flexible Saw” that consisted of a serrated linked chain connecting together two wooden handles. This Flexible Saw resembles the Gigli Saw, (shown above) used in cranial surgeries, except it used a linked chain instead of a wire.

Although the Flexible Saw did not look like the chainsaws we know today, it was a device that made cuts with a linked chain, thus making it the world’s first chainsaw.

The chainsaw was seen as a more efficient alternative to the traditional saw blade which was used at the time.

The Chainsaw Evolution Begins

The Osteotome: image credit Wikimedia Commons

The first modern-style chainsaw with a guide bar and linked chain ever on record were invented around 1830 by a German bone specialist physician named Bernhard Heine.

Dr. Heine named the chainsaw the “Osteotome” and used it to cut bones in his practice of bone formation and bone regeneration. The procedures performed by the Osteotome included the childbirth procedure Symphysiotomy, which was the splitting of a mother’s pelvis to allow the delivery of a baby.

The Osteotome was met with critical praise in the revolution of surgical treatment of bones.

The Osteotome’s design marked the beginning of the modern chainsaw. The mechanical operation of the Osteotome consisted of a linked angled tooth chain carried around a guide bar powered by a hand-cranked sprocket. It was simply a manually powered chainsaw that was used to cut bone.

Early Motorized Chainsaws

A motorized chainsaw used in the timber industry was still years away from production at this point in history. However, there were some primitive human-powered blade saws that were used between the years 1861 to 1918 such as the famous Hamilton Saw.

The Hamilton Saw: image credit Wikimedia Commons

Continued Evolution of the Chainsaw 

Two Man Saw: image credit Wikimedia Commons

The first saws used in the timber industry that used a chain instead of a blade surfaced in the early 1900s. The first patented chainsaw was named the “Endless Chainsaw” by its creator Samuel J. Bens of San Francisco on January 17, 1905.

The Endless Chainsaw was a stationary, bulky unit and comprised of links of chain with cutter teeth that rotated on a guide bar frame, much like the chainsaws we have today.

The year 1918 brought the first portable chainsaw patent. The patent was held by Canadian James Shand until the year 1930 when his patent expired. 

The first electric chainsaw was developed by German citizen Andreas Stihl in the year 1926. These electric chainsaws were extremely heavy units that had to be operated by two people. 

Just three years later, in 1929 Andreas Stihl followed up his electric unit with a gasoline-powered chainsaw and formed a company to manufacture them for sale.

However, the gasoline chainsaw that Andreas Stihl invented was not the first gasoline-powered chainsaw to be brought to market. That historical act belonged to German citizen Emil Lerp of the company Dolmar in the year 1927

These early chainsaws were all fairly large, required two operators, and sometimes required wheels to move from place to place. Through the years with advancements in technology and materials, chainsaws get lighter, more efficient, and more powerful. 

In the 1950s Stihl mass-produced the first gas-powered chainsaw that could be transported and operated by a single person. This achievement was attained through the development of advanced metals and alloys which permitted chainsaws to be lighter and more powerful than ever before.

Saftey Features Emerge

Echo CS400 Chainsaw

The mid-1960s brought the invention of the anti-vibration system to chainsaws. This added comfort feature would allow operators the ability to operate a chainsaw for extended periods of time with minimal fatigue and more comfort. The anti-vibration system also made chainsaws safer due to the operator having a more secure grip on the chainsaw.

Chain Brakes were added to chainsaws in the early 1970s that allowed the operator the ability to stop the chain from turning within a fraction of a second. This new feature greatly increased safety on job sites where operators were walking around with running chainsaws. When an operator needed to move to a different work area close by they could leave the chainsaw running and engage the chain brake to stop and lock the chain. This helped to reduce injuries and deaths caused by chainsaws and to save time. 

Later in the 1980s, the chain brake of a chainsaw received an upgrade. This upgrade not only let the operator manually operate the chain brake but gave the brake the ability to activate itself in certain situations. Chain brakes could now be activated thru the inertia of a chainsaw kicking back at the user. This protects the chainsaw’s operator from the spinning chain in the event of a kickback of the chainsaw. 

The 1970s continued to add more safety features to chainsaws through the development of new chains and chain guide bars. These new safety chains were constructed of lower-profile cutter teeth and safety guards before each cutter to keep the chain from biting too aggressively. 

The new guide bars shrunk the width of the end of the guide bar to reduce the danger zone on the guide bar. The smaller the danger zone on the guide bars the less the chance of kickback.

The 1990s and 2000s brought more advancements to chainsaws like spring-assisted easy starting recoil starters, self-adjusting carburetors, fuel injection, and even viable battery-powered units.

The Future of Chainsaws

The Future of Chainsaws

As chainsaws continue to evolve, it is clear that the future of chainsaw technology will bring even more advancements and features to make these useful machines even safer and easier to operate. Some possible developments that may come in the future include:

  • Lighter and Stronger Materials
  • Fuel Injection Systems (already here)
  • High-Performance Battery Powered Chainsaws
  • Robotic “Roomba Style” Chainsaws (distant future)

Wrapping Up

Chainsaws have come a long way since their inception in the early 1800s. Through technological advancements and material developments, chainsaws have become safer, easier to operate, and more powerful. With each new year comes new innovations in chainsaw technology that make these machines even more useful on the job site. As chainsaws enter into the future, it is clear that there will be even more advancements and features to make these machines even safer and easier to operate.

Thanks for reading! Stay safe out there!

Steven R.

Steven R

I have been part of the chainsaw and outdoor power equipment business in one way or the other for over 35 years. There are not many things that I have not seen in the business. From repairs, sales, equipment operation, and safety I can help you with your questions.

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