What Type Of Chain Do I Need For A Chainsaw Mill?

As with any task, it is always preferable to use the tools intended for the task. Using a chainsaw mill is no different. You need to use an appropriately sized chainsaw and chainsaw bar and the right type of chain on the saw. So, what is the right chain to use for using your chainsaw for milling tasks?

The best chain to use on your chainsaw for milling is a ripping chain. Ripping chains are designed to make cuts in the same direction as the wood grain instead of across the wood grain. Ripping chains have teeth sharpened at a 10-degree angle rather than the 35-degree angle on standard chains.

Using a chainsaw to mill timber is essentially using the chainsaw for and purpose for which it was not intended. Consequently, a different type of chain is needed to better perform a longitudinal cut in the timber. To complicate your ripping chain choice further, there are different types of ripping chains available.

Photo 15677312 / Chainsaw © Petr Pokorny | Dreamstime.com

What Is The Best Chain To Use In A Chainsaw Mill?

A chainsaw used in the traditional way is intended and designed to cut across the grain of the timber. Consequently, standard chainsaw chains are constructed to perform this cut with ease.

Since the cut orientation for milling timber is a rip cut in the same direction as the wood’s grain, a standard chain is not necessarily the best option.

The best chain for milling operations with a chainsaw is a ripping chain. This type of chain has features designed to make longitudinal cuts easier and smoother than standard chains.

There are two different types of tooth designs on ripping chains; round teeth and square teeth. The round tooth, or chipper tooth, is rounded at the back of the tooth, and the top of the tooth is curved.

The square tooth version, which works more effectively, is sometimes called a chisel tooth and has a square, flat back, and the top of the tooth is flat.

Ripping chains also come in a variety of tooth arrangements.

  • Standard toothing. This is where the teeth on the chain are evenly spaced across the length of the chain. These chains have a higher total tooth count than the other types.
  • Semi-skip toothing. With this teeth arrangement, every third tooth is removed from the chain, leaving a gap.
  • Full-skip toothing. This type of tooth configuration has the least number of teeth on the chain since every second tooth is removed.

A ripping chain with standard toothing Is the most versatile and efficient compared to other tooth configurations. 

Before you choose a chain for your saw you may want to upgrade to a longer bar to give you the most cutting width. Check out our recent article on What Size Bar To Use For A Chainsaw Mill to help get the most efficiency and versatility out of your chainsaw milling setup.

What Is The Difference Between A Ripping Chain And A Regular Chainsaw Chain?

There are several differences between a standard crosscut chainsaw chain and a ripping chain. Some of the differences between the two chains are the physical design of the teeth, and others are in the way the chain cuts.

The following are the main differences between ripping chains and regular chainsaw chains.

  • Different tooth angle. The angle on the tooth’s leading edge of a ripping chain is typically only 5 to 10-degrees as opposed to 30 to 35-degrees on a standard crosscut chain.
  • Larger gauges. Larger gauges prevent the cut from going too deep. This makes for an easier cut, putting less strain on the chainsaw motor.
  • Scoring teeth on some chains. Some ripping chains, such as the Granberg chains, have every alternate tooth replaced with a scoring tooth, which cuts the left and right side of the kerf of the cut, and the next tooth takes care of the centerpiece. This makes for a more efficient cut, and the chain passes through the wood much easier.
  • Smoother cut. The design of the teeth on a ripper chain produces a smoother cut and a narrower kerf (cut width) than a standard chain. This means less wastage of the wood and a smooth finish on the cut plane of the wood.
  • Lower power requirements. A ripper chain will make a rip cut much easier than a standard chain, requiring less power from the chainsaw motor. This extends the life of the chainsaw in the long rip cuts.

Can You Use A Chainsaw Mill With A Regular Chain?

You may wonder if using a standard chain to perform milling operations with your chainsaw is possible.

Using a regular chain for milling with your chainsaw is possible, but you should not do this as the norm. Using a standard chain will cause your chainsaw to work harder than it should, increasing the wear on your chainsaw gears, chain, and motor.

The width of the cut using a standard chain will be wider, and the cut will not be as smooth as with a ripper chain. Your standard chain will also wear faster, making the cut more difficult to make across the full length of the timber.

Using a standard chain for milling should only be done if you have no other option.

How To Match A Ripping Chain To Your Chainsaw

When you purchase a ripper chain for your chainsaw, you need to know a few of your chainsaw and bar requirements before placing your order.

You should know three main criteria about the chain to match it to your saw and bar setup.

  • Chain drive link count. The drive links are the “teeth” at the bottom of the chain that runs in the bar’s groove. The number of drive links for your chainsaw and bar is normally stipulated in the user manual. If you do not have the manual on hand, count the drive link teeth on your existing chain and ensure the new chain has the same amount.
  • Chain pitch. This information should be in the manual for your saw, but you can also get it from the standard chain on your saw. Take a measurement of the distance between any 3 rivets on the chain and divide it by 2. This will be the pitch value required for the new chain.
  • Drive link width. This is the width of the drive link teeth that fit in the groove on the bar. It can also be considered as the width of the groove in the chainsaw bar.

With these three pieces of information, you can order a ripping chain that will fit the bar and gearing on your chainsaw. Check out my recent article for more tips and details on selecting the right size chainsaw for milling.


If you are processing timber using a chainsaw in a chainsaw mill, you need to change the chain to a type more appropriate to this cutting task.

A ripper chain is designed to handle the rip or longitudinal cuts better than a standard chain designed for crosscuts through the wood.

Using a standard chain on a mill will cause additional wear on your chainsaw motor, gears, and the chain itself.

Dane McManis

Dane started learning about farming while volunteering on a farm. Now he and his wife raise chickens, pigs, and ducks on their small farm with their two little girls.

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