In Praise of Chainsaw

Post by blogger | September 12, 2013      

Our Stihl MS 311 is on season four and just felled and bucked what was probably tree number 550 or so. Good saw, way better than other chain spinners we’ve enjoyed over the years, lke the borrowed chainsaw that dumped gasoline on you if you happened to tilt it backwards, or the ancient howling monster I used in Crested Butte to buck enormous piles of delivered timber that my mom heated her house with back in the day. That oily beast rattled so harshly I’ve still got a cyst in my wrist.

Still life of Stihl.

Still life of Stihl.

Yeah, this Stihl is something different. Vibration absorption is beautiful, exhaust recirc’ cleans up the cloud of hydrocarbons you used to spend the day working in. But nothing is perfect. Gas cap still pops off if you don’t get it on just right, and some of the Stihl fasteners are weak. I found out the latter when I stumbled on some rocks and set the saw down hard. Snapped a few bolts, worst being one anchoring the chain lock pivot.

Snap, and not that easy to fix.

Snap, and not that easy to fix. Housing in this area of the Stihl MS 311 is some kind of super strong plastic. Drilling a broken metal screw out of plastic proved to be difficult. I got it done by cooling with water, then tapped out the enlarged hole for a bigger fastener. I come from the day when saws didn't have a blade lock-guard. I've come to like this feature; it seems odd now that we'd spend hours cutting without a guard, when just a sweaty slip would result in a hand-ectomy. The anti kick-back features are also a plus, though learning without was probably good for my skills.

Repair shop told me they were two weeks out on work. Heck, this time of year!? Autumn is the best time to get that wood chewed up. Time for DIY. A few hours later I had the broken fastener drilled out and tapped to 1/4 20, replaced with a socket head bolt with a trimmed head. New sparkplug, clean the air filter, replace fuel filter. Bar is nearly trash but we might as well take it too the limit and save a few bucks. Ready for another 500 trees?

As far inside as I got, this time anyway. Looked worth a photo for those of us who like machinery.

As far inside as I got, this time anyway. Looked worth a photo for those of us who like machinery.



28 Responses to “In Praise of Chainsaw”

  1. TimZ September 12th, 2013 10:16 am

    Nice, always satisfying to fix it on your own! I just replaced the clutch and chain brake on an older husky, saved a boat load over the shop prices

  2. Lou Dawson September 12th, 2013 10:20 am

    Tim, yeah, the money saving when you DIY small engines is a major plus. Good sweat equity… what Husky model?\


  3. Joe John September 12th, 2013 10:39 am

    The chainsaw blade itself is an awesome invention, apparently discovered when an inventor saw how beetles chewed away on wood, and then recreated that with a chain.

  4. Lou Dawson September 12th, 2013 10:58 am

    Indeed. It’s amazing how many applications the cutting chain has. Example, when they re-opened the famed Yule Quarrry near here, they cut the marble out with a chainsaw, something like a 6-foot bar. Now they use a wire saw and stuff like that, but I’ll bet they’ve still got the chain saw. Lou

  5. XXX_er September 12th, 2013 12:01 pm

    I heard somewhere if you haven’t already done it you can flip the bar ?

    I just got a shiny new 261, I am pretty happy with, I went for the smallest pro saw cuz i wanted durabilty & power but I didn’t want to go too big since I will be hiking it for trail/ski run work

    Sthil doubles the warranty if you buy a 6 pack of their oil, the dealer told me to only use premium and the saw runs like a top… pretty happy with it

  6. Lou Dawson September 12th, 2013 12:08 pm

    xer, yes, you should flip the bar every time you put a new or shop-sharpened chain on. Even out the wear. When the bar gets worn a burr appears next to the chain channel, and it cuts crooked. You grind the burr off with a file or disk grinder to keep it going. Eventually the bar gets a big worn dip in it just behind the tip, that’s when you know it’s time to retire. If well oiled and used with sharp chains (to avoid excessive pressure while cutting) the bar lasts quite a while.

    I agree that premium mix oil is worth it. Cheapo bar oil saves money and works fine for that application. When it gets cold I thin my bar oil with a bit of Mobile 1 synthetic.


  7. Scott Nelson September 12th, 2013 3:16 pm

    Mobil 1 Syn for bar oil? Are cutting up in glitzy Aspen or something ?

    My buddy, whom I work for, just bought a new Stihl 362 for a long job we just finished up. Even at 11,000′ on a daily basis, it did really well for all the lodgepole we took out, some of which were quite big. It only had a 20″ bar, anymore than that, and it probably would have bogged down quite a bit. But it cuts amazingly well, especially with a full skip chain. And my friend Mike is super meticulous about keeping his chain sharp.

    I used an old Husq 257 that was just overhauled, and it worked great as well, though you could tell it didn’t like the altitude at times. But, again, keeping your chain really sharp totally helps with that.

    Chain saws are great because you can basically rebuild the entire thing. The Husq 257 is testament to that.

    Now if they could just make them a bit lighter for those 12 hour days of cutting. Dynafit are you listening?

    BTW…. thanks for the use of the sat phone Lou. Thankfully we only needed it for calls to the wives simply to check in. But it was a nice thing to have up in the boonies.


  8. Lou Dawson September 12th, 2013 3:23 pm

    He he, actually it’s usually the cheaper synthetic from Wal-Mart. Doesn’t take much to thin out the oil.

    The Dynafit Chainsaw, necessary in the overgrown fire-prone forests of the United States, but outlawed in Europe where they actually know what they’re doing when it comes to forestry.


  9. David Aldous September 13th, 2013 2:04 am

    I’ve used all sorts of brands of bar oil working as an arborist. We have even run canola oil sometimes. Kerosene can be used to thin out summer weight bar oil. If you are replacing a bar you might look at the rim sprocket too and see how worn it is.

  10. Lou Dawson September 13th, 2013 6:31 am

    Thanks for the kerosene tip David, I’ll try that. Probably healthier and cheaper than synthetic as a additive. Lou

  11. TimZ September 13th, 2013 8:22 am

    Lou, it’s a 55 rancher, my father-in-law’s saw.

    The shop said that we burned out the clutch by starting it with the chainbrake on, but I looked at the user manual for the saw and it says to always start it with the brake on… not sure what the best practices are

  12. Lou Dawson September 13th, 2013 8:50 am

    I start without chain brake but it’s pretty dangerous as due to choke and throttle settings when ours starts, it winds out and spins that chain at max rpm, so if you slipped or tripped while starting, and set your hand on the chain or something, horror… Lisa starts it with the chain brake on. I’ve tried to get in the habit of starting with chain brake on but it does so much better with it free to run…

  13. g September 13th, 2013 9:02 am

    my stihl 347 is 7 years old and has hours and hours of work up on my lode claim here in Wyoming, felling trees. I consider it perhaps the greatest [and simplest] single piece of machinery I have ever owned. i am mesmerized by the beating it can and has taken, and its dependability. Toast to Stihl

  14. Jack September 13th, 2013 9:31 am

    I have a Stihl Farm Boss that is just a great little saw. Moved to an apartment a year ago and, darn it, I just don’t want to get rid of that saw.

    The Stihl handbook is a great guide to “how not to get maimed by your chain saw”.
    (Seriously) great tips on how to fell trees safely.

  15. Lou Dawson September 13th, 2013 10:17 am

    Jack, cut out an new window in your apartment. Chainsaw carpentry is fun! Lou

  16. Mark W September 13th, 2013 10:26 am

    Pretty nice saw. Haven’t tinkered with the guts of one for years, but it is kinda fun. Happy sawing.

  17. Jay September 13th, 2013 12:09 pm

    “chain spinner”, you’re funny!

  18. Woody Dixon September 13th, 2013 2:37 pm

    A little tidbit I learned recently- MS290, MS311 and MS390 all share the same crank and external cylinder, etc. Main difference is the internal bore of the cylinder.

    You can buy a fully assembled shortblock for an MS390 for around $120-$150. Add in a little exhaust porting and you’ll be ready for northwest sized trees. 🙂 Pretty big jump in power between the 311 and the 390. (2mm bigger bore)

    I have an older Stihl 026 and Stihl MS440, really enjoy running both saws. The 440 is a little overkill at times, but I’m glad to have it when doing trail work or cutting big logs for firewood. Plus it fun to have a saw that basically won’t bog down. Sometimes I want to sling wood chips as badly as I want to ski powder! Strange, I know.

    Also- Ethanol infused gas when will eat away rubber seals, hoses etc. I have brought a few chainsaws back to life simply by replacing a $6 hose and filter. Got a chain saw that won’t start? Dribble a little gas in the carb. If it starts right up, all it takes swapping a hose and filter and good as new.

  19. Lou Dawson September 13th, 2013 3:42 pm

    Woody! Thanks, I’ve always remembered that you now have many chainsaws in the family (grin). Was hoping you’d chime in. I agree about power, it’s sort of like with cars, “there is no replacement for displacement.” Eating through a log with the MS311 and a sharp chain is a quick burst of joy, saves the back and gets the work done quick. I’ve been wanting something smaller for brushing, but just haven’t gotten around to it because the 311 is just so right.

    I wish I knew exactly how to tune port/tune it. I’m sure it’s only giving me 85% due to my ineptness.


  20. Patrick September 13th, 2013 7:51 pm

    Bought a used Husky 55 in Telluride in 1980. Moved to the Selkirk Mtns in B.C. and used the saw regularly for years. For a decade, the saw sat idle, because I lived in urban settings. Later moved out into woods on Vancouver Island, used it for another 12 years. When I finally retired that saw in 2011, it was over 30 years old. Turns out that model was the Dodge Dart of chainsaws (bombproof).
    Bought a Husky 55 Rancher (chain brake, anti-vibe handle, nice concepts). The dealer, recognizing a classic, rebuilt the Husky 55.
    NOTE: Get the best hearing protection you can. With all the falling and cutting I did, I lost some hearing, so I bought some Swiss Phonak hearing aids. Sometimes when I turn on the aids, I can hear my wife!
    Wood splitting in my form of meditation, love it. So the chainsaw has an important role in my life.

  21. Sam September 14th, 2013 12:15 pm

    I realize chainsaws are great and much more effective than the alternative but as a professional logger I hate to see them praised. I’m fairly sure my spine will never be straight again and no one has nice things to say after a week or summer of felling. On another note a pair of chaps is great. I think any will work and they make the work considerable safer.

  22. Scott Nelson September 14th, 2013 4:19 pm

    Yeah, chaps are super critical to have in my opinion too. It only takes a split second lapse of concentration and you could be visiting your local ER, hopefully alive….

  23. RandoSwede September 14th, 2013 5:10 pm

    Can’t stress the ear protection enough. I use foam plugs AND a high quality headset. Chaps and real boots too. Had a buddy cut through the top of his foot (through his White’s) when a log he was bucking rolled unexpectedly. What a mess.

    Being a Swede of course I love Husky but Stihl has won me over. Also a big fan of the full wrap handles…

  24. XXX_er September 15th, 2013 10:51 am

    I bought everything at the same time as the saw, the chaps, the helmet with muffs, buy a six pack of sthil oil the dealer doubles the warranty and so the $$$ really adds up

    BTW the orange sthil gloves with the anti vibration gel inserts are really nice the rest of my body can feel like hell while my hands are good!

    haven’t really worked out the frame pack carrying system /how much chain oil fuel to carry ect and I need a smaller than larger axe so I am thinking a 2lb?

  25. Lou Dawson September 15th, 2013 11:37 am

    Our chaps are worn out, and too short. I like the ones that go down to the boots. Ordered Husqvarna 531309567 on Amazon, they appear to go down to the boots and buckle around the calf. Will review. I like the dark blue color (at least I hope that’s what they are) as I don’t really need to walk around in dayglow orange. The helmet is good enough for that. Lou

  26. Scott Newman September 18th, 2013 11:47 am

    I sold my when I moved to California. I wish I still had it! Hope to see you guys this weekend. Have Lisa give me a call.

  27. Lisa Dawson September 18th, 2013 4:13 pm

    Scott, we plan to see you this weekend. You can borrow our chainsaw anytime!

  28. Adon May 20th, 2014 2:01 am

    Poulan PRO is one of the best chainsaw brands available in the market today. Although they are not ideal for high intensity jobs like cutting thick firewood but they are well designed for lighter jobs like limbing and pruning.

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