Chainsaw Bar Oil Substitute – What To Use?

Last Updated on January 21, 2022 by Grow with Bovees

Using a good bar chainsaw bar oil to keep your trusty chainsaw running smoothly is very important, as most regular users will know.

But what if you run out of your regular stuff and need to use an alternative oil instead, even if just as a temporary measure?

What are the best chainsaw bar oil substitutes? Let’s see which will be both good for your machine and good for the environment.

We take a look at how chainsaw bar oil works and what you can safely use as a substitute oil in a pinch or as a long-term alternative.

The Purpose of Bar and Chain Oil

With the chain running at speeds of up to 50mph, bar oil plays a vital role in reducing the friction between bar and chain and also helping it cut through logs and trees.

The oil needs to both be slippery and thin enough to keep things moving and cutting well, but also tacky enough that it will stick to the chain at high speeds without getting flung off too quickly.

Chainsaw Bar Oil and the Environment

The “total loss lubrication system” of a modern chainsaw releases the oil once it has traveled around the bar a few times by spraying it off the bar tip.

These atomized oil particles spray over the work area and cling to the sawdust, so 100% of the lubricant will end up in the environment in some way.

If you’re at all concerned about how you can reduce your impact on the planet and the world around you, then using bio-friendly alternative chainsaw bar oil substitute could be a good idea.

Chainsaw Warranty Issues

It’s important to note that using a non-standard chain oil, such as motor oil, could affect your chainsaw manufacturer warranty and you may end up having to pay for any repairs if something goes wrong.

Many chainsaw brands like Husqvarna and Stihl have a section in their warranty documentation that states it will not cover ‘repairs made necessary by improper maintenance, lubrication, or oil deposits’ or something similar.

While it’s unlikely a repair shop would be able to tell if you’ve used alternative chainsaw bar oils now and again just as a temporary measure, if your machine is still under warranty then it would be best to stick to the manufacturer’s recommended bar oil recommended in the chainsaw manual.

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Now let’s take a look at the types of oil you could use for your bar and chain.

Regular Standard Bar Oil

Most lubricating oils that are sold as standard chainsaw oil in the USA are petroleum-based with additives that give it all the qualities a good bar and chain oil needs.

As we know, it’s not environmentally friendly to be spraying this type of oil all over the place and these oils are a known carcinogen. Prolonged exposure to the oil mist from a chainsaw can also cause respiratory problems.

However, some manufacturers are now making a biodegradable version that breaks down organically and causes a lot less damage to the planet so if you can find one of these at your local store, it would be very much worth it.

Motor Oil as a Bar Oil Substitute

If you run out of standard bar oil when out in the forest, one good alternative that you may have on your truck is fresh traditional motor oil.

Engine oil is not as sticky as the normal stuff so the bar oil reservoir will probably empty out fairly quickly when using it as an alternative, but it will do the job in a pinch.

Of course, motor oil is petroleum-based so has the same issues we have already covered but it is cheaper and more readily available in most cases than some other chainsaw bar and chain oil alternatives.

Another factor is that a multiple weight motor oil will have different properties depending on the operating temperature. SAE 30 is best during the summer and for hot temperatures, whereas an SAE 10 viscosity level is great for cold winter temperatures.

SAE10W-30 multi-grade motor oil combines the properties of both, so is a great choice as a chainsaw bar oil alternative.

Used Motor Oil

You may have heard that used engine oil that has been filtered is a very cheap alternative chainsaw lubricant, but we would definitely not recommend using this.

No matter how much you filter it, the filtered motor oil will still contain contaminants that could cause a lot of damage.

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Drained motor oil will also have reduced lubricating properties and variations in oil viscosity that could damage the oil pump and the chain itself.

Two Cycle Oils

Although you will likely have 2 cycle oil to hand for use in your fuel mix, it is not suitable to use as an alternative chain oil. Chainsaw chains spin too fast, and it is not sticky enough to stay on the chain.

Canola Oil as Alternative Bar Oil

A type of vegetable oil, Canola oil is made from the seed of the rapeseed plant or oilseed rape, a bright-yellow flowering member of the cabbage or mustard family (Brassicaceae).

It’s readily available almost everywhere, often at a cheaper cost than standard bar oil, and is one of the most commonly used chainsaw bar oil substitutes.

Canola oil works really well as a bar and chain oil as it provides good lubrication, has a high flash point,  and a high viscosity index similar to standard bar oil (although is not of course graded by the SAE index).

Of course not only is this a cleaner and cheaper alternative, but it’s also much better for the environment as it doesn’t smell, is non-toxic, and biodegrades completely.

The only downside is that it’s slightly thinner than regular chain and bar oil so the chainsaw oil reservoir will need careful monitoring the first few times you use it to gauge how quickly it gets used up.

We’ve also had reports that the excess canola oil left on the blade scabbard can attract rodents when being stored so always remember to give the machine a good wipe down after use.

Other Types of Vegetable Oil

Although Canola oil is the most popular alternative bio-friendly oil for chainsaw bars, other vegetable oils have similar properties. these include:

Olive Oil

A great alternative vegetable oil but can become very thick at low temperatures and is more expensive.

Soybean Oil

Thicker than canola oil, soybean oils are best used in a hot climate.

Sunflower Oil  

Again, another great alternative but tends to be thinner than canola so is best used in cold temperatures.

In fact, all types of regular vegetable oil could be used as chainsaw bar oil substitutes.

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Many chainsaw owners have used vegetable oils when they need a quick fix, but some use them all the time and would not go back to the standard stuff unless they had no choice.

Reports on chainsaw forums from those that have used vegetable oil over a long period of time indicate that they have not experienced any problems with wear and tear or damage to the chainsaw, but you do need to keep an eye on levels in the oil tank.

Another situation where you would be best advised to use some type of vegetable oil is when carving up an animal carcass for human consumption, or cutting up hay bales and animal feed products.

Hydraulic Oil as Chainsaw Bar Oil Substitute

With similar characteristics to motor oil, fresh hydraulic fluid can definitely be used as a temporary chain lubricant, but unlike motor oil, it is rather thin and can tend to dry out more quickly.

We do not recommend you try used hydraulic fluids for the same reasons we mentioned when talking about drained car oil.

Even when filtered, it will still contain contaminants that could damage chainsaw chains and, of course, is not at all environmentally friendly.

Conclusion – The Best Chainsaw Oil Substitute 

Many types of motor and vegetable oils will do the job and as long as they’re just used as an emergency solution for a short time, they are unlikely to cause any damage to your machine.

If you’re looking for something environmentally friendly that you can use on a long term basis for bar and chain lubrication then vegetable and canola oils are far better than petroleum based oil.

A lot of the time, the best alternative chainsaw bar oil is the one you have to hand, so carrying some extra motor oil on the truck may be the best solution!

However, always check the user manual to make sure you will not run into trouble with the warranty of many brands of chainsaw, and if you do use a bar oil substitute, always use fresh oil, never used or drained even if it has been filtered.