Chainsaw Bar Oil Substitute | SOLVED: What Can I Use?

Chainsaws are some of the most durable gas-powered tools that average homeowners can buy and use with minimal practice. At least, in most cases this is true. However, lubricating our chainsaws is not as cut and dry as running the machine. In fact, choosing the wrong chainsaw bar oil can damage or destroy even the hardiest chainsaws.

Chainsaws can run at speeds near 50mph. At that velocity, replenishing your bar oil is a necessity. But what do you do when you’re out of your manufacturer’s recommended oil? This article will address that very question and discuss each chainsaw bar oil substitute in detail. 

So, let’s get our engines running and start the article to discover the best chainsaw bar oil substitutes!

What Oil Can Be Used for Chainsaw Bar Oil?

First, check your manufacturer’s instructions before adding alternative bar oil to your chainsaw. Generally, chainsaws can handle a wide range of lubricants. Vegetable and canola oils work well, and automobile motor oil will too, as long as you observe the SAE ratings and use the appropriate oil weight for the season. Always use fresh, never used, oils.

Most oils may appear similar to the eye, but you don’t want to fill up with the wrong kind accidentally. This rule applies to automobiles and large engine machines, but chainsaws are just as sensitive when it comes to bar oil. 

Bar oil plays a specific role in the performance of the chainsaw. For one, the oil needs to be slippery and thin enough to help the chain move smoothly through the wood chips and wood pulp. An SAE rating of 5-10 should suffice. Second, oil should be tacky enough to stick to the bar at high speeds. SAE rating of 30 is ideal. A multi-weight oil is an obvious winner.

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Can I Use 10w30 for Chainsaw Bar Oil?

Yes, though it is not ideal for use in the winter. A 10w30 oil is multi-weight, meaning it will perform well in cold and heat. Yet 10w30 weight motor oil will be very tacky and viscous once the chainsaw heats up and starts to run. You may experience a drop in performance.

10w30 oil operates as a SAE10 oil upon starting the chainsaw motor. SAE10 oil is thin and great for the winter when the air temperature makes all liquids congeal. Yet when 10w30 heats up, its multi-weight function changes the oil’s viscosity (its thickness) to SAE30. This oil weight is thick and better for summer.

bar and chain oil substitute

In the summer, gear oil will perform at its best. The high viscosity of gear oil makes it all but impossible to use in the cold. You’re welcome to try it in the summer as most of us have a bot knocking around left over from our cars or lawn mowers but be warned: gear oil is notorious for giving off an ugly, ugly stench that’s hard to remove from clothes.

You can use 10w30 for an alternative in a pinch. However, you may observe the oil flinging all over the trees and the landscape, potentially damaging the environment. Once the motor heats up, the thicker oil may slow the chain in winter and cause the chain to seize. 

Can I Use 5w30 for a Chainsaw Bar?

Like 10w30 motor oil, you can use 5w30 oil. However, the thin and low-viscosity SAE5 weight oil will not cling to the chain and chainsaw bar very well in the summer. You may experience a lot of oil loss and a messy worksite if you choose this chainsaw bar oil alternative. 

One advantage of using motor oil like 5w30 if you don’t have any other oil lying around is the price. Automobile oil is relatively inexpensive, with quarts rarely costing over $10. Just keep in mind that motor oil is not very environmentally friendly. 

They can give off toxic fumes too – especially when the chainsaw overheats with high-viscosity motor oils.

There are forestry experts and amateur chainsaw enthusiasts online who have debated using motor oil in chainsaws for years and years. The jury’s still out, but professionals agree that 5w30 motor oil is an acceptable alternative. It’s just not a long-term solution.

Can I Use Gear Oil As Bar Oil?

Unless you are using your chainsaw in hot conditions, gear oil is not a recommended alternative bar oil. Why? Most gear oil is at least three times more viscous than traditional motor oil and thicker than proper chainsaw lubricant. Gear oil will likely get your chainsaw running, but you will probably void your manufacturer’s warranty with extended use.

Another reason to shy away from gear oil is its price. Unless you have a stockpile of gear oil available if your chainsaw oil runs out, it’s not a sound economic decision to buy gear oil as a backup. Reach for environmentally-friendly canola oils or simple SAE10/30 motor oil instead.

Can You Use 2 Cycle Oil As Bar Oil?

You should only use two-cycle oil as the mix, never as a chainsaw bar oil alternative. Using two-cycle oil on the bar will not provide enough tackiness to stick to the chainsaw chain in the summer months. Two-cycle oil also will not work in the winter. Best to use two-cycle oil in the mix and use another alternative for bar oil.

As far as the differences between two-cycle oils, most professional loggers and forestry workers notice very little difference between brands. The only major feature that distinguishes the brands is their smell. Reach for 2-cycle oils made with castor beans for a pleasing scent.

bar and chain oil substitute

Can I Use Vegetable Oil for a Chainsaw Bar?

Yes. Vegetable oil is perhaps one of the best alternative chainsaw bar oils to use. This product is very good for the environment, releases almost no fumes on use, and is widely used by many pros as their go-to chainsaw bar oil.

Keep in mind that there are several types of vegetable oil (including canola oil, which we cover below). Soybean oil and olive oil – both fine substitutes for bar oil – are thick and perform better in warm conditions. Sunflower oil is thinner than chainsaw bar oil itself, so we recommend using it solely in winter. 

Opting for vegetable oils is the wise choice for preserving the environment too. Vegetable oils will not damage your surroundings when it escapes from the chain and splatter the ground, woods, and flora. Your saw will also produce a pleasant oily odor instead of the chemical smell of traditional motor oils.

bar and chain oil substitute
Canola or Vegetable Oil is a great Bar Oil Substitute

Can I Use Canola Oil for a Chainsaw Bar?

We recommend turning to canola oil as the best chainsaw bar oil substitute on our list. Many people across the world use canola oil as a lubricant of choice over bar oil. It is cheap, biodegradable, and has a low odor. However, you’ll have to refill your bar more often since canola oil is relatively thin and not as sticky as motor oil.

In many parts of the country, canola oil is half the price of your manufacturer’s recommended bar oil. Canola oil is, however, one of the thinnest oils on our list. What does this mean? It will escape from the chainsaw bar rapidly, especially in the summer. Be prepared to refill your chainsaw twice as often. 

Still, canola oil is good for the environment, keeps the chainsaw shiny and lubricated, and is easy to wash out of clothes. One downside, though: canola oil can rot, so check the expiration date before use.

Hydraulic Oil for Chainsaw Bar?

Though hydraulic oil tends to dry faster than motor oil, you can still use hydraulic oil for chainsaw bars. This type of oil has a lot in common with motor oil (above, we discuss motor oil substitutes), so it’s sure to keep your chain and bar lubricated at the right temp.

Don’t use hydraulic fluids if you’re draining them from another engine with the plan of reusing them. Steer clear of any recycled oils for chainsaw bar oil unless you filter it well. Drained hydraulic fluid is destructive to the environment, and it may compromise your chain.

Fresh hydraulic oil is fine, though. It is quite thin, and it will dry in half the time of motor oil, so pay attention to overheating and replace it several times per hour.

What is the Best Chainsaw Bar Oil?

Chainsaw bar oil substitutes that derive from vegetables like canola oil are the best for your chainsaw. Canola oil, which comes from rapeseed, works wonders as a substitute oil because it is thin for cold climates, biodegradable, and low-impact on users and the environment.

Canola oil isn’t only a good substitute for chainsaw bars. People across the globe use canola oil full-time for two-cycle oils, greases, various lubricants, and even engine oil. Fun fact: canola oil has a viscosity level near-identical with human skin oils. One of nature’s wonders.

Chainsaw Bar Oil Substitute Final Thoughts

Chainsaws and chainsaw bars are made of tough stuff, but lubrication is a touchy subject. The manufacturer recommends a specific (often on-brand) bar oil for a reason: it optimizes your saw’s performance. A substitute bar oil should aim to do the same thing.

Vegetable oils like canola and sunflower oils are the best second-best bar oils for most chainsaws. Stay away from high viscosity, highly processed SAE90 oils. 

Those are the main takeaways, and we hope reading this article has given you some tips for the next time you’re out of bar oil and need an alternative in a jam.