Paul Butzi |||

Lightweight Chainsaw Bars

Much of what I do in the forest involves chainsaws at some point. When we moved here in 2003 we owned one saw, a Stihl 021, which is a very small saw. Not long after we moved in a terrific ice storm buried our neighborhood in downed trees, and it became clear we needed a bigger saw as well. I bought a Stihl MS 310, and both 20″ and 25″ bars and chains.

Those two saws served us well until recently, when it became clear that the 021 was essentially worn out. For a host of reasons having to do with post pandemic supply chain issues, the 021 was replaced with a Stihl MS211 and a Stihl MS201 C-EM. For no particular reason I bought the MS211 with an 18″ bar and chains. The MS201 has my preferred 16″ bar. Generally the 16″ bar is more convenient for me, because I’m working in dense underbrush and a longer bar just means more snagging on random stuff.

After some thought the MS 310 was replaced with a much more powerful saw, an MS 462, which weighs just a few ounces more than the MS310 but is rated to put out nearly double the power.

Even a lightweight chainsaw is a heavy tool, often you’re working with it at some distance from your body, and so every ounce amounts to getting more tired more quickly. So even though the MS 201 powerhead weighs more than a pound less than the 021 it replaced, and the MS 462 is just about the same weight as the MS 311 it replaced, I was always eager to find a way to cut the weight.

So recently I bought Stihl lightweight bars for both saws, a 16″ bar to go on the MS 201 and 20″ and 25″ bars to go on the MS 462.

One of the puzzles I faced was that Stihl do not actually tell you what any of their bars weigh, which makes it impossible to get any idea of what the weight savings will end up being. And there’s an additional wrinkle, as we will see…

Here are the weights I measured for the bars I have:

Stihl # length (in) weight
3005 000 4813 16 20.4 oz
3005 000 7413* 16 14.8 oz
3003 000 2221* 20 2 lbs 0.5 oz
3003 000 8822 20 2 lb 13.5 oz
3003 000 8821 20 2 lbs 4.5 oz
3003 000 8921 20 2 lbs 4.5 oz
3003 000 4030 25 3 lbs 10.0 oz
3003 000 2231* 25 2 lbs 9.5 oz
 | | |

Some observations: the lightweight bar for the MS 201 saves a mere 5.6 ounces, a savings of bar weight of ~27% but pretty meager savings when you consider the powerhead weighs 9.5 lbs. Switching to the lighter bar saves you only 3% overall. But weight savings is, to my great surprise, only about one third of the overall picture. The remaining two thirds of the picture are the way the reduced bar weight changes the balance and handling of the saw, because the bar weight all lies forward of the grip.

Bottom line: moving from the standard 16″ bar on the MS 201 to the lightweight bar makes the saw a lot less fatiguing to use.

For the bigger saw, the weight changes are more dramatic. I have three different 20″ bars:

  • 3003 000 8822, which is a standard bar with replaceable nose sprocket
  • 3003 000 8821 and 3003 000 8921, which are laminated bars with no way to replace the nose sprocket
  • 3003 000 2221, which is the Rollomatic ES Light bar (which has a replaceable nose sprocket)

Now the interesting thing is that the laminated bars are actually hollow, and weigh a mere 4 ounces more than the ES Light bar. So if you wanted a cheaper bar that was still pretty light, those laminated bars might be a good choice. The downside is that the laminated bars do not have replaceable nose sprockets, and in my experience they wear somewhat faster than the heavier bars do.

Again, the big deal here is not the drop in weight but the change in how the saw balances. With the 20″ bar the change in balance is surprisingly large.

And with the 25″ bar, the difference is more than a pound, and that makes a difference not just in terms of balance and handling of the saw but in terms of how heavy the damn thing feels after a couple of hours of use.

So, what’s the downside to the light bars? I see two issues:

  1. Cost. Holy jeebus, the things are expensive.
  2. The light bars are apparently far more prone to damage from pinching than the standard solid bars. I’ve destroyed one of the hollow laminated bars this way, but to be honest I’ve not yet had a truly serious pinch on one of the solid bars so I can’t really compare. My feeling is that if the bar really gets pinched hard, it’s probably a goner no matter what. But observe that the destroyed solid bar is half as expensive as the destroyed light bar, so that might modulate how much swearing you do.

Note that there are a host of light’ bars from Cannon, Tsumara, Sugihara, Oregon, &c. Again, all the manufacturers are very cagey about what their bars actually weigh.

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