The evolution of chainsaws to the Stihl chainsaw we know today



Have you ever wondered when chainsaws came to be, or how they have reached the level of technological efficiency that we see in the Stihl chainsaw today? If so, you will be delighted to know that chainsaws come attached to a long and interesting history. These ingenious inventions have come a long way from the first models of cutting tools that emerged centuries ago. In just a few minutes of reading, find out all you need to know about the history of chainsaws and the Stihl chainsaw range we at BS Power stock today.


A brief history




The first chainsaws came to be in the 1920s, when the development of the motorised saw resulted in an increase in all forms of timber production. But we are getting ahead of ourselves! In order to understand the creation of the motorised chainsaw, we must first address the conditions that led to the invention of the saw, the chainsaw’s ancestor. The history of forest work is entangled in the history of the human race, as for thousands of years, trees were, and still are, linked to the development and evolution of civilisations.


Soon, the threatening and impassable forest became the wealthiest of timber suppliers, and over time it became tamed by those wishing to build. The humble lumberjack, who, for hundreds of years sat on the bottom rung of the social ladder, only began to rise in stature with the introduction of the modern chainsaw. It was then that the once disdained labourer of the daytime hours became a specialised machine operator we see today operating great brands like the Stihl chainsaw.


The journey of the axe


As the oldest means of cutting wood used by humankind, the axe’s presence stretches incredibly far back into human history. This is shown by the numerous pieces of evidence that indicated axe forms, created with stone, copper, bronze then iron. The upgrading of materials over the years provides an interesting look into the evolution of humankind and the different forms of culture. Up until the 19th century, the axe maintained its position of the most widely used tool for cutting trees.




It was the Germanic tribes who first invented the saw around 5000B.C, according to historians. They nicked small teeth into flints in shapes akin to half-moons. After the discovery of copper, axes and saws were produced in the form of bronze. With the use of axes, not only could trees be felled, but enemies too. The axe certainly became a formidable weapon during this time.


From the axe to the saw


From around 750 B.C, iron became the replacement for bronze for the purpose of most working materials. However, saws remained crafted out of bronze for many more centuries. They were less used in the forest than they were by surgeons, doctors and artisans, however.


Historians have not found a surplus of information on other uses of the saw until around the 8th century A.C. From this time onward, they were utilised by artisans – not so much by lumberjacks. Up until the 16th century, there exists no proof that hand saws had anything to do with forestry work. Saw mills, on the other hand, which were used to cut tree trunks into planks, had already existed for quite some time within the forest.


It was in 1500 that the celebrated artist and inventor, Leonardo da Vinci spent some time working with saws. Many historians argue that it was he who sketched the first saw teeth, which functioned by both pushing and pulling. Until then, saws had worked either by pushing or pulling in Europe and Asia respectively.


In 1800, the first type of circular and band saws were being produced in and around England. In this period, there still existed a division of work between the saw and the axe. While saws were only used for cutting lengths, axes were used to both fell and debranch trees. Naturally, the saw’s role was considered to be inferior – and this endured for a long period. To a large extent, the saw was widely unknown throughout the world. In fact, certain places actually forbade the use of saws to fell trees.




On the other side of the coin, Empress Maria Theresa (mother of Marie Antoinette – the last queen of France before the Revolution) decreed in 1752 that trees ought no longer be chopped with axes, but rather sawed near the roots. This was to prevent wastage of timber. However, this decree was mostly ignored.


This was due to the fact that the act of kneeling down and utilising saws did not align with the body motoric of the lumberjacks of the time. Further, saws were much more expensive than axes, meaning that fewer people had access to them. This was solved, however, by wealthier employers providing lumberjacks with saws, who then were no longer self-employed, and became wage workers instead.


Interestingly, timber thieves at the time enjoyed working with the saw at the time, since it was a quieter tool in general. This resulted in authorities punishing timber thieves who used saws instead of axes with a firmer hand.


Although the use of the saw was plain during Antiquity in Rome and Egypt, the tool was really only used in the forests of central Europe during the middle of the 18th century. This shift not only brought an increase in timber yields, but also several other advantages for increasingly wealthier forestry owners. Unfortunately, lumberjacks experienced the opposite.


During the middle of the 19th century, many inspired individuals began tinkering and creating mechanical saws, which were especially useful in the forest. The majority of these innovative inventions were rather unwieldly and heavy, which resulted in them never progressing very far from the prototype stage. This was the same case for steam powered machines whose engines were fuelled with wood waste.


The journey of the motorised saw


As previously mentioned, it was only in the 1920s that the first, proper chainsaw was invented. Three company names must be mentioned, that of Wolf in the United States, Westfelt in Sweden and finally Stihl in Germany. Stihl is the oldest, as well as the largest producer of chainsaws in the world. This is one of the many reasons we stock a wide variety in our Stihl chainsaw range at BS Power. At first, the goal was to make heavy forestry labour easier with the use of a lighter and more dynamic machine.


Inventors felt that not only would this lead to an increase in productivity, but also in profit. We have compiled a brief timeline of the major developments in the journey to establish the chainsaws we know and love today:


  • In 1926, Stihl was responsible for developing the first electro-chainsaw.
  • In 1927, Dolmar invented the first petrol chainsaw.
  • 1950 saw the arising of the first one-man operated chainsaw.
  • In 1964, the antivibration system became a reality.
  • 1972 saw the emergence of the chain brake.
  • 10 years later, in 1982, the automatic chain break was invented.
  • In 1989, the catalyser became known.
  • In 1991, the world saw the use and implementation of the automatic start ability in chainsaws.




It was the petrol operated chainsaw that was produced at the end of the 1920s. Initially, these saws had to be operated by 2 men, as a result of these machines’ similarities to traditional saws as well as other technical considerations. Although mechanical, engine powered chainsaws were so effective in forestry work, it took some time for their popularity to gain momentum due to several issues.


Firstly, the chainsaws were heavy and unwieldy. The first 2 man chainsaws weighed around 60 kilograms. They were also highly susceptible to breaking down. It took the labour of 2 people who were usually incredibly fatigued after the day’s work. Despite these setbacks, companies were still determined to develop lighter and more powerful chainsaws that needed only 1 person to operate effectively.


Finally, in 1950, the first 1 man chainsaw was produced, even though it was still rather heavy. In 1959, most chainsaws weighed in at around 12 kilograms. Today, for context, lighter modern chainsaws weigh between 4 kilograms and 5 kilograms, while heavier chainsaws weigh between 7 kilograms and 9 kilograms. By the end of the 1950s, there was a general lack of eager lumberjacks ready to take on the task of forestry work, which resulted in a drive to get more youths interested in working with chainsaws.


The reality of working with chainsaws




It should come as no shock to hear that working with chainsaws is rather dangerous. In fact, research shows that per ever 1100m³ of worked wood, there is approximately 1 accident. These injuries usually occur on the most exposed parts of the body when operating a saw, those being the left arm and the left leg. The most common cause of chainsaw related injuries is what is known as “kickback”. Kickback occurs when the nose and chain of a saw suddenly meets wood at a critical angle, or comes into contact with a sharp or unexpected object, and rises immediately).


There is also the risk of developing what is known as “white finger syndrome,” which is caused by the constant vibration produced by the chainsaw. This is one condition that lead to the implementation of antivibration technology, featured in every Stihl chainsaw we stock at BS Power.


The Stihl chainsaw range stocked by BS Power


Now that you know a bit more about the intriguing history of chainsaws that have led to the development of the world’s finest Stihl chainsaw products, you should check out the wide variety of chainsaws we have in stock. We have compiled a list of some of favourite models from which you may find the Stihl chainsaw of your dreams:


The Stihl MS170 Chainsaw


This lightweight saw is a great introductory Stihl chainsaw. Valued at only R2,895, it is light and relatively easy to handle if you read the operator’s guide with attention. It is well-loved due to its convenient single-lever master control. It is the perfect saw to use for the purpose of thinning out wood as well as sawing fire wood to get you through the chilly winter evenings.




The Stihl MS250 Chainsaw


Taking it up a notch, the Stihl MS250 is another favourite Stihl chainsaw. While still relatively lightweight, it is certainly powerful enough to cut through small trees and limbs. It is best suited to a homeowner with high demands when it comes to garden work. This is the perfect tool to tame the trees close to your home whose limbs are starting to become unruly and hard to manage.




The Stihl MS661 Chainsaw


Perhaps the most powerful Stihl chainsaw we stock, this saw packs a powerful punch that is suitable for the toughest of felling jobs. Should you work in the forestry industry or fill out regular tree felling contracts, this is a chainsaw you can trust to get you through the workday.