We’ve all been there before where we go to use our saw only to realize we’re out of our usual bar and chain oil. Maybe you don’t have time to run to the hardware store to pick up some more and want to see if you have a chainsaw bar oil substitute around your house that you can use.
The good news is that you probably do!
But, not all chainsaw bar and chain oil substitutes are created equal and we need to discuss the good and bad before you wind up ruining your expensive saw!
Choosing Your Chainsaw Bar Oil Substitute
If you’re working near your home or a garage, there’s a good chance you have a bar oil substitute laying around and you don’t even know it.
Bar oil has a few different qualities that make it the best choice for chainsaws. When looking for a substitute oil, you should try and find something that will match these qualities.
Chainsaw bar oil needs to work at extreme heat, reduce debris build-up, lubricate the bar, and work at varying temperatures.
Some substitutes will work only in hot temperatures and can cause the bar to seize in extreme cold. Be sure to consider the environment you are working in when picking a substitute bar oil
Biodegradable Bar and Chain Oil Substitutes
Thanks to modern improvements in lubricants, biodegradable oils are readily available in stores. They’re not only more environmentally friendly, they often may be cheaper.
Biodegradable oils are often made from vegetable oils or other oils that will not pollute the environment you are working in.
If you don’t have any bar and chain oil left, you can make your own biodegradable chain oil at home using some of these alternatives.
Note: If you are working in the cold, you should avoid using a biodegradable oil like Canola oil as a substitute.
Vegetable oil is the most common chainsaw oil substitute used by owners all over. Almost everyone has a bottle of vegetable oil in their kitchen cabinets at home.
If you’re in a pinch, you can add vegetable oils to your chainsaw’s bar oil reservoir and continue working, usually without any adverse effects.
Canola oil, or rapeseed oil, is a great alternative bar oil substitute. Just like other vegetable oils, canola oil is environmentally friendly.
Canola oil will work in the heat but will suffer from performance issues in the cold. Canola oil can get more viscous or even freeze in the cold.
Viscous oil can clog your oil pump and put a stop to any work you’re trying to do. Even still, canola oil can be a good substitute depending on your weather.
You can replace your traditional chain and bar oil with olive oil as well.
Olive oil will freeze quicker than other biodegradable oils. It should only be used in areas well above freezing.
Real olive oil is fairly expensive so it should only be used if you have no other alternative vegetable oils on hand.
Soybean oil makes for a great chain lubricant. Not only is it cheap, but it also works well in low temperatures. It holds together fairly well when used as a substitute bar and chain oil.
You may find it being sold as “vegetable oil” depending on where you live. Check the back of your bottle to see what the oil is made from.
Unlike vegetable oil, sunflower oil can be expensive compared to other substitute oils. It’s okay to use on your chainsaw bar, but you may have a cheaper alternative bar oil available.
Oil from sunflowers should only be used in summer conditions since it has a lower freezing point than other options like vegetable oil or canola oil.
Non-Biodegradable Bar and Chain Oil Substitutes
When using any non-biodegradable bar oil substitute, you should consider the environment you are in. As you are cutting wood, the wood chips coming off the saw will contain trace amounts of oils.
If any of these wood chips wind up in a garden area they could leach into your food. Something to consider and may be a reason to try to stick with biodegradable chain oil.
Chainsaw bar oils have additives that make the oil tacky. Tacky bar oil clings to the chainsaw. Other oils like motor oils will fly off the bar at high speeds.
Regardless, these alternative bar oils can be used if you have no proper lubrication left.
Motor Oil or Engine Oil
5W30 motor oil will work, but it doesn’t have the tackiness that regular chainsaw bar oil has.
If you use 5W30, it will fly off the bar quickly and can stain you or the surrounding environment. In low temperatures, 5W30 will be more viscous and less liable to run off the bar.
10W30 motor oils can also be used in a pinch as substitute chainsaw oils, but they will get thicker as they heat up. Too much heat can cause performance issues during the summer and long cutting sessions.
Hydraulic oil is like motor oil which can be used as an oil alternative. Although, there is one thing to keep in mind when using hydraulic fluids.
Hydraulic oil is thinner than motor oil and chainsaw bar oil. You will need to keep an eye on your oil reservoir and keep more on hand.
85w140 or 75w90 gear oil are common options when looking at chainsaw bar oil substitutes.
Gear oil is thicker than traditional motor oil, but still lacks the tackiness of bar oil made by chainsaw manufacturers.
It will hold up to the heat in the summer but may cause issues in colder climates as the oil gets more viscous.
Note: Gear oil is fairly smelly. It can be tossed off the tip of the bar. Make sure you will not stain anything you do not want to.
Transmission Fluid (ATF)
Transmission fluids used as oil alternatives often run into similar issues as used hydraulic fluid. It is extremely thin compared to bar oil or even lightweight motor oil.
You will have to keep an eye on how much transmission fluid you are running through while cutting wood. A lot of fluid will fly off the end of the bar, but it will work if you have no other alternatives.
Bar and chain oil also has additives that help it clear debris during operation. You’ll have to keep an eye on your chainsaw engine and make sure it isn’t under heavy load.
Mineral oil is a petroleum-based lubricant that is often used in various mechanical operations. If you have some on hand, it can be used as an alternative oil.
Mineral oil may not be viscous enough on its own. You may have to combine it with another, thicker oil or use a different substitute.
Stay Away From These Chainsaw Oil Substitutes
Not everything in your home or garage makes a good chainsaw bar oil alternative. There are quite a few things you have laying around that you should avoid using.
2 Cycle Oils
2-cycle oils are supposed to be added to gasoline to lubricate internal engine parts. These oils have no additives that will help your chainsaw bar.
2-cycle oil is extremely thin and will spray all over your work area. It is not meant to be used on a chainsaw that is moving at over 50 miles an hour.
Used Motor Oil
All too often you hear of someone using used motor oil on their chainsaw bar. Used engine oil is full of metal particles that can damage your saw blade or internal parts of the oil system.
Traditional motor oil lacks additives that chain and bar oil has added in.
After it’s been used, drained motor oil has broken down and lost some of its original properties and viscosity.
WD-40 is perhaps the worst thing to try and use as a chainsaw oil.
While it does have some lubricating properties, WD-40 is a penetrating oil meant to dissolve rust and grease. It will quickly evaporate off your chainsaw bars, especially in the summer.
It has no additives based on typical chainsaw operations and can cause your chainsaw to burn up as it becomes clogged and poorly lubricated.
Potential Warranty Considerations
You should always use the manufacturer’s recommended bar oil in your chainsaw. Using the wrong type of bar oil may void your manufacturer’s warranty.
If your chainsaw is still under warranty, check the fine print before using alternative chain oils.
Important Tips When Using a Chain Oil Substitute
When using chainsaw bar oil substitutes, check the oil reservoir often. A chain oil substitute may deplete quicker than the standard bar oil you are used to.
With regular chain and bar oil it is meant to run out about the same time as your gas does, however, if using a thinner chain oil substitute you may run your bar oil dry and not even realize it.
Less viscous substitutes like transmission or hydraulic fluid will come off the saw even quicker than tacky bar oil.
Summer vs Winter
Oil viscosity is an important thing to think about. You should definitely consider the climate you are working in when picking a chainsaw bar oil alternative.
Every oil has different levels of viscosity that will be affected by your working temperatures. The colder the environment, the more viscous the oil can be.
If you are cutting in extreme cold, avoid using cooking oils as they can freeze or begin to solidify and clog your saw.
If you are cutting in the summer heat, use more viscous oils that will thin as they heat up.
Chainsaw Storage Considerations
Thinner alternatives may leak out over time depending on how you store your chainsaw. If you are worried about this or notice it, empty out the reservoir before storing your saw.
Also, if you are storing your chainsaw in an area like a shed or garage that isn’t climate-controlled in the winter, you should remove any vegetable oil substitutes you used.
They can easily freeze overnight or become extremely thick. You’ll have a hard time thawing your oil reservoir the next time you try and cut.
Should You Drain The Reservoir and Start Over After You’re Done?
Not necessarily. You can mix the substitute oil with some high-tack bar oil to thicken the overall mixture.
However, it definitely wouldn’t hurt to completely drain the oil reservoir and start with some fresh manufacturer-suggested bar and chain oil.
Final Thoughts On Bar and Chain Oil Substitutions
If you’re in a tight spot and can’t run to the store for some bar and chain oil, you more than likely have a lubricant laying around you can use as a substitute.
Not all alternative chain oil options are made the same. Depending on your climate, needs, and environment you may have to use one oil over another.
Either way, no matter the situation there is definitely something in your home or garage you can use to keep your bar and chain lubed up and ready to go.
FAQ on Oil Substitutes
Can I Substitute Motor Oil For Chainsaw Bar Oil?
Yes, you can substitute motor oil for chainsaw bar oil. The most common motor oils used instead of bar oil are 10W30 and 5W30, but most motor oils will work.
Make sure the motor oil you are using matches the operating viscosity you need. Motor oil that is too thin will come off the bar while motor oil that is too thick can cause it to seize.
Can I Use Lucas Oil Stabilizer For Chainsaw Bar Oil Substitute?
You can use a mixture of Lucas Oil Stabilizer and motor oil in a pinch for a chainsaw bar oil substitute. You should not use only Lucas Oil Stabilizer.
Lucas Oil Stabilizer is meant to be mixed with oil and not be used on its own.
Will Transmission Fluid Work For Chainsaw Bar Oil Substitute?
Transmission fluid will work as a chainsaw bar oil substitute.
It is very thin and will come off the bar quickly though, so keep an eye on your reservoir and ensure you periodically add more.