Chainsaws make quick work of fallen branches and other large wooden property concerns. They are a huge help when you need to cut through branches larger than 3 inches in diameter, which is more than most residential woodchippers can handle. When thinking about chopping wood with a chainsaw, my mind immediately goes to dry lumber on a sunny day, but the reality is chainsaws may be needed in any weather condition.
We typically plan our yard work days for when the weather is agreeable to make our lives that much easier, but sometimes we need to cut wood, and it’s wet, raining, or snowing outside. This inconvenience obviously makes it harder to work, but you may not question if it is good for your chainsaw to operate in these conditions until you have to work with wet trees. All this begs the question, can you cut wood with a chainsaw when it is wet?
Will a Chainsaw Cut Damp Wood?
Any chainsaw, whether a lightweight chainsaw or an electric chainsaw, will cut through damp and wet wood. As long as the blade is maintained, the chain tension is correct, and the chain teeth are sharp, you will have no problem cutting through wet wood. In fact, it will be even easier to cut than blasting through dead and diseased trees. Approach cutting wet wood in the same way you would dry wood and focus instead on creating a safe working area.
Wood fibers in dry, dead wood are brittle and turn into sawdust which can easily be blown away by the air filter, but wet wood will not and can lead to a build-up on the chainsaw chains. The extra moisture in wet wood will act as a natural lubricant and reduce the friction that is common when cutting through dry wood.
Green wood or trees with high wood density may need a micro chisel chain regardless of whether the tree is wet or dry, whereas a softer tree like a Balsa wood tree will not need any special adjustments.
Can Wet Wood Harm Chainsaw Chains or Blades?
Generally, wet wood will not harm any component of the chainsaw, and no special chains or equipment is needed to complete tree-chopping tasks. You will need to wipe down your chainsaw parts much more frequently with wet wood as it tends to stick to the blade and engine of the saw much more aggressively than dry wood sawdust. While this may not harm the chainsaw, it can reduce the effectiveness of safety features like engine brakes and interfere with the cutting process.
Using a chainsaw to cut through wet wood can also exasperate problems that were just getting started, like chain slipping and jammed drive sprockets. Chunks of wet debris can push the chain out of the grooves and lead to safety issues like chain slipping. It may take more time to clean the chainsaw when cutting wet wood, but removing the moisture and adding less tacky lubricant can reduce moisture damage on your tool.
Electric Vs. Fuel-Powered Chainsaws Chopping Wet Wood
Obviously, water and electricity don’t mix but is the amount of moisture produced enough to affect or damage a battery chainsaw? Probably not.
While it may take a touch more effort to get through a wet tree with an electric or battery chainsaw, it will still cut as effectively as a gas chainsaw over time. You will need to clean the chainsaw blade more often, as the wet wood can lead to friction in gears and sprockets if left unwiped.
If the ground is still damp or there is tall wet grass near where you will be cutting, an electric chainsaw with a power cord should not be used. Areas with excessive moisture or anticipated rainy conditions can be dangerous if you are operating electric tools. Modern and high-quality chainsaws that run on fuel can work in any condition as long as the chain stays clean and you have good footing, visibility, and space to work.
If there will be plenty of rainfall, sodden ground, or snow in the winter season, you should never run an extension cord as the electric shock from a short could be life-threatening or ruin your power tools. Even if it will take more effort, try to move the cutting task to a dry-covered place or wait for better weather. Never leave wet chains or blades on either electric or gas-powered saws, or you will experience rust and may need to replace them.
Differences When Chainsawing Dry, Wet, and Frozen Wood
The biggest factor when cutting wood off of trees is the type of wood, the species of tree, and the age of the tree, as well as the cutting strength of your chainsaw. Dense wood from dense species of tree will take additional effort to cut through, whereas older diseased wood will be much easier to chop than fresh wood. Dry wood may have hard knots that cause kick back, but moist wood will not have dry pockets and will let the saw cut through steadily and evenly.
There are considerations in how to approach cutting dry wood, wet trees, and frozen branches that need to be observed, or engine failure and personal safety hazards could increase in likelihood. Damp conditions reduce metal friction leading to easier cuts; dry conditions produce more dust resulting in poor visibility, and frozen branches take care to cut as they make every piece of wood seem denser.
|State of Wood
|Dry wood turns to sawdust and creates more friction leading to overheating and the extra effort needed to cut
|Efficient cutting of dry, aged wood requires extra lubricant for minimal friction and reduced operational heating over long periods of time
|Dry Outside Wet Inside
|Creates dust that sticks badly but reduces knot kickback and hard sections in a larger wood piece
|Cut at a lower speed to get through the dry outside and then increase throttle to cut through the naturally lubricated additional moisture of the inner branch
|Wet Outside Dry Inside
|Coats the chain with additional moisture, which is a perfect lubricant to help cut into the drier branch center
|Clean the blade after cutting through the wet areas to prevent a large amount of dry interior dust to clump up and jam the chain
|Minimum friction but increased clumping of debris means more cleaning and wiping between cuts
|Use a thinner oil to compensate for the moisture inside the logs and to reduce corrosion over time if water remains on the chain or blade without oil
|Denser than the same wood when unfrozen but cuts similarly with ample dust and additional oil on a regular basis
|Give yourself plenty of time to get through the larger branches and pay attention to chain wear and friction and heat build-up
|Less oil is needed, but a thin oil like canola will seize less than a tackier and thicker oil while still cutting through the entire wood piece
|Adjust the angle of your blade by about 5 degrees to give your chainsaw an easier time entering the wood and reduce pinching and knot kickbacks
Wood that is dry produces more dust and needs more lubrication to safely cut through. The wood usually blasts apart easily, creating sawdust which has many useful applications. Knots are much harder in dry wood, so make sure to keep an eye on potential hard pockets and avoid them if possible. Additional moisture from a semi-tacky lubricant can help reduce overheating and other friction-related problems.
Increased moisture content generally means easier to cut, and a powerful chainsaw will make quick work of even the wettest tree. All safety gear should be worn, especially when working on slippery ground. A common misconception is that wet wood chain problems are common, but really, as long as you keep the blade and chain clean, your saw will have no more issues than when cutting dry wood.
Wood that is frozen will be harder as the liquid inside will be solid and not easy to break apart. Making your cutting angle 5 degrees tighter can increase the success of your saw, making it through the harder wood without pinching or seizing. Some types of wood, like ironwood, should only be cut when frozen with a heavy-duty chainsaw under the use of a skilled operator.
Considerations When Using Chainsaws in Wet Conditions
Using a chainsaw should always be treated with attention and respect, as the results of a mistake can be life-altering. Cutting a branch wrong is nothing compared to losing a limb, so extreme care should always be taken to maintain your tool and create a safe working space. When conditions are wet, it is even more crucial to take proper safety steps.
Keep Chainsaw Parts Dry
It is never advisable to let your chainsaw get too wet, and you certainly should never submerge the engine in water. But cutting through moist wood or even operating in the rain with a well-sealed, gas-powered saw isn’t really a problem. When using a chainsaw in wet conditions, you will want to keep certain areas dry. Chainsaw brakes, the sprocket cover, the fuel tank, the clutch bearings, and the throttle trigger all need to be kept dry and free of debris for safe and effective operation.
Maintain Sure Footing
Make sure you move any loose, wet, or uneven branches and tree debris out from under your feet. As you are working, you will most likely be watching the saw blade, and a cluttered workspace could result in bad cuts or accidents. As you cut more branches, the resulting sawdust can be placed on the slippery ground to add traction and keep you safer.
Wear Protective Gear
There are many types of gear you can pick up to make operating a chainsaw much safer. As you work, you will want to make sure you are fully equipped with the right gear, especially if the weather will be bad. Safety glasses, thick rubber gloves, anti-cut clothing, and proper footwear will keep you safe as you perform tree maintenance. Do forget plenty of dry, clean towels or rags for wiping and lubricating your saw as you go.
Keep Chainsaw Fueled and Lubricated
Bring extra fuel and oil so you can keep your machine running without the inconvenience of having to return to your workshop storage. As you work, you will want to keep the engine running with plenty of fuel and make sure the lubricant is added regularly and adjusted for temp and operation speed fluctuations.
It may be tempting to push on toward the end of the job and not stop and maintain your chain during the homestretch, but that is when you are at your most vulnerable and tired so take extra care as you finish the job for the day.
Have a Charged Communication Device
Even with full protective clothing, there are still chances things could go wrong or an accident could happen. Outside of the dangers of the chainsaw blade itself, there are also falling limbs, sharp branches, and tripping hazards all around. While working, make sure to keep a charged communication device that can be used for contacting emergency services.
It is always a good idea to let someone know you will be performing these kinds of jobs and to check in on you after so many hours in case of unconsciousness or other non-communicative conditions.