The History of the Chainsaw


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History of the Chainsaw

A Safer Way of Woodcutting

The late sixties and early seventies were marked by research and development toward reducing the hazards of bar-nose kickback. In 1970, development of a kickback test machine began. In 1972, development was finalized when the third-generation kickback test machine was completed.

Development of new reduced-kickback products was made possible by the Oregon® test machine. Low profile chains such as 91 series (1974), and 76 series (1976) were among the first.

Early kickback research also revealed that smaller bar-nose sizes were effective in controlling kickback. Oregon® Guard Tip bars, dubbed the "banana bars" due to their asymmetrical shape, were introduced in 1977.

Intensive, cooperative work toward a kickback-performance standard was begun in the late seventies by many chainsaw-industry manufacturers and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Oregon® engineers played a major role during the years of work that finally, in 1985, resulted in the kickback-performance requirements found in the voluntary chain saw safety standard known as ANSI B175.1.

Also in 1985, Omark Industries, which had become the parent company of Oregon Saw Chain, was purchased by the international construction and manufacturing firm, Blount, Inc., of Montgomery, Alabama. Then in August, 1999 Blount merged with an affiliate of Lehman Brothers Merchant Banking Partners, the 88th largest U.S. company on the Fortune 500 list.

Oregon Cutting Systems is part of Blount's Outdoor Products Group. The other units are Dixon Industries, Inc; Frederick Manufacturing Corp; and Windsor Forestry Tools, LLC. Dixon, located in Coffeyville, Kansas, was acquired by Blount in 1990 and has made zero-turning-radius lawnmowers and related attachments since 1974. Frederick, located in Kansas City, Missouri, was acquired in 1997. Frederick is a well-known manufacturer that supplies high-quality Silver Streak-brand accessories for lawnmowers and other outdoor products. In October, 2000 Windsor Forestry Tools of Milan , Tennessee was integrated into the Outdoor Products Group. It manufacturers chainsaw guide bars and cutting chain similar to products made by Oregon Cutting Systems.

 Atom Industries
Atom Industries have been manufacturing innovative products for many years. Their award winning inventions are sold to over 30 countries worldwide.
 In 1961, Atom began importing back sprayers and chainsaws into Australia. In 1963, their first invention was a drilling attachment with automatic reverse gear that fitted onto chainsaws. This enabled farmers to drill holes into wooden posts and run wire and bolts through the post so they could erect their own fences and stockyards using their own chainsaw. It also has 100's of other uses including use in tree surgery, playgrounds and park amenities. This drill attachment is still sold today as the Auger-stop model which has an inertia safety mechanism which disconnects forward gear if the auger suddenly jams (a world first). It also features automatic reverse gear.

 In 1972, Atom manufactured their own chainsaws and was the worlds first chainsaw company to have its complete range of chainsaws with electronic ignition (patented), turbo action self cleaning air cleaner (patented); as well as Atoms (patented) Anti-Vibration system fitted to most models. These features are now standard on most chainsaws sold today as the patents had expired many years ago for the air cleaner. The Atom chainsaw ceased production in 1976 when the then government abolished all tariff protection on locally manufactured goods.

 Atoms patented Electronic Ignition System has been and still is used on many Original Engine Manufacture (OEM) engines in Europe, USA and Asia. The Ignition Module was also developed as a spare part to replace points and condensers in small engines, and many millions have been and are sold worldwide. In 1975, they were awarded "Inventor of the Year" for this product on the ABC program "The Inventors".

Chainsaws: A History

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The 1830 osteotome was the first chainsaw.

The earliest reference I could find on chainsaws comes from the Canadian Medical Association Journal in an article written by Wolf Seufert, MD, DSc: "Orthopedics became a specialty with the help of a new instrument, the osteotome, invented around 1830 by the German Bernard Heine. This illustration from a contemporary inventory of surgical tools shows clearly that this clever master of prosthetics had in fact invented the chain saw. The links of the chain carried small cutting teeth with the edges set at an angle; the chain was moved around a guiding blade by turning the handle of the sprocket wheel.
Several major manufacturers of chain saws claim to have invented the first chain saw and all their claims point to the 1920s. However, the 1830 osteotome would pre-date them all.
One claim states that a California inventor named Muir was the first person to put a chain on a blade to use for logging purposes, technically inventing the first logging chainsaw. However, Muir's invention weighed hundreds of pounds and required a crane. This invention was neither a commercial or practical success. Other examples of early automatic logging saws were: the 1861 Hamilton saw that was hand-cranked by one or two men and looked like a spinning wheel; and the American riding saw of the 1880s that resembled a rowing machine that cutters could sit on.

Andreas Stihl - Father of the Modern Chainsaw
In 1926, German mechanical engineer, Andreas Stihl patented the "Cutoff Chain Saw for Electric Power". Born in 1896, Andreas Stihl founded a company that manufactured steam boiler pre firing systems in Stuttgart, Germany. In 1929, Stihl patented the first gasoline-powered chainsaw called the tree-felling machine. These were the first successful patents for hand-held mobile chainsaws designed for woodcutting. Andreas Stihl is most frequently credited as being the inventor of the mobile and motorized chainsaw. He invented what we today recognize as being the modern chainsaw.


First chain saw?

Several foreign manufacturers have advertised over the last few years that they invented the chain saw--around the mid twenties or so. But read this story as reported by The Timberman magazine in its issue of October, 1949: "Our pride is somewhat piqued by the fact that we missed the account of the first experiment known to have been made with a gasoline chain saw on the Pacific Coast, or perhaps anywhere in the country. The memorable event took place in the summer of 1905 at Eureka, California ... The locale was in the vicinity of Sequoia Park, ... The saw was driven by a two-cylinder, water cooled, marine type motor set at 90 degrees from its normal position ... A note on the back of one of the historic photographs ... is to the effect that the machine sawed through a 10-foot log in 4-1/2 minutes ..." The photographs were published with this article, and other pictures were shown of other power saws pre-dating 1920. Unfortunately, the old photographs do not produce well here--those interested in chain saw history will want to track down a copy of this old magazine.
Elsewhere, the Mach 16, 1918 edition of the Scientific American featured a picture of a chainsaw on the front cover. It was said to be of German design and featured a gasoline engine separate from the saw unit. The engine was wheeled up beside the tree and the saw was connected via a drive shaft.

Joseph Buford Cox invented what is now known as the chipper type chain for chain saws. He based his design on the C-shaped jaws of the larva of the timber beetle. He and his wife, Violet founded "The Oregon Saw Chain Co." Cox later started a small casting company called OMARK now known as "Omark Industries". In time Oregon Saw Chain became a subsidiary of Omark Industries which was in turn acquired in 1985 by Blount, Inc., of Montgomery, Alabama. Blount merged in 1999 with Lehman Brothers Merchant Banking Partners. The company is known today as the Oregon Cutting Systems Division of Blount, Inc. Most chainsaws, with the exception of Stihl saws use an Oregon chain based on the invention of Joseph Buford Cox.
Joseph Buford Cox only reached the third grade in his formal education.


In 1947, the Oregon Saw Chain Manufacturing Corporation was founded with four employees and one product. Today, known as the Oregon Cutting Systems Division of Blount, Inc., the same company is part of a corporation with 5,000 employees and thousands of products ranging from a single chain link to the 72,000-seat New Orleans Super Dome.

Here are some of the people, products, and events that have marked the history of the world's number-one name in chainsaw accessories--Oregon brand.

A Better Way of Woodcutting

Logger/inventor Joseph Buford Cox was chopping firewood one chilly autumn day in 1946 when he paused for a moment to examine the curious activity in a tree stump. A timber-beetle larva, the size of a man's forefinger, was easily chewing its way through sound timber, going both across and with the wood grain at will.

Joe was an experienced operator of the gas-powered saws used in those days, but the cutting chain was a problem. It required a lot of filing and maintenance time. "I spent several months looking for nature's answer to the problem," Joe recalled. "I found it in the larva of the timber beetle."

Joe knew if he could duplicate the larva's alternating C-shaped jaws in steel, it just might catch on. He went to work in the basement shop of his Portland, Oregon home and came up with a revolutionary new chain. The first Cox Chipper Chain was produced and sold in November, 1947. The basic design of Joe's original chain is still widely used today and represents one of the biggest influences in the history of timber harvesting.

In 1948, two significant things happened. First, the company moved from Joe's basement into a bigger facility (a 5,000-square-foot garage). Second, Joe hired his sixteenth employee, John D. Gray.

John was 28 and a recent graduate of the Harvard University Graduate School of Business. When John joined the company, his original office chair was a nail keg. In spite of the humble beginnings, John said, "I like the challenge of being in on the ground floor of something so exciting with so much obvious potential." Eventually, John would see the business grow from $300 thousand to $300 million.

In 1951, sales exceeded $1 million. The company became a multinational corporation in 1952 by acquiring Planer Chain Ltd. of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

In 1953, Joe sold the company to John Gray and vigorous growth continued. The company moved into its first bona fide plant in 1955, a 65,000-square-foot facility in Portland that later served as the administration building. A new plant was built for the Canadian operation, and John Gray made a sales trip to Sweden, where he found the first European customer for Oregon-brand chain.

In 1959, the company moved into international markets, and made its first application for a patent on guard links for saw chain.

Today, guard links are usually associated with safety and kickback reduction. But in 1959, these original guard links were only expected to reduce the frequent hooking and grabbing of small brush. After a period of use, pulpwood producers observed an unexpected benefit--fewer chain saw accidents. A number of these companies mandated the use of the new chain.

In 1963, a remarkable new saw and new chain initiated the modern era of lightweight, high-speed, direct-drive chain saws. The saw was the Homelite XL12, and the chain was Oregon® 72D, the first 3/8" pitch chain specifically built for such a saw. Both products were immensely successful, and derivative chains based on the original 72D design are still widely used today.® (
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