Why Chainsaws Were Invented – Amazing But True!

Post Updated: 27 Feb 2023

Chainsaws have become a handy tool for professionals in the construction, logging, and arborist industries. Despite the dominance and effectiveness in these industries, people have been asking many questions about the invention of this tool.

The history of chainsaws dates back to the late 18th century when surgeons used them for medical purposes. Over the years, it has evolved into a tool that has revolutionized the construction and logging industries. In this post, we’ll walk you through the invention, early uses, evolution, and modern-day use of chainsaws.


Straight to the point – Why Were Chainsaws Invented?

The first chainsaw was invented in the late 18th century, and was used exclusively in the medical field for assisting with complications during childbirth. 

Chainsaw History & Timeline [Infographic]

History and timeline of chainsaws infographic

Who Invented the Chainsaw?

Studies attribute the invention of the chainsaw to Scottish Surgeon’s John Aitken and James Jeffray who pioneered the invention in 1830. Back then the chainsaw was used exclusively in the medical field.

The tool was used to widen the pelvis during childbirth to help the baby pass. Due to the Aitken/Jeffray chainsaw’s unwieldy and cumbersome nature, individuals couldn’t use it in another context.

A German orthopaedist (Bernhard Heine) further developed the chainsaw soon after. While the original chainsaw helped women with complications in giving birth, Bernhard’s chainsaw was effective in surgeries and dental implants for cutting bones.

This one was smaller and had a more practical design enhancing its effectiveness. Aitken, Jeffray and Heine were the ancient pioneers of the invention and development of chainsaws. The invention later paved the way for the development of the mighty modern-day chainsaw.

What Were the First Chainsaws Like?

The first chainsaws were very different from the ones we see or use today. They were cumbersome due to the materials and designs the inventors used in making them. However, the chainsaws that were used for medical procedures were effective… if a little gruesome!

As time went by, other industries started taking in interest in the idea and some started designing chainsaws specifically to help fell trees and cut timber. They thought if you could really power this thing, it could cut through anything!

In the early 20th century the newly-introduced gasoline engine was used as a means to rotate the chain at very high speeds therefore changing the woodcutting industry forever.

Why Were Chainsaws Invented?

While professionals in various industries enjoy the effectiveness of chainsaws, the first chainsaw was designed for a different purpose. Aitken (a Scottish surgeon) invented the first chainsaw in the 18th century to assist with problematic child birth.

The doctors could use this hand-cranked chainsaw to cut through the mother’s ligaments and cartilage in order to widen the pelvis – a process referred to as symphysiotomy.

With the pelvis widened, it was easier to deliver the baby. While it seems cruel, doctors used it to save the lives of the mother and newborn.

Video Tutorial – The Original Chainsaw

Credit: Courtesy of Zim Saw

What Was the Role of Chainsaws in Symphysiotomy Treatment?

Symphysiotomy treatment is a medical procedure that involves widening the pelvis during birth to allow the baby to come out.

Doctors used chainsaws in the early days to divide the public symphysis cartilages to allow effective childbirth. With the emergence of caesarean procedures, this process and term have become outdated.

While the medical procedure helped to streamline childbirth, many ladies referred to it as butchering. Symphysiotomy had various adverse effects on the ladies who underwent it. For instance, the procedure left most ladies unable to sit and walk after delivery, while others reported long-term effects due to the process.

What Did the Medical Chainsaw Look Like?

Early chainsaws resembled a kitchen knife, but with a chain of small metal teeth that could be rotated by a handle. The availability of this tool saved critical seconds when complications arose during child birth.

Despite the simple outer surface, the internal construction was complicated to suit its medical role. Despite the great impact on child delivery, the very first incarnation of the chainsaw didn’t last long.

In 1830, a Germany Orthopaedist, Bernhard Heine, improved the design and named it the osteotome – a name derived from Greek for osteo (bone) and tome (cut).

First ever chainsaw
The osteotome – One of the earliest chainsaws

This equipment had features that made it vital for cutting bones during surgeries and dental implantation. The Orthopaedist invented the equipment with small teeth around the chain.

When Did the Use of Chainsaws For Childbirth Stop?

With the success of chainsaws in helping ladies give birth, doctors continued to use the equipment up to the early 1900s. Nevertheless, the manufacturers included some features to improve its safety and functionality.

However, the emergence of caesarean has entirely negated the use of chainsaws during childbirth. Medical experts have rejected the use of these saws for safer alternatives. The use of this equipment to help ladies give birth was very painful!

How Have Chainsaws Evolved Over Time?

Chainsaws have come a long way since their invention. Inventors created this equipment for various medical purposes, including helping ladies during delivery and cutting bones while having surgeries.

However, this tool has evolved over the past years in terms of safety features, power, and design. The tool has become handy in various industries and sectors to make work easier.

Early chainsaws were cumbersome, large, and hand-crank-powered. With the huge design and size, individuals found it challenging to use the first chainsaws outside medical procedures.

Nevertheless, since the early 20th century, experts began developing chainsaws for practical uses in other fields. These fields include construction, woodworking, and logging.

The introduction of the gasoline engine in 1920 enhanced the manufacture of powerful chainsaws. Unlike the previous alternatives, these alternatives were powerful and helped individuals achieve various heavy-duty tasks. The invention and spread of chainsaws continue through different industries.

Chainsaw Safety Features

In the 1970s, there was an introduction of various safety features to these chainsaws to enhance their effectiveness and safety. For instance, manufacturers included anti-vibration systems and chain brakes.

Anti-vibration systems helped to reduce operator fatigue, improve safety, and make it easy to handle the equipment. The chain brakes helped to stop the chain to prevent injury in case of a kickback.

Manufacturers shifted the design towards environmentally friendly models in the 1990s. Most companies started manufacturing battery and electric-powered chainsaws. These options helped to conserve the environment by reducing noise pollution and emissions. With technological advancements, modern chainsaws have become easier to handle and lighter.

Modern chainsaws have become more effective and safe due to the addition of sophisticated features and improved design. Companies have incorporated new technology and design to make them suit varying tasks in different sectors.

For instance, some modern chainsaws have automatic oiling systems, improved fuel efficiency, and electronic fuel injection systems.

What Top Safety Features Do Modern Chainsaws Have?

As chainsaws have evolved and become more powerful, their safety is becoming a major concern for manufacturers. Manufacturers are currently equipping modern-day chainsaws with various safety features to help prevent injuries and accidents.

Here are the common safety features you can find in modern chainsaws:

  • Chain brake – it’s a critical safety feature that helps to stop the chain in case the operator hits the guard, or a kickback occurs. The chain brake works by activating a system that halts the chain movement instantly.
  • Throttle lock – the throttle lock is a special device that locks the throttle trigger in a proper place. The locking allows the operator to continue or keep the chainsaw running without keeping the hand on the trigger.
  • Anti-vibration system – it’s a special feature that helps to reduce the chainsaw’s vibration levels. With the feature or system, it reduces discomfort and fatigue. Thus, you can enjoy a comfortable cutting experience.
  • Automatic oiling system – when using the equipment, you must continually lubricate it to prevent wearing and overheating. Manufacturers incorporate the automatic oiling system to ensure proper chain and bar lubrication.
  • Spark arrestor – it’s a screen that helps trap hot particles preventing them from escaping from the chainsaw’s muffler. This property reduces the risk of the equipment catching fire.
  • Safety switches – most modern chainsaws feature sophisticated switches that help to prevent accidents. However, you must take specific steps like squeezing the trigger or pressing a specific button.

These safety features help make most modern chainsaws safer and more comfortable to use. In addition, they help to reduce the risk of injuries and accidents. Besides these safety features, you have to adhere to proper precautions while operating the equipment to guarantee a high level of safety.

Credit: Courtesy of Femalelumberjack

What are the Different Types of Chainsaws?

With evolution and technological advances, we’ve seen the emergence of a wide range of chainsaws on the market. Manufacturers create these chainsaws with different features and designs to suit their specific needs and uses.

Here are the common types of chainsaws and their specific designed purposes:

  • Gasoline-powered chainsaws – this equipment uses a gasoline engine and is usually effective for heavy duties. For instance, you can use them to cut large logs and fall trees.
  • Electric chainsaws – these chainsaws use electric power to operate, making them quieter and lighter than most gasoline-powered models. Unlike gasoline-powered ones, you can only use them for small jobs like cutting small logs, trimming, and pruning.
  • Cordless chainsaws – these chainsaws use rechargeable batteries to operate. Cordless chainsaws make the best option for DIY or mobile projects. You can use them for light to medium-duty tasks like trimming, pruning, etc.
  • Top-handle chainsaws – manufacturers design these tools for use by professional tree surgeons and arborists. With their compact design and lightweight, you can easily manoeuvre in tight spaces during your project.
  • Pole chainsaws – they have a long extension pole that allows users to reach higher branches and leaves without requiring a ladder. It’s an ideal type for pruning and trimming trees.
  • Chainsaw mills – manufacturers create these chainsaws with specialized features to enhance various functions, including milling logs and lumber. It’s a key tool for lumberjacks and woodworkers.

Experts create these chainsaws with different features and designs to suit varying jobs. The type of chainsaw you choose will depend on how the features or design suits the type of work you want to do.

Thus, it’s important to consider one appropriate to your job, and that suits your skill level, ensuring efficient and safe operation.

Related Article: What to consider before buying a chainsaw

What Are the Uses of the Modern-day Chainsaws?

Manufacturers create modern-day chainsaws with various features that make them suit various tasks. You can use these tools in a personal or professional setting. One of the common uses of chainsaws is for cutting wood, which includes timber or firewood harvesting.

In addition, experts in the forestry industry use chainsaws to brush for and clear trees for proper land management.

Chainsaws serve various roles in the construction industry. For instance, experts use them to cut brick, concrete, and other construction materials. In addition, you can also use it for demolition tasks, like removing walls, roofs, and other structures.

Besides the construction industry, chainsaws have become popular for gardening and landscaping. You can use this tool in this sector for shaping, pruning, and removing shrubs.

The equipment has also been handy in emergency situations. For instance, rescue workers have been using the tool to clear trees and debris from buildings or roads. The removal of the debris and tree parts makes it easy and convenient to accomplish the rescue mission.

Some utility companies have also used chainsaws to clear branches and tree limbs obstructing power lines.

Related Article: How to use a chainsaw safely

Chainsaws have also become an integral tool for DIY or personal projects. You use the tool when making furniture and cutting firewood at home. Some individuals also use the tool for various outdoor activities like clearing campsites or trails during hiking and camping.

The versatility of the modern-day chainsaw makes it vital for both personal and professional settings.

What is the Future of Chainsaws?

Chainsaws have evolved significantly from being used for medical purposes to spreading to other sectors, including construction, DIYing, etc. With technological advancement, we will still witness more features and improvements.

Unlike the earlier days, battery-powered chainsaws dominate the market. Most individuals prefer these options due to their lightweight, comfort, and effectiveness when cutting wood.

You shouldn’t expect chainsaws to go anywhere soon. With the construction, wood, and landscaping industries growing, chainsaws are becoming handy tools. Chainsaws help professionals in this industry to make work easier and more efficient.

Nevertheless, with the continuous technological advances, it won’t be long before you see a more sophisticated chainsaw in the market.


The use of chainsaws dates a long way since their use as a small surgical tool in the 1800s. Bernhard Heine and John Aitken invented chainsaws for medical purposes, including helping women during delivery.

However, through material development, specializations, and technological advancement, we have seen an improvement in the design and features.

These improvements and features have seen the tool evolve into important machines in the construction, landscaping, and forestry industries. Modern-day chainsaws are vital in these industries, as they’re easier to operate, more powerful, and safer.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *