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I have just acquired a small battery powered chainsaw (Makita DUC245), and would like to use an eco-friendly and skin-friendly chain oil if possible.

Lots of sources suggest the possibility of using vegetable-based oils, and I would like to do so.

I have one doubt though: should I use a chain-and-bar specific product that is based on vegetable oils (probably with additives), or can I use the regular, edible canola oil that is sold in supermarkets?

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I appreciate both practical experiences as well as technical references.

Update: I live in subtropical climate that almost never goes below water-freezing temperatures.

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Yes and no.

Plant-derived oils and animal-derived fat were used for lubrication in the whole history of mechanics and, surprizingly, also deep into the petrol era.

Even today, canola oil (with or without additives or processing) is used in motorsports as a high-performance 2-stroke oil.

What can go wrong?

Plant-derived oils have tendency to set (get more viscous all the way to forming a glass-like solid substance). The underlying process is known as polymerization. This is particularilly bad for parts with tight size tolerances - the already set oil makes impossible for the fresh one to enter the gap that needs lubrication. There are better and worse oils in this regard and canola oil is rather good, sunflower oil is in the middle and linseed/flaxseed oil is especially bad. Some additives can slow down the process.

The tendency to set is not of great importance for a frequently-used mechanisms, because the oil is frequently replaced with fresh amounts.

On the other hand, something that is left unused for a good half of the year can be rendered pretty much unusable without a great deal of disassembly and cleaning.

One can prepare their chanisaw for the seasonal hiatus by using 1 or 2 tanks of petrol-based oil just before the end of the seasonal work.

That's what I do in the related case of using vegetable oils as a diesel fuel. Older diesels (in hot enough weather) run pretty well on waste frying oil and other food-grade oils that lost their food qualities in one way or another. You just need to remember not to leave a significant percent of vegetable oil in the tank or in the feeding line before the winter.

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    "linen oil" is more commonly known as flaxseed oil for eating, or linseed oil as a wood treatment or paint/putty base. It's used precisely because it eventually polymerises to a solid coating (typically sped up by additives). Once polymerised it's very hard to remove. Go to the other extreme (slow polymerising) and you should be fine
    – Chris H
    Mar 11 '21 at 10:34
  • @ChrisH thank you for correcting my non-native English. Here, we call the plant (flax) and the fabric (linen) with the same word.
    – fraxinus
    Mar 11 '21 at 13:24
  • I couldn't tell that you weren't a native speaker, but it seemed as well to have the more common names to avoid
    – Chris H
    Mar 11 '21 at 14:06
  • Accepted due to considerations of "what can go wrong", why, and how to prevent it. Thanks a lot! Mar 11 '21 at 16:17
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Yep. Yesirree.

Not being a fan of dumping petroleum into the woods (mine or otherwise), and considering that my saw is electric* (and therefore operates at slightly slower speeds), I've shifted to using common cooking vegetable oil instead of used motor oil, as I had been. Over a number of outings it has performed well, with no heat buildup, noise, excess fling or other anomalies.

This is a far different scenario than what happens inside an engine, for example, so it's probably not as critical as oil choice is there. One article shows the viscosity of vegetable oil to be comparable to that of conventional multi-grade motor oil, and slightly higher than PAO (synthetic) motor oil. Another study concludes that vegetable oil is a perfectly viable alternative.

Technically speaking, olive oil isn't vegetable oil in the sense that those mentioned in the question are. It's far more aromatic and prone to unpleasant side effects if used in tools. I don't recommend its use in chain saws.

That said, I don't have any empirical evidence to tell you whether it is having a detrimental effect on hardware life in my case. It's entirely possible that I'm subjecting my bar and chain to increased wear, but I haven't noticed any (chain adjustments are more or less typical). Regardless, I consider it worth the environmental and financial benefit.

YMMV.

* Ryobi 40V 14"

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  • Do think the amount of use would make a difference. Light use of less than 30 minuets a month, compared to 30 minuets everyday.
    – crip659
    Mar 10 '21 at 19:52
  • Light use bar and chain would last. Heavy use might need a new bar and chain in months instead of years. Plain vegetable oil will not have all lubricating properties of chain oil.
    – crip659
    Mar 10 '21 at 20:06
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    Any tool that's used more wears out more quickly. The only thing that matters is the shift in absolute wear with a change in oil. I doubt we're talking 50% here. Maybe not even 5%.
    – isherwood
    Mar 10 '21 at 20:12
  • Nice answer! And please tell me: would you think there would be any stickyness problem? Because i'ts probable that I would be using it only in weekends, sometimes skipping one or two weekends. Mar 11 '21 at 16:12
  • I leave canola oil in my saw year-round, even in cold weather, with no such problems.
    – isherwood
    Mar 11 '21 at 16:41
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there are several pretty exhaustive threads on arboristsite discussing the usage of canola oil, that have been going on several years with testing and everything, from reading those there is basically a little concern that it might putrefy if left for a long time, though people have tested this and seems oil left for a few years was still fine.

you have more sling and go through it faster because of the lack of tacking agents but it is cheaper, and more eco frendly, and the other thing that is worth noting is that a lot of bar oils also have some flame retardant additives, which is not really necessary unless you are in a very fire prone area. the general consensus of the guys that are using their saws day in and day out is to just use canola oil.

Any oil will work, even olive oil, except for that flinging at the top sprocket.
there is an additive in chainsaw oil that makes it "stringy" and help it hold onto the chain links.

non-petroleum bar and chain oil, permies.com

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    even olive oil - the "nicer" the oil for uses like salad dressing, the more easily it will go rancid, I think. If you're considering olive oil, the opposite of "extra virgin / first-press" is what you want, like cheap olive oil. Mar 11 '21 at 8:29
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I have been using both canola oil and peanut oil in my electric chainsaw.

Each year I only use it an hour or so, but after 5 years it still seems to work fine.

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