Carbide-Toothed Chainsaw Blades for Milling

Carbide blades will cut through embedded metal or even rock, but they're not cheap. August 30, 2007

I bought a loop of carbide chain last year and used it to help an artist client break down a huge maple stump he wanted to turn into large table tops. That chain cut through some nasty wood, including a few whole rocks deeply embedded in the wood. The second loop was not so lucky, as it busted up pretty bad on a rock with less than four hours on it. The stock we got with the rock faces exposed we had cut through were very unusual and prized. However, I doubt that one could make a living at such a task.

It did get me to thinking about chainsaw milling with carbide. Anyone doing that? We are looking at contract cutting for a client who has a 60" diameter white oak, and wants it cut through and through. I have double ended bars 52", 66", and 84" and expect to use at least the two larger ones on the project. We bring along the Peterson to true up the cuts as we go and the whole process is very labor intensive. The wood is expected to be clean. I am expecting to get off almost twice as many cuts by not having to sharpen after every cut. But that chain is so expensive. The only source I am finding is Bailey's, and I will need a fifty foot roll, 3/8th full skip (about $1000.00), special order with a 10 degree angle on the teeth. I would really appreciate advice from anyone already doing this type of cutting.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor T:
I run a double ended 66" Granberg mill with two Husqvarna 394's. I have had great success with normal ripping chain and don't see the need to spend the money on the carbide chain. I didn't think that carbide could cut through rocks. Even if the wood does look nice with the rock, who's ever going to surface such a slab? Where are you located?

From contributor T:
What kind of setup do you have for the tracking? I would use the 2x4 system that they recommend, but my use of my chainsaw mill is for large gnarly logs like crotches and burls. Their design won't work unless I cut away lots of valuable material for a somewhat flat surface. I designed a whole tracking system out of steel complete with leveling legs. It works very well and is only three months old. I went to use it for the first time in about a month and I set it on top of a 36" burly double crotch walnut. The darn thing looks like an arched bridge!? I never knew steel could warp, so now I'm drilling holes in it for an adjustable track surface to mount on.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your vote, but what I am looking for is someone who does use carbide chain on clean wood. It will cut through some rocks, as I have done so (there are at least three grades of carbide, I am told, and the softest are used by emergency responders to cut cars in half). Cutting a kerf over 4' wide and over 10' long through white oak dulls a chain too much. If I turn a four day job into a three day job because I sharpen once a day instead of after every cut, then I'll get a day of fishing in while you are still cutting.

From contributor T:
I don't have to sharpen after every cut, but I see your point. Anything that gains me a day fishing I'm all for! I would just be too bothered that I gained it by such an expensive chain. Does sound like it makes the day easier and more productive, though. These boards can make you able to afford dozens of rolls of that chain, but I'd rather same. Just my peace of mind.

I would also like to hear any info on this chain. I don't understand it. I've heard of guys running it on a 20" bar or so, and hitting a nail imbedded in the wood only to see teeth fly off the chain. But like you said, there are the rescue teams using this stuff going through metal like it's nothing. It's got to be an entirely different grade of carbide and an entirely different grind style.

From contributor J:
I use an old (early model) Stihl 070 on a Granberg 56" mill with a roller stinger handle. This is used on old Lysiloma (Caribbean walnut) and oak trees. The resulting slabs will be used for tables for the new buildings at the Everglades Institute, and extras will be used as fundraiser auction items.

On a huge Lysiloma crotch, I found a chain in the center of one of the "Y" sides about one foot above the "V". In the middle of the 30" wide plank were the unmistakable sections of the chain. It was only about 1/4" chain, but the carbide coated chain went through it like the proverbial grass through a goose. The chain was not even dulled, much less missing teeth. This is not chain with a carbide insert, merely electrostatically coated with carbide. Worked as advertised, though. Actually, better than advertised.

For the rest of the sections of this crotch, I am going to cut close to the chain and then use a home made steel cutting hacksaw with a metal cutting blade to complete the cut near and through the remaining wood and steel. Finishing with a metal cutting sander belt will solve the finish/level problem. Then, I'll take a moment and thank God for modern polymers.

From contributor O:
I worked for town doing forestry and tree removals. We are in a snow belt, and most of the tree crotches had sand and gravel in them and the bark was often gritty. Snow blowers had filled the crotches full. We used carbide faced chain in all our saws. Cost was about 10.00 a loop extra for the carbide. The saws stayed sharp a lot longer. Stones or steel would dull them, but they were good if not abused. I still buy them for my own saw.

From the original questioner:
Thanks, everyone, for weighing in on the subject.

Yeah, I'm a freak about staying sharp milling big. It seems to take less time to sharpen before the teeth get dull than to wait until they are truly dull and have to bring them back.

Contributor J, I'm very interested in hearing more about using the carbide impregnated chain, as it is cheaper. Hey, if you can leave some chain dangling out of the board, you may have a real show piece.

Yikes - snow blower filled crotch wood sounds like a nightmare. By carbide faced, you mean an insert or electro impregnated? Rapco is the only manufacturer I have found and it is cheaper from Bailey's than directly from the manufacturer. Anyone know other options?

From contributor U:
I have heard that cutting time is slower with carbide than standard ripping chain. Stays sharp longer, but is never quite as sharp.

From contributor O:
You requested a source of carbide chain. I just found the info:
Cutters choice, 1717 Oxford st E London Ont Can 888-817-4707

They have a complete line of chain, bars, parts, etc. I have dealt with them and am happy so far.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor R:
I know exactly where you are coming from. After milling a 3 foot yew tree and the chain blunting half way through very second slab (due to grit and soily cavities) I was ready to give carbide a go no matter the cost! I bought 25 foot of Rapco ripping chain with some other loops of different hardness to go on my other saws for normal cross cutting. My summary is that there is no need or reason to purchase such a chain for any use in forestry. I have since used Oregon multi cut chain (which has 3 times the chrome thickness on the top cutter plate) and this is far cheaper and still lasts a lot longer than ordinary steel chain. The baileys chain impregnated with tungsten follows the same principle although I have not tried this myself. The reasons I donít use full carbide are as follows:

1. Carbide chain can never be sharpened to get as good an edge as steel no matter what you do. It is the nature of the carbide. It never cuts as fast as steel chain.

2. It is really expensive.

3. If you hit something then you break off/damage some of the carbide teeth and this usually results in buying a new chain.

4. You need special grinding wheels to sharpen it - although this is only a minor negative point.

5. The harder the carbide the more brittle and the more likely to snap or shatter when hitting something hard.

Despite all of our technology these days there is no everlasting ever sharp chain available - I really wish there was!

Comment from contributor B:
I decided to try out a carbide-tipped chain on my mill because I too was sick of sharpening every one-two cuts. The results are significant. As people have mentioned, the carbide doesn't take quite the edge that a steel chain does, and certainly for normal cross-cutting, I wouldn't waste the money.

The main advantage is that it simply does not dull. When cross-cutting, I'll cut all day on one well-oiled steel chain without a problem and only have to sharpen once. But try the same chain (ground for ripping, of course) ripping a 24" diameter 16' log of hard white oak and even with a supplemental oiler 3/4 of the way to the end of the log, the steel chain is slowing down and you can just feel the heat coming off the bar when you finish. The carbide chain doesn't seem to care about the heat - it stays just as sharp as it was at the beginning of the cut. Couple that with the supplemental oiler and I'll mill for days and hundreds of boardfeet on a single sharpening. When it takes an average of 30 minutes just to pull the saw out of the mill apparatus so you can start the process of sharpening, you can see where this would be a huge timesaver.