A former coworker asked me this today, and I don't have a good answer. He has access to plentiful quantities of chainsaw bar lubricant, the stuff that helps a chainsaw's chain move around the metal support poking out the front of a chainsaw.

Bar lube is primarily intended to decrease friction between a non-moving metal surface and the backside of a cutting chain. Secondary effects are lubing the chain and helping to transfer heat away from the chain to the bar.

Its got to be better than CRC or WD40, but would bar lube be just simply worse than proper chain lubricants, or a lot worse?

Personally I'd just use proper bike chain lube. The question is specifically about chainsaw bar lube.

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    It would actually be reasonably good chain lube, in terms of both getting into the chain and lubricating the sliding action against the cogs, since the chainsaw chain is not that much different from a bike chain. Probably worse at collecting dirt and spraying grease, though, since chainsaw lube is expected to be dispensed more or less continuously via an "oiler" on top of the motor. So I wouldn't hesitate to use the lube in a pinch, but would choose the purpose-made stuff for normal use. Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 13:26
  • 1
    Related Question/Answer: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/9617/…
    – Benzo
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 19:49

9 Answers 9


On a chainsaw is it called bar lube (not chain lube). It is designed to lube the bar.

This is chainsaw chain:
enter image description here
Not the same beast as bicycle chain. I don't even think there are rollers. Bar lube is more viscous than bicycle chain lube. Bar lube does not need a long life - it is going to get thrown off. There is an excess of bar lube and big gaps compared to a bicycle chain. The chain itself only needs to last longer than the cutting teeth.

Yes they are both chains but that is about all they have in common. It is a bar lube.

I would chose 3 in 1, motor oil, or transmission fluid over bar lube. Yes I would use bar lube on my bicycle chain if I had nothing else in the shop but I would not use it just because it was free. I would even use WD 40 for a single ride and get chain lube the next day. Not a great lubricant but WD 40 would not gunk up the chain.

You pay $20+ for a decent chain. Why would you skimp using a product not designed to protect the chain? A good chain lube is not very expensive and goes a long way.

  • Good points all. TICK.
    – Criggie
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 20:43

Bar lube would perform horrible on a bicycle chain.

Why? Well, bar lube must be fully bio-degradable, which chain lube is not required to be. As such, bar lube is basically a vegetable oil, and performs as such. It lubes all-right, but it's also rather sticky, and it oxidizes over time. On a chain-saw, that does not matter because the chain-saw is designed to just throw the old oil off the chain and relube constantly with fresh oil. If any oil oxidizes on the chain during a storage period, that old, degraded oil will quickly be replaced by fresh oil.

On a bicycle chain, such an oil would

  • attract much more dirt than chain oil, and

  • stiffen on the chain over time.

You want neither of these features, so better use a chain oil.


Chainbar lube would be OK as a lube, but far from ideal. It would lubricate the chain and protect nearly as well as proper bike chain lube, but its too thick to get into the chain and properly lube the moving parts without putting too much on. It would also be prone to picking up dirt. You would end up with a chain that tended to become very dirty and without regular cleaning would make a mess of anything that touched it.

It would be far superior to WD40, which is not a lube.

If I was stuck with a chain that needed lube and had a choice between WD40, chain bar or nothing, it would be chain-bar lube.

I like a clean chain, and normally use a dry lube unless very wet conditions so I would never use it as a long term planned lube.

  • Excellent answer - "better than other alternatives but not as good as the real thing"
    – Criggie
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 20:44

Demands on bicycle chain lube are higher than those on a saw chain.

Just about any oil can be used to lube a saw. The purpose is to help the cutting bits move through wood, not to reduce friction in the internal motion of the chain. The oil stays on the cut surface and new oil is continuously supplied. The quality of the oil is not critical. I've used spent motor oil in the past with my saw but I prefer to use the cheapest vegetable oil I can find.

Yes, you can use whatever is marketed as bar oil to lube your bicycle chain, just as you can use motor oil or two stroke oil. It will probably lubricate great initially but attract dirt, the way oil does. There might be more optimal bicycle chain lubricants, with many trade offs between them.

If you do want to use oil on you bicycle chain you may prefer a lighter oil (less viscosity) such as machine oil. This will attract less dirt with the downside of lasting less long.

Note: there is another answer that claims oil sold as chainsaw bar oil is biodegradable. In the US, this is typically not the case. It's a petroleum product.


chainsaw oil/lube needs to be more viscous than bicycle chain oil. So, I think it is not a good idea.

  • 2
    You're quite right about the viscosity requirement of bar lube, but this is already mentioned in the accepted answer. Instead use the upvote arrow to reward the existing good answers. Also, please do take a moment to browse the tour because StackExchange is quite different to a regular chatty web forum. Here its a Q&A format where the good answers rise to the top. Your answer is right, but its been said before.
    – Criggie
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 7:33

There are several requirements for a bicycle chain lubricant:

  • It must penetrate to the innards of the chain very quickly -- this implies low viscosity
  • It must stay inside the chain and lubricate the chain well for a long amount of time -- this implies high viscosity
  • It must be flowing to be able to replenish (this requirement is not met by e.g. wax)
  • It must lubricate the chain but this is not really an issue since even water can lubricate a chain -- until it evaporates away, that is, and water is excellent in causing rust
  • It must not rust the chain
  • It must not collect dirt excessively

Chainsaw chains are rapidly moving so I assume in a chainsaw the action that moves the lubricant inside the chain is the motion of the chain. In a bicycle, you typically lubricate the chain, wait the oil to get inside, and then wipe the excess surface oil away. A chainsaw lubricant might require you to ride the bike for a mile or two for the lubricant to get inside the chain.

Because chainsaw chains are rapidly moving, the lubricant must be thick so that it won't be flown away. Thus the second requirement is met: in the low-speed bicycle chains, the lubricant won't be thrown away.

The third requirement is met: as an oil it flows back once displaced.

Also the fourth requirement is easy: as an oil it lubricates.

The fifth requirement is easy: oil won't rust metal.

The real problem with chainsaw lubricants is that it may collect dirt easier than proper chain oils. This is of course a requirement that is very hard to be met as proper chain oils too collect dirt -- there is no lubricant that won't collect dirt.

So the chainsaw lubricant may be a bit slow to flow from the surface of the chain to the innards of the chain necessitating changing the lubrication procedure (ride a mile or two before wiping away the excess instead of waiting for a minute or two before wiping away the excess), and it may collect a bit too much dirt. Other than that, it meets the requirements.

A proper thixotropic motorcycle chain lubricant is better. It is applied from a spray can and agitated before spraying. The agitation and spraying makes the thixotropic lubricant thin, so it very easily penetrates the innards of the chain. Then when you let it settle, it gradually thickens. Start riding the bike and it becomes thin again due to the chain motion agitating it. Stop riding the bike and it becomes thick again.


Yeah it's great. It's the go-to solution for a lot of winter bikers around here. I'd say that you can only really know if it's right for you by trying it out, so my input is just that it's been tried and tested and works for a lot of people.

EDIT: The people who are down-voting this answer either do not notice that I specify an application- winter cycling- or they don’t bike in the winter. And by winter I mean arctic conditions.

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    Why is that ? What property of bar lube makes it good in the winter - a generous temperature lower limit before it hardens ?
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 4:35
  • 1
    Chain bar oil is quite sticky because chains saws work with fast moving chains. I could see that this is attractive in wet conditions. Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 10:15
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    There are countless examples of things that were "tried and tested and works for a lot of people". Examples range from sacrificing chicken to get the favour of the gods, or using mercury to treat syphilis.
    – gschenk
    Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 9:45
  • @gschenk you don’t ride your bike in the winter and neither do the two people who upvoted your comment.
    – jqning
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 21:32
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    @jqning what do you base your assertion on? As far as I know you do not know enough about me neither do you know who is voting on our comments. You might also have noticed that my comment is independent on climatic conditions, but rather points out the abysmally low confidence I place in a sample size of 'a lot' and quantifying efficacy as 'works'. Hence my examples where an empirical approach was used but the bar on statistical rigour was set to an equal level.
    – gschenk
    Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 0:48

According to these American users on bikeforums.net, mixing straight chainsaw oil (chain and bar lube) with mineral spirits 4 to 1 makes a great bike lube here:

Senior Member
Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: Sunny Tampa, Florida
Posts: 1,390
Quoted: 54 Post(s)

Straight chainsaw oil (chain and bar lube) is very thick and sticky and tends to attract and hold dirt. Not a problem for its intended use but not so good for bike chains or other parts.

To use it on a bike chain mix it about 1 part oil to 4 parts mineral spirits in a small squirt bottle. Squirt the chain down and wipe off the excess with a rag. The spirits will evaporate leaving a very excellent lube on the inner parts of the chain where the lube needs to go. This will also remove the road grime from the outside of the chain. Use this mix to clean the glop off your chainwheels and cogs, leaving a light film of the oil to prevent rust. This has been my main lube on all my bikes for a few years now and it works great.

This is very inexpensive and I can't recommend it highly enough.

And another active user concurs:

10 Wheels
Galveston County Texas
Posts: 30,977
Quoted: 709 Post(s)

That is what i use. I ride with a Bike Mechanic. One Part chainsaw Oil, Plus three parts Mineral Spirits. Put it in a spray bottle.

Another user has a slightly different take, mixing another cheaper oil with mineral spirits too here:

My bike's better than me!
Location: Northern Colorado.. Posts: 2,041

Chain saw oil works. Almost any lubrication works. Keep your chain reasonably clean and lubricate it reasonably frequently.

You hit the Point of Diminishing Returns incredibly quickly on chain lube. If you value neither your time nor your money, you could certainly research the crap out of this, clean your chain with an ultrasonic cleaner every other day, and lube it with Dumond or Mobil1, straight, but ....why?

I apply a 50/50 mix of mineral spirits and Mobil1, with a toothbrush, AFTER every other ride or so, allowing the mineral spirits (that thin the Mobil1, allowing thorough penetration) to evaporate.

I get GREAT life out of chains, and that's with lots of hill climbing. I spend next to nothing on the mix.

If/where viscosity is a concern, you can thin it, but ... as Hobartlemagne said ... there is a point at which thick is too thick. You could probably follow the automotive manufacturers weight-vs.-temperature guidelines and not go too far wrong.

  • 2
    To my understanding Stack Exchange aims to provide knowledge as a reaction on the fathomless depths of unreliable information and opinions of the nets. You will find fervent supporters of any bodge that somehow went viral or appealed to what some call common sense. Please don't take it personal that I down-vote your answer on these grounds. See other answerers why it is generally not a good idea to use motor saw lube. These also apply when using an organic thinner. However, the thinner will also remove the ecological advantages of chain lube.
    – gschenk
    Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 9:53

Bar oil is like $5/litre or $15/gallon. If you're nice to your chain and oil it everytime it gets soaked, lube can really add up. Even if you only do it once every week or two like a reasonable commuter, there's a big price difference. Also, if you ride through winter, you're not caring that bar oil will attract more dirt because your chain will be inundated regardless. Bar oil is better simply because you will be overly generous using it and almost never run out. Thank you.

  • "cheap+more" is better than nothing, but the right stuff is better overall.
    – Criggie
    Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 6:17
  • 2
    More lube is generally a bad idea, since dirt sticks to it.
    – ojs
    Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 8:02
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    I don't see how this answers the question at all. The question is whether or not it's a good lubricant and your answer is that it's cheap. Well, great, but is it good? And, honestly, "cheap" isn't a very useful criterion. Sure, proper chain lube is way more expensive per gallon (the stuff I use is nothing fancy and it looks like I paid the equivalent of $3.20 for a 60ml/2oz bottle) but you use such a small amount of it when applying it properly that a bottle lasts for months and months. Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 11:23
  • @DavidRicherby And if you go digging around on the internet you can find things like the bulk DuPont teflon lube in multi-gallons/liter containers that Finish Line et al uses to fill those little bottles and charge you $2/oz for something they probably paid $0.10/oz for - and you'll have enough for a lifetime. Or you can just get the Finish Line quart for about $25. So this answer doesn't even cover "cheap" given how much bar lube you'd have to use. Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 12:17

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