Chainsaw Chain for Hardwood (Full vs Semi-Chisel)

To many who have never or only rarely used chainsaws, it may be surprising to learn that there are different types of chains to cut different types of wood. There are substantial differences between hardwood and firewood which means that you will need to find the right chain for the job.

What Type of Chain for Hardwood?

Chainsaw Chain for Hardwood
Hardwood includes birch, cherry, mahogany, hickory, maple, and oak. As the name implies, these are woods that tend to be denser compared to softwood and cutting firewood. Thus, you need a chain that can handle the denser materials with less slipping or breaking.

The semi-chisel cutter is generally the best type of chain for cutting hardwood. The chain itself features corners on the cutter that have been rounded. The result is that the cutter will stay sharper for longer periods as it is being used on hardwood.

Chainsaw Chain for Softwood

Softwoods include fir, pine, and spruce. Such softwoods are not nearly as dense and make for easier cutting. Here, the full-chisel cutter can shine as it easily speeds through softwoods with far greater ease compared to the semi-chisel version. This does assume the wood is clean and the felled tree is free of materials such as rocks or soil. Even sand or soil will quickly dull a full-chisel cutter, so you will need to be careful.

However, if you have clean softwoods, then the full-chisel cutter is the way to go. You will complete your cutting faster and with greater ease.

Best Chainsaw Chain for Cutting Firewood

This will depend on the type of wood used for the firewood. In most cases, firewood will be a mixture of both hardwoods and softwoods which means the semi-chisel cutter is the preferred chain. Because when you are cutting into some hardwood, the chain will stay sharper for longer periods. This means sharpening or changing out the chain less often.

Unless your firewood consists only of clean softwoods, then use the semi-chisel chain for the job. It will take longer to cut the firewood, but the chain itself will stay sharper, longer.

It is important that before you start cutting firewood to take a few moments to clean away any obvious rocks, sand, or soil that may be on the wood itself. A few minutes spent cleaning will save you time and effort when cutting.

Full Chisel vs. Semi-Chisel Cutters

Generally, a full chisel chain is recommended for softwood as they cut the fastest. The semi-chisel cutter works best for hardwood and mixed firewood since this type of chain can retain its cutting edges longer.

Full Chisel

The full chisel cutters have a sharper cutting profile. The corners are square, and the edges are ground at an angle to make the corner sharp.


The semi-chisel cutter has rounded corners with ground edges. Although the corner is rounded, the cutting face is sharp. See the figure below to understand the difference.

Full chisel vs semi-chisel chainsaw chains

The semi-chisel cutting profile tends to retain its sharpness for longer period of time. This may sound counterintuitive as full chisel chains are designed to stay sharp.
But in truth, the opposite tends to be the case. This is especially true if the hardwood you are cutting is either frozen or embedded with other materials such as soil or rocks. A full chisel cutter will quickly lose its sharpness under such conditions. While a semi-chisel cutter will be protected thanks to the rounded corners.

Chainsaw Chain Sequence

The sequence decides the number of chisel cutters or cutting teeth in a chain. Chainsaw chains are available mainly in three types of cutter sequences.

  1. Full-compliment
  2. Full-Skip and
  3. Semi Skip Sequence


 With maximum number of teeth. Full-compliment is the standard sequence and cuts the wood fastest among the three types.

These sequence works best hardwood and frozen wood. However, if you use full comp chains on long bars to cut deep into large diameter wood, there is a very high chance of kickback. You have more number of teeth in the wood and there is less gap between the teeth for the built-up chips.


  • Clean cuts
  • Fastest cutting sequence
  • Works best for hardwood


  • Higher risk of kickback
  • Takes more time to sharpen


In this sequence, there are a smaller number of cutting teeth for a given length. In other words, full skip sequence chains have more gap between two consecutive teeth.

The full skip chains work best on softwood. You have more gap for the chips that get accumulated during cutting and there is fewer teeth in the wood at any time. This drastically lowers the occurrence of kickbacks.

Since the full skip sequence has lowers number of teeth (usually around 2/3rd of full-compliment), the chisels may get dull faster. But the good news is that it takes less time to sharpen the teeth since you have fewer teeth on full skip chains.


  • Low risk of kickback
  • Works best for softwood
  • Less time for sharpening


  • Cuts slower

Semi Skip

The semi skip sequence is a combination of full-compliment and full-skip sequences. Half the number of teeth are arranged close (similar to full complement) and the remaining are arranged as full skip.

This sequence is a good compromise and is suitable for most types of woods.

As a general rule, go for full-compliment chains to cut hardwood with chainsaws of 24-inch bar or lower.

If you are cutting big trees or large diameter wood with 28-inch or longer bars, consider a semi-skip or full-skip sequence chain.

Closing Thoughts

Whichever version you choose, be sure to get a high-quality chain for your chainsaw. Only the best will stand up to the rigors of cutting wood. For hardwoods, softwoods, and firewood, the best chains will last the longest and save you money and from possible injury as they hold up better when doing the job.