Can You Cut Ice with a Chainsaw? Let’s Find Out the TRUTH!

Chainsaws are AWESOME!

They can literally cut through anything you throw at them like BUTTER. (slicing up logs and branches in no time at all!)

Can you cut ice with a chainsaw - Featured Image

With the RIGHT equipment (specially designed chains, bars, etc.), they can even cut through metal. (Not KIDDING! Read this article to get the full story)

But can you cut ice with a chainsaw?

Let’s figure it out…

Can You Cut Ice with a Chainsaw?

Yes, you can cut ice with a chainsaw. Ice fishermen, ice sculptors, and ice carvers are among the many people who often use chainsaws to cut ice. But you need to be extra careful and follow certain guidelines in order to do so safely.

Every year, my friends and I head to Wisconsin during sturgeon spearing season. And one of the tools we always have with us is our TRUSTY chainsaws! 

I’m not a big FAN of cutting ice with a chainsaw (I’ll explain it in a minute), but watching those blades slicing through thick sheets of ice feels AMAZING!

I posted a Reddit thread about this once and was SURPRISED to discover that there are many people who actually use chainsaws to cut ice. (I’m not alone!)

One of the comments I got said,

“I cut ice all the time with my chainsaw. I use Stihl 066 and a 36″ bar… Mostly use this setup for harvesting ice blocks, carving competitions, and setting nets…” (Here’s the full comment)

I also asked a Husqvarna expert about this and here’s what he had to say:

An expert's opinion on if it's safe to use a chainsaw to cut ice.

Which type of chainsaw works best for cutting ice?

1. Gas-powered Chainsaws (Best)

Gas-powered chainsaws are hands down the most EFFICIENT and powerful option. They have –

  • higher RPMs (Revolutions Per Minute),
  • better torque, and
  • no cords or battery to WORRY about! (Thank GOD)

More importantly, they can be used with up to 48″ bars, making them the PERFECT choice for cutting through thick layers of ice.

2. Electric Chainsaws (Good)

You can use electric chainsaws to cut ice, but they still don’t compare to gas-powered chainsaws.

They DO have their perks, though –

  • they’re quieter (The only reason I own ONE!)
  • lighter, and
  • LESS expensive.

However, you can’t ignore the fact that they have a LIMITED battery life and can only handle up to 18″ bars (Source: ChainsawDirect).

3. Corded Chainsaws (Not Recommended)

In my opinion, corded chainsaws are NOT the best option when it comes to cutting ice.

Just IMAGINE being stuck in the middle of a lake with a cord that won’t reach the shoreline!

Plus, they DON’T produce enough power to cut through thick layers of ice. (Although, I’ve seen some ice sculptors make it work).

Is It Bad to Cut Ice with a Chainsaw?

Using a chainsaw to cut ice can often cause serious rust and corrosion to the chain. Also, chains used to lose their effectiveness on wood if they are used to cut ice. But if you take proper care of your chainsaw then there’s nothing to worry actually.

dry off my chains properly and apply lubricant (e.g. diesel, cooking oil) after each session. It helps to PREVENT rust and corrosion and lengthens the life of my chain.

Worrying about WATER seeping into the chainsaw and causing damage?

Well, as long as you’re using a gas-powered chainsaw, there’s NOTHING to worry about! They’re built to handle wet and cold conditions.

I confirmed this again with a Husqvarna expert. Here’s what she said:

an expert's opinion on if it's safe to use a chainsaw in the rain.

Learn More: Can you cut wet wood with a chainsaw?

Electric chainsaws, on the other hand, are NOT made for wet conditions and could suffer from water damage. (Though many of my friends use electric chainsaws to cut ice! They cover the powerhead with a raincoat)

Does cutting ice dull a chainsaw chain?

Cutting ice can dull a chainsaw chain. Rust, corrosion, and general wear and tear are all factors that could can your chain to lose its sharpness. Also, due to the friction of ice and the lack of lubricant, chains tend to dull faster.

The chains I used last season are still SHARP, and I haven’t had any issues with them, but you should always check your chain before each use.

Do you need a sharp chain to cut ice?

It’s not absolutely imperative that you have a sharp chain to cut ice.

Ice is a “crystal” and not “wood fiber,” as you would find in a tree. It’s more of a brittle material and can be cut with dull chains too. (I have a bunch of RIPPED chains that still cut through iced-over lakes!)

Can you use a chainsaw to cut holes for ice fishing?

Yes, you can use a chainsaw to cut holes for ice fishing, but it may not be the most efficient and practical tool for this purpose unless you’re fishing for sturgeon in Wisconsin or Michigan. An ice auger or a hand ice saw may be better suited for the task.

Cutting spearing holes with a chainsaw

Let me explain:

As I’ve already DISCUSSED, chainsaws are capable enough to cut through ice. But the truth is, they’re not well-suited for making precise cuts or creating small, narrow holes.

During sturgeon spearing season, we used to cut LARGE rectangular holes (at least 10 x 12 feet) with our chainsaws that would be hard to get to with an auger.

But I personally DON’T prefer using a chainsaw to cut ice unless I have to. That’s because-

  • It’s easy to get wet (I DON’T like that!)
  • Everything gets slippery,
  • It’s noisy, and
  • There are HIGH chances of falling into the water (I’ve fallen through ONCE! Trust me, you get no time to react).

That’s why I recommend using an ice auger or an ice saw to cut holes for fishing. (Most EXPERTS also do the same!)

Do people use chainsaws for ice fishing?

I posted a poll on one of the largest Reddit Communities of ice fishers to get the ANSWER. More than 400 participated in the poll.

The poll results were clear:

Poll results

Out of 400 votes, only 8% of them said YES, they use chainsaws for ice fishing.

The rest said NO, they don’t! They mostly prefer an auger, hand ice saw, or a drill for the job. (Check the full thread here)

One of the comments says, “I used a chainsaw before I had a power auger.”

How to Cut Ice with a Chainsaw?

Here’s a step-by-step guide to cutting ice with a chainsaw.

1. Make sure you have the right tools

Having the right tools is IMPORTANT for a safe and successful ice-cutting experience.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Chainsaw with a decent sharp chain (I prefer using a LOW-PITCH chain with more links between the cutters!)
  • A long guide bar (I recommend at least 18 inches)
  • Safety glasses
  • Protective gloves (AVOID leather gloves!)
  • Earplugs (recommended for prolonged use)
  • Rain boots, and
  • A raincoat to keep yourself dry (MUST have!)

That’s it!

(Am I missing anything? Let me know in the comments!)

2. Get all the bar oil out of your chainsaw

The bar oil in your saw will contaminate the water and make a mess around. It’ll also make the surface slippery and you won’t be able to see through the hole very well.

(Depending on where you live, it could even get you nailed with a big FINE!)

So, make sure you completely empty out the oil from your chainsaw before you start cutting.

You can use edible oil (e.g. cooking oil) instead, or no oil at all (Water itself will provide ENOUGH lubrication).

3. Set up the chainsaw

Once you’ve removed all the bar oil, it’s time to set up the chainsaw.

  • Warm up your chainsaw: It’s EXTREMELY important that you warm up the chainsaw before you start cutting (I cut 2-3 slices of logs to get my chainsaw properly warmed).
  • Adjust the chain tension: Make sure the chain isn’t too tight. A slightly loose chain seems to cut the ice BETTER (Read this article where I’ve discussed how tight should a chainsaw chain be!).
  • Check all the safety features: Make sure all the safety features of your chainsaw are working properly. (You don’t want anything to go WRONG when you’re out there!)

4. Start cutting

Now that you’ve set up the chainsaw, it’s time to start cutting.

Here are a few tips to make this process easier:

  • Mark the spot you want to cut beforehand.
  • Stand to the side of your chainsaw powerhead. (DON’T stand directly behind the chainsaw!).
  • Use the tip of your bar to PUNCH through the ice. This will make it easier for your chainsaw to cut. (Also, it would throw the water/debris downwards)
  • PRO TIP: Don’t cut all the way down to the water at ONCE. Leave a few inches at the bottom to avoid splashing. When you’re done, use a spud bar to pop the ice out of the hole. (This will save you from getting drenched in cold water!)
  • Don’t press too hard on the chainsaw bar. Let the chain do its thing and keep it moving at all times.
  • Keep one person watching at all times.
  • Finally, when you’re done cutting, TURN OFF the chainsaw!

5. Mark the spot before leaving

Before you PACK UP and leave, make sure you mark the spot with a flag or a visible sign

It wouldn’t be COOL to have someone fall into the hole that you’ve just cut!

If the hole isn’t very big, then PLEASE fill it back up with the snow you dug out (Don’t leave the big chunks of ice for someone else to DEAL with!)

6. Dry off your chains and bars

When you get back home, make sure you dry off your chains and bars. You can use a towel or an air compressor. (the latter would work better!)

If you leave them wet, it could cause rust and corrosion over time.

Also, make sure you oil the chain and bar properly before you store them away. I use normal vegetable oil for this job.

And that’s how you cut ice with a chainsaw safely and efficiently. Enjoy your new skill!

Happy cutting!  🙂

Samuel Anali

Hey there! My name is Sam, and I'm the NERD behind this site. I'm an avid chainsaw enthusiast, and I've been tinkering with them since I was 17 (it's almost 20 years now!).

This Post Has One Comment

Leave a Reply