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Why Were Chainsaws Invented?

Errah is a bookwormy and logophilic writer and science & technology teacher. He often writes about scientific ideas, theories, and research.


What Is a Chainsaw?

A chainsaw is a mechanical tool and type of cutting saw with a series of razor-sharp teeth attached to a fast-spinning chain wound around a metal guide bar. This machine also contains an electric motor powered by a battery, gasoline, or electricity to function.

As we frequently see on television, in movies, and on YouTube, most of us know the most typical application of chainsaws is cutting and chopping trees and logs. It can occasionally be used to cut rock and even steel as well.

You may not be aware of this, but the chainsaw was not created for these uses. It started as a medical device. Yes, this tool was originally created for medical purposes. So keep reading to find out how terrifying it was to use this device on patients.

Who Invented Chainsaws? History of Chainsaws

The inventor of the first known chainsaw is unknown, but the most likely candidates are two Scottish doctors, John Aitken and James Jeffray. The chainsaw they designed (1783-1785) greatly differed from what we have today. It did not rotate; instead, it resembled a Gigli wire saw, with a long, thin chain of serrated teeth and a handle at each end.

A Gigli wire saw, which is used in cranial surgery, resembles the chainsaw invented by John Aitken and James Jeffray.

A Gigli wire saw, which is used in cranial surgery, resembles the chainsaw invented by John Aitken and James Jeffray.

Bernhard Heine, a German orthopaedist, is another candidate who has been given credit for the invention of chainsaws. His design resembled the modern chainsaw in that it rotated and had a guide bar. However, it was manually powered by a human hand, had a hand crank rather than a motor, and was also smaller in size. Heine invented it in 1830 and named it "osteotome," which translates to "bone cutter" in Greek.

Bernhard Heine designed osteotome in 1830.

Bernhard Heine designed osteotome in 1830.

Evolution of the Chainsaw

Eventually, more patented designs emerged to make chainsaws more efficient and user-friendly. The following are some patents for chainsaw designs.

  • In 1905, an American citizen Sam J. Bens developed a chainsaw that ran continuously. He called it the "endless chain saw," and it was human-powered. It was the first time a chainsaw was used to cut down trees.
  • In 1926, Stihl, a German company founded by Andreas Stihl, developed the first electric-powered chainsaw. In 1927, Dolmar, a company founded by Emil Lerp, a German entrepreneur, created the first gasoline-powered chainsaw. These chainsaw models were very large and heavy, requiring two people to operate.
  • The first single-person chainsaw was invented. Both Stihl (1950) and Donmar (1952) claimed to be the inventors of this design.
  • Later, the chainsaws were equipped with an anti-vibration system, automatic chain brake, quick stop, catalyzer, etc.
  • In the 1980s, the chainsaw became lighter when Husqvarna, a Swedish manufacturer of outdoor power products, introduced a new model that featured a lightweight composite crankcase made up of multiple plastic parts.
  • Previously, chainsaws had a string that required multiple pulls before they were activated, but that was not the case in 1991 when the automatic start was innovated.
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Why Were Chainsaws Invented?

Back in the 18th century, when anesthesia was not available, patients underwent surgery while conscious, which felt like torture to them. You will undoubtedly feel frightened just by the sight of the large, pointy, and sharp instruments such as knives and scissors that will be used on you. What if it has already been used to slice or sever your body parts while you are still awake? Ouch! You will undoubtedly cry out loud in agony!

One way to deal with excruciating pain was just simply biting on a bullet, a piece of wood, or stuffing the mouth with a cloth. The hands and feet of the patients were also tied to prevent them from squirming. If tying wasn't enough, several people had to grab hold of the patients to keep them from struggling. Yikes! Opium, alcohol, and a few unpleasant gases were also used to deal with this nightmarish agony.

The chainsaws were initially used during cesarean procedures. As we all know, babies pass through the vaginal canal during birth, but if they are breech or too big, or the mom's pelvis is too small, they may get stuck there. To get the baby out of the mother's vagina, the opening had to be widened, which was done by removing parts of the mother's pelvic bone. (This surgical procedure was known as "symphysiotomy," but it is no longer done today.)

Without anesthesia, that was obviously painful. Aitken and Jeffray sought a solution for this nightmarish situation, and the chainsaw was their answer. They created and used this machine because it was safer, enabled smaller incisions without inflicting harm to the surrounding tissues of the pelvic bones, sped up the surgeries, and, most importantly, reduced the mother's suffering from the symphysiotomy procedure.

Later, this cutting tool was also utilized for other bone-cutting procedures and body-part amputations. Amputations and bone cutting were previously done with a hammer and chisel. Hell! All praise be to chainsaws. It greatly reduced patients' suffering.

Why Did the Use of Chainsaws Shift From Being a Medical Tool to a Tool for Felling Trees?

Doctors no longer use chainsaws in surgery today because more sophisticated, modern tools are available.

Sam J. Bens was the first to switch the use of a chainsaw from a medical tool to one for cutting trees when he realized it was also useful for cutting wood. Before this, humans manually cut wood and trees with axes and hammers to make furniture and firewoods. The chainsaw has simplified and accelerated the process of cutting wood.

Sources of Information:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Errah Caunca

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