Preparing For A Saw Competition

It is always fun to participate in timber carnivals, logging shows, and other types of cutting contests. They give you a good opportunity to show off your skill and have a good time doing it. In addition to the thrill of competition, it's always nice to win or at least finish near the top. Who wants to be a loser in front of their family and friends? Nobody!

Unfortunately, in all competitions, there are winners and losers. And sometimes the difference between first and last place is pretty small. In all events, a few inches or seconds may be all that separates the top finisher from the losers. The difference is sometimes the result of skill or strength, but more often, the guy that wins has an edge. Chain saw events are no exception, and perhaps the best example of an event where the guy with the best equipment usually gets the trophy.

Over the years, we've helped many competitors edge their way into top spots. The following information is a grab bag of information that addresses many questions we are asked on the subject. The info is aimed at mostly bucking contests with stock saws, so if you're setting up for unlimited saw, obstacle pole, a falling contest, or something else, some of this may not apply. We also invite those of you who compete and wish to share a few hints to email them to us.

This Stihl 088 belongs to Madsen's. We built it about ten years ago. It is fitted with nitrous injection system originally designed for a Yamaha 125 cart engine. We don't build or run these anymore due to liability.

Learn The Rules

To begin, every contest has rules. If you are going to get an edge, you need to find out what they are. Everything is important: engine size limits, rules of modification, cutting requirements, and so on. Crafty rule makers often try to stack the deck to favor certain participants or brands of equipment. So get the rules and study them carefully. Also ask how they are going to enforce them.

Many local shows try to run saws that are similar to ones run everyday in the woods. This is probably the best way to show cutting skill. In many cases, they may even provide the powerheads, but let you run your own chain. In this circumstance, your only edge will be the chain and some skill you can acquire once you know the rules. In other cases, the rules may allow you to bring your own "stock appearing" saw. This allows both box stock saws, and, some real tigers hiding underneath a stock appearing exterior.

Another thing you need to learn is how to start the race. Does the timer start when you hit the wood or does part of your time include starting your saw? On events that start before the clock is running, a highly modified saw that is difficult to start may actually slow you down. A stock saw that will start and cut in one pull, will beat a hopped up saw that takes five pulls to start every time.

Trim Time From The Start

Another tip that you can use to shave a little time is to mesmerize the clock keepers in an event when the clock starts when you hit the wood. Most guys go up to a log, rev the saw a couple of times and start their cut. You can sometimes get a little time out of the timers if you go up to the log, rev it up 10 times or so, and start your cut. The timers expect guys to start right away. When you delay your start, just about the time they are wondering when you are going start, your saw will hit the wood. This may catch them a little off guard and can delay their pressing of the button that starts the clock.

This is Dick Smith competing in a stock appearing contest running a Stihl 088 in Australia.


Set Your Saw Up To Win

While this has nothing to do with time keepers, a mistake a lot of competitors make is they adjust their saw way too lean for competition. Guys like to adjust them so they will wind up with no "blubber" sound at wide open. While a saw that is adjusted to scream like this sounds great, the truth is, when it gets in the log it doesn't have the power a properly adjusted saw will have. Some really good competitors keep beating themselves by adjusting their saws too lean time and time again.

Another mistake some make is they cut the depth gauges on their chain too low which makes the chains too aggressive. When they hit the wood, if the saw comes off it's peak for only a moment, the race is lost. The best thing is to keep the depth gauges where you run them in the woods. While this may not feel the best, your cuts will be smooth and fast. Even if you do keep it in the power range, chains are not efficient when the depth gauges are low, so keep them in the normal range.


This rare Stihl 090 has a ten cubic inch top end. Stihl made only a handful of these. This one is also fitted it with a snowmobile carburetor and a tuned pipe. The saw belongs to Madsen's. Back in its day, it was a contender.

Practice Makes Perfect

When you find out what kind of log you are going to be cutting, get a bar that will just reach through. Don't run a longer bar than you have to. Also, if you can find an old roller nose bar that is in good shape, use it. The advantage is that the nose turns, but the chain can also slip on it like a hard-nose bar. It may also be an advantage to run full-comp chain. Many contest logs are 24" and smaller. Full comp chain will cut faster than skip tooth in these smaller cuts.

The one thing that is guaranteed to make you faster is practice. You're thinking, right, I need practice? I run these saws everyday. The truth is, you will make faster cuts if you find out what type of log you are going to be sawing in and make test cuts with a stop watch.

First, you will learn that you double cut more than you realize. While this is not a big deal in everyday work, it does cost you a little time in a race. It may be just enough to cause you to lose. A good technique is to start just over the back and slowly pull the saw through the cut. Never dawg it in, and keep the motor running as smoothly as you can. If it comes off the max power band even for a second, you are history. Also try to go through the cut so the chain doesn't have to pull chips the full distance of the bar. That is why it is good to start just over the back and gradually pull the saw over the front to where it is level at the bottom of the cut.

V8 hot saw

Yes, that is a hot saw powered by a V8. They don't get any more radical than this. This is owned and operated by Robert Andrews of Enumclaw, Washington. See our photo album for more pics of this saw.

Practice will also teach you to look for knots and to pick a path through the log where you can avoid them. Knots are harder to cut through, and while this may not be a big deal in your work, it will cost you time in a race.

Some guys push hard at the bottom of a cut to try to take advantage of the chains momentum at the end of the cut. This sometimes causes them to stall at the bottom of the cut if they guess wrong. You may be able to do this slightly, though, and practice will help you perfect it

When you practice, try to put something under your log so you don't damage your chain when it comes through or come in contact with something that will cause a kickback as you exit the cut. You want to come through the cut as quickly and safely as you can. It is a good idea to look at this in competition too. If you break a chain and have to make one more cut, you're going to finish behind the slowest guy.

Stihl 088 Hot Saw

This is a Stihl 088 built by Hayden Hutton in South Africa. Hayden has done extensive work on this engine. Notice the separable head.


One of the biggest advantages of practicing in a test log prior to the race is the ability to try different set ups and grinds. Comparing the results of a seven tooth sprocket to an eight tooth sprocket to maybe even a nine tooth will tell you what you should run. If the race log is going to be bigger, you will want to try skip chain against full comp. You can experiment with technique.

We hope these tips are helpful. If you are a competitor and have some secrets to share, please email them to us. Thanks ahead of time.

Got more questions about fuel for pro chain saws? Call or stop in.