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Why Were Chainsaws Invented?

Have you ever wondered why were chainsaws invented? Maybe you didn’t because you assumed they were always used to cut trees. In that case, you’d be surprised to know that the device’s origins are far from anything of that nature.

Who Invented The Chainsaw? 

Chainsaw, Tool, Equipment, Sawing, Log

The very first chainsaw prototype was invented by two Scottish surgeons all the way back in the 1780s. Their names were John Aitken and James Jeffray. 

John Aitken was a surgeon in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and he also later became a teacher giving lectures to medical students on anatomical dissections. He is known to have made some practical improvements within the field of surgery, including inventing the chainsaw. 

James Jeffray studied at Edinburgh and Glasgow University and was known for dissecting the bodies of people executed for murder.

Were Chainsaws Invented For Childbirth?

Coming back to the question of why were chainsaws invented, the answer is that they were invented to assist in childbirth. Yes, I know that sounds pretty morbid, but back in the 18th century, caesarian section was not a common practice and all fetuses had to go through the birth canal.

During labour, babies don’t always come out head first or large babies would often get stuck. As a result, if the baby got stuck in the pelvis, doctors would remove parts of bone and cartilage to create more space for the baby to come out easily. This process is known as ‘symphysiotomy’. 

The process of symphysiotomy involves cutting through cartilage and ligaments of the pelvic joint in order to widen it and allowing the baby to be delivered without any obstruction. The early chainsaw was used during this procedure to cut through the ligaments. It would be operated manually by turning a handle which moved teethed links of chain around a guided blade, which made the cutting process much easier and faster. 

Unfortunately, this procedure created a high risk of infection, pain and bladder injury for women who had to undertake it. Symphysiotomies were commonly used in the 1700s but became less frequent in the late 20th Century. But for much of the 19th Century, chainsaws were a useful surgical instrument.

The Evolution Of The Chainsaw 

In 1830, a German doctor named Bernard Heine designed another version of the chainsaw, which more closely resembles today’s modern design. He called it an osteotome, derived from the Greek words ‘osteo’ meaning bone, and ‘tomi’ meaning cut. In this design, he closed the serrated chain loop and developed a better bone saw. 

At the start of the 20th Century, people began to use chainsaws for uses outside of medicine and surgery. The first electric chainsaw was then created by a man named Samuel J Bens from San Francisco in 1905. He used it to cut giant redwood trees.

In 1926, the first gas-powered chainsaw made its appearance. It has 2 cylinders and a bent motor. It took only about 4 minutes to cut through a 10-foot log.  

So looking back, the chainsaw has gone through many different use cases, designs and features over the centuries. While it hasn’t gotten any big changes in recent years, it can easily be adapted with the help of modern technology.


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