The Hot Saw



Each STIHL TIMBERSPORTS® competition ends with one man and one motor on the stage in a moment that starts with silence and ends around five seconds later with three cookies on the deck, a pile of sawdust and a cheering crowd. If the speed, size and sound didn’t make it clear, the hot saw is no average chainsaw. They are custom, handmade, race-tuned machines with maximum power and precision, built to cut wood as fast as possible in a competition.

After the first chainsaws made their way to the woods, loggers and lumberjacks looked for ways to cut faster. Larger displacement motors, sharper chain, better fuel; anything to put more wood on the deck in less time. On the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS® stage, the first hot saws were modified chainsaws sporting elaborate exhaust pipes, internal motor modifications and sharp chains that wouldn’t last very long in the woods. In the 1990s, the hot saws began to change significantly in appearance and performance, giving rise to five-second cuts, and saws that no longer have much in common with the original chainsaws.

Modern hot saws are the race-bred offspring of a love affair between snow mobiles, dirt bikes and chainsaws, sharing DNA from each but not looking entirely like their parents. The heart is still a two-stroke motor, now measuring 250 to nearly 400 cc’s of displacement after replacing or machining the original piston and cylinder. Honda 250s or Rotax 330s are common starting points. Modifications to the intake and exhaust ports and cylinder head help the engine breathe better and get up to maximum RPM faster. The focus is on speed, not a whole day of work or riding. An enormous expansion pipe routes exhaust gases away from the operator and helps with engine tune, resembling the end of a blunderbuss more than a quiet exhaust.

Seeing the chainsaw DNA takes a little bit of a closer look. The starter cord is wrapped di-rectly to the crank and anchored by a custom fabricated handle, which is thrown onto the deck during the starting process. Now decompression buttons make the motor easier to start with a pull, as the kickstarter has been removed. The bar oil tank is mounted high and often gravity-fed while the fuel tank is filled with high-octane race gas instead of Moto-mix. There is a bar and chain - like the parent chainsaw - but the bar is custom cut with a slight taper to keep the chain on the bar rails when it is traveling over 200 mph. The chain itself is made just for racing, with a cutting tooth that is taller and longer than factory chain, and sharpened to a razor’s edge with a square file and stone. There is a sprocket that spins the chain and is connected directly to the crankshaft of the motor, meaning there’s no more chain brake either.

All of these pieces come together to make a refined racing machine with one job - start fast, make three cuts and stay between the lines. Athletes are limited to a single-cylinder saw with a manual start that can be carried to the stage. Beyond that, their imagination and their wallets are the only factors that can slow the hot saws down.

Other common racing technology, like carbon fiber, have crept into builds lately too. Improving the power-to-weight ratio can make a trimmer package that is easier for the competitor to bring up to the log and cut straighter, which makes the run faster. Such modifications can push the price tags from $7,000 to more than $10,000 for these custom machines. Competitors must choose building their own or waiting a year-plus in the building queue to secure one from DC Hot Saws or other builders. This makes the hot saw a huge investment of both time and money.

Nothing beats the heart-pounding excitement of the hot saw, which is the final event for the most points, and packs a silent start and thunderous finish. Weighing 50 to 60 pounds and making more than 50 horsepower, the hot saw is an impressive racing-only tool. It’s handbuilt to do nothing but cut fast, and commands your attention whether cutting or just sitting still.