Why Were Chainsaws Created: Unraveling the Origins of a Powerful Tool


Chainsaws have become an integral part of our lives, used for various purposes, from cutting down trees to surgery. But have you ever wondered why chainsaws were invented in the first place? In this article, we will delve into the fascinating history of chainsaws, their evolution, and the different ways they are utilized today.

The Invention of Chainsaws

The history of chainsaws dates back to the late 18th century. Two Scottish doctors, John Aitken and James Jeffray, are credited with the invention of the first chainsaw-like device. Initially, it was intended for a different purpose – to aid in childbirth. This early invention, known as the “osteotome,” featured a chain with small cutting teeth and was hand-cranked.

Early Chainsaw Models

The early models were far from the powerful and efficient chainsaws we know today. These devices required multiple people to operate and were not widely adopted. It wasn’t until the 20th century that chainsaws began to gain popularity, thanks to the introduction of gasoline-powered engines.

Chainsaws for Medical Purposes

The original purpose of chainsaws was medical, not forestry. Doctors used them for surgeries, particularly bone-related procedures. These early chainsaws were large and cumbersome, but they paved the way for the development of smaller, more precise surgical tools.

Chainsaws in Forestry

As chainsaw technology advanced, they found their way into the forestry industry. The ease and efficiency of chainsaws made them indispensable for cutting down trees and processing timber. Today, chainsaws are a staple in the forestry business.

The Modern Chainsaw

Modern chainsaws come in various sizes and types, from small electric models for home use to powerful gas-powered machines for professional loggers. Their design and functionality have greatly improved, making them safer, more efficient, and easier to use.

Chainsaws have also made their mark in popular culture, often being portrayed as menacing weapons in horror movies. Iconic characters like Leatherface from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” have cemented chainsaws as symbols of terror.

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Chainsaw Safety

While chainsaws are incredibly useful, they can also be dangerous. Proper safety measures are crucial to prevent accidents. Always wear the necessary protective gear, keep the chainsaw well-maintained, and follow safety guidelines.

Choosing the Right Chainsaw

Selecting the right chainsaw for your needs is essential. Factors like the type of work you’ll be doing, the size of the trees, and your experience level all play a role in making the right choice.

Maintaining Your Chainsaw

To ensure your chainsaw’s longevity and performance, regular maintenance is vital. This includes sharpening the chain, cleaning the air filter, and checking for any loose or damaged parts.

Take a deep breath in, and then exhale slowly…

Try to disregard the harsh fluorescent lights and the attentive gaze of six medical students peering at your lower half, concealed behind a sterile sheet.

Attempt to push aside the intense grip on your partner’s hand as they nervously guide you through those deep breaths.

Ignore the tremendous pressure on your abdomen, the stretching, and sometimes even tearing sensations below.

Instead, focus on reminding yourself that, as painful as this may be, it could be worse…

They could be resorting to hand-cranked chainsaws to cut through your pelvic bones.

Welcome to the somewhat unsettling world of childbirth technology.

You’d think that after thousands of years, we would have perfected the art of childbirth. People give birth every single day – it’s how we all came into this world. According to the UN, approximately 385,000 babies are born every single day. That’s nearly 400,000 opportunities to learn from the process and develop improved methods (benefiting both parents and infants).

Yet, a lot of the technology associated with childbirth remains shrouded in secrecy. What’s even more baffling is that some of the historical attempts at birthing tools and devices were, to put it mildly, not well-conceived.

Ladies, prepare yourselves.

Hand-cranked chainsaws and opium: A gruesome history Childbirth in the Middle Ages was no walk in the park. Typically performed at home, it was attended by midwives and family members who provided support and guidance through the process. It was a fairly natural process with considerable support from those who had experienced it themselves. However, it was far from modern-day “natural” childbirth, with issues like hygiene and pain control.

Pain management in those times ranged from opium and its derivatives to no pain relief at all. Hygiene conditions were abysmal, and the maternal mortality rate was alarmingly high, with 1% to 1.5% of women dying during childbirth.

In the mid-1800s, childbirth started becoming more medicalized. Surgeons and scientists staked their claim, effectively putting men in control. This marked the birth of obstetrics as a medical field. Childbirth shifted to hospitals, many of which were far from sanitary, resulting in high infection rates.

That is until Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor, discovered in 1847 that the lack of handwashing in hospitals was spreading infections among maternity ward patients. His findings not only revolutionized hygiene practices but also significantly reduced the mortality rates for birthing mothers and their infants under his care.

Nonetheless, giving birth remained a perilous endeavor, both for mothers and their children. The shift from home to hospital led to the development of new technologies and tools to make the process “easier,” but not all of these tools had the long-term well-being of patients in mind, especially that of the mothers.

I came, I saw, I cringed In 1780, two Scottish doctors invented the prototype of the chainsaw, not for cutting down trees or clearing debris, but to cut through the pelvises of delivering mothers who had difficulty pushing their babies out. This procedure was known as symphysiotomy and was often performed without anesthesia, leaving mothers fully conscious during the process.

After demonstrating its effectiveness in the delivery room (according to male doctors), the chainsaw design was adapted for wood and other materials, gradually evolving into the chainsaw we recognize today.

If the thought of sawing through a person’s pelvis isn’t cringe-worthy enough, it gets even stranger.

You spin me right round, baby, right round In 1963, a patent application was filed by George and Charlotte Blonsky for a contraption designed to help mothers give birth using centrifugal force. Yes, you read that correctly.

This device was primarily intended for so-called “civilized” women. The patent application suggested that these women, lacking the physical development achieved through more primitive lifestyles, needed assistance in childbirth.

To address this, the apparatus would spin at a speed of approximately 7g’s, generating enough centrifugal force to propel the baby out. The machine featured a net to catch the baby as it emerged and a mechanism to stop the spinning once the birth was complete.

The patent was granted but thankfully expired in the early 1980s. There’s only one life-sized machine in existence, fortunately unused, which was showcased at the Science Gallery Dublin’s #FailBetter exhibition, demonstrating some less-than-effective but ultimately enlightening inventions.

If the idea of such a device makes your head spin, count your blessings that you weren’t brought into this world that way.

The birth of new technology My parents like to tease me that when I was born, I looked more like an alien than a human – a “conehead.” While my tiny newborn body fit from my father’s wrist to his elbow, my elongated head almost reached his shoulder.

The marks left on my squishy face were from forceps that had assisted in my delivery, temporarily altering the shape of my malleable skull. Thankfully, it returned to normal within a few hours, but without those forceps, my birth could have posed more serious challenges for my mother.

While operative deliveries can be traced back to ancient Hindu medicine in the 6th century BC, the use of forceps specifically for extracting live infants gained acceptance in 16th century England, thanks to Peter Chamberlen the Elder and his brother Peter Chamberlen the Younger.

Today, forceps resemble large spoons or salad tongs and are employed to position infants for safe passage through the birth canal. Specific criteria must be met before considering a forceps delivery, as outlined by the Mayo Clinic.

The use of forceps carries certain risks, such as the potential need for episiotomies – incisions in the perineum, the tissue between the vaginal opening and the anus, to create more room without tearing. Forceps have also been associated with infant skull bleeding and seizures.

Then there’s vacuum extraction.

Nothing happens in isolation Similar to forceps extraction, vacuum extraction involves placing a suction cup on the baby’s head to guide them out. The risks associated with this procedure are comparable to those of forceps, but due to the less invasive nature of the tool, it’s considered to be less impactful on the mother.

Both of these technologies are generally deemed safe. However, not everyone is convinced.

Tijana Jurak, a mother of two, had strong opinions about the technology she wanted to use – and avoid – during her deliveries. She shared her experiences:

“With my first child, my labor started at home, and I had to undergo an episiotomy, followed by the use of a suction cup on her head to aid in the delivery. But I was adamant about not using forceps. I knew someone whose brother had forceps used on him, and he is now permanently disabled because they crushed his skull. They [the doctors] said it’s sometimes safer than a C-section, depending on how far along I am in labor. I refused; I would rather have a C-section than take that risk.”

It’s a matter of personal choice. What works for one may not work for another, and risks are always present, regardless of the chosen method. Some opt for entirely unassisted, natural home births, relying on family and midwives, much as it was done for centuries.

To tech or not to tech? From pelvic saws to episiotomies, childbirth can result in a range of injuries, unexpected side effects, and “necessary evils.” Yet, there’s a growing divide in the birthing community regarding the level of intervention that is truly necessary or helpful.

Research out of Australia has confirmed that the level of medical intervention required for safe delivery is a spectrum, rather than a one-size-fits-all rule. Dr. Timothy Moss, who specializes in ensuring the safety of preterm babies, explains:

“We know from Australian research that there can be better outcomes from a less medicalized management of labor and birth. But then we can look at countries like the Netherlands that have very high home birth rates. They also have high perinatal mortality rates.”

Effectiveness varies not only between countries and cultures but also among individual mothers. Implementing a blanket rule where technological intervention is considered the only path forward doesn’t make sense when considering the diverse experiences of childbirth.

Moss further emphasizes the need to tailor interventions to individuals, taking into account their medical history, development stage, preferences, and genetics.

Medical intervention can sometimes make the difference between life and death for both mother and child. However, the most suitable birthing option can vary on a case-by-case basis, and there shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.

But if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that no baby should ever be delivered through the use of centrifugal force.


Chainsaws have come a long way since their inception as medical tools. Their evolution has shaped them into versatile machines used in various fields. From forestry to popular culture, chainsaws continue to play a significant role in our lives.

People Also Ask

  1. What inspired the invention of chainsaws?
    • Chainsaws were initially invented for medical purposes, particularly bone-related surgeries.
  2. Are chainsaws still used for medical procedures?
    • No, modern medical procedures no longer involve chainsaws, as more precise and less invasive tools are available.
  3. What safety precautions should I take when using a chainsaw?
    • Always wear protective gear, maintain your chainsaw, and follow safety guidelines to prevent accidents.
  4. How do I choose the right chainsaw for my needs?
    • Consider factors like the type of work, tree size, and your experience level when selecting a chainsaw.
  5. What are some famous chainsaw-related characters in movies?
    • Iconic characters like Leatherface from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” are famous for wielding chainsaws in horror films.

In this article, we’ve explored the history and evolution of chainsaws, from their humble medical beginnings to their widespread use in various fields today. Chainsaws have indeed come a long way and continue to be an essential tool in different industries.