Gruesome Reason Chainsaws Were Invented

If you're a lumberjack or simply curious about the history of chainsaws, you might be wondering how and why they were invented.
Credit: @bootstheorangecat/TikTok & Alamy

If you’re a lumberjack or simply curious about the history of chainsaws, you might be wondering how and why they were invented.

These mighty tools have been around for quite some time, with their early iterations making their debut in the 19th century.

However, the chainsaw we are familiar with today had a rather unconventional beginning.

Believe it or not, they were actually medical instruments.

Yes, you read that right.

According to reports, the original chainsaw was the brainchild of Scottish doctors John Aitken and James Jeffray.

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And they were designed specifically to aid with childbirth.

Back in the late 18th century, they designed a ‘flexible saw… contrived to be used when there is ossification [obstructive bone]’.

This early chainsaw was intended to assist in a medical procedure called symphysiotomy, which involved widening the pubic cartilage and removing disease-laden bone.

The chainsaw, or rather the flexible saw, would be employed during childbirth if the baby became stuck in the birth canal.

It was used to cut away flesh, cartilage, and bone from the mother, allowing for a safer and quicker delivery.

The instrument, known as the osteotome, was like a toothed wheel put into motion by a handle, comparable to a strong bistoury or knife.

@bootstheorangecatGUATTTT♬ original sound – Janx_Littlefoot

Though it may sound quite gruesome by today’s standards, the osteotome was a significant medical breakthrough and was regularly used in surgeries throughout the 19th century.

Thankfully, advancements in medicine have since rendered the use of symphysiotomy and osteotomes unnecessary.

Childbirth is now far safer, with the caesarean section becoming a more successful and widely used procedure.

Moving into the early 20th century, chainsaws took on a new purpose – woodchopping and forestry. In 1883, patents were granted for the ‘Chain Sawing Machine’ and in 1906 for the ‘Endless Chain Saw’.

The former was designed for producing wooden boards, while the latter was intended for felling giant redwood trees.

Then, in 1918, the world witnessed its first portable chainsaw, thanks to the ingenuity of Canadian James Shand.

But it wasn’t until a few years later that electric and gasoline-powered chainsaws were developed.

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The credit for these advancements goes to Andreas Stihl, who patented the electric chainsaw in 1926 and a gas-powered model just three years later.

However, early chainsaw models were quite hefty and required two people to operate effectively.

It was only after World War II that chainsaws became lightweight enough for single-person use.

This transformation was made possible by advancements in aluminium and engine design, making chainsaws much more practical and accessible to the average person.

From their rather macabre origins as medical instruments to becoming indispensable tools for forestry and woodworking, chainsaws have certainly come a long way.

Today, these powerful machines are commonly used in various industries, and they continue to evolve with advancements in technology and engineering.

So, the next time you fire up a chainsaw to tackle some woodcutting tasks, take a moment to appreciate its fascinating history and how it has evolved from its medical roots into the versatile tool we know today.

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Written by Cal Gaunt

Cal is a former content editor at IGV who specialised in writing trending and entertainment news. He previously worked as a news reporter at the Lancashire Telegraph and earned an NCTJ in Sports Journalism.