Most chainsaw bars these days are sprocket nose, but there are still some bars available with a sprocketless, plain steel tip. These bars are called alternatively hard nose, hard tip, or solid nose, and while nowhere as common as sprocket nose bars, are still around.
We recently got a batch of old bars which included a few hard nose models. I was not quite sure what to make of hard nose bars and what they are really good for. So I decided to find out, and will share my findings with you in this article!
The bottom line of the whole article is that hard nose bars are more tolerant of dirty or abrasive sawing conditions than sprocket nose bars. Such conditions include sawing sandy or muddy wood such as stumps, roots or logs and lumber that have been in ground contact; as well as sawing wood close to the ground, on a beach or at waterline. Running a sprocket nose bar in dirty conditions risks fast wear and clogging or jamming of the sprocket, while a hard nose bar performs reliably.
I will next start by explaining what a hard nose bar is, what are the advantages and disadvantages, and when you’d want to use one. In the end, we will also take a quick look at the hard nose bars available from Stihl.
What is a hard nose bar?
Simply put, a hard nose bar (or hard tip, solid tip) is a chainsaw guide bar which has a solid tip section, that is one without a sprocket. A hard nose bar is thus simpler than a sprocket nose bar which is currently the standard.
Functionally, the hard tip differs from a sprocket nose in that there is a sliding contact between the chain and the bar also in the tip. With a sprocket nose bar, the chain slides on the side sections of the bar but is supported by the sprocket around the tip.
Hard nose bars are typically made of a stronger alloy than sprocket nose bars to match the tougher intended use cases. They are often also solid, i.e. machined of a single steel sheet, as opposed to the laminated construction typical in sprocket nose bars.
Although there are no mechanisms inside, the tip of a hard nose bar may be further reinforced by special coating or a harder alloy than the rest of the bar. These construction details are designed in to offset the high loading and wear potential of the tip area when the chain load is not supported by a sprocket, but instead slides and rubs on the bar surface.
Advantages of hard nose bars
The lack of a sprocket makes a hard nose bar more robust than a sprocket nose bar: there is no mechanism or bearing to jam, wear or clog up. This makes the bar more reliable to operate in dirty conditions.
The choice of harder steel alloys for hard nose bars also makes the entire bar less prone to rail wear or damage by bending or twisting.
A hard nose can also be re-machined or dressed allover to counter the effects of wear. Dressing a worn bar may give it a new quota of runtime and extend its life by many times.
A sprocket nose bar, by contrast, can be only dressed around the side sections, but not the nose, as dressing the nose section would compromise the chain contact on the bar rails. While a worn sprocket nose can be replaced in some bar models, nose wear more often forces you to discard the bar.
3 Chain compatibility
The lack of a nose sprocket makes a hard nose bar compatible with chains of any pitch: there is nothing in the bar that cares about the chain link spacing.
NB. Note that having the correct chain gauge is still necessary.
Downsides of hard nose bars
The hard nose bar obviously comes with a number of drawbacks, of which I list the three most important:
1 Higher power draw
Hard nose bars take more saw power to run than standard sprocket nose bars. The reason to this is the sliding chain contact around the tip of a hard nose bar, which applies more frictional drag to the chain than the rolling contact on a sprocket nose bar.
2 Lower allowed chain tension
Hard nose bars often require lower chain tension than sprocket nose bars to counter the higher friction and drag around the bar nose. Low chain tension is not desirable in general as it causes uneven bar wear and sometimes even chain instability.
Finding a low but still safe chain tension for a hard nose bar requires expertise and makes these bars more suited to professional use.
3 High price
The solid, single-piece construction and higher-grade steel material make hard nose bars somewhat more expensive than sprocket nose.
Sprocket nose vs. Hard nose
The short comparison table below gives you a quick overview of the relative properties of hard nose and the standard sprocket nose bars:
|Property||Sprocket nose||Hard nose|
|Chain tension||optimal||keep low|
|Applications||most use||dirty conditions|
When should I use a hard nose bar?
As a general rule, a hard nose bar is useful in abrasive or dirty conditions. These are conditions where your chain and bar come into contact with sand, soil, gravel, metal or fiber materials, and would include for example:
- Sawing logs that have been lying, rolled or dragged on (sandy) ground
- Logs or lumber that have been embedded in the ground (piles, railroad ties, fence posts, etc.)
- Sawing stumps or roots
- Sawing on a sandy beach (sand will be in the bark)
- Sawing at waterline
- Rescue work: sawing mixed materials
Note that although useful, a hard nose bar not absolutely required even in abrasive conditions. You can mostly get by with a sprocket nose bar, but will carry a greater risk of bar issues.
When NOT to use a hard nose bar?
The truth is that most sawing tasks are best done with a sprocket nose bar. I would still pick a few areas where hard nose bars most clearly bring no benefit at all:
- Sawing clean wood: Hard nose gives no advantage in felling, delimbing, or bucking clean wood, neither in cutting clean firewood. On the contrary: a sprocket nose gives you lower friction, power draw and heating.
- Milling: A hard nose bar gives no advantage in milling, unless you are milling dirty wood. In my experience, milling is actually a task where the lower friction of a sprocket nose bar is particularly valuable.
Stihl hard nose bars
Stihl offers hard nose bars in their Duromatic line of guide bars. The Duromatic bars are solid high-strength steel throughout and come with a specially treated, non-replaceable solid nose section.
The Duromatic nose sections are either plated with a carbide alloy (large 3002 and 3003 mounts) or a separate hard alloy insert laser-welded into place (3005 mount carving bar).
The table below lists the Duromatic bar models with mount, pitch and gauge and available lengths. The data is based on what I could gather from Stihl’s regional websites and bar guides (which don’t always agree).
|Mount||Pitch & |
|Duromatic E||3003||& .063”||16”|
|Duromatic E||3002||& .063”||21”|
If you want to check which of the Duromatic bars fit your Stihl saw, see my article on Stihl bar fit. You can also fit some of these bars on a Husqvarna saw, guide and instructions in a previous article.
Note that the Duromatic bars are a specialty item and the availability seems to vary a lot by region and time. For example:
- Stihl USA lists only the Duromatic C carving bar, not the larger Duromatic E’s.
- Stihl International goes the other way around: Duromatic E’s listed (up to 36”), but no Duromatic C’s.
- Stihl UK lists Duromatic E’s only in two (very long) lengths: 41” and 48” – the shorter ones are not listed, and neither are the carving bars.
I cannot tell whether this reflects the reality in each region – asking your local dealer is probably the only way to find out.