Selecting a Stihl chainsaw chain is made challenging by the sheer number chains you have to choose from: at least 19 types, 11 pitch–gauge combinations and more than 20 lengths are currently available. The model names are also heavy in Stihl-specific jargon like Rapid, Picco, Super and PMM3.
This article explains the Stihl chain models, sizes and coding in plain language. The first table shows you which chain models are compatible with your saw if you know the proper pitch and gauge; the sizes and types are explained further down.
For a list of all Stihl chain models and links to products, see my Stihl chain data page.
Common Sizes & Types
I have listed the available general-purpose Stihl chains by pitch and gauge in the chart below. This table will have the right chain for you 95% of the time. Loop lengths listed on the data page.
What pitch and gauge?
Pitch means the length of the links in the chain; gauge is thickness of the shark fins on the drive links. The main thing: the chain pitch and gauge must match your saw and guide bar.
Stihl uses 6 different pitches (1/4P, 1/4″, 3/8P, .325″, 3/8″, .404″) and 4 gauges (.043″, .050″, .058″, .063″) in its normal chains. According to my counting, these are used in 11 different combinations in 2021, all mutually incompatible.
NB: 1/4P and 3/8P designate special low-profile (narrow kerf, NK) chains which Stihl calls Picco or Extended. These are not interchangeable with the standard 1/4″ and 3/8″ pitch chains, despite having nominally the same pitch. (Read more in my article on narrow kerf chains.)
Which cutter type?
Stihl gives you two basic cutter shapes in each size: semi-chisel (called Micro) and full-chisel (called Super). The cutter shape is encoded in the second letter of the model name:
- M for semi-chisel (e.g. 26 RM)
- S for full chisel (e.g. 26 RS)
If you’re not familiar with the difference, check my article on semi- and full-chisel chains. The bottom line: semi-chisel (PM/RM) is more practical for most users.
Some Stihl chains come with carbide cutters for which no cutter shape is specified; these have the designation ‘D’ in the second letter (e.g. 23 RD3) and are listed in the table as ‘carbide’. Long-lasting but difficult to sharpen, good for dirty wood.
Stihl also has a number of rarer cutter shapes and sequences used in specialist chains – see my Stihl chain data page.
Ready-made chain loops are available from Stihl for all standard bar lengths from 10″ up to 59″. The chain length is specified in drive links (DL), and depends on the bar length, chain pitch, bar mount and sometimes the saw model too. My chain length calculator tells you how many drive links you need for a certain bar.
Stihl chains are also available in reels, from which you can your own chain to length.
Most of the common Stihl chains come also in a low-kickback version, designated with ‘3’ in the model name, e.g. ‘RM3’ vs. ‘RM’ for the standard. These chains comply with ANSI B157.1 and are the recommended type for most users.
Stihl actually encodes the chain size and type into the model names, such as those listed in the table above. The next table shows you the most important Stihl chain code elements:
|[Gauge] –||[R/P] –||[Shape]-||[Special]|
|1 = 1/4″|
2 = .325″
3 = 3/8″
4 = .404″
6 = 3/8P
7 = 1/4P
|1 = .043″|
3 = .050″
5 = .058″
6 = .063″
0 = .080″
|P = Picco|
|M = semi-|
S = full chisel
D = carbide
3 = low kickback
Use example: ‘26 RM3‘ means a .325″ pitch, .063″ gauge, normal-sized semi-chisel (Rapid Micro) cutter chain with low kickback properties.
Ready-made chain loops for a particular bar length will have the number of drive links added to the end: e.g. 26 RM3 81 for a 81DL loop matching a 20″ bar.
Stihl chain size is also marked on the chains: the pitch digit is stamped on cutters, the gauge digit on the drive links. See photo below for the locations.