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Why Were Chainsaws Invented? The Shocking Truth

Ever wondered why the chainsaw was invented? Many people assume it was to make tree cutting easier. It couldn't be further from the truth. Find why it was invented.

The chainsaw was invented to assist in childbirth. Yes, you read that right. Before the invention of the C-section, women would sire kids naturally. However, if the kid was too big or breech and the birth canal got obstructed, causing the baby to get stuck in the pelvis. The chainsaw was invented to help midwives create more space in the birth canal during delivery.

How babies were delivered in ancient times

As mentioned earlier, women would give birth to babies naturally. Sadly the process was not always smooth for women with small pelvises and those with breech babies. As a result, doctors would perform a symphysiotomy, a procedure used to enlarge the birth canal and naturally deliver the baby.

It was a pretty grueling process as it involved removing parts of the pelvis bone and cartridge to create more space for the baby. The procedure temporarily increased the pelvic diameter by 2cm by dividing the cartilage of the pubic symphysis.

Severin Pineau, a French surgeon advocated for symphysiotomy in 1597 and had since become a routine procedure for women with obstructed labor. It was considered less dangerous than cutting a woman’s midsection.  

Essentially, the process was performed using a small knife and saw without local anesthesia. This means the procedure was excruciating as it was performed amid the mad throes of childbirth. Ghastly right?

The invention of the chainsaw

Later two Scottish doctors, James Jeffray and John Aitken, developed a more flexible saw to make symphysiotomy less excruciating. While the procedure presented many complications for obstetricians, the chainsaw became the go-to tool for the procedure. The chainsaw made the removal of the pelvic bone easier and less time-consuming.

The tool consisted of a fine serrated link chain which was held between two wooden handles. It looked like the modern-day knife but was powered by a hand crank. Still, it was terrifying as the procedure was performed with the patient fully conscious.

 Jeffray claimed he came up with the idea independently between the years 1783 and 1785 but was only able to invent the tool in 1790. The doctors also advocated using the chainsaw in making excisions of diseased joints, particularly on the elbow and the knee.

The saw created a smaller wound and protected the neurovascular bundle (the structure that binds nerves and veins with connective tissues).

Evolution of the chainsaw

Eventually, someone noticed that if the handy device could saw through bones it could cut trees. Larger versions of the hand-crank chainsaw were developed, and by the early 1900s, people could cut giant redwood trees using a chainsaw, an incredibly formidable task.

Canadian Millwright James Shand developed the first portable chainsaw. It was then re-invented by Festo, a German company, into a portable power tool. Other contributors to the modern chainsaw are Andreas Stihl and Joseph Cox, who developed the electric chainsaw used on bucking sites.

Admittedly, this history about the invention of chainsaws is rather disturbing. But we get to understand it was never invented to aid in tree cutting. While it’s use was discomfiting we can always appreciate that it led to the invention of the modern tree-cutting chainsaws.

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