Were Chainsaws Invented To Cut Trees or Help with Childbirth?


Ask anyone why were chainsaws invented and they will tell you for cutting wood. But what if we say you are wrong? Embrace yourself because you are about to learn some weirdest things about chainsaws!

Why was the chainsaw invented? Chainsaws that we use for cutting wood were originally invented to help with childbirth. No, we are not kidding!

No matter how weird or brutal it sounds, that’s the truth.

If you are intrigued to learn more about the chainsaw original use, then you should give this article a read.

History of Chainsaw and Its Original Use

Originally, he chainsaw was invented in the 1780s by two Scottish surgeons named James Jeffray and John Aitken. They designed this device to help them cut human flesh and bone.

Childbirth is itself a painful experience. Nobody in the right sense of mind will ever say that it is a pleasant experience. In the 18th century, before the development of anesthesia and other modern surgical tools, child delivery was a dangerous process.

If the bodies of babies were trapped in the birth canal or they came out feet-first, doctors would have to widen the pelvic area. This was done by cutting into the bone and cartilage. Back then doctors relied on sharp knives to get the job done. However, it didn’t make things easier. This is when Jeffray and Aitken invented a shocking device called the chainsaw. According to them, it was a more precise and humane option.

This particular procedure was known as a symphysiotomy. Back then it was considered to be a safe process for child delivery. Thankfully, this method is no longer in use. Today, we have advanced surgical tools and anesthesia that help make child delivery much safer and easier. But we still have the chainsaw, which is now used for cutting wood and trees.

Well, now you know the original use for a chainsaw. Many of you must be shocked after learning this interesting fact. But that’s how things were back then.

Evolution of the Chainsaw

It was in the 1830s that another version of the chainsaw was invented by a German orthopedist named Bernhard Heine. This was also meant to be used in surgeries.

He called his chainsaw the osteotome, which is derived from the Greek word osteo meaning bone, and tomy meaning cut.  

It was not before the 20th century that people began to realise that chainsaws could be used outside of medicine as well.

The first patent for an electric chainsaw was granted to Samuel J Bens, a man from San Francisco in 1905. The first electric chainsaw was produced in 1926 and was patented by Andreas Stihl. 

Most of the early chainsaws were huge. They were so big that it took at least two men to handle it. But chainsaws evolved dramatically after the Second World War. This was possible due to improvements made in the engine and aluminium design that made them lighter. Today, we have chainsaws available in different sizes.

What is symphysiotomy?

Symphysiotomy is a procedure that was carried out on pregnant women before, during, or after birth. This is an old procedure performed by doctors before Caesarean Section.

This procedure involves slicing through the ligaments and cartilage of a pelvic joint to widen it. It was done, so the baby could be delivered unobstructed. But this was a risky procedure as it involved the risk of bladder and urethral injury, pain, infection, and other long-term difficulties.

Symphysiotomies was a routine procedure for women experiencing an obstructed labor in 1597. But with the rise of maternal death, it became less frequent in the late 20th century. 

According to estimates, around 1500 women without consent underwent symphysiotomies in Ireland between the period 1944 and 1987.

Why was chainsaw used for childbirth?

You must be wondering why were chainsaws invented for childbirth. Before the use of the C-section, all babies had to pass through the birth canal. But sometimes babies get obstructed there if they are too large.

When babies would get stuck in the pelvis, parts of cartilage and bone were removed to widen the passage. This process, as you already know, is called “symphysiotomy.” 

This process was originally performed by hand using a small saw and knife. But the worst part is that it was done with anesthesia in the middle of giving birth. It was not only painful for women, but it also took more time. It is needless to mention that it was a messy procedure.

In the 1780s, two doctors named John Aitken and James Jeffray invented the chainsaw. They wanted to make the process of childbirth easier and less painful and that’s how they came up with the chainsaw invention.

Back in the day, chainsaws were small in size. It looked like a modern-day kitchen knife with little teeth on a chain. You will be surprised to know that this tool was a success. It continued to be used till the 19th century.

Besides childbirth, this tool was also used for amputations and other bone-cutting operations during surgery. This continued until medical surgical tools were invented.

Later, the chainsaw evolved into a wood cutting tool. As people started realising how easy it was to cut trees with it, they increased the size of the tool. The chainsaw was made bigger and more powerful. It eventually evolved into a dangerous tool that we use today. 

In the modern world, symphysiotomies are no longer performed. However, it still happens in some of the “Third World” countries where they don’t have an operating room and the right tools for carrying out caesarian sections.

When did they stop using chainsaws for childbirth?

Now that you know the original use for a chainsaw, you would want to know when they stopped using it for childbirth.

They used the medical chainsaw for childbirth in the West and it continued till the late 1800s. The 1830 chainsaw was an improved version of what was used in the 1700s.

The medical chainsaw is no longer in use. It is replaced by modern surgical tools that make child delivery much easier and safer. However, there are still some countries in the world, where you can find them using this brutal tool for childbirth. Yes, we are talking about Third World countries where cesarean is not possible. The Gigli saw mostly overtook the use of the original medical chainsaws.

Both the Gigli saw and the chainsaw were also used for amputating limbs. But they were originally invented for helping out women having trouble delivering their babies. 

Tik Tok Video on the First Chainsaw

If you have TikTok, then you can try and search for the video that shows the original use of a chainsaw. This video went viral on TikTok as people were both shocked and amazed to learn the real use of a chainsaw.

This video turned the invention of chainsaw into a huge trending topic on the platform. For most people, it was a horrific truth that they learned through this video. 

This TikTok user who shared the video also talks about Bernhard Heine who designed another version of the chainsaw in the 1830s. It was an improved version of the 1780s chainsaw.


Final Words

Well, now you know why were chainsaws invented. Since the 1780s, the chainsaw has come a long way. It has been dramatically improved and evolved into a powerful wood cutting tool. Except for a few Third World countries, medical chainsaws are no longer in use. Modern-day chainsaws are available in different sizes and are used for cutting woods and trees.

FAQs about Chainsaw invention

When did they stop using chainsaws for childbirth?

The use of a medical chainsaw for childbirth was dubbed a symphysiotomy. This procedure lasted through much of the 19th century until C-sections grew in popularity.

When was the 1st chainsaw invented?

The first-ever chainsaw was invented in the 1780s by two Scottish surgeons named John Aitken and James Jeffray. John Aitken was a surgeon in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and also gave medical lectures and demonstrations to university students. James Jeffray was a professor of Anatomy and Botany at Glasgow University.

What are chainsaws used for?

Chainsaws were once used for childbirth and amputations. But in the modern days, it is treated as a gardening tool and is used for chopping wood and trees. 

How do chainsaws work?

A chainsaw works by spinning a chain of teeth or blades around a guide bar quickly to tear through the wood. It has high speed and delivers a powerful performance. Together, the guide bar and the chain are referred to as the chain assembly which is powered by a motor.

What is the origin of the chainsaw?

The first chainsaw was invented in the 1780s by two Scottish surgeons named John Aitken and James Jeffray. Back then it was used for medical purposes like childbirth and limb amputation.

When was the gas-powered chainsaw invented?

It was a German mechanical engineer, Andreas Stihl who developed a gas-powered chainsaw version in 1929. But Emil Lerp, founder of Dolmar Chainsaw Company, had already begun manufacturing gas-powered chainsaws in 1927.

What is the best Husqvarna chainsaw ever made?

The best Husqvarna chainsaw is the Husqvarna 445 Gas Chainsaw. It is a powerful device powered by gas.