Background photo of the beach at Whale Cove was made by Bryce Buchanan in 2004. (Via WikiMedia Commons, cc/by/SA)
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It didn’t take him long to figure out that he was onto something.
The crosscut saws that were then the state of the art worked on the principle of a sharp knife-point scratching at the wood. One blade would scratch at one side of the kerf, another would scratch at the other side, and the squared-off raker teeth would drag away the loosened wood.
The problem was, this “scratcher saw” principle didn’t work very well at high speeds. The blades did less cutting on each pass, and they got dull much faster — so sharpening chainsaw blades was a huge and tedious part of any mechanized operation.
Working from the basic design of a timber worm’s jaws, Joe doped out a cutting chain that looked similar to a motorcycle drive chain with a cutting tooth sticking out every few links. The cutting teeth were hook-shaped chisels that would bite into the wood and essentially carve away chips; and those chips were big enough and clean enough that rakers weren’t necessary to clear them out of the kerf. Finding that the chisels tended to grab too much wood, Joe added a bump in the metal just in front of the chisel on each link; by filing down the bump (“gauge”) he could control how big a bite each chisel took.
Joe immediately filed a patent on his design, then spent some time in the basement refining it. It took him a while to get it to market — he wasn’t a rich man, although he soon would be — but finally, in 1947, he launched his company, calling it Oregon Saw Chain Corp., with a payroll of four employees helping him assemble chains in the basement of his house.
TEN YEARS LATER, Joe’s company all but owned the market. Their operation had moved to a big facility on the outskirts of Portland, and their sales force was selling overseas; the name of the company had been shortened to Omark, although the chain still was stamped “OREGON.” By then, of course, reliable lightweight aluminum two-stroke engines had been developed; and one of those, linked to one of Joe Cox’s “bug chains,” constituted a modern chainsaw.
Today, with the exception of some specialized applications, basically every chainsaw in operation uses Joe’s “bug chain.” The patents have expired, of course, so every manufacturer is free to make the stuff; but Omark’s Oregon Saw Chain is still the original and the market leader.