Why Were Chainsaws Invented?

Two surgeons from Scotland invented the chainsaw in the 1780s to help deliver children. Before C-sections, breech and large babies couldn’t pass through the vaginal canal without removing some of the pelvis’s bone and cartilage.

However, the original chainsaw is not as large as what you’re probably envisioning. Unlike modern chainsaws, the first version was much smaller and operated like a knife with a hand crank. The teeth were also smaller to make tinier cuts while the patient was awake.

If this all sounds a little gruesome, it was a painful and complicated process for women in labor. Known as a symphysiotomy, it was the only option to safely deliver a breech or large baby before C-sections became viable. Let’s examine why chainsaws were invented in more detail.

Who Invented the Chainsaw and Why?

John Aitken and his surgical partner, Dr. Jeffray, came up with the design for the original chainsaw. Both Scottish surgeons collaborated on the design of the tool as a way to make it easier to remove parts of the pelvis during childbirth.

The doctors invented the chainsaw in the late 1780s before C-sections were a sanitary and medically sound practice. Without another way to birth a baby, doctors had to make room within the pelvis so the baby could make it out of the vaginal canal. Otherwise, both the child’s and mother’s life would be put at greater risk.

The first chainsaw

What Was Involved in a Symphysiotomy?

The child birthing procedure that brought about the invention of the chainsaw is officially known as a symphysiotomy. Unbelievably, the procedure was done without local or general anesthesia. The mother was completely aware of what was happening and could feel the pain.

The chainsaw was used to cut through a pelvic joint’s ligaments and cartilage to make room for the baby to pass through. While a symphysiotomy reduced the risk of death of the baby or mother in childbirth, it did not come without risks.

Besides the discomfort and pain, a woman could sustain an injury to her bladder, develop an infection, or have long-term issues with walking.

The Modern Chainsaw Was Inspired by the Early Invention

The chainsaw you can pick up at your local home improvement store is much bigger and more powerful than the original. It would be unbearable to think of using something like it for a medical procedure.

However, the basic design of the chainsaws that cut down trees is 100% inspired by the first version. From the chain link with teeth to how it wraps around the saw’s blade, contemporary chainsaws resemble their predecessor.

While a motor substitutes for the hand crank, the way today’s chainsaws operate are remarkably similar. And they are both used to cut into something for the purpose of removing it or making space.

What Else Was the Original Chainsaw Used For?

Other than assisting with childbirth procedures, the original chainsaw was a medical tool for certain types of surgeries. Bone-cutting procedures and amputations benefited from the use of the Scottish surgeons’ invention.

Because people in and outside the medical field noticed how well the chainsaw could cut through things, it turned into a woodworking tool. If you know someone who enjoys woodcutting, you’re aware of how sharp and precise cuts have to be.

The original chainsaw’s teeth and hand crank allowed for both.

Are Symphysiotomies Still Performed?

In the United States and most developed countries, symphysiotomies are thankfully no longer performed. You would probably see even fewer women willing to undergo labor without some sort of local anesthesia or pain relief.

Today, the cesarian or C-section is the gold standard for delivering babies who can’t pass through the vaginal canal.

However, in some parts of the world symphysiotomies are still a reality. In areas where there aren’t hospitals or medical facilities to perform safe C-sections, symphysiotomies remain the only way to remove a baby that won’t pass.


The chainsaw was invented in 1780 by two Scottish surgeons who wanted to make the process of removing pelvic bone and cartridge easier. Women giving birth to breech or large babies needed to have part of their pelvic bones removed to make room.

While the modern chainsaw is much larger and more powerful than the original, its design resembles the early invention’s chain of teeth around the saw’s blade.

Thankfully, women can now give birth to large and breech babies under more humane procedures like the C-section. And the cutting power and practical design of the first chainsaw have found other purposes.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments