McCulloch Motors were far from being first with a one-man chainsaw when they introduced the McCulloch 3-25 in October 1949. But it was thanks to this revolutionary saw that they became an overnight success, with the brand making the biggest impression in early chainsaw history.
The late 40s saw a wave of new chainsaws from every possible manufacturer around the world. Time and technology development had in fact become ripe for a one-man chainsaw, a new acquaintance for forest workers, who until then had been forced to lug around bulky two-man models. At last, the mechanization of the forest industry could begin in earnest with the one-man chainsaw.
But seldom in this gold rush era for chainsaws did manufacturers develop their own products from their own technical solutions. Quite the contrary. Inspiration was borrowed and copied frequently – and it wasn't always easy to tell the copy from the original. There were exceptions of course. McCulloch Motors Corporation in California was one of them.
McCulloch's successes were mainly thanks to its founder, Robert P McCulloch and his tireless experimentation. Small, light engines were his specialty and during the 1930s, he had been building highly efficient engines for racing cars in mini format called midget cars.
During World War II he developed and manufactured twin-cylinder engines in remote-controlled training targets for fighter pilot training. Reducing the weight of these engines was a constant challenge – and it was the lessons he learned during this time that proved to be useful when developing chainsaws.But how did McCulloch start making chainsaws? Well, as was often the case at the time, you had to take advantage of every business opportunity without thinking "Does this fit our product portfolio?"
After the war, McCulloch Motors had entered into a multi-year agreement with Reed-Prentice for the delivery of chainsaw engines.
Two-man chainsaws were not new at all when McCulloch got into the game. The first commercial models had already been introduced in the 1920s but had not been a success. These saws were heavy, difficult to handle and unreliable – they also required two people to fell a tree, one holding a handle at the far end of the saw bar.
McCulloch's first two-man saws, which started to be delivered in July of 1948, were not an exception even though they weighed a little less than competitive brands.
Even though they were well built and functional, McCulloch realized that two-man chainsaws would never be a great success. So he continued to experiment with engines and materials. Finally, in October 1949, it was time to introduce the product that would revolutionize both the chainsaw industry as well as forestry.
This was the McCulloch 3-25, a one-man chainsaw that was much lighter than its predecessors, thanks largely to its shell of moulded aluminium. The saw weighed only 11.3kg with a 24-inch bar mounted – remarkably light at the time. But the engine was still strong enough to drive large bars and chains of up to 30 inches.
The saw could also be tilted and used in any position without having to re-adjust the bar thanks to a diaphragm carburettor that McCulloch was first to introduce. A front handle was also introduced in conjunction with this, together with a rear pistol grip that was soon to become an industry standard.
The McCulloch 3-25 made a great impact on the forestry industry, almost overnight. Price and weight were also sufficiently attractive to entice completely new groups of customers such as farmers and home-owners.
The basic design proved to be extremely well thought-out and McCulloch continued to make the 3-25 all the way through to March 1953, although details and materials were changed along the way. In total, over 112,000 saws were manufactured.
The McCulloch 3-25 was far from being perfect by today's standards, not when it comes to safety, ergonomics, noise levels or even efficiency. The historical significance of the saw remains undisputed however. The 3-25 marked the start of mechanized forestry in the USA – and by extension, the start of the McCulloch brand as it looks today.