Ask any manly man “why were chainsaws invented?” and they’ll probably tell you something along the lines of: it was made to fell grand trees, or because science does whatever it wants.
I mean, in a way, it’s kind of obvious: chainsaws make relatively quick work of even the mightiest of trunks, and while they aren’t exactly instruments of absolute precision, they are some of the effective, and efficient, tools in any woodworker’s arsenal. It’s also probably the manliest tool that you could learn how to use. While women have makeup and other self-care essentials, give a man a chainsaw and he’ll know the true meaning of happiness.
At least, that’s what the Patriarchy wants us to believe.
That being said, the history behind the ‘manly man’s’ favorite loud and thundering hand-held woodchopper is actually kind of horrible.
Why Were Chainsaws Invented? It Wasn’t for Wood
The chainsaw was invented to assist childbirth. No, we’re not kidding: the first-ever recorded instance of a rudimentary chainsaw was from 1806 when Scottish doctors John Aitken and James Jeffray decided that regular C-sections were far too deadly at the time, and they needed something that will safely assist them in the procedure.
Their device, which was based on the inner workings of a watch chain with the saw’s teeth being manually turned by a hand crank, was meant to make very quick work of flesh, muscle, tissue, sinew, and of course bone, in a woman’s groin area.
Let that sink in for a moment: chainsaws were invented to literally saw pregnant women open through their groins. If anything, that makes it even more badass, albeit gross.
But wait! Before you say “men of ye olden times were so cruel to women!”, let us clarify.
Why Were Chainsaws Used for Childbirth?
Any dad who has seen the birth of their child knows that, with the magic of your wife struggling to give life to your baby, there’s a lot of blood, guts, urine, and fecal matter. Before you gag, know that, hey: this is all completely natural.
But what happens when women need a C-section. In most cases, this is when they ask dad to step out of the room so that doctors can go about saving both your wife and your child’s life. A C-section often involves doctors literally cutting the pregnant woman open, pushing organs and visceral matter aside, and then cutting out your baby from the womb. Of course, they do all of this as safely as possible, and they sew everything back up lickety-split.
C-sections are pretty common; in fact, 1 in 3 women in the country will undergo a C-section for their baby. That being said, C-sections are also ridiculously dangerous. Yes, deaths from a Caesarean section are very rare, it does have a highly increased risk of women developing some sort of complication, from severe blood loss, a clot in a vein, infections, etc.
But thanks to modern science, we’ve brought down these risks to as low as we can possibly go. Sure, it still involves cutting open a woman and yanking the baby out manually, but it is, generally safe.
Note, however, that we said “modern science”: back in the 1800s, all they had were rusty blades and a whole lot of gumption.
When Did They Stop Using Chainsaws for Childbirth?
Despite its creation in 1806, the chainsaw didn’t become a staple of medicine, for obvious reasons. Although they were created with the express intent of cutting open a woman’s abdominal wall as safely and as quickly as possible, it was still an extremely traumatic and damaging piece of equipment.
Prior to modern medicine and the codification of the C-section as a legitimate medical procedure, doctors performed a now-rare procedure called the symphysiotomy.
In common parlance, the symphysiotomy is the cutting of the symphysis, a joint in the area of the pubis above the vulva that’s made up of cartilage. This is done to widen the pelvis further and thus make it easier for the woman to push out the baby. If that sounds horrifying, well, that’s because it is.
Take note that this was the norm prior to the mid-18th century, at a time when antiseptics or doctors who wash their hands were common. While symphysiotomy could be done safely, speed was of the absolute essence: the less time doctors spent sawing things and opening things up, the less they can worry about infections.
Chainsaws were invented to help speed up the process, and while it was effective in doing that, it caused too much damage to the bone and trauma to the surrounding muscles that it, thankfully, did not catch on.
Also, did we mention this was done without anesthetics?
What Is a Chainsaw Used For Today?
Because of the horrifying implications of using a chainsaw on someone’s genitals, but because chainsaws were pretty efficient, it was used in removing limbs, an all-too-common procedure back in the 19th century because of gangrene and infections. At some point, someone decided that the hand-crank just wasn’t making the teeth cut flesh fast enough, so they strapped on a rudimentary motor, and thus the modern chainsaw was born.
However, it wasn’t until a century later, back in 1905, that someone thought “hey, maybe we should stop using chainsaws on people and start using it on oak!”, a decision that has, thankfully, caught on.
So the next time someone says that chainsaws are manly, you can furiously agree with them, although it’s best to remind them that it was women who endured them first.