Why The Best Fuel Type For Tools Doesn’t Come From The Pump

Using Premium Gas in Small Engines to Prevent Long-Term Damage

Why The Best Fuel Type For Tools Doesn’t Come From The Pump

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The best fuel type for tools used to be your standard pump gas from the local gas station. Unfortunately, that’s changed. What’s even more unfortunate is that it changed back in 2007 and few consumers know it.

What Changed

Ethanol-blended gasoline has become a staple of the American fuel station, which is excellent in the appropriate blend in an engine that’s built to run on it. Unfortunately, most consumers are unaware of the damaging effects of these fuels, primarily when used in chainsaws, lawnmowers, and even your small farm generator.

Why It Changed

In 2007 the Energy Independence and Security Act was signed into law in America. Part of that act requires a certain amount of renewable fuels to be used nationally, such as ethanol-blended gasoline and biodiesel. The general solution to this requirement was to sell E10 (10 percent ethanol/ 90 percent gasoline) motor fuel across the board at fill stations, which has become the new standard.

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Ethanol And Water

Ethanol is an interesting product with several qualities that play a role in its use as a motor fuel. First, ethanol is an alcohol, and alcohol absorbs water. The ability to absorb water is a good thing for automotive fuel in cold climates.

While the day to day ambient temperature rises and falls, condensation naturally forms in gas tanks, adding water to your gasoline. We once had to use “gas line anti-freeze” (which was alcohol, or something similar) to prevent water from freezing in our fuel lines when the temperatures dropped below freezing, but now it’s an obsolete product because our pump gas already has ethanol in it; not a bad thing.

E10 is the most common engine fuel sold in America, but it doesn’t play nice with small engines.

Ethanol In Storage

The flip side to the water-absorbent quality of ethanol is; when you store ethanol-blended gasoline for an extended period, it absorbs ambient moisture from the environment, adding water to your fuel.

Phase Separation

In addition to absorbing water, ethanol fuel blends will stratify (separate) itself from the gasoline, causing what people refer to as “ethanol sludge” in the bottom of fuel tanks, which is terrible for your engine. This stratification of fuel is also known as “phase separation.”

Ethanol And Oil

For those of us using an oil-gas mix for our two-stroke engines, we have another issue. As the ethanol stratifies, it also dramatically reduces the fuel’s lubricity, or ability to lubricate the engine it’s feeding. Two-stroke engines rely on the oil and gas mix to survive, and with compromised fuel, they will wear out internally and fail at the least convenient time.

Rubber Beware

Ethanol is also a solvent. Solvents do terrible things to rubber, plastic and even fiberglass gel coat. Running ethanol fuel in your small engine will eat essential components such as your fuel lines and seals. The junk it produces will plug up your fuel filters and carburetors if the fuel can even make it that far. I’ve pulled tools out of storage only to find that the fuel pickup line in the tank had dissolved into oblivion over the winter. This is a big reason why pump gas is not the best fuel type for tools.


When ethanol-blended fuel stratifies, corrosion inside the fuel system ensues. Small engines still use carburetors to mix fuel and air before it’s ignited in the engine, and that’s where you’ll usually find the most corrosion damage. It’s not uncommon for people to buy a new power tool, run it on pump gas for the season, leave ethanol fuel in the fuel system over the winter and have to change the carburetor come spring. Your average consumer chocks it up to poor manufacturing, but the failure was their own doing, unwitting as it may have been.

Best Fuel Type For Tools

The best fuel type for tools is premium, non-ethanol gasoline. Non-ethanol gasoline or “tool fuel” is straight gasoline or gasoline premixed with two-stroke oil for your convenience. Tool fuel is more expensive than pump fuel, but it’s the best way to prevent damage and prolong the life of your small engine.

Tool Fuel or “Straight Gas” is sold in many auto parts stores, farm stores, and power shops.

Tool Fuel

Tool fuel is the best fuel type for tools, but there are a few other perks to using it besides preventing long-term damage. Tools you run with tool fuel are more reliable and fail less often. To those of us who live in the woods, when a tree falls across your driveway after a big snow storm, you need that saw to run. Reliability is a huge deal in that context. Tools that run tool fuel also start easier and run smoother, which saves you time and effort. Having your saw start on the first pull is very rewarding and saves lots of frustration, and your shoulder.

Where To Find Tool Fuel

Tool fuel is generally available at your local hardware store, farm store, and many local automotive parts stores. Tool fuel is also available at your local power shop. If you’re swinging by a power shop, be sure to check out some chainsaw safety gear while you’re at it (you know you should have it, but I’m willing to bet you don’t). If you’re thinking of buying a chainsaw while you’re there, check out our chainsaw ratings online before you buy. Expect to find tool fuel sold in steel quart or gallon cans. If you have a local retailer that sells racing fuels, check with them to see if they sell larger quantities, such as five-gallon cans.

Find It At The Pump

Alternatively, the Energy Independence and Security Act did not specifically require that gas stations exclusively sell blended ethanol fuels. Some gas stations offer regular non-ethanol gasoline at the pump, usually in a high octane rating. If you have a local station that sells this, you’re lucky and likely in a cold northern climate, or an area that serves a lot of racing customers.

Professionals Use It

Many construction companies, tree companies, and landscapers use tool fuel to cut maintenance costs, downtime, and reduce time wasted trying to start stubborn tools. Time is money after all.

Firefighters rely on many tools that are gas operated too, such as specialized roof saws, portable pumps and even some jaws of life systems. My local fire station has switched over to tool fuel to keep these tools operating reliably, and we exclusively run it in all our small engines.

Have you experienced failures due to ethanol-blended fuel? Have you already moved over to tool fuel? Let us know in the comments below!

7 thoughts on “Why The Best Fuel Type For Tools Doesn’t Come From The Pump”
  1. Yes i have. I bought a professional quality chainsaw and the second year the engine seized up. My repair shop traced it back to the fuel. I travelled almost an hour to get ethanol free gas to use in all my equipment. Now the local gas stations are carrying it. Since i made the switch everything runs better and no more problems.

    1. Yikes! That’s an expensive lesson Earl, sorry that happened. I’ve noticed tool fuel has become more common within the last year or so too, which is good for us. Hopefully, more people learn about it before they find out the hard way.

  2. I’ve found that fuel stations in towns with heavy fishing small craft boat use have non ethanol. Or marinas (mire expensive).

    1. It stands to reason Scott, ethanol absorbs water and makes for a poor fuel in watercraft. How is it labeled at the marina? I presume it’s considered off-road fuel at the least.

  3. Pennsylvania sawyer here…Ethanol free is the ONLY fuel in my saws. AND my weed eater, splitter, chipper/mulcher, generator, even my Harley…E10 fuel is junk for tools and storage, E15 is poison

  4. Airports… the local airport will have this product. We just spent about $5 for a couple of gallons which would have been about $15 at the supply store.

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