At one time or another you’re probably going to find yourself needing a chainsaw for some reason. Maybe a storm snapped off a large branch and it’s hanging against your eaves or maybe you’re a superhero who regularly clears hiking trails in your spare time.
Once you’ve found a need and own a chainsaw, you’ll probably invent uses for it. They are an invaluable tool both for their cutting power and versatility.
Gas vs. Electric vs. Battery
Chainsaws come with one of three different power plants: gas, electric (with a cord), and battery-operated. Each platform has its strengths and weaknesses which will require you to really think about how you want or intend to use your chainsaw.
Gas is classic. It rumbles, it’s noisy, and it’s the most powerful of the three which makes cutting much easier. Because these are a more powerful breed, gas chainsaws are capable of handling heavier work and require more maintenance. Gas is also the most mobile, which means if you plan to use your chainsaw at any distance away from a power source, gas will be your best bet.
Gas is also the loudest and requires the most work to get it started. This can be tedious at best and exhausting at worst. For this reason, some may see the way gas starts as a deal breaker. Gas chainsaws are typically heavier and there is the ongoing cost of fuel and maintenance to be considered.
Electric is very clean, quieter than gas, and requires little maintenance. Generally, electric chainsaws tend to be lighter than gas and starting them is as simple as pulling a trigger. They are also capable of handling jobs ranging from light to medium, with some models capable of even some heavy-duty work.
But you are very limited in your mobility. You can only go as far as your extension cord will let you and you’ll also have an extension cord dangling around. That’s something else you’ll have to manage and be extra aware you don’t cut into it. Using a chainsaw already requires your full attention.
To get the best performance out of your electric chainsaw you’ll need a quality extension cord of the proper gauge and probably a minimum of 50-foot of it. If you don’t have a cord laying around, you’ll have to buy one and, depending on what your saw needs, it can get pretty expensive.
A battery powered chainsaw is best suited for light to medium work on a limited basis. These saws don’t have the power of either a gas or electric but can still be as expensive or more expensive than both gas and electric equivalents due to the cost of the batteries and chargers.
However, they are still very clean, easy to run, and you can take them all the places you could a gas chainsaw so long as you understand the limitations on the battery runtime. But once you run out of juice you’ll be taking a long break unless you have additional batteries on backup.
Chainsaws are amazing but make no mistake, they are also dangerous. Especially so, if you don’t know what you’re doing or get cocky with one. Chainsaws are responsible for thousands of injuries every year. They command and deserve a healthy amount of respect.
For most people, the greatest source of danger with a chainsaw is kickback. Kickback on a chainsaw occurs one of two ways. The first is if the chain gets pinched between the material it’s cutting and causes the saw to drive backward into the handler.
The second way is if the tip of the bar comes into contact with something. This is the more dangerous form of kickback. Because all the torque from the chain suddenly stopping gets transferred to the body of the chainsaw, the chainsaw wants to flip back at the saw handler, presumably with the throttle still held down. You begin to see where this is going, literally.
All this happens in the blink of an eye and if you don’t have a firm grip or you’ve let your mind wander from the task at hand the situation becomes far worse.
This is why a chain brake on a chainsaw is important. The chain brake is a pressure trigger positioned in front of the left-hand grip. If kickback occurs and the saw attempts to flip, the chain brake is activated by the back of the hand or wrist of the handler which stops the chain almost instantly. Not all chainsaws have this. On some it is just a guard, so that is why it is important to read up on the specific chainsaw you intend to purchase.
Using a chainsaw can wear out your hands quickly in large part due to the vibration of the saw. This can affect your ability to hold onto the saw which means you don’t have as much control and if a kickback occurred at this time it would be that much worse.
To save your hands you may want to take regular breaks. Some chainsaws come with an anti-vibration system but it’s also a good idea to invest in a pair of vibration reducing gloves. Chaps that cover your legs, a helmet, and eye/ear protection are also a good investment. As with most things in life, the safest way to avoid getting yourself hurt is to minimize your risk to begin with.
The best piece of safety equipment you have is your head, so use that first. Pay attention to what you’re doing, don’t take unnecessary risks, and if you feel like something is unsafe, it probably is.
Best Small Battery-Operated Chainsaw
Black & Decker LCS1240
The Black & Decker LCS1240 is a surprisingly capable and determined machine and is a nice surprise for a battery-operated chainsaw. You certainly won’t be felling any redwoods but it can handle most any task a typical homeowner will run into.
In addition to handling any trimming and brush clearing, the LCS1240 can process logs for firewood and even fell small to medium sized trees with a little patience.
The chainsaw itself uses a 12” low-kickback bar and chain, which is good because you won’t find a chain brake on this one, and weighs just 8.3lbs. The motor runs on the same 40-volt, 2.0Ah MAX Lithium-Ion battery used by Black & Decker in other products which is a big plus if you have other battery-operated tools from Black & Decker.
The battery will make about 60 cuts or run for roughly 50 minutes of constant use before needing to be recharged. The LCS1240 has some nice features such as a tool-less chain tensioner and an automatic oiler. The automatic oiler seems to be a source of complaints as some have said it appears to leak, not just weep oil after use, but full-on leak where it doesn’t oil the bar/chain at all.
Overall, if you stay within the limits of what the LCS1240 is capable of doing, and that should be plenty for most homeowners, this is a delightful tool to have around.
The best way to describe the Makita XCU02Z is “battery-powered beast mode” as it is capable of handling much more than its 36-volts (two 18-volt LXT Lithium-Ion batteries) would leave you to believe. Makita has a reputation for producing excellent tools and this chainsaw is no exception.
The powerful motor cranks the chain up to 1650 FPM and chews through even medium trees and logs with gusto. It can even handle the normal trimming, pruning, and brush clearing jobs. At 10.1lbs it feels a little beefier but is still light enough to be easily maneuvered.
The XCU02Z uses a 12” bar and runs relatively quiet. It also has a tool-less chain tensioner, automatic oiler, and a chain brake for your safety. The main downside to the XCU02Z is it is expensive.
The base price does not include the batteries or a charger which can cost as much or more than the chainsaw itself and slips this one to the top of the list. However, if you already own battery-operated Makita tools on the 18-volt platform this is less of a hurdle.
Best Small Electric Chainsaw
This is the powerlifting older brother to the XCU02Z. Sure, they might be from the same family, they even look similar, but when you need a refrigerator moved into your third-floor apartment we know who you’re gonna call first.
Beyond professional tree felling and processing, there is not much this chainsaw can’t handle. It has a 14” bar and a powerhouse 15-amp motor capable of ripping the chain at a psychotic 2900 FPM. And if you somehow manage to push this saw too far there is a built-in limiter to avoid burning the motor out.
This chainsaw runs smoothly and can handle heavy, regular work. It has a tool-less chain tensioner and an automatic oiler that is designed to work across multiple viscosities of different chainsaw oils.
The UC3551A is reasonably expensive considering you will need a long (at least 50ft), 10 to 12-gauge extension cord to run this chainsaw optimally. That will add significantly to the overall cost. I’m a fan of the buy nice or buy twice mentality, but for many this is a pretty significant investment for a tool that may far exceed their typical usage needs.
Remington Limb N’ Trim RM1425
With the Remington Limb N’ Trim RM1425 we jump to the other end of the spectrum in electric chainsaws. This is a light duty chainsaw that is a surprisingly capable cutter. It’s best suited for smaller jobs such as trimming, pruning, clearing brush, felling very small trees, and processing smaller diameter logs into firewood.
The RM1425 has a 14” low-kickback bar and chain powered by an 8-amp motor and is an incredibly light 6.25lbs. This makes it very easy to use even for novices. The features are all pretty basic: the chain tensioner is side access which requires a tool to adjust, the oiler is manual, and there is no chain brake.
Overall, the RM1425 is a very affordable and capable chainsaw for most homeowners. It will still require a decent 12 to 16-gauge extension cord, which again will add to the cost but with and understanding of what the RM1425 is capable of and a little patience, it can accomplish an awful lot.
Best Small Gas Chainsaw
There are seemingly few well-built, well-reviewed gas chainsaws in the 14” bar or below market. It would seem most manufacturers are content to leave this to the realm of battery-operated and electric to dominate. Having said that the Echo CS-310 more than fills a need for those hungry for a gas chainsaw in this size.
The CS-310 with its 14” bar and grunty 30.5cc engine will rip through even larger diameter lumber with authority and it’s still light enough (8.8lbs) to use for pruning and trimming. The engine uses the Echo i-30 system which makes it easier to start but it still won’t be as easy to jump into as battery-operated or electric. Same thing for noise level. It’s quiet as far as gas goes but when compared to battery or electric it’s two different beasts.
As far as features, the CS-310 continues to present itself as nearly pro-grade equipment. It uses an automatic oiler and side access chain tensioner. For safety and comfort, it has a vibration-reduction system and a chain brake.
Sure, it won’t start or run as quiet as battery or electric and there is quite a bit more maintenance with a gas but there is something so satisfying about the rev of a gas chainsaw, especially when it chews through lumber like a half-starved beaver.
A chainsaw is a great tool to have around your property and for the majority of homeowners a small one is going to be sufficient for most anything you’ll run into. Most won’t be pulling the chainsaw out regularly but maybe a few times a year.
This gives an edge to the battery-operated and electric chainsaws because they’re cleaner and require less maintenance, yet they are capable of doing almost anything you can dream up that’s sensible for you to do. What’s important is you buy the best tool your budget will allow and meets your needs.