With all the advancements of the modern-day chainsaws it can be quite a struggle to know what is the best brand and model to choose. We have spent thousands of hours reviewing chainsaws and compiling the top picks and prices to purchase.
The chainsaw has gone from a rather cumbersome tool designed to complete a specific task to one of near-ubiquity in the American tool shed. With models ranging in size and capabilities, people from weekend landscapers to professionals have come to see the chainsaw as an incredibly versatile tool.
What is a Chainsaw?
A chainsaw is a handheld tool that works by running a saw-toothed chain over a guide bar. Powered by either a gas or electric motor, the general design of all chainsaws is the same. The motor runs a chain over the length of a steel guide bar, creating the elongated chainsaw “blade.”
The chain features a similar design to that of a bike chain. Each segment of the chain features a steel tooth, similar to the tooth of a saw, that provides the actual cutting action when in motion.
Connected to the housing for the motor is a set of handles. One handle coming off the back is the main handle that will contain the power trigger for the machine. A second handle will generally be located across the top of the machine, meant to provide added balance and maneuverability for the operator.
Chainsaws can be either gas-powered or electric powered. Gas-powered models will generally offer more size and power, while electric models tend to be quieter and can sometimes offer more precision. Electric powered models will require a cord, as battery-powered models are not feasible given the power required.
The motor itself, if gas-powered, will be a two-stroke motor. This means that the engine will run on a mixture of gasoline and engine oil. Getting this mixture’s ratio correct will help to keep your saw running well and extend its lifespan. Starting these motors often involves a process of priming and cranking them till they’re running, similar to a lawnmower or weedwhacker.
Types of Chainsaws
With chainsaw design being essentially standard across the industry, the only real breakdown between types of chainsaws is the method of powering them. Between electric motors and gas-powered motors, each has its own set of benefits. Knowing what you need from your chainsaw will help you know which type is best for your needs.
Chainsaws that are electric-powered can come in two forms; battery-powered and corded. Battery-powered chain saws are fairly rare, as the nature of being powered by a battery limits both their power and the amount of time you can work in a given session.
Corded electric chainsaws offer several advantages to their gas-powered counterparts. For starters, they operate far more quietly than gas motors. This helps to cut down on the overall vibration of the machine and makes them far more maneuverable.
Corded electric chainsaws also offer no need for the use of gas, which means an almost infinite lifespan during any given work session. Electric chainsaws often come in smaller models, as they often lack power compared to gas-powered models.
The design of an electric motor allows it to rarely require lubrication or oil to be added to the engine itself. Whereas the gas-powered variety requires engine oil to be added to the fuel to help run the engine. Electric models come lubricated for life from the factory.
The decreased size and increased dexterity make them great options for residential use. For the homeowner that only needs a chainsaw for the occasional trimming of troublesome overhanging branches, an electric model is a great option.
The pros and cons of gas-powered chainsaws are essentially the opposite of those of the electric-powered models. Gas-powered engines tend to be bigger and provide more power in propelling the chain on the saw.
With this increased power comes more noise, however. The increased size also means they tend to run with a bit more turbulence, and larger models might be difficult to handle for the first-timer.
Additionally, these models require that you keep a fuel source on hand to allow for refueling should you run out. Not only that, this fuel needs to be properly mixed with engine oil to help lubricate the motor as it runs. Getting the ratio of the mixture wrong could mean damage to your chainsaw’s engine.
Still, increased power has its merits. This power is provided without the need for a cord, and with a supply of fuel on hand, you can pretty much go anywhere with this type of chainsaw. Because of their power, chainsaws have essentially replaced all other saws when it comes to the timbering industry.
If you’re looking to tackle larger jobs, like cutting up logs for firewood or clearing timber on your property, a gas-powered chainsaw is probably the right model for you.
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Cordless Electric Chainsaws
For those of us that are interested in having the freedom of portability with our chainsaw, are more environmentally conscious, or you just don’t want to deal with constantly refilling gas and oil, you would like a cordless electric chainsaw. Cordless chainsaws run off of a rechargeable battery, just like a cordless drill or cordless circular saw. A major drawback about cordless chainsaws is because they run on batteries, you’ll consistently require new batteries because you’ll have a limited amount of time to work before it is time to recharge or replace your battery to complete your job.
Greenworks 12-Inch 40V Cordless Chainsaw
What I like about the Greenworks Cordless Chainsaw
The cordless chainsaw is easier and quicker to use than a gas chainsaw for those quick cutting jobs of tree limbs, light sawing, or mainly cutting wood for the fire pit. Lacking in serious “kickback”, it has “just enough” power to get the job done.
What I don’t like about the Greenworks Cordless Chainsaw
Last update on 2020-10-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
If you’re needing a chainsaw with power, this just isn’t going to give you what you need in order to get the job done.
If you’re willing to give up additional portability for essentially an endless power source, a corded electric chainsaw should be your choice. Unlike the cordless electric chainsaw, in general, the corded electric chainsaws are quiet and lightweight. Corded electric chainsaws have similar power to low and mid-tier electric cordless models, but in general, the corded electric chainsaws are weaker than a gas chainsaw.
WORX WG304.1 Chain Saw 18-Inch 4 15.0 Amp
What I like about the WORX WG304.1
One of the initial aspects that I noticed is that the WORX is lighter in weight than a gas-powered chainsaw. Even though it’s lighter, it’s still fairly high powered it is much easier to start, much quieter, with just as much cutting power as most gas models without the smell.
What I don’t like about the WORX WG304.1
It’s been noted in s since it’s gravity-fed the oil on this electric corded chainsaw needs to be taken out every time after use. It also has a tendency to leak oil in some defective models.
Last update on 2020-10-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
When it comes to strength, hands down, you’ll find that the gas-powered chainsaw has the most amount of power. They get the power from the gas engine, which produces more cutting power and has a longer bar length than electric chainsaws. The increased power of the gas engine allows it to cut larger trees more easily. A major downside of the gas-powered chainsaw is that they tend to be heavier. And they burn gas.
Husqvarna 20 Inch 455 Rancher Gas Chainsaw
What I like about the Husqvarna 20 Inch 455
If you need a serious gas chainsaw that needs serious performance and results, this is your chainsaw. Manufactured by expert chainsaw manufacturer Husqvarna, this chainsaw fires up each and every time with a low vibration that has the power to cut through hardwood. This saw is a workhorse.
Last update on 2020-10-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
What I don’t like about the Husqvarna 20 Inch 455…
The History of the Chain Saw
The first introduction of a tool resembling a chainsaw came in 1830, thanks to a German orthopedist named Bernard Heine. The osteotome, as it was called, was originally designed as a handheld crank bone saw to be used during surgical operations. This tool gained some popularity as the use of anesthetics became more popular.
While this early chainsaw remained fairly popular for much of the 19th century, it wasn’t until 1905 that the first patent for an “endless chainsaw” appears. Issued to Samuel J. Bens of San Francisco, who was hoping to use it to timber redwoods, it doesn’t appear that Bens or his design were ever able to get off the ground.
In 1918, a patent was issued for a portable chainsaw to Canadian millwright James Shand. While labeled a “portable chainsaw,” the word portable was used rather loosely. Needing to be connected to a generator to be run, these models required two men to operate them, and, because of the need for a generator, they were limited to wherever you could fit the trailer carrying the generator
With the original patents expiring, development was picked up by Festo, a German power tool company focusing on developing portable power tool models. This work saw important contribution from both Joseph Buford Cox and Andreas Stihl.
Stihl especially made great contributions to the development and commercialization of the chainsaw. He developed and patented an electric chainsaw for use on bucking sites in 1926, and a gas-powered chainsaw in 1929. He also helped found the company Stihl, an industry leader to this day in producing quality power tools.
Additionally, Emil Lerp, the founder of Dolmar, developed the world’s first gasoline-powered chainsaw and mass-produced them starting in 1927.
As World War II broke out, chainsaws had seen little development. Still unwieldy, two-man operations, their practicality and commercial ability hadn’t approached what we see today. As the labor pool shrank during the war and the development of new materials advanced, the conditions for building actually portable chainsaws became possible.
The lighter materials and improved engine design made the possibility of a small, maneuverable one-man machine became a reality.
After a period of experimentation by companies on designs and capabilities, the form that we recognize today as a chainsaw became standardized, and the only new developments largely came in the form of new capabilities, increased efficiency, and more compact designs.
When considering the size of the chainsaw you’ll need, it’s important to keep in mind what you plan to primarily be using the chainsaw for. You’ll want to use the right size machine for your needs, chainsaws that are too big or too small for the job they’re tasked with doing can cause overwork on the motor or become a safety hazard.
There are three main sizes of chainsaws, determined largely by the length of the guide bar, with a corresponding motor size to match the guide bar length. These sizes almost exclusively pertain to gas-powered models, as electric models generally only come in smaller sizes and have different sized motors.
The three main sizes of chainsaw are mini, mid-size, and heavy-duty.
The mini-sized chainsaws generally have a guide bar length of somewhere between 12 and 14 inches. These chainsaws contain a motor of anywhere from 30 to 40cc. These models are most common with residential users who need help in general property maintenance like trimming overhanging branches and storm cleanup.
Mid-size chainsaws have a guide bar length in the range of 16 to 24 inches and motors somewhere in the 40 to 60cc range. These are a bit more powerful than your mini sizes and are capable of handling big cuts. While still fairly maneuverable for the inexperienced operator, they provide enough punch to take care of bigger jobs.
These chainsaws are much bigger than their mini and mid-size counterparts, sometimes to degrees that might seem outrageous to the average person. Their guide bar length is essentially anything over 24 inches in length, and their motor’s power can range anywhere from 60cc to 120cc.
These models are generally reserved for professional uses and should be handled with care by anyone who isn’t considered a professional. Just picking these models up off the ground can be a workout in and of itself, let alone actually operating them to fell trees and cut logs.
You’ll want to keep in mind both the uses you have in mind for your chainsaw and the size you’re comfortable handling. With the proper techniques, you can generally cut through a log that’s roughly double the length of your guide bar. With that in mind, very few people outside of professionals will have a need for the heavy-duty models.
Because chainsaws tend to take more of a beating than other types of saws, the maintenance on a chainsaw takes on an added importance in terms of keeping it in good working condition, but proper maintenance is a matter of safety. Working with a saw that anything less than optimal could increase the risk of accidents.
- Sharpening the Chain
As with all saws, a sharp blade is critical to its proper function. A dull blade on a chainsaw can create added work for your motor, as well as increase the risk of an accident occurring.
Unlike other saw types, fully replacing the chain on your chainsaw isn’t as easy as manually sharpening it yourself. While this can be a time intensive process, it’s not a terribly difficult task. You’ll need a chainsaw filing kit and a brief read up on how to do it, but once you learn the technique, it’s a fairly simple process.
Husqvarna has an excellent guide on how to sharpen the chain on your saw that you can read here.
- Keeping It Clean
Just the same as every other saw, dust, and debris are your enemy. Unlike other saw types though, chainsaws are generally used in open spaces that don’t include a brush or shop vacuum. Because of this, you’ll want to make sure your saw is getting properly cleaned of debris and dust after each use.
This is especially important for the chain, as buildup on it can cause serious issues down the road. You’ll also want to be sure that you’re cleaning off any possibly corrosive or wet materials, like mud or sand.
- Chain Tension
This step is incredibly important, both for the proper running of your saw and the operator’s safety. Chainsaws should be tuned to about 1/8” of giving and should snap back into place once released. A chain that’s too tight can cause the chain to stall, and a chain that’s too loose can cause it to come off the guide or break mid-cut.
The tension can be adjusted through a tension screw usually located on the guide near the motor. Some models require you to disassemble the housing to access the screw, while others make them accessible without removing the cover. Other models even have a built-in adjustment knob for easy tightening and loosening of the chain.
- Lubricating the Chain
You’ll also want to be sure that the chain is properly lubricated. This will help reduce friction as it moves along the guide bar, will also help to maintain a high cutting power and ease the workload on your motor.
- Proper Storage
With a chain saw designed the way it is, a large part of the chain is exposed at all times. Being made of metal, the elements are generally damaging and problematic for your saw.
To help prevent unnecessary corrosion caused by exposure to the elements, as well as reduce the risk of your chain dulling from banging into things, you should store your saw in a safe place and, if possible, in a case or sheath of some sort.
These practices will help to improve the performance of your chainsaw and extend its lifespan. Proper maintenance will also help to reduce the potential for accidents to occur, something that should always be mitigated when operating a chainsaw.
Top Chainsaw Brands
With chainsaws being such a popular power tool, and with an ever-increasing area of uses, there are a number of great brands that produce quality chainsaw options for buyers. Once you know the size and type of chainsaw that best fits your needs, these brands can help meet those needs with a quality product.
As a popular brand for all things tools, Craftsman makes a number of great chainsaw models geared towards the consumer market. Offering both electric and gas-powered models, they have models ranging in size from 10 inches up to 20 inches.
Specializing in gas-powered models, Echo is a leader in producing quality chainsaws. Though they focus on mini to mid-size models, Echo produces models geared towards both consumers and professionals.
A somewhat smaller name than some of the others on this list, Homelite produces high-quality chain saws for both the consumer and professional markets. Making both electric and gas-powered models, they specialize in mini to mid-size chain saws.
A leader in chainsaws, Husqvarna offers a full suite of models, from minis all the way up to professional models. Focusing on gas-powered chainsaws, Husqvarna is a favorite amongst professionals.
Named after one of the original developers of the chain saw, Stihl has been producing high-quality chainsaws for almost a century. Focusing on gas-powered models, Stihl offers both consumer-focused minis and professional-grade, heavy-duty models. Buying a Stihl means buying from a company that’s been around since the dawn of the chainsaw.
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