Chainsaws have evolved a great deal since being introduced in the early 1800’s and have changed much of what we do outdoors. The art of using, owning and mastering a chainsaw turns some of the toughest yardwork into a thing of the past. Over the years, we’ve seen the most popular models become more lightweight, more powerful and offer specialized tasks that go far beyond cutting trees.
Some of the most practical uses of a chainsaw include limbing, felling pruning, bucking, cutting and have evolved into being a widely used tool for fire suppression. Now, specialized chainsaws allow you to cut other material such as concrete, metal and even ice. Whether you’re looking to take on a DIY project or more of an industrial use, we have all the answers below.
No matter what you intend on using a chainsaw for, this buyer’s guide answers any question you may have including the types of chainsaws, practical uses, maintenance, features, safety and much more.
What is a Chainsaw?
In short, a chainsaw is a power tool which was introduced for cutting trees and branches. Over the years, it’s evolved into other uses such as cutting concrete, shaping ice (ice sculptures), and metal. Just like other power tools, it’s powered by an engine (power head) which drives a chain moving around a guide bar at fast speeds allowing the tool to cut objects.
Typically powered by 2-stroke engines, chainsaws are quite loud. Like any other power tool, proper maintenance will assure you get the longest life out of the tool and being safe while using it assures you’re getting the most out of your life.
Who Uses a Chainsaw
For the average DIY’er, it always seems like you need a chainsaw when you don’t have one. They’re used by a wide array of professions and people including landscapers, homeowners, carpenters, firefighters, loggers, gardeners and many other people. Odds are, if you’re planning on doing any type of outdoor work, you’ll need one.
Types of Chainsaws
There are four main types of chainsaws including gas, electric, cordless and pole. Gas chainsaws are best suited for larger projects and are best suited for experienced users while gas and electric are more efficient, they restrict where and how you use it.
Pole saws can either be powered (gas, cordless or electric) or nonpowered. Simply stated, a pole saw is a saw affixed at the end of a pole which extends your cutting range by the length of the pole.
Below, we take a much closer look at the different types of chainsaws.
Cordless chainsaws are similar in power and weight as electric models but give you more range as they don’t have to be connected to constant power. Modern cordless chainsaws operate Lithium-ion batteries versus older models which use NiCad batteries which are heavier and less efficient.
If you’re looking to cut smaller trees or prune and don’t need the flexibility of cordless models, then an electric chainsaw is for you. They offer less power than gas, but are great for working around the house, gardening and landscaping.
Remember, as is the case when using anything electric powered, the longer the cord the more your voltage will drop off. If adding an extension cord, make sure to use a heavy-gauge extension cord that’s waterproof and you’ll want to stay under 100-feet because of the decreased voltage.
When it comes to the ease of use, safety and performance, all of the best electric chainsaws this year deliver unparalleled performance.
When it comes to the Mack Daddy of chainsaws, the conversation only includes gas. Gas chainsaws are more powerful and efficient and are best suited for large projects, cutting bigger trees and working away from a power source. There are cons with gasoline chainsaws including noise, price, weight and more. but when it comes to sheer power and performance there is no better option.
Pole saws give you the ability to cut and trim branches that would otherwise be impossible without the use of a ladder or putting yourself in the middle of a bush. Popular among landscapers and gardeners, they’ve become highly effective while minimizing reaching, straining and walking up and down a ladder.
Pole saws can be battery, gas or electric powered and operates similarly as their pole-less counterparts. They do however, operate with less power, are smaller and will not give you the cutting ability for large projects. For those looking to trim bushes, overhead limbs, or small branches out of reach, it’s highly recommended.
Nonpowered pole saws are used for pruning and operated manually.
Comparing the Types of Chainsaws
There are pros and cons to each which are described in detail below:
|Cordless Chainsaw||Electric Chainsaw||Gas Chainsaw||Pole Saw|
|Bar Length (average)||12”||16 – 18”||16 – 20” up to 60”||8 – 10”|
|Pollution||No||No||Yes||No or Yes|
|Power Output||Volts (voltage)||Amps (amperage)||CC (cubic centimeters)||Cordless, electric, gas|
|Price||$200 - $300||$70 - $300||$180 - $420||$70 - $200|
Comparing Gas and Electric Chainsaws
|Gas Chainsaws||Electric Chainsaws|
|Cost to Operate||Gas, oil and chain brake||Cheaper to operate|
|Fumes||Emits fumes||No fumes|
|Gas and Oil||2-stroke engine – needs oil and gas mix||No mixing of gas and oil|
|Maintenance||Needs regular maintenance||Minimal maintenance required|
|Maneuverability||Heavy, bulky and not easy to carry||Light, compact and easy to carry|
|Mobility||No restrictions||Restricted by power source or charged batteries|
|Power||More power – can cut large trees with ease||Less power – can cut branches, but not large trees|
|Startup||Can be difficult for some||Simple to start|
Things to Consider Before Buying a Chainsaw
A chainsaw is one of the power tools you’ll want to do your due diligence before making your purchase. They come in many different types, sizes and are built for various skill levels and practical usage. Before buying, make sure you to keep reading for some questions you’ll want to ask yourself before buying a chainsaw.
If you’re only intending on using it a couple of times a year or for one large task in mind, then an electric chainsaw is all you’ll need. Electric chainsaws provide plenty of power for the average do it yourselfer and come in much cheaper than gas chainsaws.
On the other hand, if you’re intending on using it regularly or for large projects such as cutting large or medium sized trees, then you’ll want to choose a gasoline chainsaw powered by at least a 45cc engine.
Unlike most other hand-operated power tools, experience matters when operating a chainsaw. Most people believe bigger is always better, and unless you have experience and are highly proficient using one this couldn’t be any further from the truth.
If you’re less experienced or have no experience using a chainsaw picking one up with a guide bar less than 18-inches is highly recommended. For smaller projects you can probably get away with one with a 12-inch guide bar, but one’s with a guide bar 20-inches and above should be reserved for experienced users.
How Many Times?
If you’re only planning on using your chainsaw a couple of times a year, then an electric chainsaw is more than enough. Gasoline models are more expensive, but give you more power, freedom to roam and are typically the chainsaw of choice for those who intend on using it regularly.
Indoors or Outdoors?
Most people think of using a chainsaw outdoors, but they can be used indoors as well. Woodworkers or those who want to save a great deal of time can use a chainsaw indoors, but the noise is something worth considering.
For outdoor use, noise may not be a problem. On the other hand, if you think you may be using it indoors, then choosing an electric chainsaw is worth considering. They’re quieter, cheaper to operate and can handle most indoor projects with ease.
Around or Away from the House?
Besides experience level, taking a moment to consider how close to a power source you’ll be is the next thing to consider. Electric chainsaws are limited by range and either must be plugged in directly or must have a readily charged battery available on-hand. Gas chainsaws have no limitations other than gas and give you much more mobility than their electric counterparts.
Size and Type of Wood?
Knowing the type of wood and diameter will have a huge impact on the type of chainsaw you choose to purchase. Hardwoods such as maple, hickory, birch, ash, dogwood or oak are better suited for chainsaws with more power such as gas.
Things to Consider Before Using a Chainsaw
Before buying a chainsaw, there are three areas of focus to consider which include: length of the guide bar, powered by, engine and your own attributes and skill level.
The length of the guide bar is many times how a chainsaw is classified; ie. 18” chainsaw. The guide bar is the extended part of the chainsaw which is affixed by the chain itself and provides the actual cut. The length of the bar denotes the active cutting area available in length that can occur in a single cut. For safest operation, the length of the bar should be 2-inches larger than the length of what you’re cutting; so, for a 12-inch diameter tree, you’ll want at least a 14-inch chainsaw.
Keep in mind the larger the guide bar the tougher it is to operate. Chainsaws with longer guide bars will feel off-balanced and heavier causing more user fatigue. Kickback is more prevalent with larger chainsaws which is something you’ll become familiar with while operating.
Recommended Guide Bar Length
To help making buying a chainsaw much easier, the following chart details the recommendations for guide bar length:
|Bucking||= or > 18 inch|
|Cutting Light||14 – 16 inch|
|Cutting Medium||16 – 18 inch|
|Felling Small||12 – 14 inch|
|Felling Medium||16 – 18 inch|
|Limbing||12 – 14 inch|
|Pruning||= or < 12 inch|
Chainsaws are either electric, gas or battery powered. Electric and cordless chainsaws have restrictions and typically offer less power than gas chainsaws and are best suited for those with less experienced or smaller projects.
Electric chainsaws run off conventional current and the power output is measures in amps (amperage). Higher the amps mean more power.
The power of gas chainsaw engines is classified by cubic centimeters (cc) which is the most prominent or cubic inches. The higher the number means more power, which also means more weight.
The power output of battery operated, or cordless chainsaws is measured in volts, and you guessed it – the higher the volts the more power. The best types of cordless chainsaws are powered by Lithium-ion batteries which take less time to charge, provide longer battery power and will last longer.
Own Attributes and Experience
While you don’t have to be the most physically fit person out there to operate a chainsaw, it is something worth considering before making a purchase. Chainsaws are heavy and very powerful and your ability to handle, control, and hold it make all the difference.
Your physical ability to hold and control it while operating may make the difference between life, limb, or both. Your own experience level is also something to consider which we’ve already talked about.
Top Handle and Rear Handle Chainsaws
The handle provides much of the control and on a chainsaw, there are two distinct locations where a handle is located. Top and rear handle locations have different best uses with top handle chainsaws best suited for working in trees or on an elevated work platform. Rear handle chainsaws are the most common and are best suited for cutting anything on the ground or an even plain.
Top handle chainsaws are specialized and should only be used by experienced users who are trained in tree cutting and often secured with a harness or in a safety bucket. For the average DIY’er, rear handle chainsaws are the recommended choice with most cutting being done on ground level.
Using a chainsaw is unlike using other any other power tool. Because of the sheer power and force emitted from the moving chain, it’s the most dangerous hand-held power tool out there. Because of this, understanding how to use and numerous safety precautions before use is a must.
Before using a chainsaw, there are numerous safety precautions to consider first:
- Wear safety glasses, hearing protection, gloves, hard hat, and safety pants
- Never operate while wearing loose clothing
- Clear away small limbs, rocks and other objects which may fly up while cutting.
- Inspect the tree to make sure there are no nails, metal or other objects lodged before cutting
- Always maintain secure footing
- Make sure the wood or tree you’re cutting doesn’t bind against the chain
- Always use a protective device while operating gas chainsaws to minimize kickback
- Never operate in the rain or inclement weather conditions
Best Chainsaw Reviews
This chainsaw buying guide was created to give you the best information possible so you, the consumer, can make an informed decision before making your purchase. Chainsaws are unlike any other handheld power tool and should be looked at carefully to consider all options.
We’ve looked at the best chainsaws out there and broken them down which is sure to make your buying decision easier. Below, you’ll find the best chainsaw reviews which detail everything you need to know, and if you have any questions please feel free to drop us a comment.