Complete Chainsaw Buying Guide – Written by a Newbie for the Newbies!
I don’t know why the notion of having a chainsaw reminds me of the ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ movie series, but somehow the idea has always been stuck in my head. Things changed a little when I actually owned and tried several models from both cordless and corded electric chainsaw categories over the last few years. Still, I am not an expert by any means - I wanted to help fellow woodworkers who are just getting their feet wet in this field.
The last time I wrote a Circular chainsaw buying guide, it garnered a lot of positive response from online readers. However, full form chainsaws are a totally different breed. Also, there are subcategories which need to be accounted for. For instance, I don’t think you have heard about Pole Chainsaws before. Neither have I, but as it turns out, they are a special category of chainsaws that are attached to an extendable pole for cutting stuff that’s hard to reach.
An Introduction to Buying Chainsaws:
Buying a chainsaw is not as much of a daunting task as compared to actually settling for one specific model for a couple of years. If you haven’t bought a power tool before, you are probably oblivious to the importance of buying the “right” product – they all look the same, don’t they?
Nah, the problem with chainsaws is that no two models are the same. They might have a bit of similarity in terms of core function, i.e. cutting, but features tell an entirely different tale. You gotta’ try them all to judge a specific make and brand.
Comparing an electric chainsaw with a corded electric chainsaw or a gas powered chainsaw is interpreted as a heinous crime among chainsaw loyalist. You can test their theory by going to a dedicated chainsaw forum and post some gibberish about electric chainsaw vs. gas powered chainsaw. It’s going to be a fire starter.
The point that I am trying to make is that there’s a wealth of information associated with chainsaws. You need to have your expectations aligned with your requirements.
What do you need the chainsaw for? Is it simple branch trimming; do you want to do a bit of pruning; or are you interested in old school lumber logs? Each chainsaw is designed in a specific manner to help attend these issues.
Therefore, buying the wrong model for the right job or vice versa isn’t going to make that “cut”. There are a lot of options to consider, and I will go through a couple of them in the following paragraphs. For now, I’d want you to have a clear mind without any biased opinion about a specific category of chainsaws or the entire lot in general.
The Basic Know How About Chainsaws:
This section is specifically for people who have only seen a chainsaw in movies, or at different shops but never used one before. There are some core sections in a chainsaw which you need to know about. Of course, you can pull out detailed schematics from Google images, but some of the functions never change no matter how advanced a chainsaw model is.
The core machinery is called the engine. It is powered via a fuel injection system. The long blade that you see is called the bar, and the specific chunk of metal area at the tip of the blade on the top side is called “the kickback” zone. You should always have a strong grip on the chainsaw as soon as it turns on, ESPECIALLY if it is a traditional gas powered model. The chainsaw will always kick back at you as soon as the choke is pulled. It is sort of like firing a gun for the first time; the thing tries to bite back at ya’ before you can wield all the power.
Kickback also occurs when you are not being careful at the exact time when the chainsaw’s front tip makes contact with the material. God forbid, if there is a nail inside the log or some other solid object, the tip will jerk forward and then move back towards you! This incident has caused serious head n’ limb injuries in the past. Beware!
How to Avoid Chainsaw Kickbacks?
The sharp spikes/ teeth that you see on the chain are called buck spikes. Some people call them bucks. Whenever the chain makes contact with the log’s surface, these teeth are dragged back in reverse motion, hence causing the chainsaw to cut through easily. Sometimes, manufacturers use inferior quality spikes, which causes them to bend if the material is tough or thick.
Regardless, chainsaws are the most dangerous handheld cutting tool. Since the chain cannot be guarded, your best bet is to buy a product that offers other safety features. Some models have the auto stop motion; there is also a trigger lock mechanism, and chain lock system. It depends on the choice of brand you are considering going for.
In this context, gas powered chainsaws are a little complicated for entry level users. The modern technology focuses on electrical appliances, whereas the latter models are easy to start. Most of the cordless/ corded electric chainsaws only need a power button which needs to be switched on and that’s about it. If there is a choke cord, you need to pull it after turning the chainsaw on.
For gas chainsaws, people had to struggle with the starter cord. They were also noisy, but since these chainsaws were the only viable option present in the market, everyone had to make do with em’. Anyhow, the current power tool industry is brimming with both electric and gas powered chainsaws.
If you ask me, gas powered power tools are more powerful, and can chisel through any range of material. For instance, Husqvarna Rancher 1 and Rancher 2 series are ideal gas powered chainsaw for anyone looking to fell a couple of old oak trees in the backyard!
Some Chainsaws to Consider IF It’s Your First Purchase
The following makes and brands are not conclusive. However, they were personally tried and tested by me, so I can vouch for their performance. You can also consult with an expert to purchase a chainsaw that’s well suited to your needs.
Black & Decker
Black and Decker is an old manufacturer. They have been there in the market for the last few years. The company started with kitchen appliances and then established a strong foothold in the power tools industry with products such as the BLACK & DECKER LDX120PK Cordless Drill, the BDECS300C Circular Saw and the BDEJS600C 5.0-Amp Jigsaw to name a few. Honestly, if you ask me, I won't recommend a B&D Chainsaw to professionals.
The company’s products have a plastic-y build. For instance, a random Black + Decker coffee maker will be squeaky as if it’s a replica of a genuine product. The power tools may look durable, but they are not really ideal for long term use. Regardless, Black & Decker chainsaws have been in high demand in the market. They are a little similar to Karcher products, which is a distant cousin of B&D.
One of my personal favorites is Husqvarna Co. These boys are located in Sweden, and they make one hell of an amazing product when it comes to cutting, hacking and slashing. You should try Swedish knives if you don’t trust me. The serrated blade will be more than enough to testify Husqvarna Co.’s long standing reputation in the market.
Husqvarna has released numerous chainsaws, but I have a soft spot for the Husqvarna 460 Rancher 1 and Rancher 2 series. They are both gas powered chainsaws with an amazing design and overall aesthetical performance.
Greenworks is a mid profile power tool manufacturer in the market. A lot of people still don’t know about their products, but the business is slowly capturing a specific kind of audience. Most of the typical Greenworks customers are conscious about environmental hazards. Either they are buying the company’s products for the first time, or they are coming back from a bad experience with another manufacturer.
Greenworks Chainsaws are mostly electric. They have low emission, and the overall battery life isn’t too shabby. I like Greenworks because of the visual appeal and solid spikes.
Dewalt doesn’t need a formal introduction. Their power tools are available in such abundance that you may have seen a bunch of Dewalt accessories at Home Depot. I bet there’s a Dewalt power tool in every 10 products that are lined up on a decent rack. Here are some of the Dewalt power tools I personally tested and reviewed such as the DCD771C2 Cordless Drill, DCS391B Circular Saw and the DW745 10-Inch Table Saw amongst many others.
The chainsaws are stable; they work as advertised, but they are not ideal for professional cutting. If you are buying a Dewalt DCCS670X1 chainsaw for backyard cutting, trimming and pruning, you will have a pleasant experience for years to come.
If it’s durability and solid quality you are concerned about, Makita and its XCU03PT1 is the most reliable brand out there. Makita is the kind of manufacturer who is honest about their products. They care about their customers, and the company uses top-notch material to manufacture their power tools.
Makita, Bosch and Stihl chainsaws have a positive reputation in the market when it comes to outstanding quality.
WORX is a relatively new company when it comes to chainsaws and other range of power tools. They cut the competition by outsourcing manufacturing to China. Don’t worry, the chainsaws are top notch, and if it’s any consolation, they also offer a wide range of additional features at half the price.
WORX likes to focus on combining several features in one product. Their TriVac is a fine example of a mulcher combined with a vacuum cleaner! A WORX WG303.1 chainsaw is dependable, and comes with a few distinctive energy conservation technologies that are practically unseen in competitor chainsaws.
Ask Yourself These Questions Before Buying a Chainsaw:
The following questions are somewhat important BEFORE buying a chainsaw.
Primary Use for the Chainsaw?
What are you going to do with your chainsaw? Do you need to cut those unwanted branches at the sides of a tree in your backyard, or are you considering going full hardcore?
Light cutting can be done easily with the help of an electric chainsaw. On the other hand, solid oak wood, walnut or pine tree logs require a proper gas powered variant with at least 45 – 60 CC engine power.
On a funny note, I recall watching Mark Wahlberg’s ‘Pain and Gain’ movie. He and his friends were crazy enough to buy a chainsaw from home depot which they were planning to use for downsizing a few murder victims. As it turns out, the chain got stuck in the dead lady’s hair. However, Mark had the audacity to take that electric chainsaw all the way back to the retailers’ and ask them for a replacement!
How Often Will You Be Using Your Chainsaw?
Are you going to use your chainsaw occasionally, or is it going to be once in a blue moon kind of thing? This question may seem irrelevant, but the point I am trying to make is about chainsaw maintenance. Electric chainsaws have a solid assembly, and they do not need a lot of maintenance/ repairing, even when they are stored away in a garage for a few months. At most, you will need to replace the battery after a few months.
On the contrary, a gas powered chainsaw can run a little rusty if you aren’t careful about it. The bar will need oiling; you will also need to keep any eye out for any signs of degreasing, and vice versa. I’m not trying to discourage you from buying gas powered chainsaws; it’s just that they need a lot more care as compared to their electric counterparts.
Few Key Factors to Keep in Mind!
Although there are numerous components in a chainsaw, there are some key factors that matter a lot. In fact, if you are not careful about the appended highlights, you may end up with an apparently “faulty” unit. The real reason for the malfunction could be entirely different – i.e. maybe you never oiled the bar and it went kaput on you. So, whether it is an electric chainsaw or a gas powered chainsaw, maintenance always comes first.
The bigger it is, the mightier the cut – that’s the rough logic about chainsaw bars. However, a lot of deep thinking goes into bar length. The best way to measure a chainsaw bar is by starting from the tip and going all the way back to the area where the housing is. On an average, the bar length represents the total area of the wood that the chainsaw can cut through.
Smaller bar size doesn’t mean that the chainsaw won’t cut any logs, but if the bar length is long you can push it all the way in. Let’s say you are considering felling a really thick tree with a trunk size that goes beyond 50”. Obviously, you cannot cut the trunk with the help of a 12” bar size; you will need something bigger.
The general rule of thumb is to buy a chainsaw with a bar size that’s at least 2 inches bigger than your primary cutting material. By the way, I took it too far with the Amazonian tree with a 50” diameter; technically, those kinds of trees require a gigantic professional chainsaw with dual end operators. Don’t fret about it!
If you are a typical DIY-selfer or a home owner, you should be selecting a chainsaw with bar length between 16” – 20”. Anything above that is probably going to be too much.
However, the idea of having bigger chainsaws has always struck a masculine chord with the ladies out there. Somehow, they like firefighters, lumberjacks and people who can wield big power tools in one hand… or between their legs!
Does Engine Power Really Matter?
In a nutshell, it doesn’t matter a lot. But it all depends on your requirements. If you are going to be felling thick trees, you are going to need a gas powered chainsaw. Period. In this context, the concept of CCs comes into play. Higher CC determines max rev speed, which of course, is crucial to cutting the material. You don’t want a sloppy chainsaw with slow rev speed. It will remain stuck inside the log, and in some cases, it can even grind to a complete halt.
Alternatively, you can hire a professional to do the bidding for you, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You may have a few difficulties in the beginning, but a chainsaw is like a trusty old friend whom you can always fall back on.
Gas Powered Chainsaw Engines
The mightiest of all are the gas powered chainsaws. They were the first one to be introduced in the market several decades ago, and they are still merciless when it comes to felling big trees. Power is measured in terms of CCs, which is the abbreviated form of cubic centimeters. You only need to know that a bigger number represents more power.
Most of the homeowners use chainsaws ranging between 24 – 46 CC engine power. However, gas saws are capable of going beyond 60 CC too; it all depends on the ranchers’ requirements.
Corded Electric Chainsaw Engines
Just like gas-powered chainsaws, the corded electric counterparts also depend on sheer engine power. The only difference is that wherever there’s electricity involved, you are looking at Amps. It is the short form of ampere. Go for models that have a higher Amp Per Hour rating. That’s all you need to know as a regular homeowner.
Cordless Battery Powered Chainsaws
This is where it gets interesting and a lot more simpler. Battery powered chainsaws are not only cordless, but they take the concept of amps and CCs out of the equation. Don’t mind it, but folks who have battery chainsaws are probably the most ill informed breed. They only know about charging the battery, installing it and operating the chainsaw.
However, these chainsaws don’t last long in the field. On one full charge cycle, the chainsaw will give you a maximum of 100 cuts, which is not guaranteed at all because it depends on battery performance.
On the same note, never EVER charge your batteries when they are 50% or 20% depleted. By doing so, you are reducing the battery’s capacity to withhold/ retain charge. Always charge the battery when it is completely drained.
In addition, some chainsaws come with a bundled battery deal. You can buy the extra battery from open market too. There will be a bit of price difference involved in it, but it’ll be worth it.
What Not to Do with a Chainsaw Battery?
Yes, this is the most important part of having a battery powered product. The logic applies to all range of cordless power tools, but since we are talking about chainsaws here, so bear with me. A lot of schmucks at YouTube have launched a couple of misleading videos where they somehow hack the chainsaw battery and replace it with some other higher powered unit.
Technically, it can work, but chainsaw manufacturers are not dumb. They want their users to be secure, and also buy genuine batteries in hopes for profit. A workaround battery unit can also explode in flames, which can not only injure you, but also damage the entire chainsaw. Obviously, you will not be able to claim warranty because deliberate mechanical faults are a direct violation of the manufacturer warranty agreement.
Closing Thoughts - Should I Buy a Gas or Electric Chainsaw?
It depends on the requirements and pros n’ cons. Gas chainsaws are powerful, but they have a rather strong kickback alongside toxic fume emission. If you are a kind hearted care bear who loves nature, perhaps gas powered chainsaws are not your forte’. Still, they are cool.
Electric chainsaw are much quieter; they are environment friendly and have a very economical output. You are basically making a one-time investment on a sound product, which doesn’t require fueling or too much lubricants. God knows that with the spike in Dollar rate in the international market, gas prices have also gone up the roof.
Gas chainsaws are ideal for serious jobs, forestry related cutting or any form of tree that has to go down on your old grandpas several acre huge property. Electric chainsaws on the other hand, are perfect for pruning, felling small trees in backyard, hardcore artistry, and serious DIY projects.