If you haven’t bought a chainsaw before and are looking to make your first purchase, the range of options available to you can be a little confusing to say the least. When deciding on the most appropriate saw for your requirements, there are a number of factors which you should take into consideration. Use this guide to walk through 11 things I’ve outlined below which should help you in deciding the right saw to buy.
What is it you actually want the saw for? If you just need a saw to do some pruning and light trimming around the yard a few times each year then an electric saw is the best choice. If, on the other hand, you need to fell medium-large sized trees or de-limb large branches in wooded areas then you should opt for a gas powered saw.
It’s important that you choose the right saw for the right job and remember, bigger isn’t always better. For example, if you just need to clear some light brush in your yard and have to work in a tight space then a small cordless electric saw would be ideal. Fueling up a large gas saw, then trying to operate it in a confined area would be a challenge to say the least.
As a guide, the table below provides an indication of the type of saw you will need to undertake specific jobs. Obviously performance varies from saw to saw and our detailed reviews provide full details of a chainsaw’s capabilities.
|Electric Saws||Motor (Amps)||Bar Length (Inches)|
|Pruning small limbs/saplings||6-9||6-14|
|Bucking small logs||6-9||8-14|
|Felling small trees||10-15||16-20|
|Felling medium trees||12-15||16-20|
|Bucking medium logs||12-15||16-20|
|Storm clean up (Light)||12-15||16-20|
|Felling large trees||Not suitable||Not suitable|
|Bucking large logs/firewood||Not suitable||Not suitable|
|Storm clean-up (Heavy)||Not suitable||Not suitable|
|Gas Chainsaws||Engine size (cc)||Bar Length (Inches)|
|Pruning/Small limbs and saplings||30-40||6-14|
|Bucking small logs||30-40||8-14|
|Felling small trees||30-45||16-20|
|Felling medium trees||35-50||16-20|
|Bucking medium logs||35-50||16-20|
|Storm clean-up (Light)||35-50||16-20|
|Felling large trees||60+||22+|
|Bucking large logs/firewood||60+||22+|
|Storm clean-up (Heavy)||60+||22+|
For gasoline-powered saws, engine size is measured in cubic centimeters. Quite simply the higher the CC the more power is generated but the trade-off is greater weight. Engines can range in size from 23cc up to 120cc, however most homeowners will be fine with anything between 30cc and 45cc. To give you an idea a 30cc engine will generate around 1.7 brake horsepower (bhp) and a 45cc engine roughly 3 bhp.
Electric chainsaw motor power is measured in Amps. In general they have motors ranging from between 8 and 15 Amps. As with gas powered saws, the higher the number, the greater the power. An 8 amp motor will produce around 1.3 bhp and a 15 amp motor around 2.4 bhp.
Most battery powered saws now use Lithium ion rechargeable batteries. These batteries will last between two to three years even if they are not being used and they prefer partial as opposed to deep discharge. This means it is better to recharge your battery often and not to take it all the way down to zero.
Guide bar size
The size of the guide bar is measured from its tip to the point where it comes out of the saw powerhead and represents the actual cutting length.
Chainsaw bars range in size from 6 inches up to 42 inches, although most home owners are highly unlikely to need anything greater than a 20” bar.
If used the correct way, a chainsaw should be able to cut a log twice the diameter of its bar (so a 20” bar should be able to cut a 40” log). As you would expect, the longer the bar the larger diameter the saw can cut in a single pass. As a general rule of thumb, the bar length should be 2 inches longer than the diameter of the piece of wood to be cut in one pass. Providing the saw has enough power, a 20” blade will therefore be able to cut through an 18” log in a single pass. Using a smaller blade risks ‘pinching’ leading to possible kickback.
Saws can be categorized as small, medium or large.
Small saws with bar lengths ranging from 6”-14” are best used for trimming, pruning and light cutting. They can also be used for small size tree cutting, taking limbs off trees and bucking small logs.
Medium saws have bar lengths of between 16”-20”. These bar lengths are capable of carrying out a full range of tasks including light storm damage clean up and medium sized tree cutting. The larger bars can also be used for cutting firewood.
When we get to the larger saws with bars of between 22”-40”, we are now in the realm of professional foresters or people who live in rural areas, such as experienced farmers and ranchers, who need to carry out heavy duty sawing to maintain their property. These bars are ideal for large tree and log cutting, although not as efficient for very light duties.
When looking at blade size there are a couple of things you should bear in mind. Firstly, a longer blade will in all likelihood mean a heavier saw, which in turn could be more difficult to handle. Also, don’t opt for a larger blade just because you think it will cover a greater range of tasks. Indeed, if you are just doing some light pruning, a large blade could actually hinder rather than help.
Your buying choice should also be guided by where you intend to use your saw.
If you’re working in woodland areas then a gas powered saw is preferable. Not only will fewer people be disturbed by the noise but it’s easier to fill up with gas and oil than go to the trouble of setting up a portable generator. You could consider a battery operated saw but you may find this running low on power before you’ve managed to finish your job.
If you live in the suburbs an electric saw would be a good option. This is especially so if you have noise sensitive neighbors – the buzz of a gas saw is unlikely to endear you to them.
Brands – Quality and Reliability
When it comes to quality, brands such as Stihl, Husqvarna and Echo are just a few of the names that stand out. However, don’t be a slave to brand. There are some great saws now being made by many companies and even the big names produce the occasional ‘turkey’.
Our reviews will alert you to any quality and reliability issues and point you in the direction of the good saws whilst steering you away from the bad.
What safety features does it have?
If you want to see just how dangerous it can be using a chainsaw you only have to check some videos on YouTube. These things are capable of causing serious harm so you need to be careful!
Check out our article on chainsaw safety to see some of the protective features built into modern day saws.
You could splash out hundreds of dollars and get yourself an all singing, all dancing saw but this is pointless if you’re not going to use its full range of functionality. After all if you bought a Ferrari you wouldn’t restrict your speed to 30 miles per hour! Some of the best chainsaws, especially for the part-time home user, can be bought for under $200.
Modern chainsaws are equipped with features that older saws could only aspire to. It’s worth looking at the features offered and decide if they will be useful. They include:
• Automatic oiler. Removes the need to flick a switch to release oil on to your chain bar. Oiling the chain is vital for safety and cutting performance.
• Vibration dampening system. This will make cutting a far more enjoyable experience and reduce fatigue as well as long-term injury if the saw is used on a regular basis.
• Side mounted tension adjustment. You will be able to quickly and easily adjust the chain tension if you have tool-less chain adjustment. Some models also have auto-tensioning, reducing the number of times you need to perform this task.
• Guide bars with sprocket tips. These reduce friction around the tip of the bar which maximizes cutting speed whilst at the same time helping to reduce wear on the bar.
• Heated handle (useful if you live in a cold climate and a lot of your cutting may be done in winter).
• Heated carburetors. Many saws are now designed to prevent ice crystals forming in the engine at very low temperatures. This is obviously useful when working in certain climates.
• If you are buying a gas powered saw, spring assisted starting will reduce the pulling force and effort needed to get the saw up and running.
• A carry case. Not only will this protect you saw but make transporting it much easier.
There are a number of questions you need to ask yourself in relation to size. Do you have storage space for your chainsaw? You can find the length, height and width dimensions of your saw before you purchase. How heavy is the saw and will you be able to comfortably handle it? Whatever you do, don’t go out buy an over-sized saw just to boost your ego!
You need to take into account your age and general physical fitness. You may be able to lift an 11lb weight reasonably comfortably. However, it’s one thing using an 11lb saw for a few minutes, quite another to use it continually for half an hour when fatigue starts to set in. If you choose a saw which you can’t handle properly you will increase the chance of having a mishap.
What do other people think about the product?
Before I commit to buying a product, I always like to know what other people think about it. People are now quite happy to share their thoughts on line and leave a review and whilst sometimes these need to be treated with a little caution, you can learn a lot from the general trends. If 95 out of 100 people say a product is fantastic, you know you are onto a winner.
The more a product costs the more important the manufacturer’s warranty becomes. Nobody likes spending money on a new tool or appliance only to have it break down after a few weeks. It’s even worse when the part that malfunctions isn’t covered by the warranty.
I hope you found this article useful. Have a look around the site where you will find more advice and guidance, as well as detailed articles on individual chainsaws.