When people think of chainsaws, they often imagine a lumberjack wielding a huge, noisy gas powered machine and it’s true to say that they are the preferred choice of professionals and traditionalists alike. However, not all gas saws are huge behemoths suitable only for heavy duty forestry work. These days they come in a range of sizes designed to carry out a variety of tasks and no matter what form they take, they all share some common features. These include:
• They have a pull cord starter system
• They are powered by 2-cycle engines of various sizes. Engine displacement size is measured in CCs (cubic centimeters) and these range from 23cc right up to 122cc which you would find in a saw like the Stihl Magnum. In general terms the bigger the CC displacement is, the more powerful the engine. As a home or farm owner you are unlikely to need anything as formidable as a 122cc engine and anything between 30cc and 50cc will adequately handle most of your day to day cutting jobs. You should also remember that the higher the displacement, the greater weight the saw is likely to be.
• They are run on a mix of gas and oil. The mix ratio usually ranges from 40 parts gas to 1 part oil (40:1) to 50:1. When buying gas you should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions with regard to the type to use, for example some saws require a minimum 89-octane fuel. As you are probably aware most of the gas sold in the US contains ethanol. What you may not know is that by law, the maximum ethanol content of fuel used in outdoor power equipment is 10%. Some pumps don’t have the ethanol content listed so in such cases you should always check with the attendant. As well as being against the law, using fuel with over 10% ethanol is likely to result in damage to your equipment.
In terms of the oil, most manufacturers make recommendations about the type of oils to be used but in general it should be oil that is suitable for 2-stroke engines but NOT oil intended for water cooled engines.
Many users swear by gas powered chainsaws and wouldn’t dream of buying an electric model. There are plenty of good reasons why owning one makes sense and these include:
You can basically take your saw anywhere and won’t find yourself constrained by the lack of a power source. Provided you have enough fuel you can head off into the forest or to the far reaches of your property and carry out jobs which just wouldn’t be possible with an electric saw.
At the top end, these saws are far more powerful than electric saws and therefore capable of handling more heavy duty tasks. This makes them ideal for felling medium-large sized trees, cutting sizeable amounts of firewood, clearing up storm damage and bucking wide diameter logs.
As with most products, these saws come in different shapes and sizes and their exact capabilities will vary from model to model.
Generally, the more expensive chainsaws have lots of metal parts in their construction which makes them pretty robust customers. They are designed to cope with being handled roughly. Whether the saw is hanging from a leather bungee strap or being thrown into the back of a truck, they are able to take their fair share of knocks.
Some of the newer gas chainsaws are now made with more plastic parts and have lost some of that durability in exchange for easier handling. All these factors are reflected in the price and generally you will pay more for a product with a solid construction.
No cord to worry about when cutting
One irritation faced by electric saw users is having to work around the cord. Gas saw users can get on with the job without worrying about the cord getting snagged or even worse cut by the chain.
Having established some of the benefits of owning this type of saw, it’s only fair to look at the downsides.
During use, these saws can release plenty of fumes which some users may find unpleasant. If you suffer from any kind of breathing or lung condition, inhaling these fumes isn’t likely to be very healthy!
Gas chainsaws can also be particularly noisy and the decibel levels reached by some of them is impressive. Imagine sitting on the front row at a rock concert and you can get an idea of the noise levels these things reach. This is clearly not good for your long-term hearing but at least you can easily protect yourself by getting a pair of ear defenders. Not so easy to overcome is the disruption it may cause to some of your neighbors. If your property backs onto the 18th hole of your local golf course or is next to a retirement home, your ‘pride and joy’ might not be appreciated quite as much!
Mixing oil and gas
Unlike with electric powered saws, you need to go through the rigmarole of getting the chainsaw fuel mix in the correct ratios. This needs to be done in a clean environment because getting dirt in the fuel (or indeed using old contaminated fuel) is a sure fire way of killing the engine. Sometimes you may need to use your saw to carry out a very small job and going to the trouble of mixing fuel for such a task can hardly seem worth the effort.
Some saws are notoriously difficult to start. Certainly, electric saws start far more easily. To complicate matters, different saws have different start up routines and unless you follow the instructions carefully, it’s very easy to flood the engine. Even if you know the start-up procedure, getting the saw to fire up can sometimes be a challenge. This is particularly annoying if you have a job which involves turning your machine on and off frequently. You can check out how to start a gas powered saw properly here in my review of the Timberpro 62cc Petrol Chainsaw.
Obviously some saws perform better than others and are more reliable in this regard. Our saw reviews will alert you to any potential issues on this subject.
To ensure your saw performs at its best, regular maintenance is required. This involves tasks like cleaning filters, changing spark plugs and making adjustments to the carburetor. The gas saw user needs to know the machine inside out.
On average, given their size and construction, these saws tend to be heavier than their electric counterparts. In turn, this makes them more cumbersome and difficult to handle. The user will likely fatigue more quickly. Not everyone will be capable of comfortably handling this type of saw.
Should I buy?
So, is a gas powered saw right for you?
You should consider buying if:
• You are reasonably fit and capable of handling a heavy saw.
• You need to carry out medium to heavy duty tasks on a regular basis.
• You don’t mind the noise and fumes emitted by these machines.
• You need to work in areas away from a power source.
• You are happy to mix fuel and carry out regular maintenance on your saw.
Alternatively you should not buy if:
• You want a quiet, clean chainsaw.
• You want a saw for occasional use to carry out light to medium duty tasks.
• You need a relatively light tool which is easy to handle.
• You want a saw which you can start with the simple flick of a switch.
• The thought of having to change spark plugs or adjust the carburetor sends you into a panic!
Many gas chainsaw devotees wouldn’t even look at an electric saw, never mind consider buying one. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, hopefully this article will help you decide if this kind of saw is right for you.