In this article, we’re going to talk about the chainsaw family’s little cousin – the pole saw.
If, like me, you think that ladders and chainsaws are a bad idea (just check out YouTube if you don’t believe me!) and you have some high cutting you need to take care of, a pole saw could just be the answer. Not only do they provide you with a safe cutting option by keeping you securely on terra firma but pole saws could also save you money. Hiring a landscape gardener to do some tidying up around your property can be an expensive business and you may find that you are ‘in-profit’ after just a single use.
So what exactly is a pole saw and what are they used for? Basically, if you take a pole and then add a saw to the end (either a small chainsaw of a manual
blade) you have a pole saw. Okay, it’s not quite that simple and you can’t just go out and make your own. Today’s pole saws are well made and have an array of safety features to protect their users. They are perfect for tree pruning and removing tree limbs, as well as getting down loose and dangerous branches, by getting to those lofty, difficult to reach places.
What kind of Pole Saws are available?
If you thought there was only one type of saw, think again. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be categorized as follows:
In terms of power, these are the definitely the “kings of the castle” and are the preferred choice of professional users. They come in a variety of sizes and are powered by 2 cycle engines. As with normal gas chainsaws, they are run on a mixture of gas and oil, usually in a ratio of 40:1 or 50:1 and they require a fair degree of maintenance. You will find that these saws are able to cut through thicker limbs than their electric counterparts with the trade-off being that they are also a little heavier. That said, this type of saw tends to be well designed and have good balance making them reasonably easy to handle. In terms of cost, you can pay as little as $140 or upwards of a $1,000 for a top of the range model.
These are extremely popular with homeowners who require an occasional use tool. They are easy to start and usually lighter than the other saw types. Typically they have blades between 6”- “10 inches and are driven by 6 – 8 amp motors. Prices range from around $55 - $120, which makes them an affordable pruning tool for tidying up around the yard.
To operate, you will require a suitable extension cord. This means one suitable for outdoor use with an appropriate gauge to match the saw’s amp rating. For example, if you have a 6.5 Amp saw and want a 100 foot cord, it would need to be rated at least 14AWG.
You can see a pole saw in action below.
Battery Powered Pole saws
Although these are the less powerful than the above, cordless saws also have plenty of advantages which makes them very popular. They are mainly powered by either 20 Volt or 40 Volt Lithium-Ion or Ni-Cad rechargeable batteries with power ranging from 2 to 7.5 amp hours. You can read our article on rechargeable batteries here for further information. Apart from taking care of the bar and chain they require very little maintenance and, without needing to be near to a power supply, they are as portable as gas models. The cost of the battery tends to make these slightly more expensive than corded products. Budget models can be picked up for around $80, with more expensive products costing upwards of $400.
A combo is basically a model where the saw detaches from the pole and can be used as a chainsaw in its own right. They are useful if you are looking for a light use saw which can cut up wood once the branches have been taken down.
Manual Pole Saw
Okay, this isn’t a chain saw, but it would be remiss of me not to include the manual tools as people may be a little intimidated by using the powered variety. They typically comprise a long handle with a blade at the end. They have ropes either inside or on the outside of the saw which are pulled to cut the limb.
The manual saw is light, easy to use and cheaper than other types. The downside is that they require more effort to cut the limbs. You can, however, get them with poles stretching up to 21 feet, much longer than any of the powered varieties.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Each of the types discussed above have pros and cons which need to be carefully weighed up by the potential purchasers. These are covered below:
- Suitable for frequent everyday use.
- Powerful cutting so ideal for cutting through thicker limbs.
- Portable – not restricted by power supply.
- Robust - will last a while
- Heavier than electric saws.
- Require plenty of maintenance.
- Noisier than electric types.
- Lighter than gas and battery.
- Easy to start and operate.
- Ideal for occasional home-owner use.
- Low maintenance.
- Reasonably inexpensive.
- Not as powerful as gas models.
- You need close access to a power supply.
- Can’t be used in wet conditions
- Portable – they can be used anywhere.
- Low maintenance.
- Ideal for occasional home-owner use.
- Heavier than corded machines.
- Cutting time is limited by the available battery charge. Considerations should be given to having a spare.
- More expensive than corded saws.
- Can’t be used in wet conditions.
- Have longer reaches (up to 21 feet) than powered saws.
- Safe to use – no whirring chains to worry about.
- Can be used in all weather conditions.
- Much lighter than other saws.
- No maintenance required.
- More effort required to complete the task.
- Less cutting efficiency than powered models.
Which is the right pole saw for you?
There are a number of questions which you should ask yourself when it comes to choosing the right product for your needs. These include:
How high will I need to cut?
Check out the pole reach of the saw. For example, for powered saws, poles usually extend to around 12 feet in length. Be careful here, manufacturers often advertise the maximum reach, which is how far the cutting equipment will reach into the tree when being held by the user. This is a bit misleading as it all depends on the height of the individual using the saw and the manufacturer will usually add another 3-5 feet onto the pole extension length to calculate this figure. Always go on the maximum extension and not the reach.
How often will I be using the saw?
If you plan on using the saw on a regular basis, you may need something more durable and long-lasting. The more expensive gas models are likely to fit the bill in this instance. As mentioned earlier, these are the preferred choice of professionals who may use their tools on a daily basis.
For occasional home use, electric and battery operated models are suitable. You can just take them from the garage and start pruning without having to mix gas and oil, check fuel lines or worry about whether it will start after a long lay off.
Do I have access to a power supply?
Access to a power point will dictate whether or not you can use an electric corded saw. If the trees in your garden are within 100 feet of a power socket or if you have a portable generator then you can opt for this style. Otherwise, you will need to choose between manual, battery operated and gas.
Am I capable of/or want to carry out regular maintenance?
Gas saws require a fair amount of maintenance. Tasks such as changing air-filters and spark plus must be carried out as a matter of routine to keep the machine in top working order. As well as this you will need to keep the cutting equipment in good working order through regular sharpening of the chain.
Electric saws (corded and battery powered) take less looking after as you don’t have to worry about the engine elements. You still need to ensure that the chain is kept sharp (or replace regularly if necessary).
If you absolutely don’t want to do any maintenance then opting for a manually operated model is the best option.
How thick are the limbs I will need to prune?
If you need to routinely prune and trim large limbs then a gas saw is the best option. These tend to have longer bars and are the most powerful of all the products available. For light pruning, when having excess power isn’t as crucial, then smaller bars which can get into tighter spots may be more convenient. Corded and battery versions meet these criteria and would be suitable.
When cutting limbs, the general rule is that the guide bar should be two inches longer than branch diameter if you want to get through it in a single pass. It is possible to cut thicker limbs but you may need to tackle them from different angles.
Can I comfortably operate a pole saw?
On the weight scale, these products are, on average, ranked as follows:
-Battery (Moderately lighter than gas)
-Electric (No battery so lighter than cordless)
Of the powered versions, electric corded are the lightest and can weigh as little as 7lbs whereas gas saws can weigh well over twice this. Remember, you may think 7lbs is a reasonably light power tool but if it is at the end of an extended pole it will feel much heavier and harder to handle than a 7lb power tool held in your hands. If you have any difficulty lifting heavy items then a manual style may be the preferred option.
Finally on this subject, you may find that a slightly heavier machine is easier to operate because if it’s better ergonomic design. When looking to buy, always read the reviews to get a feel for consumer’s views.
How much do I want to spend?
What if, all other things being equal, budget is your only criteria? If you want to test the market and are looking for a low cost power tool, then electric is the way to go – providing you have access to a power outlet. If, on the other hand, you have a large budget and want something which will last a long time, then gas is the best option.
Are there any other considerations?
The answer to this question is yes. Other things you should consider include:
- Does the model have an adjustable angle head? These are useful for cutting at different angles and getting into tight spaces.
- Does it have automatic chain lubrication? If not you will need to regularly release chain oil to the blade (manually) whilst cutting.
- Does the pole split in two? Poles which can be taken apart make it much easier to store your tool.
- Where will you be using it? Remember, if you need to do cutting in noise sensitive areas, you may find that a gas product doesn’t go down too well with the neighbors.
I hope you found this article useful. Please feel free to check out our thought on specific products in the review section.