The difference between a good chainsaw and the best chainsaw for your specific need can be significant. We know which factors matter when you decide which saw is your perfect fit.
Chainsaws used to be tools for farmers and loggers, but today homeowners use them for a huge amount of tasks – from cutting firewood to felling trees and creating fences. The amount of products to choose from has followed the same trend and deciding which chainsaw to buy can be a bit of a challenge. Therefore, we’ve put together a list that clears up some of the confusion.
Electric Chainsaw vs. Gas Chainsaw vs. Cordless Chainsaw
Corded electric chainsaws, gas chainsaws and cordless chainsaws each have their own advantages. Choosing the best chainsaws for your toolbox overall depends mostly on the level of power and mobility required, as well as the ease of operation and maintenance.
- Gas chainsaws are the most powerful and ideally suited for large tasks, but they require gas and oil and are the loudest and heaviest chainsaws. This is the best chainsaw for cutting down trees if that is a job you have to do regularly. The best gas chainsaws are heavy duty and durable, and also very mobile. If you have to do a lot of cutting in a wooded area, a gas chainsaw is your best bet.
- Electric chainsaws are lightweight. There’s no fuel to replenish but they do require an extension cord. This means you will have to do your cutting close to your power source. A corded electric chainsaw is very useful for lighter amounts of yard work close to home. An outdoor outlet will increase the tool’s boundary for usefulness. Electric chainsaws also produce a lot less noise than gas chainsaws, a feature for which your neighbors will be grateful.
- Cordless chainsaws are powered by a rechargeable battery and can reach various levels of power without being attached to a cord. This gives the user greater mobility. Cordless chainsaws are lighter and easier to handle than gas chain saws and most corded electric chainsaws. They are also very quiet to operate which makes them the best chainsaws for home use.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Chainsaw
Before shopping, consider a number of important factors common to all the best chainsaws, regardless of power source. This section also explores features relevant to selecting the best gas chainsaw for particular tasks, including intended use, motor, and chainsaw bars.
A description of any chainsaw likely includes the bar size, sometimes referred to as the “guide bar.” (Bars are the steel guide plate the chain runs around.) This measurement is almost always in inches. As a rule of thumb, light-duty chainsaws have a bar from 12 to 14 inches, general purpose chainsaws have bars that run from 16 to 20 inches, and professional models have bars that are 22 inches or more. The largest chainsaws can exceed 48 inches.
However, exceptions exist. Some high-powered professional chainsaws have shorter bars for added maneuverability. These are often designed for working among branches at height, usually by contractors in climbing harnesses. Strictly speaking, a chainsaw with a 12-inch bar should be able to cut through a 12-inch tree. In practical terms, however, maximum cutting capacities are usually a couple of inches shorter than bar length.
Engine Power (Gas Chainsaws)
The two types of chainsaw engines are two-stroke (also called two-cycle) and four-stroke motors (four-cycle).
Two-stroke models are lighter and less complicated, which makes them less expensive. They usually run at higher revolutions per minute (RPMs), so they generate decent power for their size. However, this also makes them noisier, increases fuel consumption, and causes higher emissions.
Four-stroke chainsaws are heavier, more complex, and produce less power for the same cylinder size. However, they are more fuel-efficient and run cleaner. They’re often more durable as well.
The smallest, light-duty gas chainsaws have engine sizes ranging between 30 and 40 cubic centimeters (cc), which is an acceptable size engine for anything from a 10- or 12-inch bar up to 16 inches. For moderate work, like cutting firewood, a 55 cc engine and 16-inch bar are a good standard. The toughest jobs, like felling large trees, call for a professional model with a 65 to 110 cc engine and 16 to 20 inches of bar length.
Motor Power (Electric Chainsaws)
The motor power in electric saws is rated by amperages. An amp-rating describes how much power the saw can draw before the internal components will overheat or start breaking down. An 8-amp saw can be considered light-duty, while a 12-amp is for medium-duty work, and a 15-amp is the heaviest duty of electric chainsaws.
Keep in mind that with battery-powered saws, much of the power rating is based on the voltage of the battery used (20v or 40v, for example), not the amp-hour (Ah) rating on the battery. A battery’s Ah rating has more to do with how long the battery will run than the power output.
Although run times will vary depending on use and the chainsaw’s size, expect to get about 30 to 40 minutes of intermittent use out of a cordless chainsaw before it needs a charge. If you already have an arsenal of cordless power tools, consider buying a chainsaw with the same brand to use the batteries interchangeably between your cordless tools.
Depending on the user’s physical strength, weight can be the most critical consideration of all. If someone is unable to handle a saw safely because it’s too heavy, the fuel source or bar length simply won’t matter.
Corded electric saws and battery-powered saws are often the lightest chainsaws on the market. They don’t require a full tank of fuel mix, and their motors are smaller, so they are lighter weight and easier to use in a variety of scenarios.
Keep in mind, though, that a saw can be too light as well. A top-handle saw with a lot of power, a short bar, and a light motor can act unpredictably if it experiences some kickback. The added inertia of a heavier motor will help minimize the effects of kickback.
Most chainsaws are designed with two handles: one in the rear that includes the trigger and a larger wrap-around handle in the front for your guiding hand. Given the danger involved with using a chainsaw, the grip is crucial.
Chainsaw handles use rubberized grips that allow you to get a good hold on the chainsaw. The rear handle also incorporates the trigger that activates the saw and a safety switch that engages to shut off the saw should you lose your grip on the rear handle. The front handle curves around the chainsaw, allowing you to hold the chainsaw in various positions for different cuts.
If you’d like to maintain a pleasant relationship with neighbors, you may want to consider how much noise a chainsaw can create. Gas-powered saws can be deafening—100 decibels is not unheard of (no pun intended), so woodcutting is best left to late mornings and afternoons when the fewest people may be sleeping.
Even some electric- and battery-powered options are a little loud. The whine of the electric motor and the noise the chain makes as it rips through the wood combine to create some chatter.
The other thing to realize about noise is that hearing protection should be worn. There are plenty of muff-style protectors at local home improvement stores, and they’ll do a lot to maintain hearing after spending a day at the end of a chainsaw.
Chainsaws are dangerous, plain and simple. They cause thousands of injuries each year. Some of the best chainsaws feature such safety features as a trigger lock, which stops the cutting action the moment you release the trigger. Look for anti-kickback chains, which prevent snags and minimize jolting. There are also double-acting chain brakes that protect the hand from moving toward the cutting area.
Before getting to work, learn how to use a chainsaw safely. If at all possible, learn from someone with practical experience. Always wear appropriate safety equipment while operating a chainsaw: a face shield can help protect you from flying debris, which can be surprisingly sharp; hearing protectors are also a good idea; as is a hard hat if there’s a danger of falling branches. Be sure to wear solid footwear, preferably with steel toe caps, and tough work gloves.
Our Top Picks
The chainsaws in the top picks below were selected based on their notable features, including power source, size, and budget. These are some of the best tools that can both help manage a property’s trees, collect firewood, and more.
STIHL are still the number one selling chainsaw brand in the USA. The Stihl 271 Farm Boss is a great saw for the small farm owner, or if you have a larger section of land with mature trees, and you need a reliable saw that can handle big jobs on a regular basis. Considering its size, it’s a very manageable weight, but you still need some experience to handle this beast safely.
STIHL products are only available through a local dealer, which is important to consider as all repairs and replacements will need to go through them too. But if you can find a dealer who stocks these, then the STIHL 271 Farm Boss is fantastic heavy duty domestic chainsaw.
The next level safety features on this mid-size, domestic use chainsaw make the Makita XCU03PT1 very appealing to the casual user, particularly if you’ve got little fingers that want to help. The hold down safety button makes it virtually impossible for injury to occur, plus an instant chain brake and metal bucking spikes for greater control.
This is a respectable, professional grade saw that comes with four batteries and can handle some larger jobs as well, though you might need to purchase additional batteries if you’re looking to tackle a large project.
Compared with most other electric chainsaws though, the Makita XCU03PT1 is very expensive. Coming in at around $380, it’s much more of an investment than Makita’s previous saws. Still, we think it’s worth every penny and it’ll likely be the only saw you ever need.
A versatile, high-powered, electric chainsaw that can compete with some of the mid-range gas powered models. It is lighter than its gas-powered equivalents, and its battery means you could easily climb into a tree with it – it has excellent maneuverability. It’s also long lasting. It can do up to 180 cuts on a fully charged battery.
Environmentally friendly with low noise and vibration output, this is a great chainsaw to graduate to if you are looking for something a bit bigger but don’t want the maintenance and mess associated with a gas-powered saw.
If power is what you’re after, you’ll love the Echo CS-400-18, a gas chainsaw with an 18-inch bar and a two-stroke, 40.2-cc engine. This tool doesn’t blink when it’s time to slice through imposing pieces of wood quickly and confidently, and it’s easy to use and handle.
This professional-grade chainsaw features an automatic oiler, heavy-duty air filter, reduced-effort starting system with digital ignition, a side-access chain tensioner, and an air pre-cleaner.
Though gas-powered chainsaws can be hard to start, this one is easy to fire up and keep balanced during use. It’s also relatively lightweight at just over 10 pounds without fuel and packs enough power for heavy-duty home projects. The fuel tank holds 14 ounces. It has an impressive five-year warranty that covers it for non-commercial use.
If you’re OK with a power cord, it’s hard to beat the WORX WG303.1, especially at its budget-friendly price. This electric chainsaw has a 16.5-inch bar and a 14.5-amp motor. Experts give it top marks in all essential categories, including cutting speed, ease of use, and handling.
Though inexpensive, this WORX still has handy features, including a chain brake, ergonomic handle, automatic chain oiler, and automatic chain tensioner. It’s fast, balanced, and easily handles lightweight duties around the yard. It’s not too heavy, weighing 11 pounds.
You may experience some shaking with this model; one thing it lacks is vibration isolation. A three-year warranty backs it.
If you’re looking for a powerful chainsaw that can handle a lot of use and abuse, the Husqvarna 455 Rancher is a tried-and-true option that’s hard to beat when it comes to power and reliability. Experts laud this saw. Husqvarna is widely considered one of the best chainsaw manufacturers globally, giving it top marks for cutting speed and ease of use. It has a large 20-inch bar and an impressive two-stroke, 55.5-cc engine that can rev up to 9,000 rpm.
This Husqvarna is a low-vibration model with a low fuel-consumption, low-emission X-torq engine. It has a centrifugal air-cleaning system that can help air filters last longer, a side-mounted chain tensioner, an inertia-activated chain brake, an ergonomic handle, and a Smart Start system that means less time spent trying to get the engine going.
This is an exceptionally easy-to-use chainsaw, especially compared to other gas models. More importantly, it’s powerful enough to slice through large logs and limbs easily. The saw weighs about 13 pounds with cutting equipment. A two-year warranty backs it.
7. OREGON CS300
If you’re planning to embark on some serious large-scale topiary and need a cordless brushless model powerful enough to deal with trunks up to a whopping 8 inches (10 at a push) in diameter, then this high-end 36v beast from renowned USA power tool behemoth Oregon is the way to go.
Oregon invented the type of chain used in most modern chainsaws so it clearly knows its stuff. This model is supremely powerful and no lightweight when it comes to dealing with pruning on a massive scale. Put another way, the optional 6Ah battery we received is good for about 600 cuts – which frankly equates to a small forest. That said, the CS300 is also available with a smaller 2.6Ah battery or even no battery at all – the best option for those who already own an Oregon garden tool.
This writer tried it out on an apple tree and its 40cm (16-inch) chain bar literally scythed through a three-inch branch like it was made of blancmange. It’s a heavyweight beast mind (it weighs 5.4 kilos without the battery), so you will need to rest between cuts, especially if using it horizontally. However, that extra weight came into its own when cutting up a pre-felled tree trunk using a parallel log holder. I simply let the weight of the unit do all the work and it was through all eight inches of it in seven seconds flat.
Looking for a keenly-priced and extremely effective electric model that comes highly rated by a horde of chainsaw-wielding gardenistas? Step right this way.
The German-made electric Einhell features a 40.6cm chain bar with ‘kick back’ cut-off protection in case it does what all chainsaws occasionally do – rear up suddenly towards your face. It also comes with the usual gamut of electric chainsaw safety features, including a hand protector and a cable relief clip that prevents the 5m cable from disconnecting. The chain rail – manufactured by top supplier Oregon – will cut through most woods with ease; many users report it that tackles branches and logs up to 20cm (8 inches) in diameter.
As with most chainsaws, this product requires fitting the chain onto the chain bar yourself, but thankfully it’s a relatively straightforward procedure. However, be sure to orientate the chain in the correct direction because the internet is full of comments by people who put chains on the wrong way round and then wondered why their chainsaws never cut through anything.
When it comes to a gas chainsaw, you want something that’s powerful, but also easy to handle. You’ll experience just that when you purchase the CRAFTSMAN 42cc-16 S165 Gas Chainsaw. It weighs 21 lbs and has a three-point anti-vibration system that minimizes fatigue and makes it easy to use even with a powerful 42 cc full crank 2-cycle engine.
Start this chainsaw quicker and with easier pull starts thanks to an EasyStart Technology. The 16-inch low-kickback bar and chain stays well oiled with an adjustable auto chain oiler which lets you manually increase or decrease the oil flow. When you need to do routine maintenance on this chainsaw, you won’t need tools to access the air filter or spark plug.
Rest your worries about kickback or controlling this bad boy as you cut. The bucking spikes helps control your sawing while an inertia-activated chain protects you from kickback.
10. RY40580 Chainsaw
We found the Ryobi to be a good, fast-cutting saw, with an ability to hang in there in difficult cuts without tripping the thermal overload switch. You can be confident in its ability to handle the yard work you need to do. We particularly appreciated several of its features: its long bar reduces the amount of stooping you do to get at wood you need to cut, Also, it’s equipped with a chain brake to protect you against kickback, not merely a front hand guard.
Finally, its rapid charger is four times faster than a standard one. You can do a lot of cutting with this saw, take a rest break, and put sufficient charge on the battery to cut some more. We found that it leaks oil while not in use. But there are steps you can take to reduce that, such as storing the saw without bar oil and turning down its adjustable oiler.
Chainsaw Safety Tips
You don’t have to watch horror movies to have a healthy fear of chainsaws. These formidable tools are involved in more than 27,000 accidents annually, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The most common injuries are lacerations, particularly to the arms and legs, and some of the most serious injuries occur when the saw’s chain snags and kicks back toward the operator’s chest and head. Chainsaws now have safeguards, including an automatic chain brake, that are designed to reduce the hazard of kickbacks. But even if you have a model that’s fully loaded with safety features, you need to take some safety precautions.
Start with snug-fitting clothing and sturdy work boots, preferably steel-toed. Shield your legs with cut-resistant chaps and the backs of your hands with protective gloves, and wear a helmet with a face shield. You’ll also need hearing protection because practically all saws, including electric models, exceed the 85-decibel level at which hearing damage can occur.
Get a Grip and Stay Grounded
Grip gas-powered saws firmly when pull-starting and keep the saw on the ground; most handles include a spot for securing the saw with one foot while pulling the starter cord. Never saw while on a ladder or use the saw above shoulder height. If you must cut above shoulder height, use an electric lopper, whose encased cutting jaw makes it safer to use than a chainsaw, or hire a pro. And never saw using the tip of the chain and bar, where kickback can occur.
Maintenance Is Key
Upkeep is also an important factor in chainsaw safety. A chain that’s properly sharpened, tensioned, and oiled speeds cutting and helps prevent kickback while reducing wear on the chain and the bar on which it rides. A chain that’s too loose can also slip off the bar and toward the operator as it spins.
While most injuries associated with chainsaws are lacerations and amputations, all gasoline-powered tools produce carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that’s potentially fatal. Never run a gasoline-powered tool indoors or in any enclosed space.
How We Tested
We ran our test saws through a truckload of hardwood logs (ash, white oak, locust), each about six inches in diameter. We charged each saw’s battery, strapped a log onto a saw buck, and proceeded to rapidly and repeatedly cut test discs (or “cookies,” as they are called) by pivoting the saw through the log. The test exposes vibration, stalling, hesitancy, and lack of trigger response.
If the saw has a low threshold for thermal cutoff to protect the battery and circuitry, that will shut the saw off. Rapid repeat cuts through hardwood generate a lot of internal heat in the tool, both from current flow and in the chain drive. For a handful of these saws, we used them to cut up trees felled by storms. (For these saws, you’ll see the disc count marked as N/A.)