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Expert Advice for Choosing a Chainsaw

Expert Advice for Choosing a Chainsaw
Some of the top contenders in our chainsaw testing, ready for action.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman
By Ross Patton ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday July 21, 2022
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Purchasing power tools can be confusing and stressful. You don't want to spend more money than you need to, but at the same time, there are plenty of brands and products out there that aren't going to get the job done. If you make a purchase without doing the proper research you could end up with too much or not enough chainsaw, and you could be wasting hundreds of dollars. There is also a chance that you don't need a chainsaw at all. Continue reading below for our buying guide or head over to our extensive chainsaw review to see a side-by-side breakdown of which models are the best.

Deciding If You Really Need a Chainsaw


The first thing to consider is whether or not a chainsaw is the right tool for you. If you're only doing some light pruning on an ornamental tree you might want to think twice about buying one. It's crucial to consider how much time, money, and effort you're willing to spend on learning how to use and maintain a very hazardous tool. It's possible that a simple hand saw or telescoping pole saw can take care of all of your needs. For larger jobs, especially involving actual tree removal, we recommend that you hire a licensed, insured professional tree service or arborist.

Types of Chainsaws


Chainsaws come in a vast array of sizes. On one side of the spectrum, there are behemoth gas-powered models with bar lengths of 5 feet that weigh upwards of 25 pounds — these are made for heavy-duty logging. On the opposite end, there are tiny battery-powered models that can't do much more than trim a few small branches, but that may be all that you need. All chainsaws essentially fall into two main categories — gas-powered and electric.

chainsaws come in a variety of sizes and weights.
Chainsaws come in a variety of sizes and weights.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Gas-Powered


Chainsaws have been around for a long time, arguably hundreds of years. In the early days, they were gaudy, heavy tools that took more than one person to operate. Since the invention of the internal combustion engine, humans have fitted one to just about any tool possible, so it's no surprise that gas-powered chainsaws eventually became the standard hand tool in the lumber industry. Gasoline has its benefits as opposed to electricity. If you're going to be using the saw somewhere where there isn't a power source you aren't going to be able to recharge batteries or use a corded electric model at all. Bringing a gas can along is pretty easy in most cases. For all-day, constant use, a gas-powered saw will likely be a better solution unless you plan on hauling multiple batteries or a generator to the location of your project or job site. Also, electric saws have yet to develop a model with enough power to spin a longer chain on a bigger bar. For bigger trees and cuts you're still going to need a gas-powered saw.

Electric


There is a whole slew of advantages to using an electric-powered chainsaw rather than a gasoline model. One of the prime benefits is the reduction in noise. They are definitely quieter than gas-powered saws when they're operating, but the best part is that unless you are throttling the saw they are silent. Other benefits include the lack of a pull cord, a choke lever, or the need to mix two-stroke oil and gas to an exact ratio. Our very favorite advantage of using an electric chainsaw as opposed to gas is there are zero toxic fumes. Anyone who has huffed two-stroke exhaust all day knows the smell and taste of chainsaw smoke all too well.

the milwaukee cordless electric model has a lightning-fast wind-up...
The Milwaukee cordless electric model has a lightning-fast wind-up and easily dices wood.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Corded vs. Cordless


Within the category of electric chainsaws exists two subcategories — corded and cordless. Corded models are the least popular of the variations of chainsaws, but they are definitely not the least powerful. Being plugged into the grid has its advantages — having 120 volts for a house current means a whole lot of cutting power. The main drawback is, of course, the cord itself. Unless your trees or wood stack are very close to a plug or you have a generator you don't mind lugging around, corded chainsaws are generally impractical for the job. A terrific quality of chainsaws is that they are easy to move around. Loggers and firefighters take them deep into the wilderness, outdoorsy folks like to take them camping, and commercial tree services send climbers to the tops of enormous trees with them. All of these tasks are either difficult or impossible with a cord. Our final criticism of corded versions is that the cord adds a bit of a hazard in the form of something to trip on or nick with the chain.

between the controls, the wind-up time, and the mediocre cutting...
Between the controls, the wind-up time, and the mediocre cutting performance, the Greenworks G-MAX is not the easiest saw to make cuts with.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Cordless chainsaws combine the best of both worlds from the electric and the gas-powered models — Like corded models, they don't produce smoke and they're relatively quiet, and they are similar to gas-powered saws in the sense that they are very portable. If you're sick of gasping for fresh air while you work, struggling to get your engine started, and annoyed with the constant idling of your chainsaw but you still want the performance and flexibility of not having to think about electrical wires, a cordless model is the right choice for you.

I Want a Chainsaw! Now what?


Before you purchase a chainsaw you must first define the main purpose or application for which the saw will be used. If you are a professional landscaper or tree worker then you are probably going to want to purchase a different saw than someone who's going to trim a few trees once or twice a year. The first and most critical thing to consider is where you are going to be using the saw. Corded electric models are limited to a power outlet and the length of the cord. Similarly, battery-powered models need a power source for charging. Some battery-operated saws have a pretty solid runtime so you should be able to get away with a night of camping, a quick project, or harvesting a Christmas Tree without worrying about recharging. Unless you plan on running a power inverter in your vehicle or hauling a generator, gas-powered models make the most sense for remote jobs or tasks where you'll be running your machine for many hours.

gas-powered models make the most sense for locations where...
Gas-powered models make the most sense for locations where electricity is not readily available.
Credit: Ross Patton

Some other things to consider are the cutting power, the weight, and the bar length of the saws you are considering. If you don't need the power, then there is no reason to spend the extra money on a big and heavy saw. If you're going to be trimming trees in the backyard then it may make sense to get a saw that is lighter and easier to lift. For some, the main task of the chainsaw will be cutting firewood to prepare for winter. If this is the case then, then spending a few extra bucks on a more powerful saw will save you a whole lot of time and effort in the long run.

battery-powered models free you from the use of an extension cord...
Battery-powered models free you from the use of an extension cord, but you still need a way to charge them.
Credit: Jason Peters

More vs. Less Maintenance


Changing and tensioning chains is a necessary aspect of chainsaw ownership so it is important that it is as painless as possible. If you aren't comfortable using tools, then a model with a tool-free chain tightening would be a good idea. The downside to the tool-free tightening systems is that they're made out of plastic, so if it fails your saw might be useless. The models that use nuts to attach the bar and chain may be preferable for folks that like to be sure that their saw chain is tensioned to their exact specifications.

the onboard "scrench" that the m18 uses allows for a great deal of...
The onboard "scrench" that the M18 uses allows for a great deal of accuracy when tensioning the chain.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

If you choose to go with a gas-powered model, remember that you'll have a 2-cycle internal combustion engine to maintain. These machines have pull cords, choke levers, primer bubbles, carburetors, spark plugs, and air filters — all parts that can potentially need maintenance or replacing. Although the newest, nicest chainsaws come tuned and ready to run for many uses before they'll need maintenance, eventually they will require a tune-up of some sort. That being said, parts are readily available, and even remote rural towns generally have a small engine shop. Our team has personally used 35-year-old gas-powered models that run just as strong as the day they were new. Battery-powered models have not been around long enough to fully gauge their longevity, but historically, battery-powered tools have a limited lifespan.

gas-powered models require extra maintenance, but if taken care of...
Gas-powered models require extra maintenance, but if taken care of can run for decades.
Credit: Ross Patton

Conclusion


We hope that you now have all of the advice needed to buy the best cordless chainsaw for you. If you are curious about which saws we have found are the best for certain applications, read our comprehensive best chainsaw review.


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