Anyone looking to purchase a new chain saw is familiar with the fact that there is a vast array of choices in the field. So many, in fact, that those with little saw experience will have a difficult time selecting the saw that is right for them. There seem to be two primary approaches to this problem when people do not want to do the research: either charge out and buy the biggest, fanciest saw you can, regardless of what you plan to use it for, or buy a cheap off-brand saw with the intention of saving as much money as possible.

One of my friends put himself in the first position. He was raised in the city and had very little contact with chainsaws beyond when he was camping with me. He had just purchased a new house on the edge of town and wanted a chainsaw to prune back a bunch of the trees around his backyard. Rather than do any research or ask around (most of his friends run saws), he went out and bought a nice big 60cc Stihl from our local dealer. Rather excessive for pruning back a few branches and awfully heavy to be holding up in front of you or overhead. He used it once and then it sat in his garage. As far as I know it hasn’t moved since.

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Those who purchase the cheaper saws tend to use them for a year, only to find that in the second year of use things start to go wrong. The motor won’t start, components break or bend, the chain is too dull to use, etc. These end up either up for sale, sitting in the garage, or in the trash heap. Knowing what type of saw you want or need is essential and any potential saw buyers should think carefully about their choice. Here are a few things to consider.

Quality Matters

Right up front, this is not an article to debate the merits of any given brand over another. However, it should be noted that it is worth buying a good quality chainsaw from a recognized brand name, preferably one that has a local outlet for service. Brand name saws tend to have better quality parts and a better service package. They hold together better and perform at a higher level over the long term.

When considering buying a chainsaw you should think about how much experience you have with saws and how comfortable you are with this powerful and potentially dangerous machine. Those with little or no experience should start with a smaller saw with an anti-kickback chain for safety reasons. Next, what are you going to use your saw for? This is the overriding element of chainsaw selection.

Gas Saw Users

felling an old tree

You should use a gas powered chainsaw to do the heavy lifting!

Aside from professionals (who use their saws every day are not considered here), the heaviest users are those who rely on their saws for firewood, fence line clearing, or occasionally use saws as part of their job. These would include those who heat a large house with wood heat and landscapers who do occasional tree removal. Anything where you will be dealing with larger trunks. For these jobs you need a longer bar, at least 18 inches to stretch through the trunk and a higher powered saw to drive the chain with the increased resistance. With an 18 inch bar you want a saw that is 50cc or over to prevent the saw bogging down when the bar is nearly buried. Weight becomes less of an issue when you are bucking logs that are on the ground, but an overly heavy saw will still tire an operator over a day of cutting. Remember that attaching a big bar to a smaller saw will increase the strain on engine and running components, reduce the lifespan of your equipment, and result in your saw bogging down more frequently.

Corded Electric Saw Users

For those purchasers who will only be using the saw around the house for light pruning or trimming work, an electric saw may be a good option. These lighter weight and less aggressive (read safer) saws are ideal for backyard work. This is especially true if you live with nearby neighbours who will undoubtedly appreciate the fact that you are not firing up a two stroke engine in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. Electric saws are lower maintenance, as they spare you the hassle of pull starting a two stroke engine, mixing gas, and worrying about engine maintenance. They are essentially grab-and-go models which is perfect for the occasional backyard user. The flip-side of this is that electric saws tend to be less powerful (longer cutting time), they are not generally designed to cut large trees, and they tend to be limited by a 35 meter power cord. So, if you are a person who likes to tinker in their backyard, and think you might occasionally need a chainsaw in relatively close proximity to a power source, an electric saw should definitely be on your list for consideration.

Battery Powered Saw Users

pruning a birch tree

…while a modern cordless electric chainsaw is perfect for pruning trees!

Increasingly, battery operated chainsaws are reaching a level of development where they are becoming a legitimate choice for a broader selection of jobs. Battery operated saws have the obvious advantage over their corded counterparts in their mobility. Because the power difference between battery operated and corded tools is rapidly decreasing, many electric saw users have begun to consider using only battery operated models. The gap is further narrowed as new technology increasingly extends battery life. Some recent models are even capable of light bucking, although the cutting speed is somewhat slower than gas saws. These saws have all the advantages of their corded brothers, without the cord limitations and are an ideal saw for light field work. Even operators involved in heavier work may want to consider an electric model as a limbing and trimming saw. This is an excellent back-up style saw and is a viable option for working around the house and neighbourhood without causing major disturbances.

Conclusion

Even with all of this information, it is important that you are sure you need a chainsaw before rushing out to purchase one. For those people who have a few backyard trees that they want to prune once a year, owning a chainsaw is not for you. You are better off paying a rental fee than purchasing a chainsaw, which you then have to store and maintain, for a once a year job. Be sure that you get the right product for you. Remember that buying high quality saws will pay off in the long run and save you a ton of frustration. Think hard about what you would use your saw for and carefully consider which style would be best for you.

There is no “best” chainsaw.

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Additional sources:

http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles2/gregersen119.html
A nice and comprehensive guide to buying a chainsaw. From Bar size to chainsaw oil.