How to Choose a Chainsaw

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Investing in a chainsaw is an exciting but daunting proposition. You want to choose something safe and reliable that can meet all your needs. Learn how to choose a chainsaw and evaluate the different properties of chainsaws so you know what you’re looking at.

How to Choose a Chainsaw

Follow these steps when you need to select a chainsaw to make sure you understand your options and are happy with your decision.

How to choose a chainsaw for cutting piece of wood
  1. Consider your experience level. Have you ever used a chainsaw before, or will this be your first? Corded electric and battery-operated chainsaws are lighter, smaller, and easier to handle than heavy gas-powered chainsaws, so they are generally easier for new users to handle.
  2. Look to the future. What kind of chainsaw jobs will you be completing most often? If it’s simply pruning small branches, a mini chainsaw might be appropriate. If you’re harvesting firewood in the deep woods, you’re going to need something portable and powerful.
  3. Decide on a fuel source. Chainsaws can be powered by gas or electricity (either through a cord or battery.) The fuel source affects everything from size, weight, and price to cutting performance, and must be carefully evaluated before you can choose the right chainsaw for you. Check out the section below for detailed information on chainsaw fuel sources.
  4. Choose the bar length. You want a chainsaw bar that is easy to handle, but big enough to handle the jobs on your to-do list. Review the section on bar length below for additional information.
  5. Choose the power level. More powerful chainsaws can tackle bigger jobs than less powerful models. They are also generally more expensive. The section on cutting power below sheds some light on what you can expect different chainsaws to tackle.
  6. Consider special features. When several models fit your needs, how do you choose between them? Anti-vibration might not be worth it to you if you are only an occasional user, but anyone can benefit from tool-less chain tensioning.

Chainsaw Fuel Sources

Chainsaws can be gas-powered or electric. Electric chainsaws either have a cord or a rechargeable battery.

Battery Operated

Like many other power tools, chainsaws can be powered by a rechargeable battery.

Chainsaw holding by a man
  • Battery-operated chainsaws come in a variety of voltages, from 20v, 40v, or even 80v.
  • If you already have battery-operated power tools, you can purchase a chainsaw in the same range to use the batteries and charging stations you already have.
  • Chainsaws that are battery operated are highly portable. With no fuel to buy or cords to trip over, they are a convenient and accessible option.
  • A potential drawback is the threat of running out of power before the job is done. Purchasing and charging a backup battery solves this problem.
  • You’ll get about 30 – 40 minutes of cutting time out of a single charge.

If you’re looking for a great small chainsaw, battery power makes for a highly convenient option.

Corded

An outdoor-rated extension cord is necessary for connecting these chainsaws to a grounded exterior outlet.

  • Corded chainsaws have a limited range – you must be within walking distance to an appropriate outlet. They are not suitable for work in the deep woods.
  • The constant power supply means you never have to stop to refuel or wait for the battery to recharge.
  • Electric chainsaws (both corded and battery-operated) tend to be smaller and cheaper than gas-powered chainsaws, making them popular with new users.
  • Electric chainsaws are also less powerful than gas-powered chainsaws. Expect cutting through the same amount of wood to take longer when you’re using an electric chainsaw.

If you’re looking for a budget friendly chainsaw, and don’t mind using a cord, this can be a great option.

Gas-Powered

The most powerful chainsaws are powered by gas.

  • The larger engine and weight of the fuel means gas-powered chainsaws must be larger than their electric and battery-operated countertops. They are heavier to carry and more cumbersome to maneuver. Even the lightest gas-powered chainsaw weighs almost six pounds with no bar or chain installed.
  • A carburetor engine has higher maintenance requirements than an electric motor.
  • Gas-powered chainsaws require a mix of fuel and oil in order to function. Sourcing and blending appropriate fuel is an additional task associated with choosing a gas-powered machine.
  • Gas-powered chainsaws cannot be used indoors where there is limited ventilation. They produce carbon monoxide, which can build up to dangerous levels in enclosed spaces.
  • Gas chainsaws are good for hardwood, where you need extra power to make consistent cuts.

This type of chainsaw is powerful and more expensive, but will cut almost anything.

Chainsaw Bar Length

The bar is the part of the chainsaw that holds the chain. Its length is measured from the tip of the bar to where it enters the motor housing. In other words, only the visible portion of the bar is counted when measuring its length.

How to choose a chainsaw for cutting wood

Chainsaws with shorter bars are easier to control and maneuver than models with larger and longer bars. However, the length of the bar dictates what you can cut through.

As a rule, whatever you’re cutting should be two inches shorter than the length of your bar. So, a 20-inch bar can cut logs and wood up to 18 inches in diameter.

Chainsaw Cutting Power

Cutting power determines how quickly and easily the chainsaw is able to gnaw its way through whatever you’re trying to cut.

The cutting power of electric chainsaws is measured in volts. Here’s a general guide to the power levels of different chainsaws:

  • A 20v chainsaw can handle large tree branches and most tree limbs.
  • A 40v chainsaw can handle all tree branches and limbs, as well as fell small trees.
  • An 80v chainsaw can fell large and small trees as well as chop them into firewood.

The most powerful chainsaws can easily fell and chop large trees. Gas-powered chainsaws with large engines fall into this category. Smaller gas-powered engines can handle most trees and are similar in power to an 80v electric chainsaw.

Additional Chainsaw Features

With the basics out of the way, here are some special features to look for when shopping for a new chainsaw.

  • Automatic chain oiler. Older versions of chainsaws have a manual oil bulb that you needed to press repeatedly to keep the chain oiled. Choose a newer model with an automatic chain oiler for convenience.
  • Tool-less tensioning. Tensioning refers to the process of tightening up the chain when it’s become loose. It is an important part of maintaining the safety and efficacy of your chainsaw. Chainsaws with tool-less tensioning have levers for adjusting the chain tension right on the body of the machine, as opposed to tensioning tools that can easily get forgotten or misplaced.
  • Manual chain brake. When a manual chain brake is installed on your chainsaw, you can easily stop the blade with a twist of your wrist.

Conclusion

To choose a chainsaw you must know what your goals are and how you intend to use the chainsaw. Then, you can consider various features and decide what chainsaw is right for you. Some of the most important factors to consider when choosing a chainsaw are; the fuel or power source, the length of the bar, and the cutting power of the chainsaw.

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.