Chainsaw Buying Guide
September 26, 2022 by The Merovingian
When choosing a chainsaw, you need to be cautious enough, because there are a lot of models on the market designed for different uses. Before buying, you should ask yourself some fundamental questions:
- How often will I work with the chainsaw?
- Where will I primarily use it?
- What size of wood will I be processing?
- Will I be using the saw to cut down trees?
The answers to these questions, combined with our information, will guide you to the desired outcome and you’ll know what kind of saw you’re looking for. We’ll introduce you to the types used and the general categorization of saws depending on their purpose if you want to focus on models from one of the time-tested brands when choosing, check out our article How to choose a Stihl chainsaw.
Chainsaws do a lot of the work for you. In our article, you’ll find the main points you shouldn’t miss when choosing. However, there may be reasons why you can’t use the machine, one of them being noise limits. In these situations, you can reach for the classics and buy a hand saw, which also has undeniable advantages. Electric chainsaws also achieve lower noise levels. You may also be interested in our articles on mitre saws or jigsaws, which are used for specific purposes.
How to choose a chainsaw in brief:
- Choose an adequate motor type. If you plan to do more frequent and demanding work, choose a petrol saw. If you need less power and have the option of connecting to electricity, an electric drive is a good choice. For example, a cordless saw is suitable for pruning branches.
- Hobby or professional? Hobby saws are sufficient for basic work. However, as demands increase, choose so-called farm saws or professional saws with better performance and more robust construction.
- Choose a good ratio of bar length to power. You’ll need a longer bar for thicker logs. At the same time, you need to make sure that length goes hand in hand with more power.
- Don’t go for an unnecessarily heavy model. Choose a model that’s heavy enough for you to work with. Heavy models may have more power, but it’s no good if you can’t lift the saw. If you get a chance to try the saw in the shop, watch the ergonomics of the grip, and if your hands don’t get sore quickly.
- Watch out for warranty and service. The saw’s warranty is also an important factor. Find out what the dealer offers in terms of service. Reputable manufacturers often sell their saws at a significantly higher price but come with a superior form of service support.
To begin with, a little explanation of the principle of a chainsaw is in order, even though most readers probably know what it is. A chainsaw consists of several parts. At the heart of it all is the motor that drives the chain, a circular gear that transmits the motor’s power, and the cogwheel. This in turn drives the chain, with the help of which you cut wood of the appropriate diameter. The torque is transmitted from the motor to the chain by a clutch.
|Petrol||+ Higher performance|
+ Better price/performance ratio
+ Independence from location and weather
|– Higher weight|
– Higher noise level
– Maintenance required
|Electric||+ Lower weight|
+ Quieter overall
+ Easy maintenance
|– Lower power|
– Limited cable reach
|Cordless||+ Lighter weight|
+ Quieter overall
+ Can be used anywhere
|– Limited battery life|
– Limited power
As you can probably guess, one of the basic parts of the chainsaw is the motor, which is available in three different versions:
Each of these variants has its pros and cons. At first glance, it’s probably obvious to everyone that a petrol engine will generate a higher level of noise and vibration. The electric one, on the other hand, will be limited by the power cable, the climate conditions, or perhaps the power output. We’ll describe the motorization of saws in more detail below.
Electric saws are primarily intended for users who don’t have higher demands on wood cutting and use the saw only around their house to cut or trim various trees. We deliberately mention the “around the house” part because, as the name of this category of saw suggests, access to a power outlet is required for full operation. You can hardly go into the woods with them.
The electric motor, unlike the petrol one, doesn’t have too much power, which is reflected in the length of the bar and the way it’s used. The average power output is around 1.8 kW to 2.2 kW. Typical lengths of the blades are about 12 to 16 inches (30-40 cm), which corresponds to processing wood up to 16 inches (40 cm) in diameter.
The advantages of electric saws are undoubtedly their lower purchase costs. The electric motor is much quieter, leaves no fumes behind, and has an essentially maintenance-free design.
A certain offshoot of electric saws is the cordless ones, which are powered by an attached battery that needs to be recharged regularly. This way you don’t have to be constrained by a power cord. It should be noted that their power is rather low, and the length of the blades is generally shorter, but even here you can find devices with a length of over 12 inches (30 cm). They are particularly useful for pruning trees.
If you plan to use your chainsaw more often outside the reach of an electrical outlet, then choose a petrol model. An internal combustion engine is characterized by its mobility and significantly higher power output than that found in an electric motor.
You can get chainsaws with a longer bar and up to several horsepowers. These can handle timber over 28 inches (70 cm) in diameter without the slightest problem. That’s why petrol saws are much more common among DIYers and people who regularly visit forests and various woodlands.
Bar length, power, and weight
When choosing a chainsaw, there are probably three basic parameters that will play the most important role in your purchase. Let’s go into a little more detail about them so you’ll be able to determine which category of saw is right for you.
The bar is the element that protrudes from the body of the saw and on which the chain that you use the cut wood runs. When choosing a particular product, you’ll be interested in the length of this bar. This largely tells you how thick the diameter of the log you’ll be able to cut.
The length of the bar starts at 14 inches (35 cm) and reaches over 20 inches (50 cm) with petrol saws. For electric saws, the ideal value is 14 inches (35 cm), with a maximum of 16 inches (40 cm). Of course, as the length of the bar, increases, so does the overall performance requirement, as there’s more friction when cutting larger-diameter timber. And this is what accounts for the loss in performance. If you want a longer bar, then increase the power of the chainsaw proportionately.
In this respect, it’s the volume of the engine that’s used rather than the power itself. See the table below for recommended maximum bar lengths. However, this is only a general guide, always follow the instruction in the manufacturer’s instructions. As can be seen from the table, the maximum bar length shouldn’t be greater than the engine capacity in cubic centimeters.
|Engine volume||Maximum bar length||Maximum bar length|
|30 ccm||12”||30 cm|
|40 ccm||16”||40 cm|
|50 ccm||20”||50 cm|
|60 ccm||24”||60 cm|
|75 ccm||30”||75 cm|
|90 ccm||36”||90 cm|
Now let’s move on to the power we talked about a few lines above in relation to clock length. Here, think about one thing. You need to choose the appropriate power for the length of the bar so that you don’t end up buying a saw with a long bar that keeps jamming in the wood due to a lack of power.
Chainsaw power starts at 0.6 kW and can reach up to 4 kW on professional equipment. You’ll also see the power rating in horsepower or HP (1 HP = 0.75 kW). It’s a good idea to choose a model with some power reserve.
The third parameter is weight, which largely determines the overall cutting comfort. Again, a direct proportionality between performance and weight should be sought. If you buy a professional power saw, you can get to a weight of well over 22 lbs (10 kg). In the case of conventional models, the average is between 10 to 14.3 lbs (4.5 and 6.5 kg). The lighter the saw, the easier it’s to handle.
Also, be sure to focus on the correct ergonomics of the saw’s grip and balance. Most of the time, the saw is cut with the bar facing downwards, so it’s a good idea if the saw has a weight distribution to accommodate this.
What you’ll be using the saw for is also important. For pruning branches, you’ll appreciate a less powerful but lighter saw. For cutting logs on the ground or in a stand, on the other hand, the highest possible performance will make the job easier; weight is secondary in this case.
Now that you know what basic parameters to calculate when buying a chainsaw, it’s time to familiarize you with the division of these products based on their use. From this perspective, you’ll come across three categories into which products with very similar technical characteristics fall.
- Hobby chainsaws
- Farm chainsaws
- Professional chainsaws
The lowest and also the cheapest class of chainsaws, which of course corresponds to their primary use. You get a hobby saw if you need to prune fruit trees in your garden from time to time, which, incidentally, is a good thing to do with a lighter tool. At the same time, you want to prepare a limited amount of firewood in a smaller diameter.
Petrol hobby chainsaws are manufactured with an engine capacity of about 30 to 50 cubic centimeters. The length of the blades is around 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm). In this category you can of course come across really cheap models, but also branded products.
On average, they boast the following equipment – the suspension is usually solved only by rubber silent blocks, and the basis is the classic primer, i.e. the possibility to push petrol into the cylinder with the help of a rubber balloon. Quite often you’ll find products where plastic parts with a shorter service life predominate to some extent. The purchase cost of a hobby chainsaw starts at $120.
We’re now moving up a category. These are farm saws, often referred to as semi-professional tools. Their use is much broader and they can handle much more work. Not only are they suitable for the more demanding and frequent preparation of firewood, but they’re also useful for felling smaller-diameter trees.
This versatile product can be described as a golden middle-class product, which of course corresponds to the individual parameters. Expect a petrol engine capacity of between 40 and 60 cc. The average bar length is approximately 18 inches (45 cm). However, the possibility of replacing the bar with a longer one is no exception, provided the chainsaw has the appropriate power.
More advanced technology and better processing of the individual parts are in favor of farm saws. For example, you won’t need any additional tools to operate the parts. You can look forward to a sophisticated suspension system, an automatic choke, or a practical decompression valve that makes starting the saw much easier. The electronic engine management units are no exception. Prices for farm saws are usually around $400 to $800.
The highest class is made up of professional saws adapted for daily operation over several hours. This, of course, is matched by the overall workmanship of the products, which includes the use of the finest materials that are reflected in the overall durability of the product.
It’s worth mentioning the appropriate power, which is influenced by the engine with a maximum capacity of around 120 cc. The lengths of the rails also correspond to this. For example, the automatic detection of optimum performance or the heated handles can be a nice feature. These are particularly useful in winter.
Professional chainsaws can normally cope with felling trees with thicker trunks and when processing wet wood. Purchase costs start at $800 and can go up to $1,600.
|Types of chainsaw||Engine capacity||Bar length||Price|
|Hobby||30 to 50 ccm||About 12 to 15 inches (30 to 37 cm)||Up to $400|
|Farm||50 to 70 ccm||About 18 inches (45 cm)||$400 to $800|
|Professional||Up to 120 ccm||Up to 24 inches (60 cm)||Above $800|
On a chainsaw, the chain is one of the most important parts of the whole machine, as the name suggests. In the following chapter, we’ll look at what the chain actually looks like and how it’s grounded. The chain of a chainsaw consists of dozens of links that are linked together. The assembly is then mounted on a guide bar with a mechanism that moves the chain to high speed.
There are two types of teeth on the chain. One is cutting, with a sharp sharpened edge that’s capable of gradually removing the material to be cut. This produces long sawdust. In order to prevent the chain from jamming, it’s fitted with limiting teeth, which are always placed in front of the cutting tooth. These are actually protrusions that prevent the cutting tooth from digging too deeply into the material (limiting the depth of cut). This could cause faster wear or even damage to the whole unit.
Due to the described chain design, it’s necessary that the chain is fitted in the correct direction of rotation. The chain shouldn’t hang off the bar as the teeth may skip on it. It’s important to set the tension correctly and to check it continuously as you work (the chain should fit back into the mechanism on the bar without any problems when hanging up). The chain should be tensioned before each cut. The tensioning mechanism is used for this purpose by means of a rotary knob or screw.
Users have two grinding options when the saw chain is dull. Either they can bring their saw to a service center where it will be professionally sharpened by an expert, or they can sharpen it themselves. In this chapter, we’ll discuss how to get to grips with sharpening your chain at home. If you learn the correct procedure and get some practice, it won’t take more than 10 to 20 minutes. Still, remember that once in a while it’s a good idea to have your saw sharpened by a professional.
You can tell when the saw is being sharpened by the fact that the shaving stop being long and straight when you cut them, but instead a fine grit or sawdust is produced.
- Brake the saw with the chain safety brake, clamp it firmly to prevent it from moving, and shim the tip of the bar.
- When sharpening with a file, it’s advisable to use a guide, which should be included with the saw and will help you determine the correct depth of tooth sharpening.
- The diameter of the file should always be chosen according to the chain in question.
- Always observe the required grinding angle (30 degrees is recommended for semi-round teeth and 25 degrees for sharp teeth. The guide should help you observe the correct angle).
- Grind with approximately three strokes along the length of the file outwards from the tooth.
- Gradually move the chain (always remember to secure the safety brake) and grind all the teeth.
- In addition to cutting teeth, look at the limiting teeth – they must be the correct height, which you can find out using the gauge that should be included in the saw kit you bought.
- With some experience, the chain can be sharpened without any aids (guide on the file, etc.), but the correct angle must be observed.
The video below clearly shows how a chainsaw chain should be properly sharpened.
If you want your chainsaw to be a profitable investment for years to come, and a practical tool with long service life and easy operation, there are a few tips to help you achieve this. When buying a chainsaw, look for the following parameters.
- Extend the life of the engine by applying an inner coating called nickel. The motor lasts up to ten times longer than if it weren’t present. Rather than sheet metal molding, opt for a metal crank.
- If machines in your price range allow it, prefer two-piston rings, which have a higher combustion chamber tightness than a single ring.
- It’s more practical, easier, and, most importantly, faster to tension the chain from the side of the chainsaw.
- Rely on a nylon air filter. This has far less dirt permeability than a foam filter.
- If your finances allow, opt for a chain with an interchangeable ring, which outperforms a sprocket chain. At the very least, there’s no need to change the entire drive train, which reduces operating costs. The two solutions have a similar replacement life (they last about four chains, and chain life varies with care and load).
Warranty and service
It’s definitely worth looking at the associated parameter of the length of the instrument’s warranty. The two-year warranty is quite weak in the case of petrol saws, you’ll come across companies that guarantee service and repairs for 5 to 7 years. When buying a brand-new saw, you can also insist that the dealer let you test the device.
It’s always good to think about how the saw is serviced. For example, if you’re going to use your machine on a weekend at the cottage, also find out the availability of service on the weekend, or look for the nearest place to buy verified spare parts.
Some manufacturers offer superior service. Stihl, for example, has service centers spread across the country and will get your equipment in significantly better condition than hobby markets. Servicing at hobby markets is generally not highly recommended unless it falls under warranty.
Anyone who has ever worked with a chainsaw will know all too well what the tool looks like after cutting wood for a few minutes, let alone a few hours. Most of the important parts are clogged with sawdust and often oil. To make sure your saw lasts as long as possible and stays in good shape, it pays to do some maintenance after each cut. Below are a few basic steps to avoid.
- The bar – After each cut, remove all debris from the bar, not only from the surface but also from the rail that the chain runs on. The lubrication channel section and guide sprockets are important. If you have a worn chain and need to sharpen it, it’s a good idea to attach the bar to the saw upside down. Then do the same when you sharpen the chain again – in short, turn the bar regularly.
- Air filter – This is usually located under the top cover of the chainsaw. To keep it running smoothly, it should be kept clean at all times, so be sure to blow it out regularly, for example with an air compressor. It can also be cleaned under water, but it must be thoroughly dried.
- Spark plugs – Spark plugs need to throw a good spark for the engine to run properly so check them occasionally too. Spark plugs mustn’t be oiled.
- Chain – As part of a more thorough maintenance routine, you shouldn’t forget about the chain, which can be removed and the entire area around it properly cleaned. Again, the use of an air compressor can make the job easier.
Finally, we mustn’t forget one very important piece of advice at the end. This is the correct chain tension, which affects the overall cutting process and safety. The chain should be tightened so that you can move it freely. Its tension must be such that you can stretch it from the guide bar to no more than the visible half of the guide link on the chain. The air filter should also be cleaned periodically according to the instructions. If it’s clogged, it can cause a number of problems.
Everyone knows that a chainsaw is a work tool that can easily cause unpleasant injuries. Therefore, you should take due care to ensure proper safety at work, which you can of course increase with the help of appropriate work equipment.
Important equipment includes:
- Work gloves
- Safety goggles
- Face shields
- Complete safety helmets
- Rail cover for safe carrying
- Anti-cutting clothing
- Hard-toed boots
Frequently asked questions about chainsaws
How and which chainsaw to choose?
With saws, it’s clearly necessary to determine at the outset which type of drive the user needs. By far the most common are petrol-powered, but there are also electric and battery-powered variants, but these don’t offer such powerful performance. Even among different types of drives, one can then search on different levels from hobby to professional machines. For petrol machines, it is also a good idea to keep an eye on the tank parameters and the type of engine.
A crucial parameter is the length of the bar that guides the chain. This must be adequate to the power and the needs of the user. With a longer bar, you can cut a thicker log, but more power is needed. Next, look mainly at the weight and ergonomics or vibration damping of the saw. It will definitely be nice if the seller adds some extra accessories or protective equipment to the saw.
Electric vs. petrol?
At first glance, electric saws present mobility limitations. You can’t do without an electrical outlet, so you’ll mainly use your saw in the workshop. Even there, however, it offers less power and a shorter bar. The petrol engine is much more popular as it can handle thicker wood. It’s therefore suitable, for example, for work in the woods and has a more variable use compared to the electric drive. On the other hand, it’s noisier and heavier and you have to take into account the production of fumes. In these respects, the electric motor leads the way.
How often to grind the chain?
A saw chain will quickly become dull with heavy use. So if you’ve given it a hard time all afternoon, set aside time in the evening to sharpen it. If you work in the woods all day, you may need to sharpen it several times a day. And how do you know when your chain needs it? You’ll have to apply pressure to the blunt saw, and instead of coarse chips, finer sawdust will fly out from under your hands or smoke will appear in the cut. If the saw swing in one direction while you’re working, the chain is sharpened unevenly.
What protective equipment should I buy?
A chainsaw is a powerful machine that can do some nasty damage. So you can never be too careful. As far as protective equipment is concerned, some of it is really necessary. First and foremost are noise-canceling headphones, safety glasses, non-cutting boots, work gloves, and a helmet, possibly with a face grill. You can also find entire garments made of anti-cut material on the market.