Best Chainsaw: Cut Through Lumber with Ease
Cut through wood with ease with the help of these powerful chainsaws
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BY Norah Tarichia / LAST UPDATED ON October 10, 2019
Chainsaws are dangerous power tools, but they can come in handy for basic home applications if you know how to use them. They can also be used for camping for tasks such as clearing low-hanging branches that may scratch your vehicle or cutting firewood. This buying guide helps you pick out the best chainsaw for any wood-cutting task.
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Benefits of Chainsaws
- Fast. Chainsaws are not only good at cutting quickly through live wood, but they’re also good at doing it so many times in a row. With a chainsaw, you can clear all the dangerous limbs on your property in a single day, clean out acres of weed trees, or chop enough firewood for several weeks.
- Portable. Chainsaws are a highly mobile power tool. Most of them are light enough to carry into the field, and run on gasoline or rechargeable batteries, meaning they aren’t tethered to a power source. Some chainsaws do require cords, but they’re still lightweight, plus they have their own advantages (see below).
- Versatile. You can do a surprising amount with a chainsaw. Not just for lumberjacks, they’re also great tools for home DIY projects. They’re even useful for artists—carving sculptures out of wood or ice with a chainsaw is its own art form.
Types of Chainsaws
Gas chainsaws have 2-cycle combustion engines that are simplified versions of the one you have in your car. They run on a mixture of gasoline and motor oil, which you can mix yourself or buy pre-mixed. Starting a gas-powered chainsaw requires you to prime the engine, then pull a rope to start the motor turning.
Gas-powered chainsaws are the largest, most powerful variety of chainsaw. They’re best for cutting through big trees or harder woods. They also have the advantage of being totally portable.
The disadvantage is that they can only run as long as you have gas. They’re also far louder than either of the electric types, and emit exhaust fumes. In addition, they’re the hardest to start, with the ever-present risk that you’ll flood the engine and render it temporarily useless.
A cordless electric chainsaw runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Once the battery is charged, you can turn the chainsaw on with a simple switch. Cordless chainsaws tend to be lightweight. Like gas chainsaws, they can be used anywhere.
They still need power to run, though. You can only use a cordless saw in the field for as long as your battery retains its charge, and if you forgot to charge it the night before, you’re out of luck. Bringing spare batteries lets you spend more time in the field.
Cordless electric chainsaws are lighter and smaller than gas-powered chainsaws. They aren’t necessarily “miniature,” but bar lengths top out at 18 inches.
A corded electric chainsaw needs to be plugged into a power source to run. The pros and cons of this are obvious: It never runs out of power, but its mobility is severely restricted.
Corded electric chainsaws are about as powerful as their cordless cousins. They’re the best choice if you’re mainly going to be working within sight of your house—trimming branches, chopping wood, or undertaking DIY projects.
Husqvarna was founded in Sweden in 1689 to produce rifled firearms. Starting in the late 1800s, they began to diversify, and now produce everything from motorcycles to demolition robots to, of course, chainsaws. A recognized leader in the world of outdoor power tools, Husqvarna manufactures chainsaws like the 450 Rancher II, along with other products like leaf blowers.
Andreas Stihl was a German inventor who was called the “father of the chainsaw” for patenting both the first electric chainsaw and the first one-user chainsaw. The company he founded in 1926 is still owned by his descendents. They sell chainsaws like the MS170 and other garden tools like the F240 weed eater.
Founded by two telegraph workers in 1910, Black+Decker originally made machines for industrial candy dipping. They’ve now matured into a tools conglomerate that owns several well-known brands, including DeWalt, Stanley, Porter Cable, Bostitch, and Craftsman. Under the Black+Decker label, they produce cordless electric chainsaws, plus tools such as electric drills.
- Under $200: Chainsaws at this price will be short, light models, usually with bars between 10 and 14 inches. They’re best for hedge trimming, trail clearing, and lawn care. The different fuel types can be found in all price ranges.
- $200 to $400: This is the range for more powerful, higher-quality chainsaws of all types that are better at chopping wood and felling small trees. A chainsaw in this bracket will last longer before you need to start replacing parts.
- Over $400 and up: Extremely powerful, mostly gas-fueled chainsaws cost more than $400. Saws this expensive have bar lengths over 20 inches. We don’t recommend them unless you’re a professional logger or landscaper.
The guide bar is the long arm of the chainsaw that the chain runs around. It serves as the “rails” to keep the chain moving, turning the saw into a blade. Some guide bars have a sprocket wheel in the nose to reduce friction and extend the chain’s lifespan.
An important feature on any guide bar is the chain catcher. This metal fixture keeps the chain from flying at you in case it ever jumps the rails.
The chain is made of small links attached to cutting teeth, and fits around the guide bar. Teeth are usually made from high-carbon steel, sometimes with carbide coatings or diamond tips for extra strength.
You can buy chains with various tooth arrangements, but in general, they follow the golden rule of saw teeth: The wider the space between the teeth, the faster but less precise your cut will be.
A potentially life-saving feature, chain brakes stop the chain from moving if the chainsaw ever kicks back. They come in two types: manual and automatic.
With a manual chain brake, the force of the kickback causes your arm to pull the level, stopping the chain. Automatic chain brakes detect kickbacks and stop the chain on their own, cutting out the potential for human error.
- Handle. You’ll be spending a lot of time holding the handle of your chainsaw, so make sure it’s comfortable. Ideally, you should be able to balance the weight of the chainsaw between both your arms and carefully control where the blade is going at all times.
- Trigger Safety. As an extra layer of security, most modern chainsaws include a trigger lockout that prevents the blade from moving unless it’s released.
- Automatic Oiler. All chainsaw blades need to be oiled regularly to prevent them from overheating, wearing down, or jumping their rails. Many chainsaws now have a feature that does this automatically at regular intervals. Auto-oilers are nice to have, though you should be careful not to trust them implicitly—they can often start leaking oil too freely, wasting your supply and making your blade too slick.
- Chain Tensioner. The chain on a chainsaw loses tension as it runs. If it’s not re-tightened, you run the risk of it jumping free. In the past, you needed to pause your work and use tools to tension the chain; now, on some chainsaws, you can do it tool-free. If you’re a new chainsaw user, we recommend getting one with this feature.
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- All chainsaws need to be lubricated regularly. Check to see if the product comes with an automatic oiling system. Consider buying a lubricating oil to preserve the integrity of the chain and enhance the effectiveness of the rotating mechanism.
- The larger your chainsaw is, the more lubrication the chain will require. You also need to add more lubricating oil when performing heavy-duty jobs, such as cutting through dry wood.
- All chainsaws work differently, and it’s important that you read the manufacturer's instructions before operating one to guarantee your safety.
- Ensure that you wear protective gear when operating a chainsaw. That includes safety goggles, gloves, long pants, a helmet, boots, and earmuffs.
Q: What causes a chainsaw chain to stretch out?
A: Normal wear may cause the chain to stretch out with time. The chain stretches out from heating up as it constantly rubs against the guide. You can delay the wear process by lubricating the chain to reduce friction. Also, the chain may be loose-fitting if the sprockets wear out and the chain can no longer grip on to the sprocket.
Q: Do chainsaws overheat?
A: Like most power tools with an engine, chainsaws can overheat, especially during the summer months. The buildup of dust, dirt, or oil in the internal systems may cause the chain to overheat unnecessarily. You should conduct maintenance on the chain, engine, and guide bar by keeping them clean to reduce friction and overheating.
Q: Will sharpening a chainsaw damage it?
A: It’s fine to sharpen your chainsaw since it gets dull the more you use it. If you notice that you use more pressure to cut through wood or that the chainsaw smokes even when lubricated, then you may have to sharpen it. A dull chainsaw also rattles or pulls in one direction. Get an expert to sharpen the tool for you to avoid damaging it.
Our top pick is the WORX Powered Chain Saw. The chainsaw is easy to handle, great for a variety of jobs, and has a prevention brake designed to guarantee your safety. It’s also a low-maintenance tool, and you will never have to worry about running out of battery power in the middle of a job.
Alternatively, you could choose the Sun Joe SWJ599E 14-inch Electric Handheld Chainsaw, which is a great budget-friendly option.