If you are not a fan of wood axes, the best wood cutting tool is the chainsaw. Chainsaws are the ultimate woodcutting machine that won’t take no for an answer regardless of the strength or hardness of the wood.
In times past, elegant wood cutting taxes were the primary tool of the wood industry, and a lot of effort and deep thinking were spent designing the most ergonomic of axes. But axes have one weakness; no matter how hard-forged the blade, comfortable the handle, or light the head, axes still required an insane amount of brute force to perform their function.
Technology has eliminated the need for expending so much energy over wood cutting. Now, cutting-edge chainsaws make light work of even the hardest of trees, reducing the time to accomplish the task to a fraction of what it used to take with an ax. The only problem is that most people do not know the chainsaw ideal for their personal use.
Our reviews provide in-depth details of the best brands and models of chainsaws on the market, a comprehensive buying guide, and more.
What Is a Chainsaw and What Is it Used for?
For millennia, trees have been an intricate part of the development of civilizations, providing raw materials for building homes, ships, weapons and everything in between.
Before the advent of mechanical tree cutters, the work of felling trees involved dangerous, labor-intensive and time-consuming manual cutting with axes and primitive saws drawn by two people.
Enter the chainsaw. The chainsaw singlehandedly disrupted the wood industry by cutting the time it takes to fell trees significantly, thereby allowing loggers to cut more trees in less time, and safely too.
Despite the clamor in some quarters that a chainsaw is a destructive machine, many forget that the chainsaw is the ultimate weapon during emergencies and natural disasters when fallen trees wreak havoc on homes and businesses, blocking roads that lead to hospitals and endangering the lives of people.
During these trying times, the chainsaw saves the day. It also makes an excellent tool for trimming tree limbs on your property. Despite the popularity of these machines, many do not know how a chainsaw works and what it does. So, let’s take a deeper look at this formidable outdoor tool.
What Exactly Is a Chainsaw?
A chainsaw is a saw built into a chain. It is a portable mechanical saw with a set of hardened teeth attached to a rotating chain (sprocket). The machine is a clever invention that incorporates a saw blade around a guide bar to deliver the ultimate cutting tool.
Most chainsaws, especially the early versions are gas-powered but there is an increasing number of battery and electric-powered models on the market. The chainsaw is similar to your bicycle chain as it runs around sprockets, but of a smaller size. The sprocket carries about 30 sharp teeth made from stainless steel or other steel alloys.
A centrifugal clutch moves the sprockets which turn the toothed chain as it moves. Apply this fast-spinning chain to a piece of wood dead or alive, and a stream of sawdust is sure to follow.
Uses of a Chainsaw
A chainsaw is primarily used for felling trees but it can do more than that. Here are some of the common uses of a chainsaw.
- Tree Felling
- Tree limbing, i.e., cutting the branches of trees.
- Bucking, i.e. cutting a felled or delimbed tree into logs for different applications such as lumber, pulp, plywood, and others.
- Pruning: A chainsaw can also serve as a power pruner to help you get through demanding pruning works quickly.
- Firewood: A chainsaw is also ideal for harvesting firewood.
- Firebreaks: During wildfires, chainsaws are used to cut firebreaks to suppress the inferno.
Chainsaw Buying Guide
Buying a chainsaw is easy as there are numerous top quality brands on the market. The difficult part is choosing a model that has all the right features for your needs. In this buyer’s guide, we cover the fundamentals of buying the ideal chainsaw that will suit your personal requirements.
The Top 4 Things to Consider When Buying a Chainsaw
What are your power needs? Do you require a machine that can reach high places? Or you are a professional woodcutter who needs a heavy duty chainsaw to tackle any size or harness of wood?
Whatever you do, you want to get maximum value from your investment in a chainsaw, and we aim to make that happen with our in-depth buying guide.
What design of chainsaw do you prefer? This question depends mainly on the type of work you intend to do with your machine. There are three main types of chainsaws on the market including:
The Standard Chainsaw
The standard chainsaw is the popular type that you see with professional woodcutters. It is designed to have a long blade that can cut through the diameter of large trees. They are perfect for felling trees, limbing, bucking, and making firewood and others. Standard chainsaws are usually heavier than other types and require a level of training to use it effectively.
The pole saw is designed for cutting tree limbs that are far off the ground. It is an innovation which aims to eliminate the danger of working with a standard chainsaw on a tree where the chances of accidents are higher.
An example of a pole saw is the Greenworks 8.5″ reviewed above. It is perfect for limbing tree branches that are far off the ground, cutting overgrown plants on your property and pruning tall trees. Most pole saws are able to handle tree branches off about 5″ in diameter or more depending on the length of their blade.
The jawsaw type of chainsaw has a pair of jaws in a scissor-like configuration instead of the normal blade-on-a-chain arrangement. The jaw closes on the piece of wood to make a cut. While these types of designs are usually smaller, they are safer as you are not exposed to the chainsaw. It is perfect for trimming and pruning.
An important consideration when buying a chainsaw is the power source. The power source will also depend on the task you want to perform with the machine. Are you a professional tree feller or you only need a small chainsaw to keep your yard clean and orderly? The chainsaw you choose should have enough power to handle the job conveniently and that usually depends on the power source.
Regarding power source, there are three types of chainsaws including
These types are the earliest and most common type of chainsaws.
Due to their combustion engine, gas-powered units are able to deliver more cutting power compared to electric and battery-powered versions. Which is why they are the preferred machine among professional woodcutters whose job involves heavy-duty cutting operations like tree felling and bucking.
In addition to being more powerful, gas chainsaws are also portable, making them the go-to tool during heavy lumbering operations spanning several days. All you need is gasoline and general maintenance for continuous productivity.
The only drawback is the gaseous fumes, but many brands have new engines that burn cleaner. As long as you follow safety guidelines, you will be fine.
Corded electric chainsaws require an exterior power outlet to work. This type of chainsaw is also growing in popularity. Electric chainsaws don’t require complicated engines to work, making them low maintenance and longer lasting compared to gas-powered alternatives.
The main shortcoming is that they need a power outlet to work. If you can carry a power generating set with you, then you should be able to use a corded chainsaw anywhere you like, as long as there is fuel for the generator. In the end, you are still burning fuel even if you use your home’s power outlet.
However, electric chainsaws don’t produce any toxic fumes and some models can rival gas-powered units in performance. They are perfect for light woodcutting tasks in the yard and around the farm.
Cordless or battery-powered chainsaws derive their power from rechargeable batteries. These types of chainsaws are modeled after gas-powered units but require one or two batteries to operate.
The main advantage of battery-powered chainsaws is portability and lightweight design. However, they can only perform for as long as the battery can last, limiting their usefulness to short periods.
For this reason, battery-powered chainsaws are suitable for light cutting tasks such as harvesting firewood, trimming, and pruning. You can increase their run time by getting support batteries which you can swap when one runs out of power.
Guide Bar Length
When buying a chainsaw, the guide bar length is an important feature to look out for if you want peak performance. The length of the guide bar determines the kind of cutting tasks you can do with the chainsaw as well as the power of the machine. In most cases, the cutting power of the chainsaw is proportional to the guide bar length.
What is the Right Guide Bar Length for Your Needs?
Chainsaws have guide bar lengths ranging from 6 inches to 24 inches.
The jawsaw type of chainsaw has the smallest guide bar length and is the safest, but they achieve this by sacrificing their cutting power.
Guide Bar Lengths of 8″ to 14″
Standard chainsaws and pole saw type chainsaws have guide bar lengths starting from 8″ to 14″. If your work involves light tasks such as pruning, trimming, cutting narrow wood, harvesting firewood, and other small cutting jobs, the jawsaw and pole saw types of chainsaw are ideal for your needs.
Guide Bar Lengths of 16″ to 20″
However, you need standard chainsaws with guide bar lengths of at least 16″ if you plan on cutting larger trees and other heavy-duty operations. The mid-range chainsaws have guide bar lengths of 16″ to 20″ and are ideal for heavy-duty cutting.
These machines deliver immense cutting power, which makes them devastating when used incorrectly. These types of chainsaws are ideal for professionals and people who have requisite knowledge and protection aids to use a large chainsaw.
The medium-range chainsaws are built to cut medium-sized trees but a skilled woodcutter can also cut larger trees with one.
Guide Bar Lengths of 20″ to 24″
There is also a professional range of chainsaws, and these have guide bar lengths of 20″ to 24″. These types of chainsaws are heavy-duty and can handle most trees easily and quickly, but they are hard to maneuver and their kickbacks are also powerful.
As a beginner, you have no business with these monsters as any mistake could cost you a limb or worse. If your work requires felling large trees, bucking trees into equal sizes for the plywood or pulp industry, or cutting large logs into firewood for domestic use, you will need one of these machines to excel at the job.
A chainsaw requires regular maintenance and above average skill, so you should go for brands that offer features that will enhance the utility of the machine.
Whether you are buying a gas-powered chainsaw or electric unit, the following are some of the features to look out for in your wood cutting machine.
You want your chainsaw to come with automatic oilers with translucent oil tanks. Chainsaws with this feature are safer as the blade receives constant lubrication, reducing the chances of accidental breaks and friction between the blade and wood.
Chainsaws with tool-free assembly are easier and faster to maintain on the job. Swapping blades is easier and more efficient, and you don’t need to carry hand tools to get the job done.
Some chainsaws, especially the high-end brands come with automatic tension adjusters that control the chain tension for the best performance. Plus, they also eliminate the time you would have spent tensioning the machine manually.
In gasoline-powered chainsaws, a common complaint is getting the machine to start up the first time. Sometimes, you require more energy to start the engine compared to doing the actual work, but a simple start mechanism eliminates this problem. If you are going for a gas chainsaw, this feature will save you a lot of time and trouble.
There are many other features that come with chainsaws. The most important thing is to buy a model that has all the right features that would allow you to maximize the value of your investment. Getting the job done as quickly and safely as possible is paramount.
Professional vs. Landowner/Midrange vs. Homeowner
As we said earlier in the section on guide bar length, there are different types of chainsaws for different users. Let’s consider each of them separately.
A professional requires a powerful machine that can handle big trees and everything in between. These types of chainsaws are the heavy-duty type with 20-24 inch long guide bars. For convenience, portability and longer runtime, professional chainsaws should be gas-powered as these types of units deliver the highest cutting power for longer.
These types of chainsaws can have guide bar lengths of 16″ to 20″. Ideally, they can be gas-powered or electric-corded since the landowner may still be able to access power on his or her property.
For the homeowner who needs a chainsaw for light work such as trimming or pruning the few trees on his yard, the pole saw or jaw type of chainsaw is perfect.
Also, a corded or battery-powered machine is ideal since the work is light and there is a ready power source to charge batteries or operate the corded chainsaw even if work will take a longer time to complete.
What to Consider to Buy a Professional Chainsaw
When buying a professional chainsaw, consider the following:
The source of power is vital if you are a professional. Except where you are working in town maybe during disaster management operations, it is always good to buy a gas-powered chainsaw so you have the freedom to work anywhere for as long as you like.
The weight of the machine is also important. The bigger the chainsaw, the more difficult it is to control. However, your work will determine the class of chainsaw you chose to buy.
As a professional, your work will be far easier and less risky if you buy a chainsaw with enhanced security features.
Features of the Best Homeowner Chainsaw
As a homeowner looking to buy a chainsaw, simplicity is best. Consider these options
Go for a small sized chainsaw which you can operate easily. You won’t be felling large trees, so a jawsaw or pole saw should be perfect for your needs.
As a homeowner, you probably don’t know much about the mechanics of a chainsaw before now. Save yourself a lot of trouble by purchasing a small machine with excellent safety features. Your best bet here is the pole saw or jawsaw type of chainsaw.
Power should also be an important consideration. Gas-powered chainsaws are notorious for their noise, and you will be using the machine in a built-up area. You can go for a battery-powered unit which is more silent and also environmentally-friendly.
Handles: Rear Handle or Top Handle
Should you buy a top handle or rear handle chainsaw? It depends.
Top Handle Chainsaws
Top handle chainsaws are designed for use at heights. They are lightweight and feature low-vibration technology. They are easier to manoeuver and you can operate them with one hand. However, they can only be used by trained professionals such as arborists who have the certification to buy and use such equipment.
Rear Handle Chainsaws
On the other hand, rear handle chainsaws are perfect for ground use but perform poorly at heights. So which should you buy? If you are a professional who trims tree branches at the crown, go for a top handle chainsaw. For professionals who perform their work on the ground, the rear handle chainsaw is the perfect equipment for you.
Parts of a Chainsaw
Chainsaw parts depend on the type of power the machine uses, the technology and design specifications of the manufacturer and safety regulations enacted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. However, most brands have the same standard parts in their chainsaw.
It is important to know the parts of your chainsaw for several reasons. A chainsaw requires regular maintenance and you need to know which parts need servicing after use and periodically.
Also, knowing the parts of your chainsaw helps to prevent accidents from things such as kickbacks and other things that can cause serious injuries and even fatalities in some cases.
The chain is the most important part of the chainsaw as it carries the blade that delivers the cutting blow. It consists of the cutter teeth, rakers, tie-strap and drive-link.
All these parts contribute to the process of cutting, depth control, good bar guide, and chain coordination and safe use of the machine. You need to maintain these parts regularly to prolong the life of the chainsaw and enjoy optimal performance consistently.
This is a metal or plastic guard designed to eliminate contact between the chainsaw user and the chain should the chain come off the bar guide or break during usage.
The chain brake is a vital safety feature that stops the chainsaw automatically in case of a kickback or pull-in, thus reducing the chances of the chainsaw operator sustaining injuries.
The clutch is the part that attaches the chain sprocket to the engine. It helps to control the machine’s cutting speed.
This is a strategically located switch that enables the chainsaw operator to activate and deactivate the machine easily.
You need the right amount of tension to use the chainsaw effectively. The function of the tensioner is to apply the appropriate tension while using the chainsaw for improved blade life and safety.
This part activates the chain break in case of a kickback, thus protecting the user’s hand from injuries.
The throttle controls the chainsaw’s revolution per minute by regulating the volume of fuel reaching the cylinders.
This part makes it easier to start the chainsaw by releasing compression.
The flywheel controls the chainsaw speed and prevents the machine from overheating during usage.
A chainsaw produces a high level of vibration during use. The anti-vibration valve reduces the vibration, thus protecting the arms and joints of the operator.
A chainsaw makes a tremendous amount of noise. A muffler helps to absorb some of the sounds to protect the user’s hearing.
In gas-powered chainsaws, the carburetor regulates the volume of fuel reaching the internal combustion engine of the machine.
The guide bar is a curved piece of metal which guides and holds the chain in place while in use.
The air filter prevents sawdust and other particles from clogging the carburetor and fuel filter.
It prevents hot sparks from escaping through the muffler.
This part is found in most gas-powered outdoor tools. Its main function is to start the engine by reducing the air flow which creates the ideal air-gas combination in the engine compartment.
What Is Chainsaw Kickback?
Kickback occurs when a spinning chainsaw suddenly encounters a solid object or the chain is pinched in a cut in the upper half of the saw tip. The reaction can force the chainsaw flying backward in the direction of the operator, potentially causing serious injuries and in some cases fatalities.
You should avoid kickbacks at all cost.
Causes of Kickback
Kickbacks can occur for several reasons. It happens mostly when the chain catches a small obscured limb in the upper quadrant of the nose bar. However, there are other causes of kickbacks you should know. They include:
- Accumulation of wet sawdust on the chain
- Slow running speed
- Twisting the saw which causes the cutter to get stuck in the wood
- Cutting with the wrong tension on the chain
- Cutting with a blunt chain or filing the chain incorrectly.
- Extreme changes in the density, moisture and other characteristics of the wood
- Cutting a defective wood
How to Prevent Kickbacks
Preventing kickbacks boils down to using the right technique, but the following can also help you avoid kickbacks.
- Keep the saw speed high when entering or leaving the cut.
- Cut with a properly sharpened chainsaw.
- Hold the saw firmly with both hands during use
- Avoid distractions while using a chainsaw
Chainsaw Safety Requirements
As much as chainsaws make wood cutting easy and fast, they are also dangerous to the user. The more safety features, the better. Most manufacturers try to make their chainsaws as safe as possible, but you also need to use the machine correctly to enjoy the full benefits of the safety features.
A Chainsaw Must be Fitted with the Following Safety Features:
Here are some of the safety features you need to have in your chainsaw.
The chain brake is designed to stop the chain from spinning automatically when one of two things happens. If the chainsaw is moving too fast, the chain brake is triggered to prevent an accident. This function helps in situations where the operator drops the chainsaw and during a serious kickback.
You can also activate the chain brake manually with a handle on the top of the chainsaw if there is a chance of an accident occurring. The chain brake is common mostly in gas-powered chainsaws, but some electric models also carry an electric brake that reverses the electric current to force the blade to an abrupt stop.
Low Kickback Bars
Kickbacks pose the highest risk when using a chainsaw. Try to buy a model with a low-kickback bar as this will reduce the occurrence of kickbacks, especially if you are a beginner.
The throttle interlock is a safety mechanism which forces you to hold down a safety trigger and another trigger which controls the blade before the machine can start. This feature prevents accidental starts that can cause serious injuries. Most chainsaws come with this feature, but it’s advisable to check that the brand you are buying also has the functionality.
Chainsaw Safety Equipment
A chainsaw can a be dangerous tool even to the most skilled professional. To reduce the risk of accidents, it is important to use safety equipment whenever you are working with a chainsaw. Here is a list of safety equipment you should definitely consider using.
- A safety helmet
- Eye protection
- Hearing protection
- Appropriate gloves for the task
- Leg protection
- Protective boots, preferably steel-toed
- Non-snag outer clothing, preferably made from high-visibility material
How to Use a Chainsaw (How to Cut Down a Tree)
Cutting down a tree is the riskiest part of using a chainsaw. You should never attempt felling a tree if you are not trained for the job or alone.
The first step is to make an undercut. The undercut is used to control the direction of fall. A back cut is made after the undercut. The back cut should be made about 1 to 2 inches above the undercut and should be in a vertical position to the longitudinal axis of the tree.
The tree should fall after completing the back cut. If it does not fall, then use a wedge to support the chainsaw within the cutting surface until you achieve your aim.
You can also use the 90 degrees hinge method. For this, you cut a hinge of about 1/3 of the tree diameter followed by a back cut. However, make sure to select a fall path before you start cutting. You should also determine a safe place to stand when the tree falls. This place is known as felling retreat.
Also, determine where to start cutting from and be sure to dress properly and use safety equipment. Before using one, check out this guide, to learn how to operate a chainsaw.
Chainsaw and Pole Saw Accessories
If you already own a chainsaw/pole saw or plan to buy one, you should know about vital chainsaw or pole saw accessories that will help you maximize the potential of your purchase.
Here are some of the most important accessories to have if you own one of these powerful machines.
Chainsaws chap are heavy-duty protective pant covers designed to protect you from serious injury in the case of kickbacks and other related accidents. Regardless of your skills level, you should invest in quality chainsaw chaps to avoid life-changing injuries that may result from chainsaw use.
Chainsaw Helmet System
These helmets combine a hard helmet, ear protection, and eye protection. Chainsaws and pole saws make atrocious amounts of noise that could make you deaf in minutes and the debris and sawdust from the cutting can render you blind without adequate protection. With a quality chainsaw helmet system, you can use the machine in relative safety.
An improperly sharpened chainsaw is a recipe for disaster. It makes your work more tedious and riskier. Invest in a high-quality chainsaw sharpening kit to ensure your machine makes easy, smooth cuts every time.
Your chainsaw requires adequate lubrication to perform at its best. For that, you need chain lubricant to reduce friction and wear of the chain.
Some chainsaw and pole saw brands come with automatic oilers which you can fill with the chain oil while others require a manual application. Whichever you go for, you need a top-quality chain oil to keep things going smoothly.
Chainsaw bars help to keep the blade firmly in place, so you can work continuously without fear of the blade coming off. Quality bars help to maintain the stability of the chain regardless of work intensity.
Best Chainsaw Brands
There are many brands of chainsaws on the market, and each has its area of strength and weaknesses.
In this section, we look at the brands under review, the best in terms of innovation, durability, fuel efficiency, affordability and others.
The 8 Most Reliable Chainsaw Brands
This brand is a leader in the power tools market and its chainsaws come in ergonomic and lightweight constructions.
- Support and Warranty
Husqvarna backs its chainsaws with a 2-year limited warranty
The company is leading in terms of innovation with an X-TORQ engine for reduced emission and noise levels. It also provides a Simple Start mechanism and many other features.
Regarding value, Husqvarna is worth every dime you spend on it. It is durable, long-lasting and top quality.
If you are uncertain of which brand to go with, check out Stihl vs Husqvarna Chainsaw comparison!
Poulan Pro belongs to Husqvarna, but its products are not as expensive as that of its parent company. So, you should expect most of the features and innovations you find in Husqvarna in this brand.
Greenworks is good for its innovative designs. Their chainsaws are lightweight, hence, making them easy to maneuver.
- Support and Warranty
The company does not offer a warranty for the products under review.
Greenworks is a forward-looking company. Its batteries are one of the best in the power tools industry. Also, they continue to make headways in design and advanced features that deliver more value to users.
Greenworks is worth its weight in gold. You can rest assured of getting maximum value from this machine. The company’s batteries are compatible with a wide range of power tools, further increasing their utility.
Since inception, Makita has always pursued durable and affordable designs that deliver high performance, and the company still delivers on its mandate.
- Support and Warranty
The company has a strong support policy but the model under review is not backed by warranty.
Makita is also an innovative company. You can see this in their designs, materials, engines and unique features.
Makita is all for value addition, at a fraction of the price.
Choosing the right brand can be tricky, be sure to read the Makita vs Milwaukee chainsaw comparison before you decide!
Black+Decker has been at the forefront of the power tools industry since the beginning of the last century, so they know more about the industry regarding innovation than most players. Whatever you want regarding innovative and long-lasting designs is available in their products.
- Support and Warranty
Black+Decker provides a 2-year limited warranty for the product under review.
As said above, this company is one of the leading innovators in the industry. If you want a chainsaw with exceptional add-on features, they are the go-to manufacturer.
With Black+Decker, the value is a cardinal business model. This brand won’t disappoint you.
Worx products pack a punch regarding top-notch designs and innovative use of cutting-edge technology. From high-performance engines to lightweight frames and ergonomic handles, they have it all.
- Support and Warranty
The company provides a warranty for some of its product and it has an excellent customer support system.
This company spends a large amount on R&D every year to ensure it stays ahead of the competition and as a result, delivers maximum value to customers.
A Worx chainsaw will serve you for a lifetime, as long as you use it correctly and maintain it regularly.
Innovation is the hallmark of DEWALT. From its industry-leading Lithium-ion batteries to premium alloys for its engines, the company is breaking boundaries in the power tools industry.
- Support and Warranty
DEWALT has a robust customer support system that ensures all buyers’ satisfaction with their purchase.
DEWALT is a respected name in the power tools industry. They are leaders in battery technology and their gas engines are second to none.
You will be getting full value for money when you buy this brand.
Ivation might not be popular but they cut it with their durable designs and feature-studded power tools. If you want double the value for your purchase, this brand is it.
- Support and Warranty
Ivation provides a 2-year full warranty for the product under review.
Just like their name, Ivation breathes innovation and their products can rival any other brand on the market regarding enhanced features.
This brand is affordable and delivers with finesse.
Sun Joe goes above and beyond to provide full-spectrum solutions in their products. Their products are durable and prone to last.
- Support and Warranty
The brand provides a 2-year full warranty for the product under review. Also, customer support is reliable.
If you read the review of Sun Joe’ s pole saw above, you will understand that the company places an emphasis on innovation.
Sun Joe offers incredible value for its chainsaws. They might not be an industry giant, but they pack a heavy punch with their durable and high-performance designs.
Buying a chainsaw is a big deal. The machine is not a toy, therefore, you must treat it with respect. So, you need to know the main features and considerations to look out for when shopping for a chainsaw.
Our reviews have dug deep into this topic, providing you detailed information on every aspect of the buying process. Now, as a result, you can go to the shop with confidence to choose a chainsaw or pole saw that will serve you adequately.