The chainsaw has long been an essential tool for agricultural and forestry workers, but is becoming increasingly popular among normal homeowners too. This is probably partly because there are now a wide range of easy-to-use and affordable chainsaws for simpler tasks. Traditionally, chainsaws have been petrol-operated, but today electric chainsaws, both mains and battery-powered, are popular. In recent years, battery-powered chainsaws have increased in popularity, as their batteries have become both more powerful and cheaper. Petrol-operated chainsaws are still superior in terms of power, but electric chainsaws have other advantages which outweigh this benefit in the eyes of many consumers. Above all, they are quieter and produce no unpleasant exhaust gases. The type of chainsaw you should choose depends on what you intend to use it for. If you have lots of large trees to fell, a petrol-operated chainsaw is best. However, if you're mainly going to be cutting down smaller trees or limbing, an electric or battery-powered chainsaw is probably sufficient.
Chainsaws are powerful tools and incorrectly handled they can be extremely dangerous. Every year there are hundreds of accidents with both injuries and death resulting from working with chainsaws. Together with agriculture, forestry is one of the most dangerous professions today. As a private person, you have the right to fell trees on your own property without documented training. However, it can be a good idea to go on a chainsaw course to improve your knowledge and reduce the risk of accidents. Even if you think you already know how to use a chainsaw you can always learn more. And a certificate will allow you to work professionally using a chainsaw. Remember that you should always erect warning signs before felling a tree, and that you should contact road and utility owners if roads or cables/pipelines are within the area where the tree may fall.
In addition to close contact with the chainsaw, many accidents are related to flying wood chips, branches or even tree trunks. So it's important not only to handle the chainsaw correctly but also to wear suitable protective clothing. As a private individual, there are no legal requirements for protective equipment, but it can be sensible to comply with the rules applying to professional tree-surgeons. They've been drawn up for a reason. The rules for professionals say that you should wear the following:
For your chainsaw to keep running a long time, it's important to maintain it after every use by checking that it has the right amount of chain oil, that the chain is correctly tensioned and that it's kept sharp. When you have finished sawing, you should also check the air filter and if necessary clean it. You should also make sure you have the right filing equipment to save time and achieve the best results.
Low prices. More and more people are buying chainsaws on the internet. The primary reason for this is probably that it's easier to compare prices and find a model with an attractive price tag. Online shop prices are often the lowest on the market. This is partly because they can keep their costs down as they don't have to pay for physical shops, with everything that implies in terms of staff costs, maintenance, heating, rent etc. There's also often very tough price competition between online shops.
Cost-free home delivery. If you buy a chainsaw in an online shop, home delivery is usually included. This means you don't have to waste time getting to and from a physical shop yourself. In other words, you can often save both time and money by buying your chainsaw online.
We carry out our tests ourselves and test products as they are intended to be used in reality. We tested the chainsaws by sawing, cutting and limbing a large number of trees of different sizes and types. We have also challenged the chainsaws with tougher tasks such as sawing through brushwood, which is hard work for both the bar and chain because it involves a lot of jerking.
In our assessment we focused on the following characteristics:
Ease of use
Even though chainsaws on the market may be very similar at first glance, many aspects can distinguish them from each other. For example, good balance is important for working ergonomics, and there are also a number of functions that the chainsaw should include in order to be safe. Here we go through the points you should take into account when choosing a chainsaw.
We also go through the concept of pitch and explain how to measure the pitch on your chain.
One of the first questions you're faced with when buying a chainsaw is whether it should be powered by a battery, mains electric or petrol.
The battery-powered version has the advantage that you don't have to struggle with extension cables when you want to use it. The disadvantage is, of course, that you have to recharge it between uses. If you choose a battery-powered chainsaw, it's important that it can cope with the entire task you intend to use it for; both felling the tree and any subsequent cross-cutting. Alternatively you can have a number of batteries. A battery-powered chainsaw is rarely suitable if you have large trees or trees with harder woods such as oak.
If you choose a battery-powered chainsaw, make it one with a brushless motor, as this gives a longer lifetime.
Mains powered electric chainsaws have the advantage of often being slightly lighter and neater than petrol-operated ones. For small trees, or for homeowners with a slightly smaller garden and a few less substantial trees, these are often sufficient.
Electric and battery-powered chainsaws also have the advantage that they don't release exhaust gases and that they are quieter, so they can be used indoors and in urban areas without causing too much disruption.
But for anyone with woodland, or a garden with big trees, a petrol-driven chainsaw is the best choice. They are often heavier, but at the same time have a higher capacity and don't require a cable.
Petrol-operated chainsaws for the average homeowner are normally equipped with a two-stroke motor, which is usually sufficient. But you can also get chainsaws with four-stroke motors. These are significantly more powerful.
As with all machines, vibrations are caused when you use a chainsaw. If you're using it often, it's important that you aren't exposed to unnecessarily powerful vibrations, because over the long term this can lead to injuries.
Cheap machines often have worse vibration absorption, which means that you can't use them for as long.
Sometimes chainsaws get stuck and can be thrown back towards you. This can also happen when the tip touches something before the rest of the bar. Chainsaws are therefore equipped with a chain brake or kickback protection. Exactly how this works varies from one chainsaw to another. For example, it can brake the chain when it detects the chainsaw making a sharp movement, or your hand may hit a control that brakes the chain when the chainsaw flies up. It may also have an inertial chain brake.
Two other safety functions are the chain catcher, which catches the chain if it breaks or is derailed, and the right-hand protection that means the chain can't reach your fingers.
It's also a legal requirement for chainsaws to have a stop button and a safety throttle to prevent accidental acceleration.
Many chainsaws also require you to depress two buttons or controls to enable them to start, which is another safety function.
Cutting down trees is generally pretty tough on the body. The working position for cross-cutting isn't exactly ideal, so ergonomics are very important when it comes to choosing a chainsaw.
This is partly about the weight of the machine and partly about how it's designed. If the grip is good and the weight right, you can saw for longer periods and it doesn't impact your body as much. A chainsaw should also be well balanced.
In addition to the important safety functions, there are also various other functions that are more related to the user experience. Functions for simple start and stop are common and have a range of names depending on the manufacturer.
The opportunity of varying the bar length for different tasks is also a good function that can be found on some models. A short bar length is better for limbing, while a longer bar is necessary for cutting down bigger trees.
Professional quality chainsaws also have a particular luxury function in that they're sometimes equipped with heated handles. This means that you can work for longer even in cold winter conditions.
When you choose a chainsaw, make sure it's easy to tension the chain as this is something you'll be doing a lot. Some chainsaws have tool-free chain tensioners which are preferable - if they function satisfactorily.
You should also make sure that it's easy to access and clean air filters and any spark plug. And also that it's easy to check and top up the oil, as that's what lubricates the chain.
Finally, you should consider chain maintenance. Some people prefer to sharpen the chain manually with a round file, where you file each cutting link separately. But if you use a chainsaw often and want the sharpening process to be as quick as possible, a chain grinder is a good investment.
This is also an important point when you're choosing a chainsaw. A chainsaw takes a lot of punishment, and even if you maintain it carefully, damage can occur. So it's essential that spares are available. Well-known brands often have these, either in the shop or via a mail order service.
The guarantee is also important. If the chainsaw breaks down soon after you buy it, you don't want to have to pay for a new one.
There are lots of accessories that make sawing simpler and contribute to a safer sawing environment. Here are just a few.
Chains: You can buy a new chain for your chainsaw if the old one has worn out and needs replacing.
Bar: Just like the chain, you can buy a new bar for the chainsaw when the old one wears out.
Oil: You should always have oil in stock so that you can keep the chainsaw correctly lubricated.
Winch: Helps to encourage awkward trees to fall where you want them.
Tree pusher: Helps to get the tree to fall in the right direction, but can also be used as a lifting aid.
Felling wedge: A wedge that you insert so that the tree can't pinch onto the saw. Normally made of plastic.
Pry bar: Using the lever principle, you can encourage the tree to fall in the right direction.
Chain grinder: Keeps the chain's cutting links in trim so that the chainsaw doesn't have to struggle to cut.
Saw-horse: Lift logs onto a saw-horse so that you can stand up straighter when you cut them up.
Timber jig: Produce your own planks by attaching the jig to the chainsaw and then sawing through the logs lengthways.
You should always wear protective clothing while using a chainsaw. This consists of chainsaw boots or shoes, gloves, a chainsaw jacket, chainsaw trousers and a helmet with a visor and hearing protection.
It's also a good idea to take first aid supplies with you to where you'll be working.
Make sure you're clearly visible while you're felling trees, so that any passers-by can't just hear you but can also see what's going on.
A chainsaw essentially consists of a body, a bar and a chain. For these to work together, they all have to have the same chain pitch. In other words, if you have a chainsaw without a bar or chain, you can't just buy any bar or chain.
How the chainsaw is constructed determines which type of bar and chain you need to use. The bar is normally equipped with a nose wheel, and this and the chain must have the same chain pitch as the chainsaw's drive sprocket for them to work together.
However, when we talk about the chain pitch we often mean the distance between the drive links, because it's normally the chain or bar that you'll be replacing. There are different types of chain pitch. The most common on chainsaws is currently 0.325". But there are also quite a lot of chainsaws with 3/8" chain pitch.
The easiest is to check the model and manufacturer of your chainsaw and find the chain pitch in the manual for your machine. You can often find manuals on the manufacturer's website if you have lost the paper version.
Take the chainsaw to a reseller. An expert can usually easily see which model it is and knows which chain and bar will fit.
Measure the chain pitch yourself.
Option 3 is simple in theory, but you have to be accurate in your measurements. For example, there's only 1.3 mm difference between 0.325" and 3/8". The right way to determine the pitch is to measure the distance between three rivets. If you measure the distance between three of them, divide the figure by 2 and convert it into inches, this gives you the chain pitch. Example: If you measure the distance between three rivets on a 0.325" chain, you get a distance of 16.5 mm. Then you divide 16.5/2 = 8.25 mm. And finally, you convert this into inches, which is 0.325.
We name the Stihl MSA 120 C-BQ as our best choice for battery-powered chainsaw as it's both neat and convenient yet powerful. It's perfect for simpler tasks such as felling smaller trees or debranching them. It has a relatively short bar and a chain that's thinner than what we're used to on this type of chainsaw. This makes it easy and convenient to use. What's lacking is more advanced safety functions. Essentially, all you do is disengage the chain brake and you're ready to go. Lots of people probably appreciate this, but from a safety viewpoint it's not entirely a positive thing. On the other hand, it's very useful for anyone who has to climb up a tree to cut off branches, or for anyone standing on a ladder. In these cases it can be helpful not to have to use a start button. It also has a transport mode in which the battery is in place but the saw and battery contacts aren't touching each other.
The Stihl MSA 120 C-BQ may be small, but it's definitely no wimp. It has no problems cutting through quite thick branches of harder woods such as oak. It also copes with quite a lot of cutting and wear before the chain jumps or gets loose. This is fortunate, because the chain is very tough to tension, with the knob providing hard resistance. Another disadvantage of the MSA 120 C-BQ is that it has to be cleaned often. If you cut brushwood or wood that produces a lot of splinters, the chain housing can get clogged quite quickly. On the other hand, it's easy to clean. The battery life is OK. If you're pruning trees it will last half a day, because you cut the odd branch and do lots of other things in between. Stihl state the battery life as around half an hour. Of course you can buy an extra battery with higher capacity. One advantage with this chainsaw is that you can see the battery status. Overall, this is a light and small battery chainsaw with more power than you'd expect.
The Husqvarna 436 Li battery-powered chainsaw is as convenient as it is reliable, and we designate it as our best in test. Husqvarna's reputation within the chainsaw segment is world class, and the 436 Li demonstrates that they can even produce top quality battery-powered chainsaws. The chainsaw is well balanced and easy to control while simultaneously being powerful for a battery chainsaw, particularly in relation to its neat size. The chain doesn't jump off at the first chance, not even when working freely in a large, messy heap of brushwood. The design is extremely well thought out. Both the throttle control and safety throttle are sufficiently large. The kickback protection is well positioned and easy to handle. However, the start/stop button can be perceived as slightly small if you have large hands and are wearing thick work gloves.
For some reason, the scabbard is longer than the bar so it falls off very readily. It's easy to remove the battery for charging. The battery is a reasonable size and lasts for a long time. The charger is fast, which means it has a relatively powerful - and noisy - built-in fan to counteract overheating during charging. Oddly, the charger refused to charge at temperatures below zero. The 436 Li is an excellent choice for arborists or private individuals looking for a chainsaw for simpler tasks such as felling, limbing and cross-cutting smaller trees.
The Stihl MS 211 C-BE is a chainsaw that can cope with a wide range of tasks while simultaneously being easy to start and maintain. Stihl have a function called Easy2Start, which consists of a spiral spring that stores energy. In practice, this means that you don't have to pull too hard or fast for it to start. A simple tug gets it going. The function works very well and is one of the biggest advantages with this chainsaw. Another advantage is how easy it is to clean it. You simply pull out a button and rotate it. Nor does the chainsaw have any problems continuing to chew through trees and branches even if it's got a bit dirty.
The MS 211 C-BE is ideal as an all-round saw. It can fell smaller to medium-sized trees. It's fairly average in terms of fuel consumption, performing in roughly the same class as its competitors, which in practice means that you can fell a couple of trees and debranch them on one tank of fuel. It's also suitable for cross-cutting or limbing trees, even if a light battery chainsaw is actually the best tool for limbing. We found a few negative points. The chain is sluggish to tension and the knob could have been softer. And the On button is very small and well integrated into the machine. We felt this could have been made more visible. On the whole, however, the MS 211 C-BE is a very good all-round chainsaw for the average user who wants to fell, debranch and cut smaller to medium-sized trees. The chain is also a durable hard metal variety.
The Husqvarna 440 E-series X-Torq delivers both power and a high level of safety. It's ideal for beginners because it's well balanced and has double kickback protection. The chainsaw lies comfortably in the hand and produces very little vibration. It's easy to clean and also easy to top up with oil and petrol. However, we find the snap fasteners on the cylinder housing a little fiddly. They tend to wear and break over time. And we feel that the price of replacements is excessive. On a chainsaw in this price class, we expect top quality in all parts. Another thing that impairs the overall impression of the 440 E-series is the cold start. It's easy to start in that you don't have to pull more than two or three times. But it's quite heavy to pull and you need a good deal of force. It can also take a while before it gets up to speed. This isn't a major problem overall, but it gives you the impression that it could have been more lively.
Once going, the 440 E-series is a chainsaw with a great deal of cutting power. The chain is quite broad, and this together with the power means that you can fell both small and larger trees without any problems. However, it tends to jump quite a lot when we saw harder woods. Otherwise it works evenly and neatly. We like the fact that you can choose a shorter bar when limbing felled trees. However, when you buy the chainsaw it only includes one bar, so you have to pay more if you want to add others. We also like the carefully considered positioning and design of the stop button. The button is in a protected yet easily accessible position, and its red colour makes it clearly visible. This means that you don't have any problems reaching it with your thumb. At the same time, you won't hit the button by mistake, for example if something falls against it. Our overall experience is that the 440 E-series is a good chainsaw for private individuals who regularly saw trees of varying sizes; people looking both for high levels of safety and a user-friendly chainsaw.
The Bosch AKE 30 Li is a battery-powered chainsaw suitable for smaller tasks, such as clearing small trees and cross-cutting smaller trunks. The chainsaw can be purchased with or without a battery. If you purchase a package with a battery included, this does last for quite a long time, but there are more economical batteries on the market. The chainsaw makes a helpful beeping noise when the power is switched on, which means that you don't have to check whether or not the On button is illuminated. However, the start button is very small and impractically positioned. It's easy to remove and replace the battery. Unfortunately the build quality leaves a good deal to be desired and the AKE 30 Li has to be fixed quite often. This means that potential repair costs risk being quite high in the long run. The chain pops off quite easily when it's exposed to tougher tasks. And when it's faced with a large heap of brushwood - which means a lot of jerking in the chain - it throws the chain pretty much straight away. The AKE 30 Li is most suited to larger hands. This is partly because the throttle control and the safety throttle are quite far apart, and partly because the kickback protection is narrow and the distance to the front handle is relatively large. The work of sawing would have been made easier if the chainsaw was better balanced. If you hold it in the centre of the front handle, the saw feels unbalanced and hard to control. The AKE 30 Li does have some strengths, but given the price we'd have expected higher quality.