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The 5 Best Chainsaws

Updated on August 12, 2013
Will Apse profile image

Will Apse spent many years renovating older homes and also ran a small construction company.

Makita DCS6401-20 Commercial Grade 20-Inch 64cc 2-Stroke Gas Powered Chain Saw. My favorite chainsaw. this will fell an average tree in a few minutes.
Makita DCS6401-20 Commercial Grade 20-Inch 64cc 2-Stroke Gas Powered Chain Saw. My favorite chainsaw. this will fell an average tree in a few minutes.

If you are considering buying a chainsaw there are several issues to give some thought. For me those questions were

  • Will I be safe handling one? Buy a big gas model and it is worth reading all the safety information.
  • If I buy a top quality chainsaw will it repay the cost? Hiring professionals is expensive, burning wood saves money- how does the math stack up?
  • What kind of job needs what kind of chainsaw? Backyard maintenance and tree-felling are two entirely different things...
  • Which are the best chainsaws for durability and performance?

I was obliged to ask myself these kinds of questions, when I lived for a time in a remote country area where wood stoves were the normal way to heat a home. I chose the Makita above for heavy work and never regretted it but there are plenty of other great chainsaws out there.

Choosing the Bar Size

The chainsaw bar is the piece of thin steel that protrudes from the front of the chainsaw. The cutting chain runs around it. For sectioning fallen branches in a backyard an 18 inch bar is plenty big enough.

For pruning, a pole saw is often the best choice.

For felling large trees, a 32 inch bar should handle most things you come across. Be careful with a large bar though- turn around with one in your hand and anyone nearby could get hurt! They can also kickback with a fury if you misuse them.

Progressive Farmer's useful tutorial on felling a tree.

Back Yard Maintenace

As well as buying a serious chainsaw for felling and sectioning large trees, I picked up a small electric chainsaw. These are great for keeping trees in a backyard in order. They are a lot less dangerous than a full power gas chainsaw, easier to start, obviously, and lighter to handle. The problem comes if you push them too hard. They will burn out and they are expensive to fix (the reality is you have to throw them away).

Read Buyer Reviews of Chainsaws Before You Buy!

I have picked out 5 chainsaws that should meet most needs.

Even if you aren't interested in buying online, the buyer reviews at sites like Amazon are worth reading. You will be armed with the right questions to ask your local dealers and you will know what kinds of features are most likely to suit you.

For Backyard Clear Up

Poulan Pro 18-Inch and 16-inch Electric Chain Saws

These are tough electric chain saws that will give good service if you don't work them too hard. The safety features are impressive for an inexpensive model.

  • An inertia blade brake, anti-kickback bar tip, and wrap-around handle for safety
  • Double insulation construction for electrical protection

They arrive fully assembled, and are ready to go right out of the box. Lightweight tools give you the flexibility to cut at any angle without the hassles of gas.

Milwaukee 16-Inch 13-AMP 2.25 HP Electric Chain Saw

The Milwaukee 16 inch will give years of service and is backed by a 5 year warranty. It is a lot quieter than most chainsaws, has low vibration and is a real pleasure to use. If you have the extra money this is a good buy.

Poulan P3416 16-Inch 34cc 2-Cycle Gas Powered Chain Saw

This is probably the smallest gas chain saw worth thinking about. Its not much more powerful than a quality electric but comes with the advantage of range. You aren't tied to an electrical supply.

Some people recommend this as a disposable gas chain saw, capable enough to tackle most everyday jobs but cheap enough to throw away after a few years use.

It has an anti-vibration handle for comfort and a reputation for starting easily even in cold temperatures. There is an inertia activated chain brake to reduce kick back if it bites into something it can't cut.

To Tackle Serious Trees

Makita Commercial Grade Gas Powered Chain Saw

Many tool rental companies use the Makita DCS642120 to hire out (at big money) which underlines the durability, reliability and usability of this model.

It has a 64cc (3.9 cu. inch) engine. The engine power is 4.7 HP. With a weight of 14 pounds this machine has one of the highest power to weight ratios in the business.

It can run a 32 inch bar without stalling and can tackle the biggest trees. Many professionals use this saw for everyday work partly because it is so light and partly because it is well set up and easy to maintain.

This is the model I cleared out large pieces of woodland with. Highly recommended for tough work.

Top Manufactuers

If you want a pro or semi-pro chainsaw with a long life and don't mind paying in excess of a thousand dollars a unit, try Stihl at the site below. Husqvarna also offer quality products.,c52

Protective Gear

The right gear can save you a lot of pain. Gloves, safety glasses, ear muffs, leather or even Kevlar chaps are all recommended. If you are doing heavy lifting don't be embarrassed about wearing a weightlifters belt. Everyone in my area wore one. It will help you keep your figure! Hernias are unsightly.

Reading the Manuals

  • Chainsaws are the one tool where you really do need to read the manuals. For one thing, you will never start a gas model unless someone shows you how or you have read the manual.
  • If you don't know the maintenance regimes your saw will be a junk in no time.
  • Mostly though it is worth getting the safety advice. Modern chainsaws have a lot of safety features but people still find ways to put themselves in unnecessary danger through improper use.

How Dangerous can a Chainsaw be?

The first question for me was- would I be safe using one? My balance is OK, my concentration average, I wouldn't have kids swarming around my feet and I have used plenty of power tools before. Plenty of pluses there safety-wize. Even so the reputation of chainsaws was worrying. These are some recent figures* for injuries:

  • 3 million new chainsaws are sold in the United States every year
  • There are 28,000 chainsaw-related injures annually.
  • The majority of the injuries involve the hands and lower extremities. Less than 10% involve injuries to the head and neck regions.
  • Deaths while operating a chainsaw are extremely rare.
  • Most injuries are caused by improper use of the saw or poor judgment by the operator.

This is not as bad as many people fear but it should give everyone pause for thought. If you aren't experienced with power tools maybe you could get by with a tree lopper or a hand saw.

If You buy a Chainsaw you Have to be Prepared to Maintain it.

Before you buy a chain saw you need to accept that you will have to carry out some maintenance.The blade needs to be kept sharp. The chain needs tensioning. You need to fill oil reservoirs. If you have a gas model you need to change air filters, plugs, starter cords etc from time to time.

It's not difficult but should be prepared for some extra expenses (tools,parts, oil etc) now and again. A  short course on maintenance is also recommended if you have one available locally. A well maintained chainsaw will give good service for many years.

The video below shows you how to sharpen a chain saw. As the man says, it is not rocket science.


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      8 years ago

      Thanks for a great article. Having used three of the Poulon Pro models myself I can say that they're pretty much my favourite chainsaw for yard work and general maintenance.


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