Choosing the Best Chainsaw wasn’t easy before
Navigating the web for a good chainsaw can be a pretty tough ordeal, especially if you’ve never really owned a chainsaw before. There’s a lot you need to look out for, from broad things like what brand to choose from right down to minor details like the position of the trigger with respect to the handle; needless to say, it can be a lot to take in.
That’s where we come in. At ChainsawApe.com, we make it our mission to hunt down the best chainsaws on the market, and compile them into helpful guides to assist you in your purchase. We even post informational articles on our website, like helping you learn the fundamentals of using a chainsaw and other things, so you get the most out of your chainsaw from purchase to the (hopefully) far point in the future you get rid of it.
What is a chainsaw?
A chainsaw is a power tool, designed especially to make logging and cutting wood a very, very, fast and efficient task. It cuts wood using a chain lined with saw tooth edges (hence the name “chainsaw”), with the chain spun around a bar at high speeds using a motor, that’s either powered by combustion engine or electricity.
A chainsaw makes quick work of almost all wood cutting and logging jobs. Where a normal saw blade might take several minutes to cut a large piece of wood, the same job can be done with a chainsaw in mere seconds, all without the extensive labor required in the former case. Chainsaws can also handle larger cutting tasks with relative ease, getting much more work done, with less effort and in a shorter amount of time.
No wonder they’re a logger’s favorite power tool. Not that the average Joe can’t safely operate a chainsaw, far from it! Sure, they’re often regarded as the most dangerous power tool (and rightly so), but all it takes is a little guidance and proper training and almost anyone can learn to use chainsaw safely.
The best chainsaws currently on the market (according to your needs)
Features to consider when buying a chainsaw
As we said before, there’s quite a lot to look out for when buying a chainsaw. Most of these things are rather non-obvious, so you really do need to pay attention and thoroughly check each product before you buy it.
Lucky for you, we’ve already compiled a comprehensive list of everything you need to look out for when selecting your chainsaw. And since not everyone needs a chainsaw for the same reasons, you’d do well to note the features that matter the most to you.
1 – Bar size
The bar size of a chainsaw is arguably the most feature to keep in mind when selecting a chainsaw, because it basically determines how powerful the saw is going to be, both in terms of raw power and utility. This feature is so important that manufacturers use bar lengths to categorize and price their chainsaws, which is what you’ll see if you go online to buy one too.
Generally speaking, the bigger the bar on the chainsaw, the more powerful it is. And the correlation makes sense too, because larger bar lengths are suitable for cutting larger pieces of wood, and the bigger the chunk of wood you’re sawing, the more power you need behind your saw.
So, when selecting how long a bar you need in your chainsaw, the first thing you need to ask yourself is what kind of work you need it for. Small bar lengths like 6 inches are mostly only good for yard maintenance and trimming hedges around your house. Heavier tasks around the house like trimming trees and cutting firewood would be best done by a mid-range 14-inch, 16-inch or 20-inch saw.
Those looking to use a chainsaw in a professional capacity, however, would be best suited with something bigger, upwards of 20 inches. Remember the larger the branches and pieces of wood you need to cut, the longer the bar you need on your chainsaw.
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2 – Power source
When it comes to powers source, there’s really only two options you have: Electric or Gas-powered, with electric chainsaws available in battery powered and corded versions. Both kinds of chainsaws have their own advantages and disadvantages, so it once again depends on what you need. Here’s a table that summarizes all the differences between the two.
|Feature||Battery-powered Electric||Corded Electric||Gas-powered|
|Power||Low to moderate||Moderate to high||High|
|Bar lengths range (inches)||6-16||12-24||20 and above|
All in all, electric chainsaws are more silent and cleaner than gas powered chainsaws, making them great for use around the house. However, gas-powered chainsaws are a better fit for professionals who need more power out of their saws for the heavier tasks they have to deal with (though this might not remain the case forever, since electric chainsaws have steadily been getting more powerful over the years).
3 – Weight
As you’d expect from a power tool built out of metal moving parts, chainsaws can be pretty heavy. And since a more powerful chainsaw would need to pack a heavier motor and a larger guide bar, chainsaw weights tend to increase with the bar length sizes, though electric chainsaws are generally lighter than gas-chainsaws.
Knowing how heavy a chainsaw you can manage is very important before going out to buy one. Just as handling weights heavier than what your body is used to can be dangerous, using a heavy chainsaw doesn’t come without its risks.
Best case scenario, you’d get tired quickly after using it for a while, worst case scenario you won’t be able to handle it properly ad injure yourself. In either case, you’d be better off just buying a chainsaw you can easily carry.
4 – Chain
While the length of the bar on your chainsaw determines how large of a piece you can cut, the chain mostly determines the quality of the cut made. Chains mostly differ on two features: size and shape of the teeth, and the space between each tooth.
Pertaining to tooth size and shape, there are three popular kinds of teeth:
- Full-chisel teeth: These teeth are large and square-cornered, making them the most aggressive of the bunch. Cuts with a full-chisel chain are sharp and fast, and they remove very little of the sawdust as they work. However, because they’re so aggressive, they’re also the most dangerous to use, so you’d be hard pressed to find them on smaller beginner saws. They also dull quicker too, so you need to sharpen them more often than others.
- Low-profile teeth: These teeth are smaller than their full-chisel counterparts with rounded edges instead of the more aggressive square ones. As a result, they cut slower than full-chisel chains, but are relatively safer to use too. They dull slowly and are easier to sharpen, and so are a great match for low-power, electric chainsaws for home use.
- Semi-chisel teeth: A middle-ground between full-chisel teeth and low-profile teeth, semi-chisel chainsaws are sharper than low-profile ones thanks to their bigger teeth, but are also a little safer than full-chisel chainsaws because of their rounded edges. Perfect for people who need quick sharp cuts, but don’t necessarily deal with especially tough sawing jobs.
There are also three kinds of arrangements of teeth available in the market (different spacings between each tooth):
- Full-compliment chain: Standard chain with the highest number of teeth among the three. They provide the smoothest and fastest cuts, and are great for small jobs.
- Full-skip chain: Chain with teeth furthest apart. It provides slower cuts and is more prone to vibration and kick back, but the increased spacing allow for better clearance of debris, making them more suitable for long, tough jobs.
- Semi-skip chain: A middle-ground between the previous two. Faster at cutting than a full-skip chain, but clears more debris than a full-compliment chain. Perfect for moderate jobs.
Unlike guide bars, chainsaw chains can easily be swapped out for different ones, should you desire a different cut. You just need to get a chain with the right pitch, gauge number, and drive links, and you can swap it out no problem.
5 – Chain brake
Perhaps the most important safety feature on a chainsaw, a chain brake is a lever that’s mostly situated over the holding bar or handle, always in front of where the user is supposed to keep his hands when holding the chainsaw. The chain brake is important because it stops the chain from spinning whenever it’s activated, which happens when the lever is pushed towards the spinning chain.
Why would you need a chain brake you ask? To prevent injury on one of the most common problems when operating a chainsaw: kickback. Kickback occurs when the chain links get caught on the wood during cutting, either because of something inside the wood or improper usage of the saw. In either case, the saw lurches forward because of the torque produced and the user can be dragged into the saw if he’s not bracing himself.
Thankfully, the lurch causes the user to push on the chain brake immediately engaging it, and the chain stops spinning, saving the user from extreme injury should he have come in contact with it. The lever basically separates the chain drive from the motor, so while the motor may keep running so long as you’re pressing on the trigger, the chain cannot spin with the chain brake engaged.
Given how useful and effective a chain brake is, it’s extremely rare to come across a chainsaw in the market that doesn’t have it installed. Still, if you ever find a chainsaw on sale that DOESN’T have a chain brake for safety, you’d be better off looking elsewhere.
6 – Handle position
There are two common positions for the handle on a chainsaw:
- Rear handle: Better for small saws that allow for use while standing up.
- Top handle: Better for larger, professional chainsaws that work best cutting from elevated positions.
A more recent addition to the market is a pole chainsaw, ones that feature a small chainsaw at the end of a long pole, with the trigger at the end of it. These chainsaws are especially great for cutting small limbs off of trees or trimming hedges, but are more or less useless everywhere else.
7 – Oiling mechanism
With the abundance of moving parts in a chainsaw, it only makes sense that it needs to be oiled periodically to keep it running in tip-top condition. There’s a huge amount of friction that’s built up with each use after all, and without oiling damage to the engine, motor, and wearing out the guide bar and chain would be unavoidable.
Thankfully though, we’re far ahead of the days where you’d need to manually oil each part of the chainsaw yourself, since almost every chainsaw now comes with its own oiling mechanism. These mechanisms are mostly of three types:
- Manual: You press a button to start the oiling process, thus controlling when and how much your chainsaw is oiled.
- Automatic: The chainsaw has an automatic oiling mechanism that periodically adds oil to the bar when the chainsaw is running, saving you the hassle of doing it yourself.
- Adjustable (automatic): The chainsaw has an automatic oiling mechanism as before, but this time you can adjust the flow of oil into the machine, thus giving you greater control without the hassle of a manual mechanism.
Of the three, it’s clear that the adjustable mechanism is the best, and so it’s the one you should always try and get. However, the other two are also perfectly usable, so as long as your chainsaw has a working oiling mechanism, it’s not so important what kind it is.
8 – Sharpening mechanism
Just like a regular saw, your chainsaw teeth get dull with every consecutive use, until there may come a time when the chain it too dull to properly cut into the wood anymore. Replacing the chain can be expensive, so must people resort to re-sharpening it, and that too by hand.
However, over the past couple of years, more and more chainsaws have appeared on the market that come with their own sharpening mechanism. Instead of having to take the chain off, sharpen it by hand, and then re-attach it, these mechanisms let you sharpen the chain with the push of a single lever. Some are even automatic, sharpening the chain every time it’s used, meaning you’ll never have to worry about a dull chain again.
Needless to say, the sharpening mechanism is a wonderful feature to have on your chainsaw, one you should definitely be on the lookout when you’re out to buy one.
Top chainsaw brands
The best brands in an industry are those that have built a strong reputation thanks to the great products they’ve put out, year after year. And in the case of chainsaws, these are the brands you can always trust to give you only the best of the best (listed in alphabetical order):
- Green Works
- Poulan Pro
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use a different chain on my chainsaw?
Yes, if it has the correct number of drive links, pitch and gauge and is the right size, you can use the chain as a replacement on your chainsaw.
Can I use a different guide bar on my chainsaw?
Most chainsaws don’t let you change the length of the guide bar on your chainsaw. Even the ones that do, end up working slower and faster depending on whether you increased the bar length or decreased it respectively. Consult your product manual to see if your chainsaw allows you to switch out bar lengths.
How long of a chainsaw bar do I need?
The bar you choose should typically be 2 inches longer than the diameter of the piece of wood that you want to cut. This is to avoid the bar getting pinched at the nose which can result in kickback.
What is the correct tension for a chainsaw chain?
The chainsaw should be tightened enough to fit the bar snugly, but should still be loose enough to pull freely. You should be able to pull one or two drive links off the bar by pinching the underside of it, which should “snap” back on as soon as you release the chain.
How long does a chain last?
It depends on how frequently you use your chainsaw and the kind of work you do with it. A typical chain can last upwards of 5 years with frequent moderate use.
Find out more
While we’ve done our best to summarize everything you need to know before buying a chainsaw, there’s still so much more about chainsaws that we haven’t told you yet, from proper maintenance and usage, to necessary safety equipment and other important things.
Click on any one of the links below to keep learning about chainsaws and the best way to use them.
With all this information now at your disposal, we hope you’ll be able to find and use the chainsaw that’s perfect for you.