When it comes to the hard work of felling trees and cutting them into firewood, there’s just no substitute for the chain saw. This machine is loud, oily and smelly—attributes you’ll quickly forget after you drop a tree in under a minute. A couple of hours with one is enough to prepare a pickup-full of firewood or to whittle down a big pile of brush created by a windstorm that just swept through.
These saws have been around for nearly 90 years and have improved steadily all along. Today’s machines are easy-starting, well-mannered and have a high power-to-weight ratio. Most important, they cut with a vengeance. In fact, they’re so good, it’s hard to find a bad one. Still, clear differences emerge between homeowner and pro models. To find out what those are, we spent three days pruning an ancient orchard, felling trees and cross cutting them into logs. The seven saws we tested had engines in the 35 to 38 cc range with bars 16 to 18 in. long. Here’s what we found, after the smoke cleared and the sawdust settled.
With the top four manufacturers offering more than 80 models combined, choosing the right chain saw can be a daunting task. To help you make a choice, we divided the saws into two categories based on cost and engine size. Then we fired them up and made hundreds of cuts. We compared features and performance. Choose from the ones that best fit your particular needs and budget.
But first, especially if shopping for your first chainsaw, read through the chainsaw features we love. They’ll orient you to the key problem-solvers that manufacturers build into their products and make chainsaw use safer and easier.
Many of the features listed below, like tool-free chain tensioning, are found on the entire range of saws. Others, like an air pre-cleaning system, are only available on more expensive models. Go online or stop at your local dealer to pick up manufacturers’ literature that outlines the features and offers you comparison charts to help in your selection.
Starting a cold chain saw requires closing the choke and increasing the throttle speed. To stop the saw, you switch it off. Some saws combine all these functions in one switch. Others have separate on/off and choke switches.
We prefer the type of switch found on the Husqvarna and Jonsered saws because it’s large enough to operate easily with gloves on, pushing down on the switch stops the engine, and the switch automatically returns to the “run” position. You don’t have to switch the saw back on to start it again. This helps prevent accidentally flooding the engine by trying to restart it with the switch off.
Still not sure what chainsaw is best for you? Check out the Saw Guy website out, he shows you how to pick the best chainsaw.