ultimate chainsaw buying guide

Welcome the ProCutter Chainsaw buying guide, owning a chainsaw is great, they are extremely useful and versatile tools. However know the best one to choose can be a bit tricky as there are so many models and prices out there, what is going to be a value buy for you? We have made the task easier, read along through the guide and your choice will be made easy!

Below is a summary table that shows all the different categories of chainsaw that we have reviewed, click on the saw category that you need.

What Size Chainsaw do I need?

First and foremost factor to consider before you purchase a chainsaw should be knowing what is the right size chainsaw for your needs.

Chainsaw Size and Weight

A key spec you want to look at when considering a chainsaw is its size and weight. As a general rule of thumb, the more powerful and longer the chain bar is, the heavier and bulkier your saw will be. When considering the size of logs (diameter) you might wish to cut, you should aim to have a guide bar about 1 – 2 inches larger than that.  If you know what size guide bar you are going to need. Compare the overall weight of different chainsaws to see the difference.

size of your chainsaw

What to Look For

  • If you are going to be using the saw for work requiring finesse, like wood carving, try to find a lightweight model. A few pounds more makes a big difference to how tired your arms will get after 30 minutes.
  • Some chainsaws can also have very bulky bodies which can become annoying at certain cutting angles. Look for a saw with a more ergonomic design to make your life easier for smaller jobs.
  • For heavy duty work sometimes a heavier chainsaw means more solid components and may not be a bad thing, just remember to take breaks to avoid fatigue.

Chainsaw Features and Specifications

So you are looking to buy a chainsaw? Well you have come to the right place! The team at The Pro Cutter have many years of chainsaw experience behind them and know what to look for when it comes to purchasing a great chainsaw.

Starting Mechanism

First things are first when it comes to chainsaws, talk to anyone who has been around chainsaws for a while any they will agree, a chainsaw which struggles to start makes life miserable. On the flip side a saw that starts first pull is a real pleasure to work with.

chainsaw pull start

Electric Chainsaws – When it comes to reliability and ease to start, electric chainsaws are always winners. There are no special starting tricks or mechanisms here, as long you have the saw plugged in or battery charged and connected, just put your finger on the throttle and its running.

Gas Chainsaws – Starting a gas chainsaw should be easy, however for a lot of people this isn’t always the case. Chainsaw manufacturers understand this and have been making some innovations recently to make starting a gas chainsaw easier for their users. Below are some great features to look for when considering buying a gas chainsaw.

What to Look For

  • Spring assisted pull start, some chainsaw brands like Stihl, Echo and Remington have added an extra spring between the starter cord and the crank shaft. This means less force is required to kick the engine over than you would otherwise need. It also means you can actually pull the cord slower making starting a whole lot easier!
  • Choke control, some newer models from brands like Husqvarna have simple choke control functions that prevent the engine from flooding when trying to get it started. Flooding can be caused if you try to pull the start cord too much, without other setup procedures being in place to start the engine, thus flooding it with fuel making it difficult to start.

Some brands may have a form of this type of start assist but not specify what the mechanism is, but look out for the models that state they have some kind of improved starting mechanism or assist because it does make a big difference!

starting a chainsaw considerations

Engine Power

How powerful the engine in your chainsaw is will directly affect the cutting power of your chainsaw as it determines the speed at which the chain can run and how much resistance it can handle. Now the power of the engine needs to be matched to the task you plan on tackling and the size of the guide bar you are using, hence, for bigger cutting cuts you want more power, smaller jobs you want less. For example a small engine, say 32cc isn’t going to be very helpful with a 20” guide bar trying to cut through a massive oak, you would need a much more powerful engine, something more like a 62cc.

chainsaw engine size

What to Look For

Gas Chainsaws

These saws cover a large range of engine sizes to suit any task, engine power is usually measured in cc (cubic centimetres) which indicates how much air the engine can displace with each cycle of the cylinder, hence larger the cc, more powerful the engine is.

  • Light Duty Work, engine sizes can be as small as 24cc up to 34cc. These chainsaws will generally have a bar or blade length of 10” – 14” and will be perfect for light work around the yard. Tasks like cutting the limbs of trees, taking down small trees with diameters less than 14” and pruning are perfect for this size engine.
  • Medium Duty Work, engine sizes between 34cc – 46cc with blade sizes between 14” – 18”. Chainsaws with this size engine are the most common for a homeowner as they will provide enough power to tackle any domestic type task. Felling trees with diameters up to 20”, cutting several cords or tough firewood, and cutting most hardwood logs would be achievable with an engine this size.
  • Heavy Duty Work, engine size from 46cc and greater could be considered for the most difficult work, blade or guide bar length can be anywhere from 18” to 24”. Chainsaws with this size engine are usually used by professionals, to cut through hardwood knots and take down massive trees or cut up huge logs for milling.

Electric Chainsaws

As electric chainsaws are still relatively new on the mass production lines manufactures sometimes don’t specify in the same way what the engine power output is. Some electric chainsaws brands like Makita, do an excellent job however. The most common measures you will see however is Watts (W), Volts (V) and Amps (A) current, while all can be used to describe an electric motor or engine they do mean different things. In basic terms the power output of an electric motor would be in Watts which is equal to the multiplication of the current (A) and the voltage (V). So by just knowing the voltage of an electric saw doesn’t really tell you the actual power output. Other metrics to compare when the manufacture doesn’t provide the power in Watts is to look at the max chain speed or rpm (revolutions per minute) the saw can do, this will give you a good indication to the saws cutting power compared to others. Just like gas chainsaws however the same basic rules can be applied which is as follows;

  • Smaller chain bar or blade length needs less power than larger ones.
  • Only compare engine power of saws with the same length guide bar or blade.

Lastly, it is important to remember that engine power isn’t the only factor that lets you slice through timber, the chain sharpness and teeth type is the other major factor, which we explain more here.

Chain Bar or Guide Bar

The chain bar, also referred to as the guide bar on a chainsaw is the metal component that extends from the chainsaw body and allows the chain to move quickly in rotation. As the engine pulls the chain over the sprocket the chain bar ‘guides’ the cutting teeth on the chain and provides rigid support allowing pressure to be applied when resistance occurs while cutting wood.

chainsaw chain bar

What to Look For

  • The right size, the length of the chain bar will be a major factor to the size or trees or logs you can cut.
  • Quality, the guide bar takes a lot of pressure and force when cutting, you don’t want this to wear out quickly. It is very rare that the actual bar itself will snap during normal use, however it can be bent or the rails can be worn heavily. Most brands offer quality guide bars with their saws, but some are better than others. Some reliable chain bar manufacturers include Oregon, Husqvarna, Stihl and Echo. Poulan Pro chainsaws all use the trustworthy Oregon chainsaw bars, that come with a warranty.

Tensioning System

No matter what type or model of chainsaw you buy the chain isn’t going to maintain tension on the guide bar forever! Hence all chainsaws have some way to help you adjust the tension of the chain. The most common way to do this in older chainsaws was through adjusting two screws to loosen the chain bar and then tightening another screw to actually get the chain tension right. Now this process isn’t particularly difficult and only takes 10 – 15 mins depending on the saw. However if your time is precious or you would rather just avoid the hassle, there are some great new features out there to make tensioning the chain easier.

chainsaw chain tension

What to Look For

  • ‘Tool-less’ Chain Tensioning. Most of the major chainsaw brands are making things easier for their customers by creating ‘tool-less’ chain tensioning systems. These systems mean you don’t need to carry any tools such as a scrench with you and saves a fair bit of time as they are designed to be adjusted by hand. Each brand does it in a slightly different way, some have dials you twist, others with pull out levers etc. For the most part these systems work very well, however some of the cheaper brands have put in very weak systems that have failed after a bit of use. Our advice is, go with the quality brands, as they typically use stronger materials.

tool-less chain tensioner

Chainsaw Power Source

When it comes down to what is going to power your chainsaw you have 3 options. Gas, corded electric and cordless or battery electric. This is a very important factor to consider when buying a chainsaw, this being the case we have created a full review of Gas vs Electric Chainsaws for you to check out.

Chainsaw Safety Features

Chain Brake

A key safety feature to lookout for when purchasing a chainsaw is that it is equipped with a chain brake. This usually looks like a plastic hand guard at the front of the chainsaw body, it can be manually activated by hand when pulling the component back or automatically when the saw is rapidly jerked up, also known as an inertia activation. This feature will stop the chain from moving almost instantly to help reduce any damage to the operator.

chainsaw guide bar

What to Look For

  • Chainsaws will either have a chain brake or not, for safety try to buy a chainsaw with this feature, ideally you want an inertia activated.
  • Smaller, low powered electric chainsaws often do not have this feature as the chain stops instantly when finger is released from the throttle and they often have a slower chain speed and lower risk of kickback than gas saws. However if you can find an electric model that has one it’s a great feature.

Chain Stoppers / Catchers

Chainsaws are potentially very dangerous devices given their impressive cutting power. Due to this reason, chainsaw manufacturers are required to include multiple components engineered to reduce the imminent risk of an accident. One of the devices that come in handy is the chainsaw catcher/stopper which is a metal or plastic guard designed to intercept a derailed or broken chain. The chain should simply hit the chain stopper instead of striking the hand of the operator. Since 1995, all chainsaws must include a chain brake which stops the chain from moving immediately a kickback occurs. Although the chain break cannot stop the chain from hitting the operator at all, it can prevent the chain from rotating as it hits the operator.

It is paramount to note that these and other safety feature innovations are fairly recent. For instance, chain brakes have only been a requirement as from 1995. When planning to purchase a chainsaw from an online store, watch for some older chainsaws that may not include some of those safety features.

Low Kickback

Kickback is an extremely dangerous phenomena that can occur when using a chainsaw. Essentially the chain gets rapidly stopped and forces that was going into the wood gets reversed back into the chain bar which throws the blade away from the wood, usually towards the operator. This usually occurs when the top side of the nose gets stuck in the wood or the chain gets pinched in a log, the motion is so fast it is impossible to react to and move out the way, hence the most common cause of chainsaw injuries. Some models of chainsaws have features or add-ons that can help reduce this, ultimately the safest way to avoid it though is through proper cutting technique.

chainsaw kickback reduction

What to Look For

  • Low Kickback Chains
  • Low Kickback Guide Bar
  • Guide Bar Safety Tip or Bar Tip Guard

Vibration Reduction

Chainsaws tend to vibrate a great deal even when they are used appropriately and well lubricated. Excessive vibration can cause various injuries to the operator including hand-arm vibration syndrome and white finger. To reduce the stress these vibrations cause on the operator’s hands, some modern chainsaws separate the actual cutting portion of the device from the handle and controls using a mounting system. Some chainsaws incorporate metal springs to prevent the vibration reaching the user while others use rubber bushes. Some modern chainsaws also include electrically heated handles, which do not really reduce vibrations. However they can help the operator from sustaining vibration-related injuries by encouraging blood circulation to the user’s fingers. Chainsaws with heated handles are especially well-suited for operators who use them on cold-weather jobs.

What to Look For

  • Anti-Vibration handle, the most often utilizing springs or rubber to soften vibrations.
  • Heated handles, help protect the user from developing vibration related injuries.
  • Electric saws, due to the nature and operation of their motors, electric chainsaws have less vibration than gas powered saws. This is because there are usually less moving parts in electric engine than a combustion engine.

Chainsaw Brand

The brand of the chainsaw will depend on how much you are willing to pay for the chainsaw’s quality. The higher the quality, the more you will pay. If you are a professional logger or you intend to use the chainsaw for long, you need to buy from the leading brands. The leading brands are Stihl and Husqvarna. The other common brands are Homelite, Echo, McCulloch and Poulan in no particular order.

Summary

Good luck and happy chainsaw hunting click here to see all the chainsaw reviews and remember to always plan your work before commencing and STAY SAFE.