Kristen Hicks on January 27, 2017 2 Comments Table of Contents Types of Chainsaws Factors to Consider While Shopping Every homeowner has to deal now and then with a tree that needs trimming, must be cut down entirely, or has to be cleared after it falls during a storm. All of these tasks require the proper tool to cut the thing down to size. In a lot of cases, an ax won’t cut it, and calling a professional to help out is going to cost more than you want to spend. The best solution when those cases arise is a chainsaw. A chainsaw puts real power in your hands. You can chop down a sizeable tree and then cut it down into firewood, all without having to call in (and pay) a professional. If you’re ready to take that amount of power into your own hands, there are some important things you need to know to find the right chainsaw for you. Types of Chainsaws The first decision to figure out in your search for the right chainsaw is which power type to go with. Electric Chainsaw Electric chainsaws are usually a bit more affordable than gas and are more lightweight, which makes them easier to handle. If the people using the chainsaw aren’t especially strong, electric chainsaws are safer to use than gas since they require less strength to keep control of. Additionally, they’re much easier to start – it’s as easy as flipping a switch or pressing a button, and they require minimal maintenance. The main thing you have to make sure to do is keep them charged in between uses. The main downside to electric chainsaws is that they’re not as powerful as gas, which means they won’t work for some heavy-duty tasks, but for most around-the-house uses a homeowner will have for a chainsaw, they’ll do the trick. Benefits of electric chainsaws: Affordable Easy to use Easy to start Minimal maintenance Safer Better for environment To keep in mind: Less powerful than gas Gas Chainsaws For large trees or when you have a lot of cutting to do in a short amount of time, gas chainsaws provide enough power to do the trick. They cost more than electric and require more maintenance, but they’re heartier tools that are better able to tackle the big jobs some consumers will need. They’re often difficult to start, you may have to try a few times before you can get them going, and you’ll need to remember to regularly refill the gas in them to keep them working. Also, if you’re not strong enough to keep a good, steady hold on a gas chainsaw, the safety risks of trying to use one can be considerable. But for anyone who can handle a gas chainsaw and knows they need one that can do a lot of difficult work, a gas chainsaw is often the best bet. Benefits of gas chainsaws: Powerful To keep in mind: Harder to control Heavier Hard to start Costs more Factors to Consider When Buying a Chainsaw Buying a chainsaw that’s not right for you could mean risking your safety, failing to complete the tasks you bought it for, or simply finding yourself dreading having to use it. Not all chainsaws will suffice for all people or purposes. Before you buy, make sure you consider all of the factors below to ensure you find a chainsaw that suits your particular needs. Uses Almost everyone buying a chainsaw will be using it to trim or cut down trees or the wood from trees that have already been cut down. While the uses for chainsaws are similar, the difficulties of the particular jobs you’re likely to do with a chainsaw can vary widely. Trimming a tree or cutting logs down to size aren’t tasks that require just a huge amount of power, whereas cutting down a large tree or several in one day are. A lot of around-the-house uses for a chainsaw can be accomplished easily enough with affordable electric models that bring a moderate amount of power, but for consumers that live somewhere more heavily forested or expect to use their chainsaw for commercial purposes, a higher-powered model will be worth considering. Consider both the most frequent uses you’re likely to put your chainsaw too and the most heavy-duty needs that are likely to arise. How you’ll be using it is the first thing you need to determine in order to know what kind of chainsaw to look for. Power We’ve established that generally speaking, gas chainsaws are more powerful than electric ones. You’ll find a range of power levels within each category though. Power for gas chainsaws corresponds to engine size, which is measured in cubic centimeters (cc). Chainsaws of up to 40cc will be enough for a lot of around the house tasks, but you can find homeowner chainsaws that go up to 50cc for bigger jobs. If you’ll only be using your chainsaw for felling smaller trees or trimming and pruning, then 30cc may suffice. The power levels of electric chainsaws are measured in voltage, for battery-powered ones, and amperage for corded ones. Cordless chainsaws with a higher voltage are both more powerful and last longer between recharges. The higher-powered electric chainsaws available can tackle many of the same tasks as the less powerful gas chainsaws, so don’t write them off before you look into what they can do. Cost Most gas-powered chainsaws available for homeowner use fall somewhere in the $100-$300 range, while commercial models often go for over $500. Electric chainsaws start at around $50 and go up to around $250, with most falling in the $50-$100 range. As you’d expect, higher prices frequently correspond to higher power, but that’s not the only reason to potentially pay more for one chainsaw than another. Some come with nice features that enhance ease of use, like an automatic oiling mechanism or heated handles to make the chainsaw more comfortable to use in the winter. And naturally, brands with a strong reputation for quality will charge more for products that can usually be expected to work better for longer. In addition to the cost of the chainsaw itself, you should consider other ongoing costs associated with it. Electric chainsaws will increase your energy bills, although probably not by too much. Gas chainsaws will need to be regularly refueled and will need some parts, like the air filter, to be periodically replaced. If you don’t already have it, you’ll also need to invest in basic safety equipment before using a chainsaw (especially a gas one), which we’ll get into a bit more in our next section. Safety Chainsaws are powerful and sharp. You can fully expect that anything powerful enough to bring a tree down can do some real damage to human flesh. Anyone planning to use a chainsaw has got to put safety first. For a lot of homeowners, gas chainsaws may be too difficult to safely manage. They require a good amount of strength and control, so if you’re new to using a chainsaw and not sure what you can manage, going with a more lightweight electric model is your safest bet to start. You should also look for helpful safety features, such as an anti-kickback chain that makes it easier for the user to keep control of the chainsaw. And for whatever chainsaw you buy, the most important thing you can do for your safety is read the instructions in full before using it. Make sure you understand how to use it and what you need to do for regular maintenance to keep it working as it should be. No matter the type of chainsaw you ultimately go with, you should invest in some safety gear to wear each time you use it. Pants, boots, and gloves that are designed to be cut resistant are a must. Safety glasses and head protection are also important and, if you’ll be using a gas chainsaw, earplugs or earmuffs are a worthwhile investment as well. Size You’ve got a couple of main considerations when it comes to size. First, you need to think about the weight of your chainsaw. Can you hold it comfortably when it’s not on? If not, then keeping control of it when it is will be difficult. It’s imperative that you be comfortable with the weight of the chainsaw you buy, or it won’t be safe to use. The second consideration to make is guide bar length. Guide bar length is measured from the top of the chainsaw to the end of the bar itself. A longer guide bar means you can cut larger wood, but the bigger the guide bar gets the more unwieldy the chainsaw can get if you have a hard time keeping it under control. If you have a lot of experience with chainsaws, a longer guide bar can cut down on the time it takes to complete tasks. If you’re new to using a chainsaw or have limited strength to work with, choosing one with a guide bar 14” or less is recommended. Noise Do you have neighbors? If so, they’ll likely appreciate your taking noise into consideration when buying a chainsaw. Of course, as the person closest to the chainsaw while it’s on, you should care about the noise levels it produces as well. Gas chainsaws are loud, pretty much across the board, and the more powerful they are, the louder they tend to be. Electric chainsaws are much quieter, so if you live in close proximity to other families, or want to be able to use your chainsaw while keeping the peace with your own family members, an electric chainsaw will likely be the better choice. If you do go with a gas chainsaw, be sure to invest in hearing protection and consider giving any neighbors you have a head’s up before you get to work. Ease of Use One of the biggest benefits of electric chainsaws is their ease of use. In comparison to gas models, they’re more lightweight, easier to start, easier to handle and require far less ongoing maintenance. If ease of use is a top concern, then simply by choosing electric you’re simplifying a lot of the more difficult aspects of using a chainsaw. Another important factor that influences ease of use is kickback. Sometimes when you’re using a chainsaw, the impact the chainsaw makes on the wood can cause it to move in a reverse direction. Kickback can be scary if you’re not prepared for it. You can reduce the likelihood and severity of kickback by keeping your chainsaw properly maintained, by following all the manufacturer’s instructions, and by investing in an anti-kickback chain. Additionally, there are a number of features that can contribute to ease of use. Anti-vibration features will make the chainsaw easier to handle. An automatic oiler makes it easier to keep your chain properly oiled as you go. And heated handles will make cutting wood in the winter a slightly more comfortable experience. Cord Electric chainsaws come in two varieties: corded and battery powered. Corded chainsaws have the potentially significant limitation of only being useful when you’re within reach of an outlet. If you need to do tree trimming that falls outside of the range of the cord, you’re simply out of luck. Cordless chainsaws are generally more convenient to use, but you do face the risk of using up the chainsaw’s battery life before you finish a project. Depending on the model, voltage, and battery type, a chainsaw battery can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. Battery Options While cordless chainsaws provide a lot of extra mobility, you may find that convenience tempered by a short battery life or more maintenance requirements. Most battery-powered chainsaws use lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, which are widely considered the best option, as they’re lightweight, powerful, and hold their charge longer than other batteries. Although they’re not as common as Li-ion batteries, the other battery types you might come across are Nickel-cadmium (NiCad) or Nickel metal hydride (NiMH), which are sometimes cheaper than lithium-ion batteries, but won’t last as long. Beyond type, the two main things to consider when it comes to cordless chainsaws are battery life and battery charging time. If you’ll ever be doing cutting projects that take some time, having to stop what you’re doing to wait for a battery to charge will slow you down considerably. A chainsaw with a long battery life could save you that trouble entirely (although none of them are all that long – most top off at around 45 minutes of use or less), whereas a chainsaw battery with a fast charging time speeds up the waiting process. Maintenance If we’re being honest here, there are many appliances that you can get away with not performing all the proper maintenance for. Not so with chainsaws. Letting basic chainsaw maintenance slide comes with serious safety risks, so you have to stay on top of whatever maintenance the chainsaw you chooses requires. The particulars of what you’ll need to do to keep a chainsaw in working order will vary based on the model you buy, so if you know you’re not great about performing regular maintenance for your appliances, check with the manufacturer to find out what a chainsaw requires before purchasing it. As previously addressed, electric chainsaws require far less maintenance than gas ones. If you won’t be using your chainsaw that often and only need it for smaller projects, stick with electric. If you do go with a gas model, then be prepared to do what it takes to keep it in good working order. If you don’t, you’re putting your own health and safety at risk. Features: Anti-Vibration Features — The harder a chainsaw is to control, the more difficult it will be to use, especially if you’ll be using it for a while. Anti-vibration features make it easier to keep your chainsaw steady. Heated Handles — If you ever expect to use your chainsaw to chop firewood or fell trees on a snowy day, you’ll be glad to have one with heated handles. Spring-Assist Starting — Gas-powered chainsaws can be a lot of work to start. Spring-assist starting simplifies the process and lets you get started faster. Chain Brake — A chain brake will quickly stop the chainsaw when there’s a sudden impact or movement, reducing the risk of accidental injury. Muffler — Gas chainsaws are loud. A muffler helps reduce the noise some to protect your ears (and you relationship with the neighbors). Automatic Oiler — Chainsaws should be kept well oiled in order to function properly. An automatic oiler largely takes care of that part for you. Carrying Case — You have to be careful carrying an exposed chainsaw, but you have a bit less to worry about if you transport your chainsaw from place to place in a carrying case. Reduced Kickback Chain — A chainsaw’s kickback is dangerous, particularly for anyone new to using one. A reduced kickback chain helps minimize the risk. Bucking Spikes — Bucking spikes work as a fulcrum to make it easier for you to pivot the chainsaw as needed while you work. Conclusion Finding the right chainsaw can save you from potential injury and the high bills associated with hiring someone else to come trim or cut down your trees. Make sure you choose a chainsaw you can comfortably handle and follow all the instructions the manufacturer provides. A chainsaw can be a great investment, but only for those who use them responsibly.