Electric vs. Gas Chainsaws
Gas chainsaws combine power and mobility. They range from light-duty models to professional-grade saws that can fell large trees. A gasoline-powered chainsaw cranks with a pull-start and has a two-cycle engine that operates on a mixture of oil and gasoline. You can mix the fuel yourself or purchase fuel already mixed.
Electric chainsaws are good for small jobs — trimming, pruning and small cutting jobs — that require less power. They’re quieter and easier to start than a gas chainsaw and require less maintenance. You’ll find both corded and cordless varieties.
- A cordless saw (or battery chainsaw) offers good mobility and less vibration than gas models. The electric motor is also quieter and runs without producing the emissions that a gas engine would. Some of the best battery chainsaws have brushless motors and higher-voltage batteries that offer longer-lasting power. They can handle larger tasks like cutting logs and tree trunks in addition to trimming smaller branches.
- A corded saw is lighter and doesn’t require you to refuel or recharge. It does require a suitable extension cord that reaches the work area, so you may need to factor this into the cost. Your work area is limited by cord length, and you have to keep the cord out of the way as you work. Follow the device manufacturer’s instructions for selecting a compatible extension cord and see Power Cord Safety Tips.
The standard chainsaw design features front and rear handles on an engine/motor housing and a cutting bar that extends from the housing but there are variations. Traditional chainsaws are best for heavier work, like cutting down entire trees and thick limbs, but they can also be used for lighter jobs. Although these types of saws are typically the most powerful, they have the shortest reach.
A pole saw is a small saw mounted on an extension pole. It increases your reach for pruning and removing small tree limbs. They're available in gasoline-powered, cordless and corded models. The handle of some models can be lengthened by attaching a solid extender piece, while other models have telescopic poles, allowing the operator to choose the desired length for maximum versatility. Some pole saws can convert to standard chainsaws. Pole saw attachments are available for some string trimmers.
Other Chainsaw Designs
Some chainsaw designs feature an enclosure or set of jaws surrounding the cutting bar. The enclosure offers additional protection from the chain. Teeth on the enclosure help grip the material you're cutting. Some models use a scissors-like action to clamp the material as you cut. These electric saws are good for pruning and light cutting.
Finding the Right Chainsaw
Before you shop for a chainsaw, consider the work you plan to do. The size and type of the wood you need to cut and your experience using a chainsaw are all factors in selecting the right saw. Different chainsaw brands offer a range of features to meet specific job requirements.
Bar length is one way to judge a saw’s size and the work it can handle. A saw with a longer bar can cut larger-diameter wood in a single pass. The best chainsaws for home use typically have bar lengths that range from 6 inches on smaller, electric saws to 20 inches on larger, gasoline-powered models. Professional-grade saws have bar lengths greater than 20 inches.
Electric saws and small gas saws work for cutting small trees, pruning and trimming. Larger saws with 20-inch or longer bars are good for medium and large trees as well as storm cleanup and cutting firewood.
Engine displacement (gasoline-powered models), voltage (cordless models), amperage (corded models) and horsepower also relate to power and capability. The higher the number, the more power the saw has. Power matters most if you’re working with large trees and branches or cutting hardwood timber such as oak or maple.
A longer bar and bigger motor or engine mean increased weight — something to consider if you need to use the saw for extended periods. Larger saws also create more vibration, take more effort to handle, and increase safety concerns. A smaller, less powerful saw will be more manageable, particularly if you don’t have much experience.
Read and follow the chainsaw manufacturer's instructions for use, maintenance and safety.
While size and power help you determine the best electric or gas chainsaw for your work, a saw’s features can improve comfort, safety and efficiency as you cut.
- Anti-vibration features make a saw more comfortable to use and reduce fatigue. These systems are especially helpful if you have a lot of cutting to do.
- Spring-assist starting reduces the pulling force needed to start a gasoline-powered saw.
- An automatic oiler lubricates the chain as you cut, so you don't have to remember to activate it. Proper chain lubrication is necessary for safe and efficient cutting.
- A chain brake is designed to stop the chain when the saw encounters an abrupt movement or impact. On equipped models, you can also manually activate the chain brake.
- Low-kickback bars and chains help reduce the risk of the saw being unexpectedly forced back and up.
- A toolless chain adjustment allows you to change the cutting chain tension quickly and easily.
- An air-cleaning feature extends air filter life by removing large pieces of debris before they reach the filter.
- A carrying case protects the saw and makes transporting it easier and safer.
You may notice chain pitch and gauge specifications. Pitch is the spacing of the rivets on the chain. It must correspond with the spacing of the teeth on the sprocket at the end of the bar. Gauge is the thickness of the chain. It must fit the groove in the bar. Make note of these measurements if you want to purchase a spare chainsaw chain or a new chainsaw bar to make sure you get a chain or chainsaw bar that fits. You can also purchase bar and chain sets.
Chainsaw Safety Equipment
Personal safety equipment is necessary for use of any power equipment. Standard safety gear includes:
- Eye protection with side shields
- Hearing protection, such as earmuffs and earplugs
- Boots or shoes with steel toes and nonskid soles
- A hard hat for protection when cutting and trimming overhead
Specialized safety equipment for use with a chainsaw includes:
- Leg protection, such as chaps or cut-resistant pants
- Gloves with enhanced gripping surfaces and cut resistance
- Chainsaw helmets that include face protection, neck guards and hearing protection
For more information on using a chainsaw safely, see Chainsaw Safety. Making sure a chainsaw is in good working order is also a part of chainsaw safety. Our gas chainsaw and battery-operated chainsaw maintenance guides will tell you how to sharpen a chainsaw chain and keep your saw operating properly.