Which Chainsaws Make the Cut?
The top performers in our review are Stihl MS170, the Gold Award winner; Craftsman 46cc 18 Inch, the Silver Award winner; and Homelite UT 10640, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a tool to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 systems.
Yard tools like hedge trimmers and gas lawn mowers are sufficient for routine lawn maintenance, but heavy jobs like trimming branches or felling trees require the big guns. Chainsaws are the best tools for trimming heavy branches and cutting firewood.
Gas and electric are the two main types of chainsaws available. When deciding between the two, consider where and when you are most likely use it. Do you have quick access to a power source, such as an electric outlet? Or do your chores require you to venture into the woods? Gas chainsaws are best for big jobs like felling trees. Light jobs close to home, such as yard work, carpentry or cutting firewood, best suit electric models.
If you live in a populous suburban area, there are energy efficient chainsaws that won't disturb your neighbors. Hobbyists especially enjoy quiet, corded models that deliver plenty of power for ice or woodcarving.
Rechargeable batteries and extension cords are the most common power sources for electric models, while gas models require an oil and gasoline mixture for power. Whatever the power source, all chainsaws work on a series of systems that spin a chain around a bar, allowing you to cut through wood.
Along with gas models, you may find a variety of included necessities like engine oil to keep the saw running smoothly. Electric models come with batteries and chargers to keep the saw moving. Both power types may come with extras like a bar scabbard, carrying case, spare chain, scrench and guide bar. To learn more about these products, check out our articles about chainsaws.
Chainsaws: How We Tested, What We Found
We focused on small models suitable for homeowners rather than tree clearing professionals. Large chainsaws can cost thousands of dollars, and low-cost chainsaws are not necessarily low quality. So, for people who may not use their saw often, we kept the price range low, under $300.
The key features to look for when buying a chainsaw are performance, power and safety, included accessories, maintenance, and support. Obviously, you can't test a new saw on your own in the store, so we tested this selection for you. For safety, we had tree-cutting professionals join us. While the saws we tested are best for home use, these professionals provided useful feedback about each one.
In our test, we used each saw to make multiple cuts through the same log, and we timed each one to see how rapidly it cut. In addition, we measured noise levels for each saw while idling, revving and cutting. The noise levels for all the saws we tested stayed within close range of each other; at their loudest, the saws reached the mid-90s, which is comparable to the noise level of a lawn mower. We recommend ear protection for noises over 80 decibels.
There's a good reason villains in slasher films use chainsaws – these tools are powerful and dangerous. According to the CDC, an estimated 36,000 people per year are treated in emergency rooms for chainsaw related injuries. This number increases after storms and natural disasters.
To keep yourself out of harm's way, we strongly encourage you to use ear protection, chaps, goggles and gloves. It's best to wear fitted clothes that cover your whole body and a helmet, especially when working in trees.
Never, ever operate a chainsaw under the influence and be sure to keep children and pets away from the work site. There are many online chainsaw safety courses available that can teach you how to operate, store and maintain your chainsaw properly. Proper maintenance keeps the saw's chain sharp and well lubricated, preventing kickback.
The grip and weight of a saw have a huge effect on its performance of the user. A saw without anti-vibration features can fatigue your hands quickly, making it hard to hold the saw and work safely. Since power source comes down to preference, if you don't need a powerful beast of a saw, go with an electric model. If you want power and use the saw often, gas is a good direction to take.
Parts and Maintenance
We tested their performance as thoroughly as possible, but other factors play a role in the experience you have owning and using your chainsaw. If you're new to chainsaw maintenance, you may want to consider a saw available through licensed dealers.
Chainsaw brands like Stihl, Husqvarna, Echo and Homelite can be purchased from licensed dealers rather than large hardware stores. In case you encounter problems with the chainsaw, you can take it back to these dealers for repairs. This ensures the people working on your chainsaw are experts and have the parts you need. The websites for these models have store locators to find a dealer nearby to help with maintenance and repair.
Whether it's a gas or electric model, storage, cleaning and routine replacements are essential to keeping your chainsaw operational. For both power types, you should complete several routine procedures before and after use. Before you start your chainsaw, check for leaks, cracks or obvious damage, test the throttle, choke, trigger lockout and stop switch. The chain brake, chain, bar, fuel and oil levels will also need your attention before you start a job. After you've finished the job, clean the entire chainsaw while paying special attention to the air filter and cylinder fins.
Chances are you store your chainsaw away during the winter, and both gas and electric models store similarly. Before you put your saw away for an extended periods, drain the fuel and oil from the chainsaw. This prevents residue build up and potential fire hazards that come with storing such flammable materials. For gas models, run the engine until the carburetor is dry. This keeps the diaphragms from sticking together. For both types of chainsaw, remove the chain and guide bar before storing and wipe the machine down.
Chainsaws: Our Verdict and Recommendations
Our three top contenders are all powerful gas models suitable for homeowners and landowners alike. In our tests, the Stihl MS170, Craftsman 18 Inch and Homelite UT 10640 performed consistently and quickly. Each of these saws cut through our test log in under six seconds – that's roughly an inch per second. Our Gold Award winner, the Stihl MS170, is a solid standard saw that makes moderate noise while still pumping out 30.1ccs of power. Its 16-inch bar is suitable for most limbs that may fall in storms or need pruning. Weighing less than 11 pounds, it's light enough to carry and hold for long periods.
The Top Ten Reviews Silver Award goes to the Craftsman 18 Inch. This is the saw to go for if you need to power through your yardwork. Its 46cc two-cycle engine adds to the weight of this 15-pound chainsaw, but delivers the power you expect from such a large gas engine. However, power isn't enough to earn such high placement. The power-to-weight ratio in this chainsaw is high, but what impressed us about this tough Craftsman model was its handling. During our test, our tree removal specialist commented on this saw's easy and balanced handling. This chainsaw still produced its fair share of vibrations and noise, but it handles smoothly, even for long jobs. To sweeten the deal, this saw comes with a spare chain, carrying case, engine oil and a bar scabbard to help with maintenance, storage and transportation.
The Homelite UT 10640 wins the Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award. This 14-inch gas saw has a 42cc two-cycle engine, which is surprising for such a small chainsaw. This compact model weighs under 10 pounds but circulates a ton of power through its body. In our test, this chainsaw did flood and took some time to start, but once it did, it cut through our test log quickly and smoothly. The Homelite comes with a laundry list of safety features not found in the other saws on our lineup, such as a nose guard and chain catcher, to reduce kickback and deflect any broken chains. The Homelite model doesn't come with many extra accessories, but you can easily find parts and assistance for this chainsaw at licensed dealers and large hardware stores. Chainsaws make otherwise daunting jobs quick and easy. When looking for a new chainsaw, consider how often you need to use it and what jobs it needs to handle. Electric and gas models suit different tasks, so you want to consider available power sources and your surroundings. Fortunately, both are effective weapons in case of zombies.