Yard tools like hedge trimmers and gas lawn mowers are sufficient for routine lawn maintenance, but when it comes to big jobs like trimming heavy branches or cutting firewood, chainsaws are far and away most efficient choice.
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 would a battery-operated electric chainsaw give you the mobility you need? Or perhaps your chores require you to venture into the woods. Gas chainsaws are best for big jobs like felling trees and sawing through big logs.
If you live in a populous suburban area, there are energy efficient chainsaws that won't disturb your neighbors. Hobbyists especially enjoy quiet, and electric models 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.
Best for Fuel Efficiency
Electric tools by nature are more environmentally friendly than their gas counterparts. However, some gas chainsaws are gentler on the environment than others, which means you refuel less. In our tests, the Echo CS-210-14 and the Husqvarna 240 consumed less fuel than average, while keeping emissions low.
The Echo CS-310-14 is a powerful standard gas-powered chainsaw. The 14-inch bar is strong enough to fell trees but small enough to store in a garage. The 30.5 cc two-cycle engine is light but has enough muscle to rip through wood while also maintaining fuel efficiency. During our test, the Echo took only four attempts to start, typical for the best of the gas chainsaws, thanks to an i30 starting system.
Professionals are no strangers to the Husqvarna chainsaw brand, and the Husqvarna 240 chainsaw delivers a modest bite with its 16-inch bar and fuel-efficient engine. During our test, the 240 took a few attempts to start, but it managed to cut through our test log in about seven seconds. While this chainsaw’s cutting capability is slightly above average, its power overall is about average when compared with other saws in our reviews. Despite this, we couldn't help but notice that the 240 is loud. During our test, it cut at a noise level of 77 decibels at its lowest and topped out at 93 decibels.
Best for Big Jobs
Gas chainsaws vary in terms of energy efficiency, but they are generally more powerful than electric chainsaws and can tackle bigger jobs. The chainsaws in our buying guide that are best suited for felling trees and sawing through big logs usually have long bars and saw through wood quickly. Many gas chainsaws have safety features like anti-vibration and anti-kickback functionality. You will want a saw that is hefty enough to provide solid leverage when cutting through wood but easy to maneuver and carry for long periods. While the Stihl MS170, Craftsman 41BY429S799 vary in terms of size, weight and maneuverability, they are powerful chainsaws that cut through big logs quickly.
Stihl is a chainsaw brand commonly used by farmers, ranchers and tree removal professionals, but you don't have to be a lumberjack to use its chainsaws. Anyone can reap the benefits of Stihl's smaller models like the MS170. The high power-to-weight ratio and low price make this saw accessible to the average homeowner.
Whether you're clearing out fallen trees post-storm, clearing brush or fighting off the undead, the Craftsman 41BY429S799 chainsaw is an effective tool. This 18-Inch gas chainsaw packs a lot of power and durability. This chainsaw has a 42cc two-cycle that pumps a lot of fuel through the machine to power the chain. It effectively chops through a log, cutting at roughly an inch per second.
Best for Residential Areas
If you want a chainsaw to rid your yard of unwanted growth, but you have neighbors close by, electric chainsaws are a good option. They tend to be quieter and easier to handle than gas chainsaws. They won’t disturb your neighbors as much as a powerful, noisy gas chainsaw would. They are also easier to maintain without the need to mess with gas and oil. The Black & Decker LCS1020 and the Kobalt KCS120-06 are quiet chainsaws, with decibel readings well below their gas counterparts. They are easy to use and have all the power you need for jobs around the yard.
With its lightweight body and cordless design the Kobalt KCS 120-06 electric chainsaw is great for light tree trimming and delimbing or felling trees. The 12-inch bar works best when limited to cutting logs under 8 inches in diameter. In our test, the Kobalt took over 16 seconds to cut through a 5-inch log, which was way more time than average. The large bucking spikes on the side of the bar are useful when tackling large logs, as they enhance your control and act as pivot points around the log.
You don’t generally think of a chainsaw as being cute, but the Black & Decker LCS1020 is pretty adorable. It has a 10-inch bar, making it the smallest chainsaw in our lineup. We don't recommend using this saw on wood larger than a few inches thick, but don't let its size fool you – this electric chainsaw has some power. It works great for jobs around the house, like pruning dead or unwanted branches off trees and cutting fallen branches.
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, but low-cost chainsaws are not necessarily low quality. 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, 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 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. 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 & 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, and 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’ll store your chainsaw away during the winter, and both gas and electric models store similarly. Before you put your saw away for an extended period, drain the fuel and oil from the chainsaw. This prevents residue buildup 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 chainsaws, wipe the machine down and remove the chain and guide bar before storing.
While high-end chainsaws, generally used by professional lumberjacks, can run into the thousands of dollars, there are many affordable gas and electric chainsaws that are great for jobs around the yard. Gas chainsaws can generally be used for the bigger jobs of felling trees or sawing through big logs, while electric chainsaws are often a better choice for clearing unwanted growth in tight residential areas. Once you’ve selected the best chainsaw for your needs, it’s important to always keep safety in mind by properly maintaining your saw and wearing protective gear.
Contributing Reviewer: Noel Case