Chainsaw Buying Guide [How to Choose the Right Chainsaw?]

If you have been looking to buy a chainsaw, you probably are not surprised to find that there are countless options available in the market.

Since there are so many variables and factors that go into purchasing the right one we wanted to put together this comprehensive chainsaw buying guide to make your decision easier.

After you have gone through it and have a better idea of what you are looking for make sure to read our detailed chainsaw reviews so you can quit guessing and buy the ideal one for you!

But first we'll take a look at what to look for when buying a chainsaw, along with the different types available, of course some safety tips and finally some specific clothing you might want to add to the mix.

So let's get started...

What to Look For When Buying A Chainsaw

Chainsaw Buying Guide

Determining What You Need It For

If you have a large backyard and you are the do-it-yourself kind of person, an electric chainsaw will take care of most of your needs.

That is if you feel you are only going to need it a few times during the year.

If you’re someone who likes working in the woods or needs to work on medium-sized trees, you should consider a chainsaw that is slightly more powerful.

You will be better off with something like a chainsaw with a 45cc engine, or maybe even bigger.

Do you own a large backyard that has many trees, big and small? In that case, you might want to consider a gas-operated chainsaw because it allows you a lot of freedom.

We say this because electric chainsaws are restricted by the length of the cord they are tethered to and would need an electrical plug point in close vicinity. Even if it is a cordless chainsaw, it is limited by its battery life.

Furthermore, if you are going to be working on trees such as maple, beech, birch, dogwood or oak, you are better off with a gas-powered chainsaw.

If your goal is to simply cut branches and softwood, any other type of chainsaw would suffice.

Have You Used a Chainsaw Before?

If the answer is a resounding “No!”, then you should look for the most compact chainsaw you can find.

For this purpose, a guide bar length of around 12” is recommended, but I would say around 16” is manageable as well.

Anything above that is typically used by people with more experience with chainsaws.

Also, if you are only going to be using it a few times a year, as I said earlier, go for an electric chainsaw because then you will not have to worry about maintenance.

Their bigger counterparts, namely the gas-operated chainsaws, require more regular maintenance and are used by people who like to tinker.

You should also keep in mind the weight of these machines to ensure you can handle them safely.

A chainsaw that is around 10-12 pounds may not sound like a big deal if you are a fit person, but bear in mind that holding it in your hands for longer periods will eventually cause fatigue and increase the risk of injury.

How Much Power Do You Need?

Gas powered chainsaws will be your most powerful option. More power will equal more weight so that will be something to think about.

These engine sizes are measured in cubic meters or inches, and most of the chainsaws that you would want to consider fall between 22cc to 46cc.

Electric chainsaws are usually lighter and easier to handle than the gas versions and come in different power versions measured in amps.

Similar to the gas varieties when trying to decide on how much power you will need remember that the bigger number will equate to more power.

A big perk of corded chainsaws is they do require less maintenance.

Battery-Operated Chainsaw power is represented in volts and the same though logic applies - bigger number, bigger power output.

They are typically weaker than your standard gas powered and even some of the electric chainsaws.

These chainsaws typically have lithium-ion batteries because they are superior to the previously used nickel-cadmium batteries.

You can still find some chainsaws that use the former, and they work perfectly fine for minor projects with the caveat that they take awhile to charge.

The lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, charge quickly and are more powerful.

Length of the Guide Bar

Simply put, the guide bar is the mechanism which guides the chain and is measured from the tip of the chain to the housing.

The length of the guide bar will determine the cutting length of your chainsaw and the largest size of wood it will cut in a single swipe.

So the longer the guide bar length, the deeper it will cut. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that chainsaws with a shorter guide bar are ineffective. You will just have to do the cutting in two takes.

But if you are going to be cutting large-sized wood we would recommend getting a more powerful chainsaw to save on time.

There is a simpler way to understand the power requirement:

  • Light Cutting:                    Bar length under 14”
  • Medium Cutting:              Bar length between 16” to 20”
  • Heavy-Duty Cutting:       Bar length between 22” to 36”

But do bear in mind that the longer the guide bar length, handling the chainsaw becomes difficult because it gets heavier.

This considerably increases the risk of injury and potential for kickback - which we will cover more in the upcoming safety section.

Length of the guide bar on a chainsaw

Different Types of Chainsaws

Electric (Corded) Chainsaw

While Makita, Poulan, and a few other manufacturers make electric models that they call “commercial-grade,” most electric chainsaws are inexpensive and made for personal use around the yard.

They are mostly 8 amp models that offer 1.5-2.5 horsepower.  Blade lengths range from 12 inches to 14 inches.

These low-power electric chainsaws are useful for trimming trees, cutting down shrubs and cleaning up storm debris.

Since the are corded, they demand a power source be nearby.  You can find models priced from $50 to $80 in this category.

Popular brands in this category include Black and Decker, McCulloch, Remington, and Poulan.

The commercial-grade corded electric chainsaws are 15 amp models and offer up to 4.5 horsepower with blades to 18 inches.

They are built more ruggedly and typically have a longer warranty.  They are a good fit for maintenance workers who care for the grounds of schools, office buildings, hospitals, etc., and have ready access to electricity.

Cordless (Battery Powered) Saws

These chainsaws can be handy but don’t expect them to have the power of even a corded chainsaw, not for very long anyway.

Homeowners appreciate the ease of use without the hassles of dealing with a power cord.  They work well for trimming trees and cutting up fallen limbs.

Virtually all cordless chainsaws are 18-volt models that use rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries.

The top manufacturers are Black and Decker, Earthwise, Troy-Bilt, and Makita.

Most feature a shorter blade, usually about 8 inches.  For light-duty maintenance, a cordless chainsaw can be very handy.

Gas Powered Chain Saws

These gas-powered chainsaws are built for those who are serious about maintaining their own property and cutting firewood.

They usually feature engines from 2.5 horsepower to about 4.0 horsepower, or 50-60cc’s.  They are rugged but not designed for heavy commercial use.

Blade lengths to 20 inches are common.  You’ll find the size and power that is right for your needs when you peruse what’s available in personal chainsaws.

Top brands include Husqvarna, Poulan, Solo, Blue Max, and ICS.

Professional Chainsaws

Commercial-grade chainsaws are built for daily use.  They are the choice of professionals trimming trees for utility companies or taking down smaller diameter trees where needed.

Those who sell firewood commercially also prefer the durability of a commercial grade chainsaw.

Prices range from about $400 to over $1,000. 

They are powered by motors from about 60cc to over 100cc and can produce up to 8 horsepower or more.  They are heavier and more powerful than others and should only be used by a skilled operator.

Look for professional chainsaws from Husqvarna, Makita, Hitachi GST, Poulan, ICS, and others.

Safety Tips

I know I shouldn't have to mention it BUT just a reminder that chainsaws are a dangerous tool and should be used with extreme caution!!

Ok, that's out of the way...

The risks are easily avoidable if you apply some common sense and use protective gear that is recommended by the manufacturer and experts such as:

  • Safety boots that are cut resistant
  • Eye protection
  • Ear protection
  • Gloves
  • Head protection
  • Safety pants

You can also invest in a total head protection system that will combine head, ears and eye protection as an all-in-one solution.

What Is Kickback?

We mentioned the word 'kickback' above and yes, it is a real thing you should pay attention to.

Kickback is an uncontrolled force which occurs when the guide bar jerks back to the person handling it suddenly and could be the cause of substantial injury to them.

It happens very quickly (a tenth of a second) when a link comes in contact with the wood and the chain abruptly stops.

It also occurs when the guide bar suddenly gets pinched by the wood and causes a very quick reverse reaction. As you can imagine, the results would be less than favorable.

How to Prevent Kickback

  • Make sure the chainsaw is at full power before you start cutting from it to prevent the sudden stoppage.
  • Always maintain chain tension as specified by the manufacturer.
  • Never attempt to cut more than one piece of wood at the same time.
  • Try not to touch the guide bar tip to the ground or logs.
  • Always use safety precautions and make sure the safety mechanism is in working order before use.

Common Terms To Know

No two chainsaws will be exactly alike, but they share some moving parts which are common for all of them.

Although some manufacturers may choose to give them fancier or trademarked names, you will come across the following terms during your research:

  • Tool-Less Chain Adjustment: You will find them in nearly all the household chainsaws of all brands. It simply means that you can make the chain adjustments easily without the help of a tightening tool.

  • Spring Assisted Starting: This requires as little effort as pushing a button.

  • Anti-Vibration: As the name suggests, it softens the vibrations, which means you can work with the chainsaw for a longer period of time.

  • Throttle Lock: This is a safety feature a lot of modern chainsaw manufacturers are employing nowadays. You need to unlock the throttle before you can start your chainsaw so that it is not started by accident.

  • Rear Hand Guard: As the name suggests, this will protect your hands in case the chain snaps or breaks.

  • Automatic Chain Oiling: You just need to fill an inbuilt container visible from outside, and it will take care of oiling the chain. Bye bye manual oiling.

  • Circuit Breaker: Prevents the motor from burning out if the motor is pushed to the limits.

  • Chain Brake: This is to prevent movement of the chain when a kickback is detected and is almost instantaneous.

Chainsaw Clothing

Chainsaw Clothing is Essential to a Safe and Productive Job Well Done

Many chainsaw owners set out to cut wood in a pair of jeans and t-shirt only to experience scraped arms, wood chips in their eyes and even something as serious as a chainsaw gash in their knee or shin.

These realities remind us that chainsaw clothing is necessary gear for anyone who uses a chainsaw on a regular basis, including homeowners, tree specialists, landscapers, utility workers and loggers.

If you want to avoid injury and even minor inconveniences, putting on the right clothes and gear is vital.

Here’s some ideas to get you pointed in the right direction...

1. Chainsaw Chaps and Chainsaw Trousers (not the ones you wear on your motorcyle) :

You’ve seen colleagues with nasty gashes on their legs and you’ve heard the stories of those who were saved by a pair of sturdy chaps.

Look for chainsaw chaps that meet ASTM standards for 45 degree and 90 degree cuts.

The first time a log gives way before you expect it and you slap a chainsaw blade against your chaps-covered knees without injury you’ll be very grateful.

Look for the best chainsaw chaps like Elvex ProChaps and ArborChaps with Prolar. Choose lightweight yet rugged chaps to keep you safe on every job.

2. Safety Helmet and Head Gear:

Protect your head from falling branches or chainsaw kicks, protect your ears from the high-decibel output of commercial chainsaws (115 db on average – hearing damage can began as low as 80 db) and protect yourself from twigs, chips and debris that can scratch skin, retinas or corneas, and cause other injuries.

Choose a single system that employs a chainsaw helmet, chainsaw visor and chainsaw ear muffs or select each component separately.

But make sure you’ve got all the essentials covered with high-quality protective chainsaw clothing. Using a chainsaw is no reason to go deaf or blind, or to give yourself a frontal lobotomy!

3. Proper Gloves:

Some “old pros” in the business count the loss of a finger or two as something that goes with the territory. But that doesn’t have to be the case with you.

Add a pair of chainsaw gloves to your chainsaw clothing wardrobe for maximum protection.

The essential components of effective chainsaw gloves are plenty of tough, thick padding on the back or the hands and enough flexibility in the fingers so that normal functionality is not hindered.

4. The Right Boots:

Losing a finger makes it harder to count to ten; losing a foot makes so many more things difficult!

Don’t fire up the chainsaw unless your feet are firmly housed in a pair of chainsaw boots that sport steel toes and reinforced uppers that can withstand a chainsaw blade making progress at 2,800 feet per minute.

Outstanding boots are an irreplaceable part of a total chainsaw clothing set-up.

As you can see, there is nothing fancy in the mix for a solid set of chainsaw clothing.

Just cover the basics with the best equipment and gear you can find and you will enjoy safe, injury-free cutting with your new Husqvarna, Homelite, Stihl, or Craftsman chainsaw!

Final Words...

There are some other factors such as ergonomics, weight and maintenance that are also equally important.

While looking for a chainsaw for yourself, you should consider those features and imagine yourself while using it because the design is equally important.

The same applies for the weight of this machine because you might end up working with it for hours on end.

Also, you may want to look for something that is low in maintenance, but that shouldn’t be very difficult since many newer models claim to be maintenance free.

In a nutshell first determine what you will need a chainsaw for which will point you in the direction of how much power you need and then decide what you are comfortable spending.

As you will find in all of our best chainsaw reviews there really is something for everyone and every job!

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