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6 Different Types of Chainsaws & Their Uses (with Pictures)

Last Updated on July 15, 2020

Massive chainsaw bar

To some people, chainsaws are mostly useful for the bad guys in horror movies when they feel like axes and machetes are too low-tech. For others, they’re a vital part of everyday life: chainsaws can chop wood, clear brush, remove major obstructions, and lop unhealthy limbs from trees.

Yet when you’re in need of a chainsaw, it can be hard to tell the difference between all the various kinds on sale. If you’ve found this article, chances are you have land to manage or trees to take care of and need the right chainsaw for the job.

Keep this guide on-hand while you shop, and you’ll be able to easily distinguish the six kinds of chainsaws: manual, battery-powered, corded electric, gas-powered, pole, and pneumatic.

The 6 Different Types of Chainsaws

1. Manual / Pocket Chainsaws

Pocket chainsawManual chainsaws are also called pocket chainsaws, which isn’t a nickname — you can literally carry these around in your pocket

A pocket chainsaw consists of a chain with bladed teeth attached to a handle at either end. To use one, wrap it around whatever you’re trying to cut through, then quickly pull it back and forth. It’s as exhausting as it sounds, and takes forever, but it’s also emission-free, nearly silent, and incredibly portable.

You can buy good manual chainsaws from a store, but it’s also a breeze to DIY one. Attach some kind of grip to either end of a chainsaw chain, and you’re ready to go.

What it’s used for:

Primarily small cutting jobs such as firewood for a campfire

Manual Chainsaw Pros
  • Easy to carry around
  • Cheap, especially if you make one yourself
  • Requires no power
  • Quiet
Manual Chainsaw Cons
  • Difficult to use
  • Takes a long time
  • Only suitable for small jobs

2. Battery-powered Chainsaws

battery chainsawThe lightest kind of powered saw runs on a rechargeable power source – usually a lithium-ion battery. If you haven’t used a battery-powered chainsaw in a long time, remember to put the battery in its charger a few hours before you need to start cutting.

The battery life of a rechargeable chainsaw varies between brands. It also depends how much you use it at a time, but generally, you won’t be able to spend more than a day in the field before you have to head home to recharge. Battery-powered chainsaws tend to have less power, making them best for brush-clearing jobs in places where an extension cord won’t reach.

Side note: if you hear someone talking about a “cordless” chainsaw, they almost always mean battery-powered, even though gas and manual chainsaws also don’t have cords.

What it’s used for:

Small to mid-sized cutting jobs anywhere you travel

Battery-powered Chainsaw Pros
  • No gas fumes
  • 100% portable
  • Quiet
Battery-powered Chainsaw Cons
  • Limited battery life
  • Less power

 

3. Corded-electric Chainsaws

A corded chainsawCorded-electric chainsaws chainsaws also run on electricity, but since they’re plugged into a power source, they can run at a higher amperage. This gives them a lot more cutting power, with the major downside that you can’t get very far from the outlet.

These electric saws are best for jobs near the home. On a one-acre property, you can probably run an extension cord anywhere you need to go. To work farther afield, you’ll need to lug a generator or rechargeable battery along. At that point, you might as well just go cordless.

also run on electricity, but since they’re plugged into a power source, they can run at a higher amperage. This gives them a lot more cutting power, with the major downside that you can’t get very far from the outlet.

These electric saws are best for jobs near the home. On a one-acre property, you can probably run an extension cord anywhere you need to go. To work farther afield, you’ll need to lug a generator or rechargeable battery along. At that point, you might as well just go cordless.

What it’s used for:

Small to mid-sized cutting jobs close to home or a power source

Corded-electric Chainsaw Pros
  • Cut with more power
  • Easy for beginners to use
Corded-electric Chainsaw Cons
  • Limited to cord length
  • Only effective up to medium-sized cuts

4. Gas-powered Chainsaws

A gas chainsaw

Gas-powered chainsaws are the most powerful and are used by both professionals and homeowners. This kind of chainsaw might be the most familiar to people new to landscaping. They run on a gas-powered two-stroke engine that needs to be lubricated, just like a car’s. Starting them requires priming the gas tank and pulling on a starter cord.

Gas-powered chainsaws are far and away the most powerful option most people will ever use, able to cut through wood of almost any size. There are downsides, though: these saws are bulky, smelly, and loud. Ear protection and upper-body strength are prerequisites for using one safely.

A gas chainsaw is cordless and can be taken anywhere. They can only run as long as there’s gas in the tank, but it’s sometimes easier to bring an extra gas can than a spare lithium-ion battery.

What it’s used for:

All-purpose, heavy-duty cutting of lumber and large trees

Gas Chainsaw Pros
  • Most powerful & readily-available chainsaw
  • Portable
Gas Chainsaw Cons
  • Loud
  • Emits gas fumes
  • Heavy
  • Can be a hassle to start

5. Pole Chainsaws

A pole chain saw

Pole saws are not technically considered chainsaws, but they work pretty much the same way. Some pole saws are just handsaws or reciprocating saws with extended handles. However, since the most popular pole saw designs are based on chainsaws, we thought they’d be worth mentioning.

A pole saw is a chainsaw on a stick, used for lopping off tree branches that would otherwise be hard to reach. They’re great for getting rid of dangerous limbs that might fall and hurt someone if left unchecked. Pole saws tend to be shorter and less powerful than normal chainsaws, in order to lessen the strain on the pole.

Most pole saws include triggers that allow you to operate them from the other end of the handle; some also let you oil the blade this way. Like regular chainsaws, they can run on corded power, gasoline, or rechargeable batteries.

What it’s used for:

Pruning of small to mid-size trees and branches

Pros
  • Great for reaching high limbs
  • Multiple options for shape and power
Cons
  • Only useful in specific situations
  • Not as powerful as handheld saws

6. Pneumatic Chainsaws

man using pneumatic chainsaw

U.S. Army photo by Spc. Craig Jensen

There’s a sixth type of chainsaw that can be even more powerful than a gas chainsaw, without as many moving parts. We’ve left them until last, because they’re much more common in industrial settings — landscaping tasks are unlikely to demand a pneumatic chainsaw. These saws are typically purchased directly from the manufacturer – you won’t find many on Amazon, unfortunately.

Pneumatic chainsaws are powered by highly pressurized air pockets. They can build up enough force to make straight cuts in metal and concrete, which makes them useful for construction work. Unlike gas chainsaws, they’re emission-free. Some have mechanisms that deliver water or oil to keep the blade from overheating.

What it’s used for:

Industrial cutting jobs; not for beginners

Pneumatic Chainsaw Pros
  • Can cut through metal and concrete
  • No fumes
  • Less likely to break down
  • Often contains its own coolant system
Pneumatic Chainsaw Cons
  • Extremely expensive
  • Quieter, but still not quiet

Conclusion

By now, you’ve seen that each class of chainsaw has its own benefits and drawbacks. Buying the right chainsaw is not a search for the “best,” but a process of matching the tool to the job at hand. The list below summarizes what kind of task each chainsaw is best at in order to help you in your search.

  • Manual: Pruning small branches, chopping small firewood
  • Battery-powered: Pruning and trail-clearing away from power sources
  • Corded electric: Small to medium-sized jobs near your home
  • Gas-powered: Heavy-duty jobs away from power sources
  • Pole: Removing dangerous or unhealthy tree limbs
  • Pneumatic: Sawing through concrete and metal

They are all excellent choices for the appropriate size of work and the amperage available. One isn’t necessarily better than another. It is all up to what you need it for and what your personal preference is.

Featured and header image credit: Parilov, Shutterstock

About the Author Kyle Newton

Kyle comes from a long line of woodworkers, craftsmen, and carpenters. When he’s not managing SawingPros, Kyle can be found in his workshop, testing and using every type of saw and power tool he can get his hands on. His favorite tool is a horizontal band saw and his favorite wood is maple.