You’re looking to buy your first chainsaw. You’re ready to strap on a flannel shirt and head out to the woods to cut a season’s worth of firewood out of the frozen Canadian tundra.
Or maybe you just have some trees in the backyard that need a little light pruning and your neighbor has been razzing you about your hacksaw.
Before you go buying the biggest, baddest chainsaw you can find, take a few minutes to ponder these questions:
What do you expect to be cutting, most of the time?
Where do you expect to be cutting, most of the time?
Are you good about tool maintenance?
Chainsaws come in three types – gas, electric, and battery-powered. Being clear in your own mind about how you’re going to use a chainsaw will go a long way towards helping you choose the exact right one.
Gas-powered chainsaws are for that stereotypical lumberjack working in the frozen forest. Gas engines provide the largest, fastest, most powerful cuts from any chainsaw, no contest. If you want to take down entire giant trees, you want a gas saw. Gas saws also tend to last longer, so if you plan to be chopping firewood for years, gas is the way to go.
But all that power comes with significant trade-offs. Gas saws are extremely loud, so much so that any user should wear hearing protection to avoid hearing loss.
They’re almost always heavier than the other types of saws, and although that heft helps a bit with the cutting, it will cause plenty of arm fatigue no matter how fit you are.
And the gas saws require you not only to keep fuel on hand but also to know how to mix gas and oil in the proper ratio and to repeatedly refill the tank. These demand more mechanical TLC – you have a filter that will need changing, for instance, and whenever you work on it, you’re supposed to drain the fuel. You don’t need a ton of mechanical know-how, but you do need a little.
Even your inner mechanic will occasionally struggle to start your gas chainsaw – you don’t just push a button and turn them on. Like starting a gas lawnmower, the gas chainsaw demands extra attention to get it started.
With a corded electric saw, you can eliminate many of the drawbacks that come with the gas version. These models are so quiet you could almost use them indoors, so if you’re planning to do some pruning in your suburban backyard, your neighbors will be grateful you skipped a gas saw.
Electric saws are lighter since they don’t have the onboard gas engine. This means you’ll be able to saw all day without the arm fatigue. A lighter saw can also give you more maneuverability, allowing you greater reach while leaning across a fence or crouching under branches.
One aspect that appeals to those who only use a saw occasionally is the ease of start that you have with a corded saw. There’s no fussing with a pull string or worrying about fuel ratios. An electric saw is as easy to start as a hairdryer – plug it in and turn it on. No experience or mechanical know-how is necessary, making them a good choice for rookies and infrequent users.
The electric model is also easier to maintain. Without an onboard combustion engine, you just unplug and store in a dry place, like any other tool. There isn’t a filter to clean, or fuel to empty out for storage. Electrics are just easier to deal with before and after sawing.
A corded electric saw comes with a cord, of course, so you won’t be chopping firewood on the back 40. You’re forced to remain pretty close to civilization and an outlet. This is fine if you’re pruning in your yard, but the corded models lack the portability of the gas saws.
Even if you could get a mile-long extension cord and bring your electric model out to the hinterlands to chop firewood, you wouldn’t want to. Few if any electric saws can compete with their gas cousins when it comes to sheer power and cutting speed. Electrics shine when used for light landscaping, but they struggle and fail with anything heavy duty.
Cordless electric offers you all the advantages of a corded saw but without the cord. They can pack as much power but offer exceptional portability and maneuverability plus they are quiet and low maintenance.
But that very same benefit – no cord to tether you to a wall – is also a drawback. Cordless saws need batteries and those batteries will need to be recharged. Battery life will vary dramatically depending on the saw, the battery, and the demands you make of it, but every cordless saw will eventually need recharging. If you’re good about keeping one battery charging while you’re using the other, this won’t be a problem. But if you’re half a mile from the garage and your battery dies, you’re stuck walking home for more juice.
Cordless models also suffer from the same downsides as the corded versions. They are rarely going to be strong enough for the heaviest jobs. You’ll be tempted to cart them out to do firewood because they’re light and easier to deal with than a gas-powered saw, but they just won’t be able to give you much more than glorified kindling.
Remember the three questions we asked you to think about – what are you cutting, where are you cutting it, and are you good about tool maintenance? Your answers to those will be what decides which saw is for you.
If you’re cutting big heavy logs, go for gas. Backyard pruning? Corded or cordless are both good options.
If you’re working in your own yard, corded or cordless both get the job done. If you’re far from anything, gas or cordless will be probably the better choice. But if you’re far and taking down trees, go for the gas model. Obviously, if you’re far from home, don’t forget extra fuel or batteries.
And if you enjoy tinkering with your tools, any of these will work for you. But if you struggle to even find an on switch, you’ll want to avoid the gas and the bit of extra attention it requires.
Strap on your boots, grab your safety goggles, and find some trees that need to go. It’s time to fire up the chainsaw!