Buying Guide

Best Chainsaws for Your Project

Electric Chainsaw vs. Gas Chainsaw vs. Cordless Chainsaw
A gas chainsaw, cordless chainsaw and corded electric chainsaw.

Corded electric chainsaws, gas chainsaws and cordless chainsaws each have their own advantages. Choosing the best chainsaws for your toolbox overall depends mostly on the level of power and mobility required, as well as the ease of operation and maintenance.

Gas chainsaws are the most powerful and ideally suited for large tasks, but they require gas and oil and are the loudest and heaviest chainsaws. This is the best chainsaw for cutting down trees if that is a job you have to do regularly. The best gas chainsaws are heavy duty and durable, and also very mobile. If you have to do a lot of cutting in a wooded area, a gas chainsaw is your best bet.

Electric chainsaws are lightweight. There’s no fuel to replenish but they do require an extension cord. This means you will have to do your cutting close to your power source. A corded electric chainsaw is very useful for lighter amounts of yard work close to home. An outdoor outlet will increase the tool’s boundary for usefulness. Electric chainsaws also produce a lot less noise than gas chainsaws, a feature for which your neighbors will be grateful.

Cordless chainsaws are powered by a rechargeable battery and can reach various levels of power without being attached to a cord. This gives the user greater mobility. Cordless chainsaws are lighter and easier to handle than gas chain saws and most corded electric chainsaws. They are also very quiet to operate which makes them the best chainsaws for home use.

Comparison of Chainsaw Types
gas chainsaws
electric chainsaws
Cordless Chainsaws
Description Cordless and great mobility. Most powerful type of chainsaw. Available in a range of bar lengths to handle trees of various sizes. Larger and heavier. Louder noise. Possess better bar-oiling systems. Best suited for heavy-duty jobs such as cutting down a tree. Require gas and oil mix for fuel. Easy to start. Lightweight. Lower upfront cost. Quieter. Low-maintenance. Don't need fuel but require an extension cord that limits mobility. Ideal for general purpose light-duty tasks such as pruning small limbs. Unlimited mobility. Lightweight. Low-maintenance. Powered by rechargeable batteries. No gas, oil or extension cords required. Some models can reach the power offered by smaller gas chainsaws. Need to be recharged between projects.
Chainsaw Features and Usage Tips
An image of a chainsaw with parts labeled.

The basic elements of every chainsaw are the chain, the engine and the cutting bar. The bar is the "blade" of the chainsaw around which the chain rotates. Bar lengths and engine size determine what kinds of cutting jobs your chainsaw can perform.

The length of the bar can range from 12 inches to 36 inches or more. Bars that are in the 14 to 16-inch range are ideal for occasional and light-duty use by homeowners, while 18 to 20-inch bars work well for large diameter-cutting.

Proper tension must be kept on the chain to ensure efficient operation, along with chain sharpness and lubrication. Some models allow for tool-free tension adjustments, which makes it easier to keep the machine in working order.

Engine size is measured in cubic inches or centimeters and power is measured in horsepower. Larger engines provide more power but weigh more and can cause fatigue over long periods of use.

Higher RPMs (rotations per minute) mean faster cutting with more power to cut through the material you’re working with.

What Size Chainsaw Do I Need?
A person using a chainsaw to cut a tree branch.

As a rule of thumb, the chainsaw bar should be at least two inches longer than the thickness of whatever it is you are trying to cut. Certain tasks are best performed with certain bar sizes of chainsaw.

  • Pruning: Small limbs, 6- to 10-inch bar; larger branches, 8- to 12-inch bar.
  • Felling trees: Small trees, 12- to 14-inch bar; medium trees, 16- to 18-inch bar; large trees, 20 inches or more.
  • Splitting firewood: 14- to 16-inch bar.

Most chainsaw models allow swapping blades shorter or longer.

Pole Saws
A person using a pole saw to prune a tree.

Pole saws, or pruner chainsaws, feature the bar and chain of a typical chainsaw mounted on the end of a fixed or telescoping pole. The length of the pole can be 10-feet or more. Pole saw bar lengths range from 4 inches to 12 inches, depending on the model. Most pole saw bars are 8 or 10 inches long.

As with standard chainsaws, pole saws are available in gas, electric or cordless models. They are ideal for cutting limbs and branches without a ladder.

Chainsaw Safety Considerations
A person in safety gear using a chainsaw to cut a log.

Kickback is the primary danger facing chainsaw operators. This happens when the nose of the cutting bar connects with something solid, such as a knot or nail, causing the bar to jump back toward the operator. Take necessary precautions to avoid injury. Always wear protective eye, hand and foot gear. Operate with secure footing using both hands and stand behind the engine, keeping the blade away from you and others.

  • Only operate a chainsaw when you are fully alert and awake.
  • Monitor the chain tension throughout operation, as chains become looser as they heat up.
  • Wear safety equipment, including protection for your eyes and ears, heavy-duty gloves, chaps and steel-toe boots.
  • To minimize danger, look for units that feature a low kickback chain.
  • Some chainsaw models have built-in safety features designed to protect operators. Never modify or remove safety features.
  • Avoid cutting material that is higher than your chest.
  • Don’t start the chainsaw in the same spot where you fueled the tool. Sparks could ignite spilled gasoline.
  • Keep a clear drop zone underneath the cutting location.
  • Keep the extension cord behind the tool when using a corded electric model.
  • Always start the chainsaw on the ground with your foot on the rear handle.
  • A chain brake stops the chain as soon as kickback occurs.
  • A chain catcher prevents a broken chain from flinging from the saw.
  • Do not wear loose clothing when operating a chainsaw.
Additional Chainsaw Features
A person using a chainsaw to cut a large log.

Today's chainsaws offer a variety of features such as electronic ignition and vibration-reducing handles for more efficient, comfortable chainsaw use. Other chainsaw accessories can be added to make using and storing your chainsaw easier.

  • Catalytic converters: These devices control emissions, helping saws comply with environmental regulations.
  • Sprocket-tip cutting bar: A sprocket-tip cutting bar maximizes cutting speed by reducing friction around the bar tip. It also prevents the chain from dragging around the bar nose to minimize bar wear and stretch.
  • Anti-vibration handle: A vibration isolator or dampening system reduces fatigue and helps extend the life of the saw.
  • Tool-less tension adjustment: With this feature, you'll be able to make tension adjustments to the chain quickly and easily.
  • Handle locations: Handles located on the top of the chainsaw are ideal for professionals as they handle heavy-duty jobs easier. Rear handles are most common for homeowner use.
  • Ignition: Units with electronic ignitions or variable ignition timing start easier and operate more efficiently.
  • Automatic chain oiler: An automatic chain oiler takes care of properly lubricating the cutting chain. Some units stop oiling the bar when the unit is idling to prevent wasting oil.
  • Throttle interlock: This feature provides additional safety by requiring you to depress two triggers to activate the saw, minimizing the chance of accidents.
  • Rust-resistant chains protect your chains from oxidizing and reduce the frequency they need replacing.
  • Chainsaw cases: A chainsaw case will help protect your tool from weather. Also, they are generally sized to hold the tool and any supplies you need for a job, such as a manual, safety glasses and extra chainsaw parts.
Basic Chainsaw Maintenance
A person maintaining a chainsaw.

Keep your chainsaw running smoothly by making time to clean the tool and perform basic maintenance before and after each use. Beyond basic care, the easiest way to keep your chainsaw in top condition is to ensure you follow manufacturer's instructions regarding its power source. Always charge and store the battery on your cordless chainsaw exactly as recommended. Fuel your gas chainsaw with the type and amount of fuel required.

Safety: Before performing any cleaning or maintenance on your chainsaw, make sure it is turned off and completely disconnected from power. Remove the battery on cordless models, unplug electric models and disconnect the spark plug on gas models. Be sure gas engines are cool to the touch.

  • Check that the bar and chain are properly lubricated according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Clean the chain brake, if applicable, and wipe excess debris off the bar and engine during and after use.
  • Keep air intake slots clear.
  • If you notice the bar is starting to show signs of wear, follow the manufacturer's instructions for rotating the bar.
  • For electric chainsaws, double-check that the cord is not damaged.
  • If the chain on your tool becomes dull, it is sometimes easier and less dangerous to simply replace the chain rather than try to sharpen it at home.
  • Always check for any loose screws and nuts on the equipment before use. These are especially important to look for if your chainsaw feels like it has been vibrating more than usual.
  • On gas chainsaws, check the fuel filter and change when necessary and according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Drain the gas and oil completely before storing gas chainsaws for extended periods.

When you need to use a chainsaw for a one-time project, consider chainsaw rentals. You can rent chainsaws, other outdoor power equipment and trucks to haul away your cut wood from our tool and truck rental.