Chainsaw Buying Guide

Handled with the proper safety know-how, a chainsaw can be an indispensable labor-saver. It’s a powerful power tool that can clear through brush too thick for electric loppers, fell a tree that’s threatening a roof, slice off dangerous broken tree limbs, or cut stumps into firewood.

Chainsaws come in a range of sizes, from small electric models (some with cords, some with batteries) to hefty gas-powered models intended for heavier work. But don’t assume that all gas saws are stellar, nor that electrics can’t keep up. “One huge shift we’ve seen is the sheer number of battery-powered electric saws on the marketplace—and the improvements in their performance,” says Misha Kollontai, Consumer Reports’ test engineer in charge of chainsaws. “The best electric models now cut every bit as well—and sometimes better—than many of the lighter-duty gas-powered saws we’ve seen.”

Prices often correlate with size—larger saws with a long cutting bar (the flat metal arm that drives the cutting chain) tend to be pricier than smaller models made for modest limbs. But bigger isn’t always better—a larger saw can tackle bigger tasks, but it’s also tougher to control. 

We delve into the pros and cons of each type, below, but first, it’s important to understand how Consumer Reports tests chainsaws, in order to understand what sets these tools apart. 

How We Test Chainsaws

To evaluate chainsaws, we consider how well they cut, how easy they are to handle, and how safe they are to operate.

Using 10-inch-thick oak beams, we time how long it takes for each saw to work its way through the wood. We use oak because it’s one of the hardest woods most users will encounter on their property, and it makes for a particularly demanding test that reveals differences among models. Those that cut fastest earn a higher rating for cutting speed. 

We assess how each saw handles, considering its weight and how easy it is to make horizontal and vertical cuts, and checking for any vibration.

For ease of use, we look at a number of factors, including how simple it is to start, adjust, and maintain a saw. We also size up safety features, check for any kickback during the course of cutting, and assess whether a model’s exhaust parts, like the muffler, get hot, which can pose a burn hazard. 

We’ve also added ratings for predicted reliability and owner satisfaction, which reflect what more than 11,000 CR members told us about their experiences with more than 13,000 chainsaws purchased new between 2010 and 2020. Specifically, they reported whether their chainsaws ever broke or stopped working properly over the first five years of ownership, as well as whether they are extremely likely to recommend their chainsaw to a friend or family member.

Shopping Chainsaws by Type

Here we drill down into each type of chainsaw. We’ve also included electric loppers, which are a good option for small cuts and are safer to use when cutting above shoulder level.
 

A gas-powered chainsaw.

Gas-Powered Chainsaws

These tend to cut quickly and smoothly. Their fast chain speed means less pressure is required from the user to make clean cuts, compared with some underpowered electric models, making them the best bet for heavy-duty work, such as downing large limbs and trees. They’ll also run continuously if you keep adding gas, making them the best choice if you have a lot to cut. But most are heavier and noisier than the electric versions. They also require fueling and regular service of the engine’s air filter and spark plug, and they emit exhaust fumes. Like all gas-powered tools, gas chainsaws produce potentially deadly carbon monoxide, so you should never operate one indoors. Starting one requires several hard yanks on a pull cord. Chain-bar lengths are typically 16 to 18 inches for homeowner saws, longer for pro models. 
Cost: $140 to $420

Chainsaws Ratings
A corded-electric chain saw.

Corded-Electric Chainsaws

Most electric saws have a plug-in power cord and cost less than gas-powered models. They typically weigh less, and they all start effortlessly: Just plug them in and squeeze the trigger. But their slower sawing speed limits them to lighter-duty chores, such as shaping hedges, or trimming the occasional small tree limb. Their power cord keeps you tethered to the nearest electrical outlet. You’ll also need a 14-gauge or even heavier 12-gauge extension cord to get the amperage needed for optimal performance. Keep in mind that extension cords of that size max out around 100 feet, so you won’t be able to cut any farther than that distance from an outlet, and you should never string multiple extension cords together—it poses a fire risk. 
Cost: $40 to $300

Chainsaws Ratings
A cordless electric chain saw.

Battery-Powered Electric Chainsaws

These saws free you from a power cord. They cost about the same as gas saws, and our most recent tests show that their performance can be as good as—and sometimes better than—that of a gas model. Run time is determined by the voltage and amp-hour rating of the battery, but expect about 30 to 40 minutes of semi-continuous cutting on a single charge, and about 60 minutes to recharge the battery. For reference, the best battery saw in our ratings cut through a 10-inch-thick oak beam 122 times on a single charge. These saws pack enough power to cut large tree limbs and even small trees. If you have other battery-powered outdoor gear, you should consider buying a chainsaw from the same brand—the batteries are usually interchangeable. 
Cost: $180 to $330

Chainsaws Ratings
An electric lopper chain saw.

Electric Loppers

If using a chainsaw strikes fear in your heart but you still need to cut through the occasional small limb, consider a light-duty power lopper. The cutting apparatus is mounted 2 feet away from the hand grips and shielded within a pair of safety jaws. We’ve tested two models weighing between 5 and 7 pounds. The lighter one makes it easier to reach a cut, especially if you use the optional extension pole, which adds up to 10 feet of reach for higher limbs. Both models feature a 6-inch retractable blade, making them safe for storage.
Cost: $70 to $150

Chainsaws Ratings

Chainsaw Safety

You don’t have to watch horror movies to have a healthy fear of chainsaws. These formidable tools are involved in more than 27,000 accidents annually, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The most common injuries are lacerations, particularly to the arms and legs, and some of the most serious injuries occur when the saw’s chain snags and kicks back toward the operator’s chest and head. Chainsaws now have safeguards, including an automatic chain brake, that are designed to reduce the hazard of kickbacks. But even if you have a model that’s fully loaded with safety features, you need to take some safety precautions.

Dress Smart
Start with snug-fitting clothing and sturdy work boots, preferably steel-toed. Shield your legs with cut-resistant chaps and the backs of your hands with protective gloves, and wear a helmet with a face shield. You’ll also need hearing protection because practically all saws, including electric models, exceed the 85-decibel level at which hearing damage can occur.

Get a Grip and Stay Grounded
Grip gas-powered saws firmly when pull-starting and keep the saw on the ground; most handles include a spot for securing the saw with one foot while pulling the starter cord. Never saw while on a ladder or use the saw above shoulder height. If you must cut above shoulder height, use an electric lopper, whose encased cutting jaw makes it safer to use than a chainsaw, or hire a pro. And never saw using the tip of the chain and bar, where kickback can occur.

Maintenance Is Key
Upkeep is also an important factor in chainsaw safety. A chain that’s properly sharpened, tensioned, and oiled speeds cutting and helps prevent kickback while reducing wear on the chain and the bar on which it rides. A chain that’s too loose can also slip off the bar and toward the operator as it spins.

Remember Emissions
While most injuries associated with chainsaws are lacerations and amputations, all gasoline-powered tools produce carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that’s potentially fatal. Never run a gasoline-powered tool indoors or in any enclosed space. 

Chainsaw Video Buying Guide

For more, watch our video below. 

Chainsaw Safety Features

Chainsaws are simple tools, essentially comprising an engine or a motor, a handle, and an oblong metal piece called the bar that guides the cutting chain. There are a lot of safety features, and the more a model has the better. We assess those features and work them into our safety rating for every model we test. Here are the crucial safety features to look for on any saw. 

Chainsaw Brands

Craftsman makes both gas and electric chainsaws. They come in a variety of bar lengths, from 10 to 20 inches, and are geared to the consumer market, as opposed to pros. The company’s electric chainsaws have smaller bar lengths than the ones on their gas counterparts. Craftsman is sold at Lowe’s stores as well as some Ace Hardware stores.
Echo is one of the leading brands of gas-engine chainsaws. Models come in a variety of bar lengths, from 12 inches to upwards of 20 inches, and are marketed to consumers and professionals. Echo chainsaws can be purchased from dealers and at Home Depot. More recently, Echo has started to sell battery-powered chainsaws.
Ego is one of the largest manufacturers of battery-powered chainsaws. These tools come with cutting bars from 14 to 18 inches. All the saws are powered by the same 56-volt battery, and models can be purchased online or at Lowe's stores.
Homelite has a handful of gas and electric chainsaws. Homelite chainsaw lengths range from 14 inches to 18 inches, and all models are marketed to consumers. Electric models have smaller bar lengths than their gas counterparts. Homelite chainsaws can be purchased from dealers and at Home Depot.
Husqvarna is one of the leading manufacturers of gas-engine chainsaws. Its models come in a variety of bar lengths, from 14 inches to upwards of 20 inches, and are marketed to consumers and professionals. Husqvarna also makes chainsaws under the Poulan brand name. Husqvarna chainsaws can be purchased from dealers and at Lowe’s.
Jonsered is a premium Scandinavian manufacturer of chainsaws, and it made some of the earliest tools on the market. Today it makes gas saws exclusively, which are sold through private dealers.
Ryobi is a Home Depot-exclusive brand that makes gas, battery, and corded-electric chainsaws. The tools come in a variety of configurations and with cutting bars of different lengths.
Stihl makes consumer and professional-grade gas and electric chainsaws. Its models come in a variety of bar lengths, from 12 inches to upwards of 20 inches; the electric chainsaws have smaller bar lengths than their gas counterparts. Stihl sells its brand exclusively through outdoor power equipment dealers.
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