Chainsaw Buying Guide — How to Choose the Right Chainsaw

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

While researching about information on chainsaws, we realized there are so many variables and factors to buying a chainsaw, but most of them were scattered.

That’s when we decided that we should write something that would provide anyone with the basic information about chainsaws in one place without having to look everywhere.

So, you have decided to take matters into your own hands because your backyard needs cleaning up and you have been inspired by your neighbor who you see toiling in his backyard every week.

There is that tree that needs trimming or maybe needs to be entirely cut down because a strong wind might blow it over.

Naturally, it would take a proper tool to achieve this, and you were certainly not going to go old school and consider using an axe, which will not only take hours (pdf) (if it is a medium-sized tree) but also because that would require some experience with one.

And, calling a professional would cost you a bit.

It is times like this that you wished you had a chainsaw, or maybe that’s why you are looking for them online. And by now you know that they come in three variants — gas operated, electric and battery operated.

So let’s start this by asking the basic question — why do you need a chainsaw?


What Is a Chainsaw and When Do You Need One?

In general terms, a chainsaw is a very effective tool used for felling tree and branches and timber.

Its main components are an engine which powers a chain that moves at very high speeds around a groove in a guide bar, cutting a tree or a wooden object when it comes in contact with it.

This chain is exposed and does not have a guard, which makes the chainsaw one of the most dangerous hand tools.

How Does It Work?

The engine, which is a 2-stroke engine, makes the chain move at a very high speed, which in turn cuts any object which comes in contact with it (pdf), such as a tree or a branch.

The same type of engine is used in a snowmobile, city bikes or lawnmowers, and the reason that they are quite noisy.


Who Primarily Uses a Chainsaw?

You will ordinarily find this — very unsurprisingly — used by people like you, lumbers, gardeners, arborists, firefighters and carpenters.

Also, if your backyard has a hedge that needs trimming or a tree that has to be felled, you are going to need a chainsaw.


What to Look for When Buying a Chainsaw

1. 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 something bigger.


2. Have You Worked with 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 fine too.

Anything above that is used by people with 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 regular maintenance and are used by people who like to tinker.


3. Where and What Will You Be Cutting?

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.


4. What Time of the Year Would You Need to Cut?

If you are going to be using it in winters for firewood and other things, you will want to consider a chainsaw with a heated handle and carburetor.

You will also want to consider the diameter of the tree or piece of wood you would be cutting. I will discuss this further in the article.


5. Will You Use It Indoors or Outdoors?

Remember that gas-operated chainsaws, as made notorious by the movies, are quite noisy.

If you live in a quiet neighborhood where the houses are close by and you do not want to aggravate them, or maybe your area may have anti-noise pollution bylaws that you need to abide by, you should go for an electric chainsaw because they are less noisy.

Quite a few of the top brands pride themselves to be really “silent” while working.

6. Can You Handle This Chainsaw?

What I mean when I say that is, are you fit enough to hold or manipulate the chainsaw?

If you have decided that you are going to be using a chainsaw in your backyard ventures, you better be capable of handling it, for your own safety.

This is because when you use a chainsaw, it becomes a part of you, and there has to be synergy between your body and the chainsaw.

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.

So, a safety tip is, never use a chainsaw that is too big for you (doesn’t matter however macho it makes you look) or is too heavy, unless you know how to handle it properly.


What to Consider When Buying a Chainsaw

There are many aspects to look for when you are considering buying a chainsaw.

These are the type (electric, gas or battery), engine power, length of the guide bar and the kind of safety features the chainsaw will have.

Let’s dive right into it.

1. Engine Power

  • Gas Chainsaws: What you need to remember is that the more the power, the more the weight of the chainsaw. So the engine size is measured in cubic meters or inches, and most of the chainsaws that you would want to consider fall between 22cc to 46cc.
  • Electric Chainsaws: The power here is measured in amperes and same as the above two, the higher the amp, the more powerful the chainsaw. The best thing about these chainsaws is that that they are very low maintenance.
  • Battery-Operated Chainsaws: The power in these types of chainsaws is measured in volts, just like any other household battery. The same principle applies here as well; the higher the volt, the more powerful the chainsaw. Though, bear in mind that these chainsaws are weak when compared with gas or electric chainsaws, but are perfect for very light cutting or pruning branches.
  • Note: 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 a while to charge. The lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, charge quickly and are more powerful.

2. 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. Also, the presence of a larger guide bar also increases the risk of kickback.

You need to understand kickback well enough before you can think about preventing it. So, here is a short guide before we move to the next section:

Kickback? What Is It?

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.

Kickback 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.

But there is no need to worry, there are many ways that you can avoid it from happening altogether.

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.

On a more practical note, if you are not comfortable using a chainsaw, take a professional’s services rather than trying this dangerous venture.

Which takes us to the issue of safety: 


3. Safety

As I just explained, chainsaws are dangerous equipment if not handled properly.

But these risks are easily avoidable if you follow some basic rules and use protective gear that is recommended by the manufacturer or experts.

The protective gear, as recommended is:

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

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


What Is Common for All of them?

No two chainsaws will be similar, but they share some moving parts which are common for all of them. Though some manufacturers may choose to give them fancier or trademarked names, they are essentially the same.

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



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 how the ergonomics and imagine yourself while using it because the design is equally important.

Same applies for the weight of this equipment 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 because most of these products claim to be maintenance free.

But it doesn’t hurt to look for these features.

Before you start using your chainsaw, you must familiarize yourself with its safety features and make sure it is not too heavy for you.

Also, always wear safety gear while using a chainsaw because as glamorized the movies have made it look, a chainsaw is still among the most dangerous handheld devices out there.

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