Three basic types of chainsaws
Consumer-grade chainsaws make short work of cutting firewood, cleaning up fallen limbs and trees, cutting framing timbers and carving wood. There are three basic types — gas, electric, and cordless — and each is appropriate for different situations.
- Gas chainsaws. Chainsaws that run on gasoline are the most powerful and capable models overall. They don't limit the user by either cord length or battery charge time, and they can run during a power outage with no problems. On the downside, gas chainsaws tend to be heavier and noisier than electric or cordless models, they require more maintenance, and they pollute the air with unpleasant-smelling fumes. Light-duty gas chainsaws, priced between $150 and $300, are suitable for clearing brush, cutting firewood, and removing dead branches. Larger heavy-duty chainsaws, sometimes known as "rancher" models, are good for larger properties and tougher jobs, such as removing full-grown trees; they cost anywhere from $200 to $450. (The still more powerful "professional" chainsaws, which sell for $500 or more, are not covered in this report.)
- Electric chainsaws. Although not as powerful as gas, electric chainsaws offer several distinct advantages. They're much easier to start than a gas chainsaw, as all you have to do is plug them in and squeeze the trigger, and they never run out of fuel. They're also lighter, quieter, and easier to maintain, and they don't spew two-stroke exhaust into your face or the environment. However, they do require a heavy-duty extension cord, which confines you to a limited range — typically about 100 feet — and makes it unsafe to work in wet conditions.
- Cordless chainsaws. Battery-operated chainsaws aren't as powerful as gas models, or even corded electric ones, but they offer unlimited range and all the environmental benefits of an electric model. Powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, they're super-convenient for working in trees or other awkward situations, and light enough to carry over large acreage for small, scattered jobs.
Because they're exhaust-free, both electric and cordless models can be used indoors in a garage or workshop, or for demolition work. Gas models pose the same risks as any exhaust-producing engine when used indoors and should be limited to outdoor use.
All of the chainsaws in this report offer at least basic safety features. These include brakes to stop the chain if the saw kicks back, and for bigger saws, an anti-vibration shield to keep the vibration of the saw from causing numbness and pain in your hands. However, a chainsaw is still a dangerous tool, so don't forget to add your own safety measures as well. Always suit up properly when using a chainsaw, with protective goggles, ear protection, and protective clothing.
Even the best chainsaw only cuts well if its cutting chain is sharp. At $10 to $30 per chain, replacing the chain every time it gets dull really isn't practical, although it's not a bad idea to have one or two spare chains in case you need to swap out the chain in a hurry. In most situations, though, it's more practical and cost-effective to sharpen the chain yourself when it gets dull. Chainsaw sharpeners for home use range in price from $10 for a sharpening burr that works with a rotary tool to over $200 for a bench-mounted grinder. However, a good, basic electric sharpener shouldn't set you back more than $50 or so.
Finding the best chainsaw
Regardless of their power source, the best chainsaws provide the same perks: fast cutting speed, ample power and a tolerable noise level. They should also be safe and easy to use. We evaluate dozens of reviews from both experts and owners to help you choose the best chainsaw for your outdoor needs. We factor in performance, safety, and ease of use to find a chainsaw that can handle your workload -- no matter how light or heavy -- and a good sharpener to keep it in top cutting condition.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Gas Chainsaws | Best Electric Chainsaws | Best Cordless Chainsaws | Best Chainsaw Sharpeners | Buying Guide | Our Sources