Reviewers consistently agree that for big jobs, like taking down whole trees, you need a gas-powered chainsaw. Gas models tend to be the most powerful type of chainsaw—as well as the loudest, heaviest, and highest-maintenance. If you need a chainsaw mostly for smaller jobs, like trimming deadfall and cutting firewood, consider a lighter and simpler electric chainsaw or cordless chainsaw instead.
In both expert and user reviews, Husqvarna chainsaws are popular choices. We found the most recommendations overall for the Husqvarna 440E (Est. $300). This lighter-duty, 16-inch gas chainsaw has a 40.9-cc engine with a power output of 2.4 horsepower (hp). Its features include an inertia-activated chain brake, which reduces the chances of injury due to kickback, and metal bucking spikes near the base of the bar, which bite into logs to give you better purchase. It also has excellent anti-vibration handles that reviewers say make a long day of cutting less fatiguing. Another nice feature is the tool-free chain tensioner, which users say they can easily adjust one-handed. The Husqvarna 440E comes with a two-year warranty.
The 440E's Achilles heel is its eccentric starting system. Although it has starting instructions conveniently printed near the handle for reference, many owners still say they had trouble getting this chainsaw to start and/or in keeping it running. Some owners say it stalls very easily when cold, so you have to stay on the throttle to keep it going; others, by contrast, say they had trouble getting the engine to restart when it was warm.
Once you manage to get the Husqvarna 440E running, reviewers say, it cuts quickly and ably. In one professional test, it gets top marks for cutting speed. Most owners also find it lightweight and easy to handle. Sal Vaglica at This Old House magazine notes that the 440E cut through 6- and 8-inch-diameter logs with no problem, but he says larger logs "required a bit of finesse to prevent the saw from binding."
If you plan to deal with heavy timber on a regular basis, consider upgrading to the larger Husqvarna 455 Rancher (Est. $430). This chainsaw has most of the features found on the 440E, but it weighs a heftier 16 pounds, and is available in versions with either an 18-inch or 20-inch bar. It also has a larger 55.5-cc engine that puts out a maximum of 3.49 hp. Like the 440E, it gets top ratings for cutting speed in professional testing, and owners say it churns through heavy logs with no problems. It also doesn't have the finicky starter found on the 440E. User reviews at Amazon.com and Lowes.com typically describe the saw as both easy to start and easy to handle once it's started.
The biggest problem users report with the Husqvarna 455 Rancher is reliability. Owners complain of a wide variety of problems with this saw, from leaking oil heavily to throwing chains to having the chain lock in place. Husqvarna backs its chainsaws with a two-year warranty, but some reviewers report that the company's customer service is not always helpful. Another drawback of the 455 is that it doesn't have the tool-free chain tensioning found on the 440E. Instead, it has a side-mounted chain tensioner that you have to adjust with a screwdriver.
If you want the reliable starting of the Husqvarna 455 without the extra weight, the Stihl MS 181 C-BE (Est. $270) is a good choice. Stihl products are a bit harder to find than other brands, as they're sold only through authorized dealerships. This means buying a Stihl saw is a bit more of a hassle, but getting it serviced under warranty is easier, since you can just take it back to the dealer.
This Stihl is smaller than either of the Husqvarna chainsaws. It weighs only 11 pounds, and its 31.8-cc engine puts out just 2 hp. But don't let its size fool you; in one professional test, this little saw outperformed the Husqvarna 440E and 11 other light-duty gas chainsaws. Editors at TheSweethome.com name the Stihl MS 181 C-BE as their favorite gas chainsaw, saying it "minimize[s] all the hassles that come with a two-stroke engine." It starts easily, and it's easy to maintain thanks to a tool-free chain tensioner and easy-to-open rear cover. Vibration control is also good. In fact, this Stihl chainsaw might have taken our Best Reviewed slot if not for the shortage of user feedback online. About 55 owners review the saw on the Stihl website, and most say it's a reliable tool that's easy to use and maintain – but that's not really a big enough sample to give a good idea of how the saw holds up over time.