Chainsaws make short work of cutting firewood, cleaning up fallen limbs and trees, cutting framing timbers or carving wood. And while gas chainsaws continue to take the lion's share of the market (they are still the most powerful and capable type), electric chainsaws keep winning converts. They're quieter, easier to start, use and maintain, and pollute less. Cordless battery-operated chainsaws are available too, but the majority are out-muscled by similarly priced corded models; reviewers say that cordless saws are really best for light duties like pruning branches.
Thanks to modern safety features, chainsaws are much safer than they used to be, although experts still recommend that you wear protective gear. Consumer-grade chainsaws now come with anti-kickback chains, and nearly all incorporate additional features such as inertia-activated chain brakes and vibration-dampening systems. The best chainsaws also make maintenance easier, with see-through oil tanks and tool-free chain adjustment. Features don't necessarily predict actual performance, however, and we give the most weight to chainsaw reviews that are based on objective comparison tests.
Of the four best comparison reviews based on objective testing, only ConsumerReports.org tests gas and electric chainsaws. Reviews at Tools of the Trade and the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse (NPC) provide detailed test results, including decibel noise levels, but only for electric chainsaws. In its 2008 and 2010 reviews, Popular Mechanics compares only gas saws at the high end of consumer-grade power. More recent reviews by Popular Mechanics and at ThisOldHouse.com assess a single product, but they are based on testers' hands-on evaluations. At online retailer ChainsawsDirect.com, staff members identify the best electric, cordless and gas chainsaws based on their knowledge and experience.
We also consult owners' ratings and reviews of chainsaws at retail sites, including Sears.com, HomeDepot.com and Lowes.com, as well as some manufacturer websites like Husqvarna.com, which allows its owners to post reviews. Many of the feedback posted there is insightful (some owners note that the product being reviewed has been owned for years), and owners point out both pros and cons. Owner reviews give a good perspective on how a chainsaw functions in actual use and over time.
This report generally covers consumer-grade chainsaws that are priced up to about $300. Experts say this is the most you need to pay for homeowner use, even if you need to cut lots of firewood. But our research makes it clear that price doesn't tell the whole story: A chainsaw that costs less than another of the same type may still be a safe saw that's efficient and comfortable to use.