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Best Gas Chainsaws

By: Amy Livingston on November 21, 2017

When power matters most, get a gas chainsaw

Reviewers consistently agree that for big jobs, like taking down large 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 perk 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. Many owners say they had trouble getting this chainsaw to start and/or keeping it running once it was started. 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 tests at Consumer Reports, it gets top marks for cutting speed. Most owners also find it lightweight and easy to handle. Sal Vaglica at This Old House 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. $460). This chainsaw has most of the features found on the 440E, but it weighs a heftier 12.8 pounds (not counting the bar and chain), and is available with either an 18-inch or a 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 as many complaints about the finicky starter as the 440E. Although some owners had problems with starting, most reviews at Amazon, Lowe's, and Chainsaw Direct say the saw starts easily and is 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 complete mechanical failure. 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 Husqvarna's questionable customer service is a deal breaker for you, the Stihl MS 181 C-BE (Est. $280) 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 a lighter-duty saw than the Husqvarna 455. It weighs only 10 pounds without the bar and chain, and its 31.8-cc engine puts out just 2 hp. But don't let its size fool you; at Consumer Reports, this little saw outperformed the Husqvarna 440E and 11 other light-duty gas chainsaws. Editors at Wirecutter 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. Still, nearly 75 owners review the saw on the Stihl website, and most say it's a reliable tool that's easy to use and maintain. While it, too, is subject to some of the same durability issues as the Husqvarna models mentioned above, it still earns a 4.1 star rating overall.

Gas matters

One factor to keep in mind with these and other gas-powered chainsaws is that today's ethanol-containing fuels can play havoc with them. Choosing a fuel with too high an ethanol concentration (anything more than 10 percent), storing ethanol-containing gas improperly, or keeping it around too long (anything more than 30 days is a no-no) can lead to performance issues and tool damage that won't be covered under the manufacturer's warranty. A great number of the reports we see regarding gas line, carburetor, and even engine failure in smaller gas-powered tools ranging from lawn mowers to chainsaws, from all makers, can be traced to that issue. Husqvarna provides some guidelines and do's and don'ts regarding gas-powered equipment and dealing with ethanol gas.

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