Chainsaws are the backbone of every woodworking task. Whether you need them for some light work in your backyard or for heavy-duty jobs away in the woods, finding the best chainsaw is going to be essential to your operation’s success. While the abundance of models might seem confusing at first, knowing what you’re going to use the chainsaw for will help you find the right model in no time.
Below we will go through some of the top models for 2021 and see how they stack up against each other. Later on, we will go more in-depth into the different chainsaw types, their features, and also talk about chainsaw safety.
Husqvarna 20 Inch 455 Rancher Gas Chainsaw
When it comes to heavy-duty chainsaws, Husqvarna is the definite kind of the hill. The 455 rancher Gas Chainsaw is one of their best models in terms of almost any aspect. It is powerful, rugged, and is big enough to cut through most trees. While I agree that it would be a slight overkill getting this chainsaw for basic tasks like firewood cutting, it still is a great all-rounder that can handle pretty much anything you throw at it.
Apart from the standard 18 and 20-inch options, you can also put a larger bar onto this chainsaw if you want to cut through larger trees. Inside this package, you will be getting a Husqvarna bar cover and a 6 oz bottle of pre-mixed fuel. There is an automatic chain-oiling system in place here which is also standard across the whole “Rancher” line of models.
Maintenance here is relatively easy, for a gas-powered model at least. The air filter has a quick-release hatch which makes it easy to clean after you’re done cutting. In terms of safety, the 455 Rancher has an automatic inertia-activated chain brake as well as a manual one.
Unfortunately, the chain tensioning system isn’t automatic here which is one of the few downsides of this chainsaw. The other notable downside is the steep price tag, although despite being expensive it is well-priced compared to its competitors.
- Perfect for heavy-duty tasks
- Comes with either 18 or 20-inch bars
- Has an automatic chain lubricating system
- Relatively easy to maintain
- Inertia-activated chain brake
- Comes with a bar cover and pre-mixed fuel
- No automatic chain tensioning system
- Not very economical in terms of fuel usage
- Quite bulky for smaller tasks
Greenworks PRO GCS80420 18-Inch 80V Cordless Chainsaw
Geenworks has been a brand that took over the top 3 in the last decade. While brads like Makita, DeWalt, and Bosch were struggling against each other’s new models, Greenworks took the unattended budget electric niche by storm. The Greenworks Pro GCS80420 is another example to their great price-to-value ratio and their all-in-one type of performance.
For a battery-powered chainsaw, the GCS80420 has one of the longest guide bars out there sitting at 18 inches. That makes it usable for large trees, firewood cutting, and even trimming, as it isn’t as heavy as some other gas models. The power here comes from an 80V 24Ah Lithium-ion battery which is equivalent to a 45cc motor in terms of potency. The battery and the battery charger come included in your package unlike some other models on this list. The battery life you can get on average here is around 150 cuts per full charge, while the charging itself takes roughly 30 minutes. While there isn’t any inertia-activated chain brake, the electric one does a decent job at stopping the chain from snapping back. There are also steel bucking spikes to help with safety. Some other additional features worth mentioning are the automatic chain tensioning as well as the automatic oiler.
- Fairly lightweight for an 18-inch chainsaw
- Suitable for all kinds of woodwork
- Automatic chain tensioning
- Powerful motor
- 150 cuts per battery charge
- Automatic oiler
- The chain loosens up fairly often and pops out
- Chain re-setting requires a lot of time
BLACK+DECKER LCS1240B 40V Cordless Chainsaw
Coming up on second place is an electric chainsaw suited for people that need a tool for light-duty gardening work and maybe some firewood cutting. The Black+Decker LCS1240B is a fairly compact battery-powered chainsaw that is very easy to use. It is ergonomic and lightweight making it a breeze to use for pruning and cleaning up tree branches.
The power here comes from a 40V Lithium-ion battery that can typically last more than an hour on a single charge. The body of the chainsaw is made out of quality materials and is quite durable with a minimal amount of squeaks during operations. The handle is wrapped making it extremely comfortable to the touch no matter your cutting angle. As additional features, there is a tool-less chain tensioning system that allows you to adjust the tension with a knob at the side of the chainsaw. There is also a hand-guard that keeps your hands safe from flying debris.
One really big issue I have with this model, which is also valid for most other battery-powered chainsaws, is that it doesn’t come with its battery and charger. That will be added on top of your already bulked up price if you only go for the base model. The good thing is that the battery works across other Black+Decker tools making it a good investment if you have multiple tools of the same brand.
- Very easy to use
- Perfect for gardening and light wood cutting
- Lightweight and durable
- Comfortable handle
- Powerful 40V Max battery
- Has a large hand-guard
- Doesn’t have an automatic chain tensioning system
- The battery and its charger are sold separately from the base model
Remington RM1425 Limb N Trim
The Remington RM1425 Limb N Trim is the only corded electric chainsaw on my list. It isn’t packed full of features but it is fairly cheap and is excellent at gardening work and light cutting. It has a 14-inch bar that puts it somewhere in the middle of the length spectrum, making it long enough to cut firewood but also practical and lightweight enough to handle pruning and cleaning of dead branches.
The biggest disadvantage this chainsaw has compared to other electric models is its lack of portability. It is entirely dependant on having a power socket nearby. Even if you have an extension cord, it will be hard to take it anywhere further than 50 yards away from your house. That’s why it is a good product for someone that has to do some occasional cutting near his house but isn’t an ideal investment for people that have a lot of work on a lot of places all far away from a power source.
Apart from that, there are a few features that make up for it. While the oiling system isn’t automatic, it lubricates the chain with the push of a button, making it really easy to use. The hand-guard is also unique with its wraparound design. The body of the chainsaw isn’t very tightly assembled but it is also quite lightweight at just over 6 pounds, making it extremely easy to wield and trim with it.
- Ultra-lightweight design
- Wraparound hand-guard
- Push-button oiling system
- Power delivery is good and linear
- Decently priced
- Chain tensioning isn’t automated
- Depends on a power socket
Remington RM4214 Rebel 42cc 14-Inch Gas Powered Chainsaw
The Remington RM4214 Rebel Gas-powered chainsaw is a budget option for anyone looking for a maneuverable chainsaw to work on remote locations. While it isn’t as eco-friendly as other electric Remington models, it offers a few other advantages of its own. The 14-inch guide bar makes this model ideal for all sorts of tasks even though you will always have to handle the extra weight of that motor.
The 42cc engine powers a sprocket-tipped low-kickback chain that has excellent cutting capabilities and hardly faces any trouble going through thicker firewood chunks. The QuickStart feature of the motor ensures an easy start even when it s cold. I only wish more gas chainsaws included that instead of making you yank until your shoulder goes numb every morning. To add to the comfort, there is a 5-point anti-vibration system in place combined with a well-cushioned wrapped handle. There is also an automatic oiler and a tool-less chain tensioning system on the site.
- Die-cast chassis
- Durable materials all-around
- Powerful 42cc 2-Cycle motor
- Easy start even when cold
- 5-point anti-vibration system
- Automatic oiler
- Heavy and hard to use for light trimming
- Burns a lot of fuel and oil
- Requires daily maintenance
Poulan Pro PR5020 50cc 20 inch Gas Chainsaw
Last and maybe least is the Poulan Pro 20 inch 50cc 2-Cycle gas chainsaw. It is a fairly expensive model from a not so well-known brand that has a few interesting features but also a few disadvantages over other gas-powered competitors.
The PR5020 is fairly economical in its fuel consumption and has fewer emissions than standard gas chainsaws but is also a bit weaker than most other 20-inch chainsaws out there. While the large guide bar will allow you to cut through larger trees, it won’t do much if the tree isn’t easy to cut through in the first place. There are a few design elements for the motor that are unique to the model, however. The purge bulb is well protected allowing you to start the chainsaw easily even when it is cold. On the downside, there are no automatic oiling and chain tensioning systems in place here, so you will have to do all the proper maintenance daily and by hand.
- Easy to start in the cold
- Has a long air filter life
- Reduced fuel consumption compared to other gas models
- Good for felling smaller trees
- Comes with a combi tool for easier maintenance
- Motor isn’t powerful enough for a 20-inch chainsaw
- A bit heavy
- Not well-priced
Chainsaws Buyer’s Guide
The process of choosing a good chainsaw is often long and complex. That is mainly due to the abundance of models and most importantly – to the variety of chainsaw types. Most people have no clue which are the benefits and downsides of gas-powered and electric chainsaws. In the next section, I will try to clear things up a bit by introducing you to the major types of chainsaws, their strong sides, as well as their weaknesses compared to the others. Later on, we will talk about general features that you need to look for in a chainsaw and will also go through a few safety steps.
Types Of Chainsaws
There are three main types of chainsaws which all have sub-types and variations within them. These are:
- Gas-powered chainsaws
- Electric chainsaws
- Pocket chainsaws (manual)
I won’t go in-depth into the manual type as they are quite rare and not as functional as the other two types. Now, let’s start with the gas-powered models.
These chainsaws are the oldest chainsaws out there. That doesn’t mean that they are using primitive technology, though. Modern gas chainsaws are among the most powerful chainsaws and they typically have the largest guide bar lengths. Gas chainsaws with bars shorter than 18 inches are few and far in between, while electric models are mostly in the 12-18 inch range. Apart from being more powerful, these chainsaws are also a better choice if you’re working away from a power source or don’t want to carry extra battery packs with you.
Unfortunately, gas chainsaws are heavier and require a ton more maintenance than their electric counterparts. They are also far more expensive on average and require routine oil and fuel checks.
In terms of sub-types, there are regular gas-powered chainsaws as well as pole chainsaws that also run on gas.
Electric chainsaws are clearly the future. With each year we see newer, more powerful and long-lasting models than the previous ones. These chainsaws are also getting bigger with some having guide bars as long as 18 inches.
Electric chainsaws are divided into corded and battery-powered. Corded chainsaws are older and a bit more consistent with their power delivery but, as their name suggests, they are reliant on a power source. Whether you cut with a cord extension or near a generator, you cannot use them without an external power source. This is where battery-powered chainsaws start to shine. They are equally potent and much more portable thanks to their battery technologies. Companies like Makita and DeWalt have been pushing the battery technology for more than 10 years now making it almost equal in terms of consistency and power delivery to corded models. While battery life was a concern before, newer models have batteries that can easily last you an hour of constant cutting. Pair that with the fact that you can easily carry an extra pack or two, and you get a full day worth of cutting out of the chainsaw.
Battery-powered chainsaws are also much easier to maintain eliminating the need for oil changes, fuel or air-filter maintenance. They are also cheaper than gas-powered models on average. Their only major disadvantage is the fact that their bars aren’t too big so they can’t be used for heavy-duty cutting (yet).
When it comes to features that you need to look for in your future chainsaw, there are a couple of important ones. Those are:
- Bar Length
- Chainsaw Type
- Fuel Consumption/Battery Life
- Safety features
- Additional features
With a power tool such as a chainsaw, almost all of those features are equally important in order for you to have a good and safe product. Let’s go a little more in-depth in those features now and see how they help with performance and safety.
The bar length is one of the first things you should look for in a chainsaw. That length will determine the maximum width you will be able to cut through. A general rule of thumb is that the bar length should be 2 inches above the widest wood you’re going to cut. That means that if you want to cut through 14-inch pieces, you need a 16-inch guide bar at the minimum. It is always to go a little above the size you have in mind just to future-proof your chainsaw.
Bar lengths typically start around 6-8 inches and increase in 2-inch increments all the way up to 26-30 inches. Smaller bar lengths are meant for pruning, trimming, cutting through narrow wood, and cleaning up trees. They are lightweight which makes them really easy to move around and use. They are also far safer than bigger and more powerful chainsaws. I really recommend getting a chainsaw with a bar length of 8-14 inches if you are new to chainsaws and want to get used to these tools before you move on to something bigger.
Chainsaws with guide bar lengths of 16-20 inches are considered mid-range in a lot of aspects. They are quite powerful, fairly big, and are fit for some heavy-duty tasks. They are great for people with some chainsaw experience and are very productive. Still, with more power comes more responsibility, meaning they will be harder to use and the kickback will be significantly stronger. This bar size is ideal for cutting firewood.
While 16-20 inch bars are excellent for medium-sized trees, you might eventually need to cut through something bigger. This is where 20+ inch chainsaws come into play. Most of these are gas-powered and are some of the biggest possible chainsaws out there. They are bulky, hard to move around, and require a lot of prior experience to be used. The primary use of these chainsaws is cutting down large trees or turning logs into firewood.
I already went through the main chainsaw types but this deserves to be mentioned again. Think of it like that – portability equals smaller battery-powered chainsaws while power and heavy-duty functionality equals big gas-powered models. If all you need is a chainsaw for cutting firewood or turning large logs into smaller chunks of wood, then a 16-inch electric chainsaw is the perfect tool. It will be easier to maintain, less noisy, and will be friendly to the air in your yard. Whether you want it to be corded or battery-powered is only a matter of budget.
Even though there is no objective way to compare power numbers between electric and gas-powered chainsaws, this still remains one of the most important metrics of any model. Electric models measure their motor power in Amps while gas chainsaws typically use their engine volume as a gauge for the power. Typically, most gas models have a motor with 40-60cc. Another way to measure power in chainsaws is their chain speed. Gas-powered models can easily reach 50 m/s speeds.
The power of a chainsaw directly correlates to sawing productivity. Sawing productivity is the amount of wood the chainsaw can cut through in a second. A sawing productivity of 10 cm2/s is considered good enough.
Chains are another feature that is often overlooked because people think all chains are created equal. Well, they’re not. Some chains are heat-treated and made out of different materials that ensure various features such as rust and heat resistance. The design of the chain’s teeth will also help with kickback prevention and cutting precision. The gauge is the distance between two teeth on the chain. A 0.050-inch gauge is standard for the industry. The number of teeth is also something that you should look at. A typical 18-inch chain with a 0.050-inch gauge has around 62 teeth on it.
The chain-tensioning system is another thing that you should look at. Some chainsaws have an automatic chain tensioning system which keeps the chain tight around the guide bar. Others, however, will have a manual system that will require you to tighten it by hand each time before you start the chainsaw. Also, always remember to keep your chain well-lubricated. The safest way to do that is to use special chain oil (typically sold by the manufacturer).
Fuel Consumption/Battery Life
For people working away from their home this is one of the most important features in a chainsaw. As with most other features, there are two ways of measuring the work-life of a chainsaw. Battery-powered chainsaws measure their battery life in cuts most of the time. Anything around 150-200 cuts per battery is a good range to aim for. Gas-powered models measure their fuel consumption in hours per full tank. A typical fuel tank can fit more than 500ml of gas and last you for hours depending on the work intensity.
The most important safety feature on a chainsaw is the chain brake. While it is almost standard across all chainsaws today, it is still important to make sure that it is there and that it works well. You can still find electric models today which have no chain brake. Still, the majority of the electric chainsaws have an electric brake that will stop the chain by reversing the flow of electricity.
Advanced chain brakes can be activated in two ways. The first method is purely inertia-driven and it activates when the chainsaw detects an unusually fast movement. This can happen if you drop the chainsaw or during a very quick kickback. The second way the chain brake can active itself is if your hands push it forward. You can either do this on purpose or if a kickback forces the chainsaw towards your hands.
Another important safety feature is a low-kickback bar. Not all chainsaws have it but if you’re new to all this it is worth looking for that specific feature.
The maintenance primarily depends on how well-built the chainsaw is and what type it is. As I mentioned previously, electric models are far easier to maintain and will only require you to clean up their guide bars and chains occasionally. They won’t need air filter changes, oil top-ups and constant refueling like their gas-powered competition.
Some additional features might include accessories that you get on top of the chainsaw. That can be either an extra battery pack, an extra chain, chainsaw tune-up kit, bar nuts, various oils, and others.
If you want a battery-powered chainsaw, look for models that come with an extra pack and a good charger in the package. Automatic oilers are also a good thing to have if you don’t want to think about lubricating the chain of your electric chainsaw. Another very cool additional feature is the automatic chain tensioning system most new electric models have.
Lastly, if you’ve already started browsing for a new chainsaw then you most likely are aware of the steep prices some models have. Even if gas chainsaws are more expensive on average, there are some battery-powered models out there that can easily cost you an arm and a leg. This is why you should determine the desired features and performance you expect of a model beforehand and set a budget that you shouldn’t go over. If you’re looking for multiple tools, a single chainsaw can quickly put you in the red and leave no money for the other tools on your list.
Like with all other power tools, chainsaws should be taken seriously. There are four major safety steps that you should always go through until you memorize them. Those are:
- Inspecting your chainsaw
- Personal protection
- Beware of kickback
- Keep your chainsaw well-maintained and protected
Before you start using the chainsaw, there are a few inspections that you have to do. For starters, you should check if the chain has the correct tension to it. As a rule of thumb, there shouldn’t be more than 1/8 inches of play when you pull it up. The chain should also snap back in its place once yo release it. Anything other than that means that the chain is loose. Other chain checkups include checking if the teeth are sharpened. Lastly, check if the chain brake is working properly.
Going through the body of the chainsaw, there shouldn’t be any loose bolts or moving parts. Make sure there is enough oil and fuel every time before you start the chainsaw. If your chainsaw is electric, make sure the batteries are fully-charged or whether your power cord is intact. On fuel-powered models check if the air filter is clean occasionally.
Chainsaw accidents are quite common and this is the prime reason why you should take personal protection seriously. Apart from following basic chainsaw working guidelines, you should always wear protective equipment such as helmet, safety glasses, chaps, cut-resistant gloves, and boots. Hearing protection is optional in most cases but if you’re working every day with a chainsaw or other loud equipment it becomes mandatory in order to prevent hearing loss in the long run.
Chainsaw kickback is one of the worst things that can happen when working with this tool and it often leads to accidental cuts. Kickback is when the chainsaw bounces uncontrollably towards your face or body. That typically happens when the chain jams on a wooden piece and your grip isn’t firm enough to prevent the kickback. Luckily, almost every modern chainsaw comes with a chain brake that stops the chain from spinning the moment you lose grip on the chainsaw.
In order to prevent kickback, make sure you hold the chainsaw firmly with both hands. Absolutely never ever cut with one hand holding the chainsaw only. Furthermore, never cut trees that are wider than your guide bar. The widest you should go is 2 inches below your guide bar length. What I mean is that a 16-inch chainsaw can only cut trees 14 inches or smaller.
A few more tips that are often overlooked even by professionals is to never cut above your shoulders, never hover over the chainsaw when you’re working with it, and never cut while standing on an unstable ladder or another type of surface that doesn’t allow you to have both legs firmly on the ground.
Chainsaw maintenance and protection
Lastly, make sure that your chainsaw is well-protected even when you’re not working with it. After you’re done using it, clean it from any dust, dirt, and debris thoroughly. That includes the guide bar groove as well. If you want to preserve your chain longer, get a blade cover. Some people even prefer removing the leftover fuel and storing it in external tanks until it is needed again.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do all chainsaws need oil?
Only gas-powered chainsaws need oil. The most important aspect of a gas-powered chainsaw is to make sure it never runs out of oil. Oil is the lubricant of its motor and without it, it can quickly overheat and ruin its internals.
Do chainsaws overheat?
Any chainsaw can quickly overheat if you misuse it. The rule of thumb is that the more powerful a chainsaw is, the easier it can overheat, especially if you push it to its limits. This can be even more apparent during the hotter months. Proper maintenance and cleaning can help the chainsaw regulate its internal temperature better.
Are electric chainsaws better than gas-powered ones?
It depends on your specific needs. If you need a chainsaw for light-duty tasks that don’t need much power and a long guide bar, then electric is the way to go. They are cheaper, lighter, easier to maintain, and better for the environment.
What is the best chainsaw brand?
With gas-powered chainsaws, Husqvarna and Milwaukee are without a doubt top dogs. With electric models, Greenworks, Makita, and DeWalt are your best choice. There are some other top brands that are worth mentioning such as Black+Decker and Remington which have solid electric models.
Finding the best chainsaw can be challenging if you haven’t done your research. A good rule of thumb would be to choose a model that will check the most boxes for you. If you are doing a lot of work away from power sources, a gas-powered chainsaw is still the go-to choice. If you need something for light woodcutting and don’t mind charging up your batteries regularly, an electric model is the way to go. Pay attention to the bar length, power, and the safety features the chainsaw has!