A chain saw is one of those tools that you need when nothing else will really do. Chain saws are available for light trimming and heavy cutting, in both gasoline and electric power. Use our Chain Saw Buying Guide to determine the machine that's right for you.
Types of Chain Saws
From the original gas-powered saws that required two people to operate to today's lightweight homeowner versions, the chain saw has come a long way in the last 40 years.
There are two types of chain saws: gas-powered and electric. Your access to a power source helps determine which type you need, so think about where your woodcutting projects are located.Gas-Powered Chain Saw
Electric Chain Saw
Gas-powered chain saws use a two-cycle engine (requiring mixing of oil and gas). Mobility and power are the main advantages of gas. Disadvantages include the bother and smell of mixing oil and gas, pull-cord starting and the additional overall maintenance needed.
Pole Chain Saw
Electric saws are great for smaller yard chores. They're quieter than their gas-powered cousins, lightweight, easy to start and require less maintenance. However, they have less power than gas-powered saws. They also add the bother of dragging a cord around behind you.
Pole saws are available in both gas and electric versions. These slightly smaller versions of their larger cousins are mounted on an extension pole. The cutting reach is extended up to 12 feet (depending on the model).
Which Chain Saw Is Best for You?
Before you shop for a chain saw, look around the yard and think about the jobs you plan on tackling. The size of the wood you plan to cut and how often you cut are factors to consider in selecting the proper tool. Think about how large and powerful a saw you can handle comfortably and safely.
Chain saws come in many sizes. Saws are measured by two means: bar length and engine displacement.
Bar length is measured from the cutting tip to where the chain enters the housing. Bar length represents the active cutting area — the largest size wood the saw will cut in a single pass. When determining the size, remember the saw's actual, safe cutting ability is twice the bar's length (e.g., A saw with a 14-inch bar can cut through a 28-inch log.).
Standard bar lengths for most homeowner saws are 14-inch, 16-inch, 18-inch and 20-inch. Although these are only two-inch increments, each larger size brings increased weight and power. Larger saws also increase the safety concerns for the user. Sizes over 20 inches can be hard to handle; leave these for the pros.
Engine displacement is an impressive term that simply measures a gas engine's size. The measurement is represented as cubic centimeters (cc) or cubic inches (cu. in.). Use these measurements to compare models. A higher number delivers more power.
Homeowner models have less than 3.8-cubic-inch (62 cc) ratings, though most of these saws normally range from 1.5 to 2.8 cubic inches.
You may also notice other numbers, like the chain pitch and chain gauge. It's important to remember these when replacing a chain.
Chain pitch is the spacing of the rivets on the chain. The saw's sprocket has the same spacing. The normal pitch is 3/8 of an inch.
Chain gauge is the thickness of the chain. It should fit the groove in the bar.
A chain saw is a powerful tool and commands attention to safety. Always read and follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Tips for Chain Saw Shopping
Try to find a good combination of size and power. Power matters most if you'll be cutting hardwood (oak, maple, etc.) rather than softwood (pine, fir, etc.).
Remember that with power comes weight. A large saw can get pretty heavy after a long session of cutting. Larger saws also create more vibration.
What may look like a lot of bells and whistles are really some very smart features. Look for these comfort and convenience add-ons:
Antivibration — buffers the shock of the impact on the blade and the chain on wood (especially handy if you'll be cutting for an extended period of time)
Quick-Start Electronic Ignition — reduces the pulling force needed for starting (available on some gas models)
Automatic Chain Oiler — lubricates for safe and efficient cutting
Quick-Adjust Chain — allows the user to change the cutting chain tension easily
Muffler — reduces noise
Exhaust Air-Cleaning System — cleans the air before it gets to the air filter to help extend filter life
Carrying Case — provides convenience and helps protect the saw
You need more than just a saw. Protective clothing is an essential part of the woodcutter's toolbox. ALWAYS wear protective clothing, including:
Leg protection, such as chaps, leggings or cut-resistant pants
Hard hat if there's any material overhead
Gloves or mittens with an enhanced gripping surface
Eye protection with side shields
Hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs
Boots or shoes with steel toes and nonskid soles