A chain saw is one of those tools that you need when nothing else will really do. You can find chain saws for light trimming or heavy cutting, and with either electric or gasoline power. Consider the cutting work you need to do and learn about available models and features to find 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.
There are two types of chain saws: electric and gas-powered models. Your access to a power source and the type of work you'll be doing help determine which type you need. Think about where your projects are located and whether you want to do occasional pruning or you need to do more serious woodcutting.
Electric chain saws are great for smaller yard chores that require less power, such as trimming, pruning and light cutting. They're quieter than gas-powered models, lightweight, easy to start and require less maintenance. You'll find both cordless and corded varieties. Corded models will require a suitable extension cord. Follow the device manufacturer's instructions for selecting compatible extension cords and see Power Cord Safety Tips.
Gas chain saws use a two-cycle engine, operating with a mix oil and gasoline. Mobility and greater power are the main advantages of gas-powered saws. Other Chain Saws
In addition to traditional designs, there are other types of chain saws:
Pole saws are smaller versions of their larger cousins, mounted on an extension pole. These saws extend your reach up to 16 feet, depending on the model. Pole saws are available in both gas and corded or cordless electric versions, and some string trimmers can use an optional pole saw attachment.
There are also chain saws that feature a jaw or enclosure around the cutting bar and chain. Teeth around the enclosure assist with gripping the material you're cutting. These electric saws are good for pruning and light cutting.
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. They're measured by two means: bar length and, for gas-powered models, engine displacement.
Bar length defines the distance from the cutting tip to where the chain enters the housing. Bar length typically represents the active cutting area — the largest size wood the saw will cut in a single pass.
Standard bar lengths for most homeowner saws range from 6 inches on smaller electric saws to 20 inches on larger, gas-powered models. Each increase in bar length 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. Some chain saws can cut through wood with a diameter greater than the bar length, so make sure you understand a saw's capabilities when choosing one for your work.
Engine displacement is an impressive term that simply measures a gas engine's size in cubic centimeters (cc) or cubic inches (cu. in.). Use these measurements to compare models. A higher number indicates more power, but also means greater weight.
Homeowner models have ratings of less than 3.8 cubic inches (62cc), though most of these saws normally range from 1.5 to 2.8 cubic inches (24cc to 46cc).
You may also notice other specifications 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 for use, maintenance and safety.
Tips for Chain Saw Shopping
Find a good balance of power and size that will meet the needs of your jobs. 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 feel 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:
- Antivibration features buffer the vibration the saw generates (especially handy if you'll be cutting for an extended period of time).
- Spring assist starting reduces the pulling force needed for starting.
- An automatic chain oiler lubricates for safe and efficient cutting.
- A chain brake is designed to stop the chain when the saw encounters an abrupt movement or impact. On equipped models, you can also activate a chain brake manually.
- Low kickback features help reduce the risk of the saw being unexpectedly forced back and up.
- Quick-adjust chains and tool-less chain adjustment allow you to change the cutting chain tension easily.
- A muffler reduces noise.
- An exhaust air-cleaning system cleans the air before it gets to the air filter to help extend filter life.
- A carrying case provides convenience and helps protect the saw.
Shop for Chain Saws
You need more than just a saw. Protective clothing is an essential part of the woodcutter's toolbox. ALWAYS wear protective clothing and gear, including:
- Leg protection, such as chaps or cut-resistant pants
- Hard hat
- Gloves with an enhanced gripping surface and cut resistance
- Eye protection with side shields
- Hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs
- Boots or shoes with steel toes and nonskid soles
Shop for Chain Saw Safety Equipment
Some hard hats include built-in hearing protection and a face shield.