The Best Chainsaws, According to DIYers
Once the province only of horror movies and lumber harvest, chainsaws are becoming more and more popular among homeowners who like to do landscaping. Read our take on the best the market has to offer.
As much as chainsaws hold appeal for tool geeks and aspiring lumberjacks, they are also quite handy for average homeowners, particularly those who like to do landscaping or heat the home with a wood fire. These tools’ usefulness is reflected in the sheer variety of types and sizes available on the market today.
Choosing a chainsaw starts with an honest assessment of your needs. Power and size are primary considerations, but peripheral factors—noise level and fuel type—are also well worth weighing. Read on to learn what distinguishes different chainsaws, and to find out why we’ve chosen the below as the very best.
- BEST OVERALL: DeWalt MAX SR Compact Cordless Chainsaw
- BEST FOR LIGHT DUTY: WORX Electric Chainsaw
- BEST FOR HEAVY DUTY: Husqvarna 460 Rancher Chainsaw
- BEST ECO PICK: LiTHELi Cordless Chainsaw
Key Considerations for Choosing the Right Chainsaw
The size of a chainsaw hinges on its bar length—that is, the distance from the cutting tip to the housing. In effect, the bar length is the cutting area; the larger the cutting area, the larger the jobs you can confidently tackle. Bar lengths run as short as six inches or as long as 20 inches (the former would obviously weigh less than the latter). At least in gas-powered models, another measure of chainsaw power is engine displacement—that is, the engine size. A higher number indicates a more powerful engine (but here, too, recognize that the larger you go, the greater the weight of the tool).
Quintessential chainsaws are gas-powered, but there are now many quieter, lighter—and yes, less powerful—electric models on the market. Some are corded, meaning in order to operate the tool, you must near an electrical power source. Cordless chainsaws, meanwhile, run on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Though most lack the brawn to take down trees, battery-powered saws are more than serviceable for many common applications.
While electric chainsaws obviously do not release exhaust, gas-powered models emit carbon monoxide and other pollutants. In fact, California residents are only legally permitted to use chainsaws that run in compliance with certain environmental standards set by the state.
They’re loud! That’s the most frequent complaint made against chainsaws, and with good reason. At full tilt, gas-powered models can exceed 100 decibels. And believe or not, some electric saws are just about as noisy. There are some electrics, however, which operate at about 85 decibels. So if you have neighbors close by, consider choosing one of those quieter models. No matter your choice, remember to always wear hearing protection when working with such a loud tool.
Chainsaws are dangerous, plain and simple. They cause thousands of injuries each year. Some of the best chainsaws feature such safety features as a trigger lock, which stops the cutting action the moment you release the trigger. Also, look for anti-kickback chains, which prevent snags and minimize jolting. Finally, there are double-acting chain brakes that protect the hand from moving toward the cutting area. Focus on models whose design prioritizes your safety.
A range of other miscellaneous features may be found in the chainsaw market. Some may be irrelevant to your needs, but others may provide a compelling reason to select one tool over another. Look out for side-mounted or tool-free chain tensioning, for instance; that makes it easier to adjust chain tension on the go. Also handy are see-through oil and gas tanks, self-oiling chains, and spring-assist starting. The latter reduces the pulling force needed to get the tool going—what a relief!
On electric models, built-in circuit breakers prevent the motor from burning out. Corded models need heavy-gauge weatherproof extensions and a ground fault circuit interrupter. Cordless models, meanwhile, are most convenient when they come with an extended-life battery (or an extra).
The Best Chainsaws
1. BEST OVERALL: DeWalt MAX SR Compact Chainsaw
Home arborists, take note! The DeWalt MAX SR Compact Chainsaw makes quick work of pruning ornamental trees and shrubs, cutting through limbs and tree trunks up to 10 inches in diameter with a 12-inch bar. And at just 8.8 lbs., it’s light enough for even novice pruners to use without suffering arm and shoulder fatigue. This compact chainsaw operates on a rechargeable 20-volt lithium-ion battery, and the manufacturer boasts that the saw can make up to 90 cuts through a 4×4 landscape timber on a single battery charge. Users of the tool praise it for its portability, ease of use (no fuel to mix or cord to drag behind), and the fact that it punches a punch that belies its relatively small size.
2. BEST FOR LIGHT DUTY: WORX JawSaw Chainsaw
Safety is foremost in the design and construction of the WORX JawSaw Chainsaw. The moving chain is completely enclosed in the jaws of the tool, minimizing risk of injury while using the tool to remove small limbs and branches up to 4 inches in diameter with its 6-inch bar. Its unique long-handled design also allows the user to cut through limbs that are lying on the ground, without needing to bend or squat. A 12-gauge extension cord is recommended for operation.
3. BEST FOR HEAVY DUTY: Husqvarna 460 Rancher Chainsaw
Capable of felling large trees and harvesting a winter’s worth of firewood, this gas chainsaw features a formidable 24-inch bar that will cut through trunks up to 22 inches in diameter. With no battery to recharge or limiting extension cord, it’s the perfect choice for cutting wood in remote locations. It runs on a standard fuel combination of 50-parts gasoline to 1-part engine oil. If you’re looking power, look no further. Just be wary that the Rancher weighs in at 21 lbs., requiring a strong, skilled operator.
4. BEST ECO PICK: LiTHELi Cordless Chainsaw
At 40 volts, the LiTHELi Cordless Chainsaw is one of the most powerful battery-powered saws around. Its 14-inch bar is suitable for cutting through limbs and trunks up to 12 inches in diameter, and the brushless motor is designed to reduce vibration while offering maximum torque. Its reasonable weight (11.7 lbs.), integrated safety guard, and chain-braking system (which reduces the risk of injury from kickback) all contribute to easy handling, too. The 40-volt 2.5Ah battery and charger come included.