The Best Chainsaws of 2021

Tackle landscaping, yard maintenance, or professional projects with a reliable chainsaw—ahead, explore gas-powered and electric models with stellar cutting performance.

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The Best Chainsaws for Landscaping and Harvesting Lumber

Photo: istockphoto.com

Chainsaws hold much appeal for tool enthusiasts, aspiring and professional lumberjacks, landscapers, and the like. Whichever group you relate to, there are numerous models in various types and sizes available today.

Navigating the sheer number of options on the market starts with an honest assessment of your needs. Power and size are primary considerations, but peripheral factors—such as noise level and fuel type—are also worth weighing in a buying decision.

Learn what distinguishes power tools and identify the best chainsaw for your personal needs, and find out why these standout picks are top favorites.

  1. BEST OVERALL GAS: Craftsman S165 42cc Full Crank 2-Cycle Gas Chainsaw
  2. BEST OVERALL ELECTRIC: Makita XCU03Z 18V X2 LXT Brushless Cordless Chain Saw
  3. BEST BUDGET GAS: HUYOSEN 54.6CC 2-Stroke Gas Powered Chainsaw, 20-Inch
  4. BEST BUDGET ELECTRIC: BLACK+DECKER 20V Max Cordless Chainsaw
  5. BEST LIGHT DUTY: Worx WG303.1 14.5 Amp 16″ Electric Chainsaw
  6. BEST HEAVY DUTY: Husqvarna 24 Inch 460 Rancher Gas Chainsaw
  7. BEST SMALL: DEWALT 20V MAX XR Chainsaw, 12-Inch
  8. BEST BATTERY POWERED: Greenworks Pro 80V 18-Inch Cordless Chainsaw
The Best Chainsaws for Landscaping and Harvesting Lumber

Photo: istockphoto.com

Types of Chainsaws

Chainsaws are either gas-powered or electric, which include corded and cordless battery-powered options. Each kind has advantages that make them better suited for different applications. Below, learn more about the types of chainsaws.

Gas

Gas chainsaws are the most powerful type of chainsaw available. They run off of a fuel mix of gas and oil. Most gas chainsaws range in size from 16 to 20 inches. Gas chainsaws generally run faster than electric chainsaws, making them suitable for bigger jobs, like removing medium and large trees. They also are better for cutting through hardwoods such as oak and birch.

Gas chainsaws can last for about 40 minutes to an hour on a single tank of gas depending on how the chainsaw is used. They require more maintenance to ensure the engine runs properly and cost more than corded electric chainsaws.

Battery-Powered

Battery-powered chainsaws offer quite a bit of flexibility. They’re low maintenance, like a typical electric chainsaw, but they provide the portability of a gas chainsaw. Today’s options are pretty powerful while also being less noisy than a comparable gas-powered model. The downside is that batteries for these saws tend to be pricey, so keeping a few on hand can cost as much as the saw itself.

Battery-powered saws are best suited for DIYers without sizable properties who only plan to use the saw occasionally. Their low-maintenance needs and portability make them among the best small chainsaws for these scenarios. One additional benefit of a battery-powered chainsaw is that many of the top power tool brands offer saws that work with the same batteries as their power tools.

Corded Electric

Corded electric chainsaws have been around for a long time, and there are many great options on the market. They have very few maintenance needs other than a quick cleaning and maintaining the bar-lube levels. Many corded electric saws rival the power offered by gas chainsaws, as long as there is a reliable power source.

The issue with a corded electric chainsaw is that they’re limited to where their cords can reach, so they are generally better suited for small yards that don’t require a lot of frequent chainsaw use. For larger areas, corded chainsaws require larger 10- to 14-gauge extension cords and are limited to 100 feet. Looping together multiple extension cords is not recommended, as it creates a fire hazard.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Chainsaw

Before shopping, consider a number of important factors common to all the best chainsaws, regardless of power source. This section also explores features relevant to selecting the best gas chainsaw for particular tasks, including intended use, motor, and chainsaw bars.

Bar Size

A description of any chainsaw likely includes the bar size, sometimes referred to as the “guide bar.” (Bars are the steel guide plate the chain runs around.) This measurement is almost always in inches. As a rule of thumb, light-duty chainsaws have a bar from 12 to 14 inches, general purpose chainsaws have bars that run from 16 to 20 inches, and professional models have bars that are 22 inches or more. The largest chainsaws can exceed 48 inches.

However, exceptions exist. Some high-powered professional chainsaws have shorter bars for added maneuverability. These are often designed for working among branches at height, usually by contractors in climbing harnesses. Strictly speaking, a chainsaw with a 12-inch bar should be able to cut through a 12-inch tree. In practical terms, however, maximum cutting capacities are usually a couple of inches shorter than bar length.

Engine Power (Gas Chainsaws)

The two types of chainsaw engines are two-stroke (also called two-cycle) and four-stroke motors (four-cycle).

  • Two-stroke models are lighter and less complicated, which makes them less expensive. They usually run at higher revolutions per minute (RPMs), so they generate decent power for their size. However, this also makes them noisier, increases fuel consumption, and causes higher emissions.
  • Four-stroke chainsaws are heavier, more complex, and produce less power for the same cylinder size. However, they are more fuel-efficient and run cleaner. They’re often more durable as well.

The smallest, light-duty gas chainsaws have engine sizes ranging between 30 and 40 cubic centimeters (cc), which is an acceptable size engine for anything from a 10- or 12-inch bar up to 16 inches. For moderate work, like cutting firewood, a 55 cc engine and 16-inch bar are a good standard. The toughest jobs, like felling large trees, call for a professional model with a 65 to 110 cc engine and 16 to 20 inches of bar length.

Motor Power (Electric Chainsaws)

The motor power in electric saws is rated by amperages. An amp-rating describes how much power the saw can draw before the internal components will overheat or start breaking down. An 8-amp saw can be considered light-duty, while a 12-amp is for medium-duty work, and a 15-amp is the heaviest duty of electric chainsaws.

Keep in mind that with battery-powered saws, much of the power rating is based on the voltage of the battery used (20v or 40v, for example), not the amp-hour (Ah) rating on the battery. A battery’s Ah rating has more to do with how long the battery will run than the power output.

Although run times will vary depending on use and the chainsaw’s size, expect to get about 30 to 40 minutes of intermittent use out of a cordless chainsaw before it needs a charge. If you already have an arsenal of cordless power tools, consider buying a chainsaw with the same brand to use the batteries interchangeably between your cordless tools.

Weight

Depending on the user’s physical strength, weight can be the most critical consideration of all. If someone is unable to handle a saw safely because it’s too heavy, the fuel source or bar length simply won’t matter.

Corded electric saws and battery-powered saws are often the lightest chainsaws on the market. They don’t require a full tank of fuel mix, and their motors are smaller, so they are lighter weight and easier to use in a variety of scenarios.

Keep in mind, though, that a saw can be too light as well. A top-handle saw with a lot of power, a short bar, and a light motor can act unpredictably if it experiences some kickback. The added inertia of a heavier motor will help minimize the effects of kickback.

Handles

Most chainsaws are designed with two handles: one in the rear that includes the trigger and a larger wrap-around handle in the front for your guiding hand. Given the danger involved with using a chainsaw, the grip is crucial.

Chainsaw handles use rubberized grips that allow you to get a good hold on the chainsaw. The rear handle also incorporates the trigger that activates the saw and a safety switch that engages to shut off the saw should you lose your grip on the rear handle. The front handle curves around the chainsaw, allowing you to hold the chainsaw in various positions for different cuts.

Noise Pollution

If you’d like to maintain a pleasant relationship with neighbors, you may want to consider how much noise a chainsaw can create. Gas-powered saws can be deafening—100 decibels is not unheard of (no pun intended), so woodcutting is best left to late mornings and afternoons when the fewest people may be sleeping.

Even some electric- and battery-powered options are a little loud. The whine of the electric motor and the noise the chain makes as it rips through the wood combine to create some chatter.

The other thing to realize about noise is that hearing protection should be worn. There are plenty of muff-style protectors at local home improvement stores, and they’ll do a lot to maintain hearing after spending a day at the end of a chainsaw.

Safety

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. Look for anti-kickback chains, which prevent snags and minimize jolting. There are also double-acting chain brakes that protect the hand from moving toward the cutting area.

Before getting to work, learn how to use a chainsaw safely. If at all possible, learn from someone with practical experience. Always wear appropriate safety equipment while operating a chainsaw: a face shield can help protect you from flying debris, which can be surprisingly sharp; hearing protectors are also a good idea; as is a hard hat if there’s a danger of falling branches. Be sure to wear solid footwear, preferably with steel toe caps, and tough work gloves.

Additional Features

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.

  • Variable speed: While some chainsaws only offer a single speed, which simply allows you to turn the chainsaw on or off, higher-end chainsaws offer variable speed controls. These chainsaws regulate the blade’s speed via a pressure-sensitive trigger, allowing you to optimize the chain’s speed for different types of cuts.
  • Chain tensioning: Side-mounted or tool-free chain tensioning makes it easier to adjust chain tension on the go.
  • Anti-vibration: A certain amount of vibration is inevitable, but better chainsaws use special engine mounts to reduce it. Spring-mounted handles further insulate the user from vibration.
  • Spring-assist starting: Some chainsaws have spring-assist starting, which reduces the pulling force needed to get the tool going.
  • Extra batteries: Among battery-powered chainsaws, certain models come with an extended life battery and/or extras to extend runtime (batteries can be replaced during long sessions).
  • Oiling system: A chainsaw’s ability to run efficiently largely depends on keeping the chain well-lubed with oil. Chainsaws include a reservoir that stores lubricating oil, which prevents the chain from becoming stuck in the wood or binding on the chainsaw’s bar. Some chainsaws use a mechanism that delivers oil to the chain automatically, so you don’t have to bother with manual oiling.

Our Top Picks

The chainsaws in the top picks below were selected based on their notable features, including power source, size, and budget. These are some of the best tools that can both help manage a property’s trees, collect firewood, and more.

Best Overall Gas

The Best Chainsaw Option: Craftsman S165 42cc Full Crank 2-Cycle Gas Chainsaw
Photo: lowes.com

The Craftsman is a good overall chainsaw, offering high levels of quality, performance, and reliability. While it doesn’t excel in any one area, it delivers what most people need. The 16-inch bar offers a good balance between maneuverability and cutting capacity. A tough polypropylene chassis is durable but light, and a three-point anti-vibration mounting helps reduce operator fatigue.

Although it’s a two-cycle model, the easy-starting 42cc motor is CARB and EPA compliant and delivers clean, consistent power. The Craftsman is fitted with an inertia-activated chain brake, an adjustable automatic chain oiler, and comes with its own case. It weighs a relatively modest 21.9 pounds. Available through Amazon and Lowe’s.

Best Overall Electric

The Best Chainsaw Option: Makita XCU03Z 18V
Photo: homedepot.com

Makita’s cordless chainsaw is an example of the brand’s innovation. It features a dual-battery 18-volt design, doubling the maximum power and run time of a standard single-battery chainsaw. Despite those extra batteries, this chainsaw still weighs in at less than 11 pounds, making it easy to handle.

The brushless motor allows its batteries to distribute more power to the saw than a standard motor, making it as powerful as some gas-powered chainsaws. A 14-inch bar makes it suitable for cutting through trees up to 12 inches in diameter.

Makita also packs plenty of other features into this chainsaw, including an auto power-off function that shuts the saw down to save battery life when the saw is idle for too long and a built-in lock-off that prevents the saw blade from accidentally starting. Available through Amazon and Home Depot.

Best Budget Gas

The Best Chainsaw Option: HUYOSEN 54.6CC 2-Stroke Gas Powered Chainsaw, 20-Inch
Photo: walmart.com

Those looking for a low-cost, reliable gas chainsaw may want to consider this high-powered model from HUYOSEN. A low-maintenance tool, the HUYOSEN provides sufficient performance for general lopping and felling duties. With a high-powered 54.6cc motor and large-capacity 20-inch bar, this 15.4-pound chainsaw can take on a variety of landscaping tasks.

While a bit more basic than much of the competition, it has a vibration-dampening cushioned handle and an automatic chain oiler. Available through Amazon and Walmart.

Best Budget Electric

The Best Chainsaw Option: BLACK+DECKER 20V Max Cordless Chainsaw
Photo: homedepot.com

This affordable model from Black & Decker is an excellent option for those budget-conscious DIYers who need a chainsaw for light-duty use only, as well as those who don’t have a lot of experience operating a chainsaw. Thanks to a smaller 10-inch blade (less likely to kick back), and a 7-pound build, it’s easier to manage than larger chainsaws. That’s not to say it isn’t powerful. This chainsaw packs plenty of punch with a 20-volt battery and can cut through branches up to 8 inches in diameter.

User-friendly features include a tool-free chain tension adjuster and an automatic bar oiling system. This Black and Decker 20-volt Max cordless chainsaw is sold on its own or with a battery pack and charger. Available through Amazon and Home Depot.

Best Light Duty

The Best Chainsaw Option: Worx WG303.1 14.5 Amp Electric Chainsaw
Photo: homedepot.com

If you’re looking for a reasonably priced, light-duty electric chainsaw, check out this 16-inch corded option from WORX. This less-is-more model features the basics: a 14.5 amp motor, a chain brake, automatic oiler, and tool-less chain tensioning. It’s also fairly lightweight at only 11 pounds.

The chainsaw is best suited for light-duty work, largely because the majority of its components are plastic, which reduces durability. And because replacement parts aren’t easy to find, heavy-duty use that breaks something can render this saw useless. Available through Amazon and Home Depot.

Best Heavy Duty

The Best Chainsaw Option: Husqvarna 24 Inch 460 Rancher Gas Chainsaw
Photo: lowes.com

Tough jobs require a chainsaw with plenty of power and plenty of length. This 24-inch model can take down large trees with a 60.3-cubic-centimeter engine and 24-inch bar. The saw is primarily for professional use and for big jobs requiring a longer bar. This chainsaw is on the heavier side at 22.6 pounds and includes Husqvarna’s X-Torq engine, which consumes less fuel than other chainsaws.

A SmartStart system makes cranking up this chainsaw easier while eliminating endless pulls. Durability is always a high priority with chainsaws. Its air injection centrifugal air-cleaning system keeps debris and dust from contaminating the air filter, leading to longer engine life. Available through Amazon and Lowe’s.

Best Small

The Best Chainsaw Option: DEWALT 20V MAX XR Chainsaw, 12-Inch
Photo: homedepot.com

Some people don’t require the power to topple tall oaks like a lumberjack. They need a chainsaw that can handle light-duty work, like chopping up small trees after a storm or pruning overgrown branches. This compact 12-inch chainsaw from DEWALT is large enough to cut through tree trunks up to 10 inches in diameter, but, at less than 9 pounds, is also small enough to wield easily.

And, though small, it’s mighty, thanks to its brushless motor and powerful 20-volt battery. That’s enough power to make up to 90 cuts per charge on 4×4 pressure-treated lumber. With its auto-oil feature and no-tool chain tension adjuster, you won’t have to slow down to make adjustments or lube the chain. This chainsaw is available for purchase on its own or with a battery and charger. Available through Amazon and Home Depot.

Best Battery Powered

The Best Chainsaw Option: Greenworks Pro 80V 18-Inch Cordless Chainsaw
Photo: homedepot.com

With its massive 80-volt battery and brushless motor, this cordless chainsaw from battery-powered tool specialist Greenworks rivals many similarly sized gas-powered chainsaws. Proving that a small carbon footprint doesn’t equate to wimpy, this formidable chainsaw can make up to 150 cuts on 4×4-size lumber before needing a charge, which equates to 1 to 2 hours of runtime. Its 18-inch bar length allows it to cut through trunks up to 16 inches in diameter.

And, with its rapid charge capability—it needs just 30 minutes for a full recharge—you can easily rotate batteries to avoid lags in productivity. With steel bucking spikes to prevent kickback, an electronic chain brake for safety, and a weight of under 11 pounds, this chainsaw is easy to handle. The Greenworks Pro 80V is available with the battery and charger, or as a tool only. Available through Amazon and Home Depot.

FAQs About Chainsaws

Having studied the features and benefits of these tools, you may still have some more questions. The following are among those that chainsaw buyers ask most often.

Q. How lightweight do chainsaws come?

Small chainsaws can weigh anywhere between 6 and 20 pounds. The weight depends on their power source, how many batteries they use, and their construction materials.

Q. How do I choose a chainsaw size?

When it comes to chainsaws, a general rule of thumb is that they should be at least 2 inches longer than the thickness of the tree or limb you are trying to cut. With that in mind, when shopping for a chainsaw, consider what types of jobs for which you’ll be using the chainsaw.

If you’re planning on using the chainsaw primarily for pruning and removing young trees, a 10- or 12-inch chainsaw should suffice. For larger jobs, consider purchasing a 16-inch or 18-inch chainsaw.

Q. Are electric chainsaws safer than gas chainsaws?

Electric chainsaws are safer than gas chainsaws due to the slower chain speeds, reducing the odds of dangerous kickbacks, and they run only while cutting. They also have shorter bars of no more than 18 inches, while some gas chainsaws have 20- or 24-inch bars.

Q. Can electric chainsaws cut trees?

While electric chainsaws are best suited for cutting limbs and pruning, larger 16-inch electric chainsaws also can handle smaller trees.

Q. How do I start a gas chainsaw?

The procedure is usually to prime the carburetor, giving a couple of gentle pulls on the cord with the motor off. Then turn it on and pull it again to fire it up. Modern gas chainsaws normally make this quick and easy. However, it’s important to read the owner’s manual. Common complaints about starting difficulties are often because the owner hasn’t checked the instructions.

Q. What fuel do I need for my gas chainsaw?

Regular unleaded gas is fine. Chainsaws aren’t particularly fussy, but premium gas is probably a bit rich. If you have a two-stroke gas chainsaw, oil must be added to the fuel before use. Check the owner’s manual for correct proportions. Four-stroke gas chainsaws contain oil in a separate reservoir.

Q. How do I maintain a chainsaw?

There are several measures you should follow to maintain a chainsaw:

  • Check the bar oil regularly. Lubricant is necessary to keep the chain smoothly rotating around the bar and through the wood. Nothing will thwart your chainsaw job more than a dry blade, which will cause the chain to derail, bind in the wood, or kick back.
  • Keep the chain sharp. A sharp chain not only improves the cutting power of the chainsaw but also prevents dangerous kickbacks.
  • Clean the saw blade after each use. Make sure to remove any debris or sawdust. Built-up debris can easily clog the oil hole, preventing lubricant from reaching the blade.
  • Tighten loose nuts, bolts, and screws. Chainsaws vibrate a lot. All of that vibration can shake fasteners loose, negatively impacting the chainsaw’s operation.

Final Thoughts

Whether it’s for property maintenance or cutting small logs for a backyard campfire, owning a chainsaw can hasten the job. While many don’t need a true professional’s tool, finding the right blend of power, size, weight, and safety is the name of the game.

As an all-round gas chainsaw, the Craftsman 16-inch has just the right power and cutting capability for most home uses. If you prefer an electric model, the battery-powered Makita XCU03Z offers power to rival its gas counterparts while remaining lightweight at only 11 pounds.

Whichever tool you choose, make sure to handle it responsibly—operate your chainsaw with care, and know which tasks it’s suitable for. Once you find the right fit, this power tool can benefit your landscaping, home improvement, or professional projects for years to come.