Three best gas chainsaws
Despite the improvements in battery-powered models, a good gas chainsaw is still tough to beat. They are powerful, versatile, and economical. Most are easy to start and user-friendly -- a far cry from the fearsome beasts of yesteryear.
The continued popularity of gas chainsaws means you've got plenty of choices, and that can get confusing. We've put together the following buying guide to help you decide. We've also summarized the pros and cons of three of our favorites to show the best of what's available in terms of power and economy.
Considerations when choosing chainsaws
Types of gas chainsaws
Chainsaw size is defined as the length of the "bar," the long steel plate that guides the cutting chain. While other elements have a big impact, this is perhaps the most important factor when choosing a chainsaw. While it's tempting to go big, there's no point in having a massive bar (the largest we looked at was a 59-inch monster) if you're only going to prune fruit trees or clear saplings. It will just get in the way.
You can divide chainsaws into three groups: light duty, general purpose, and professional.
Light duty: These chainsaws normally have a bar of 12 to 14 inches. They are easy to manage, great for work in restricted spaces, and capable of felling the occasional modest-size tree.
General purpose: These chainsaws have a bar of 14 to 18 inches, still small enough for reasonably close work but also capable of cutting larger trees and firewood logs on a regular basis.
Professional (or "ranch"): These chainsaws, with a bar of 20 or more inches, are big, heavy-duty models built to cut timber all day long. The size can make them a little unwieldy. A smaller bar and chain can be fitted (there will be a recommended minimum), but landscapers and other groundwork professionals often carry a light-duty chainsaw, too, rather than go through the laborious process of swapping bars.
Gas chainsaw power
There isn't a huge variation in gas chainsaw motor size. Most popular engines are two-cycle models, ranging from 30cc on 12- or 14-inch chainsaws, to 60cc on the largest professional machines. Manufacturers are usually very good at matching engine output to expected workload, so it isn't an area to be concerned about as long as you buy a quality tool.
Key chainsaw features
We advise against buying a cheap chainsaw because they tend to be unreliable and not very durable. A good gas chainsaw will have some or all of the following:
Chain brake: This is a necessity for safety. It enables you to stop the chain rotating but keep the engine running.
Easy start: Difficulty in starting a gas chainsaw has been a major negative in the past. Today, top machines have "easy" or "smart" start systems that are much more reliable.
Chain oiler: Keeping the chain properly lubricated extends the tool's working life. An automatic chain oiler means you don't have to worry about it.
Tool-free adjustment: Proper chain tension is also important. Tool-free adjustment makes it fast and easy, and you don't need to carry an additional wrench.
Convenient controls and handles: You'll be wearing gloves, so you want space around handles so you can easily grip them with gloved hands. A large trigger plus chunky knobs for gas and chain oil are also a bonus.
Anti-vibration system: All chainsaws vibrate to some extent, but it can be more pronounced on models with bigger engines. An anti-vibration system makes a gas chainsaw more comfortable to use for long periods.
Weight: The weight of the chainsaw will make a difference if you expect to use it all day.
Cover: It's nice to have a cover for the bar and chain, but one isn't always provided.
Q. Do I need to mix oil with the gas for my gas chainsaw?
A. Probably. Most chainsaws have a two-cycle (also called two-stroke) motor. They have no sump oil, so you need to add lubricant to the gas or the motor will overheat and seize. It's vital that you use the right ratio of oil to gas, so check your owner's manual.
Four-cycle (or four-stroke) chainsaws do exist, though they're usually large commercial models for loggers. You never put oil in the gas of a four-cycle machine.
Q. Can I put regular unleaded in my gas chainsaw?
A. We consulted several of the top gas chainsaw manufacturers and all of them recommend 89 octane or higher. Regular is 87 octane, so you shouldn't use it. And never use diesel or E85 (fuel that's mixed with ethanol).
Gas chainsaws we recommend
Best of the best: Husqvarna 460 24-inch Rancher Chainsaw
Our take: A tremendous machine that will satisfy the most demanding professional.
What we like: Hugely powerful motor starts flawlessly and runs remarkably smooth. Excellent build quality. Tool-free chain adjustment.
What we dislike: Very little. It's big and heavy, so not really a tool for the inexperienced.
Best bang for your buck: Husqvarna 240, 16-inch Chainsaw
Our take: Excellent all-rounder from one of the most respected names in the industry.
What we like: Light yet robust, with good ergonomics. Efficient, low-vibration engine delivers more than enough power for homeowner use.
What we dislike: Some starting issues. Husqvarna emphasizes it's important to follow instructions in the manual precisely.
Choice 3: Tanaka 14-inch Top Handle Chainsaw
Our take: Compact, easy-to-use tool that's powerful enough for the pro.
What we like: Easy start, low-emission engine. Top and side handles make it easy to work with in any position. Excellent chain. Lanyard ring for pros who are going to cut while climbing.
What we dislike: Not cheap. A little heavy.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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