Three electric chainsaws
Electric chainsaws are light, quiet, and start at the push of a button. If you're a landscape professional or have extensive acreage to manage, you might need a gas-powered model. For just about everyone else, an electric chainsaw is the clean, convenient alternative.
However, there are so many to choose from that picking the right model can be confusing. We've put together the following buying guide to help you see the wood for the trees. We've also recommended three of our favorites -- outstanding tools that illustrate the best of what's available in terms of performance and price.
Considerations when choosing electric chainsaws
Corded vs. cordless
Corded: There are two drawbacks with a corded electric chainsaw. First, a standard household socket can only take 15 amps maximum, so most motors are restricted to 14 or 14.5 amp. Second is the power cable. The one supplied with the saw is invariably short, making an extension a necessity. Dragging a cable around the yard can get frustrating, and because power in a cable drops over distance, you're limited to 100 feet.
Cordless: The alternative is a cordless chainsaw. In theory, these offer equivalent power and complete freedom of movement. But critics of cordless power point to poor battery performance and long recharge times. While true in the past, these have mostly been overcome.
Cheap cordless chainsaws run on 20-volt batteries, which do have limited run time. Quality tools use 40 volts, and 60 volts are now available. Equally important is the ampere-hour (Ah) rating. More ampere-hours means you get consistent performance for longer. Minimum is 2 Ah; 4 Ah is better. The maximum we found is 9 Ah, but these batteries are expensive.
Bar size: Chainsaws are defined by their bar size. The bar is the metal plate the chain runs around, and it's a good indicator of capability. Light-duty chainsaws are 10 inches and 12 inches, while 14 inches and 16 inches are good for all-purpose work. Very few electric chainsaws have larger bars because they risk being underpowered. For large trees, you still need a gas chainsaw.
Chain brake: A chain brake allows the motor to be on and running without the chain moving. It's an important safety feature.
Lubrication: Chains need regular lubrication. This is a manual task on some electric chainsaws. Automatic systems are more convenient and you won't forget to do it. A clear window, so you can easily check the oil level, is a nice addition.
Chain adjustment: This is another regular task. Good saws have tool-free mechanisms operated by a knob on the side. A few are automatic.
Controls: You'll be wearing gloves, so handles and controls need to be large enough that they're easy to use.
Weight: The weight of the chainsaw might have an impact if you're using one all day. Those we looked at range from 10 to 14 pounds.
Start: Soft start means the chainsaw won't jump in your hands when the power comes on.
Current limiter: This keeps the motor from burning out if it's overloaded.
Chainsaw prices: Good entry-level corded chainsaws can cost as little as $50 or $60. The very best might be $400. While cheap cordless chainsaws do exist, we'd be reluctant to recommend one that costs less than $120. The most powerful cost $600 to $700, which is more than many professional-grade gas models.
Q. What safety precautions should I take with an electric chainsaw?
A. Always wear gloves, a face shield, and sturdy boots. Although electric chainsaws are quieter, that doesn't mean they're silent, so ear protection is still a good idea. Clear your work area of trip hazards or debris that might cause you to slip. If using a corded device, plug it into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) so the power trips before it can cause you any harm. Make sure your extension cord is the proper rating. If it's getting hot, it's not high enough amps, and there's a chance it could catch fire.
Q. How do I know if the chain needs sharpening or changing?
A. A sharp chain should cut nice, clean wood chips. If you're getting dust or sludge, it's blunt. Sharpening is quick and easy once you get the hang of it, or you might find your local hardware store will do it for you. Eventually, there just won't be any tooth left to sharpen, so you'll need to replace the chain. However, sometimes a blade can stretch beyond its usable limit before that happens. If you've used up all the available adjustment on your saw and the chain's still loose, it's time for a new one.
Electric chainsaws we recommend
Best of the best: Makita 16" Electric Chainsaw
Our take: Robust build and feature-packed specification make for a class-leading saw.
What we like: High-quality components wherever you look. Powerful yet user-friendly with soft start, low vibration, and big rubberized grips. Currency limiter prevents motor burnout. Tool-free chain adjustment and automatic oiler.
What we dislike: Very little. A bit heavy. A shame it has a cord!
Best bang for your buck: Worx 16" Electric Chainsaw
Our take: Great all-rounder that will satisfy homeowners with substantial yards.
What we like: Good motor provides reliable performance. Clever auto-tensioning system for chain, plus auto-oiler. Light, with nice, big handles for comfort and easy control.
What we dislike: Excessive oil consumption. Some questions about durability.
Choice 3: Greenworks 16" Cordless Chainsaw
Our take: Quiet, consistent performance that rivals gas-powered chainsaws.
What we like: Excellent battery and brushless motor provide plenty of power. There's electric chain braking, an automatic oiler, and it weighs just 10 pounds. The same battery fits 14 other Greenworks tools, potentially saving you money.
What we dislike: Occasional reports of oil leaks and power switch issues.
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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