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The Power of Chainsaws

When it comes to cutting through tough tasks in a hurry, nothing beats the power and speed of a chainsaw. From pruning trees to cutting firewood, a chainsaw can power through any job - big and small. Gas and electric chainsaws each have their own unique set of advantages, but no matter which one you choose, make sure you know how to use it properly. You'll also want to ensure your chainsaw is loaded with safety features to protect you and those around you while you work.

Planning Considerations

Before you go shopping, take into consideration how frequently you plan to use your chainsaw, and what tasks you'll use it for the most. Trimming garden trees and shrubs can be accomplished efficiently with a small electric chainsaw; just as cutting down larger trees will require the power that only a gas-powered chainsaw can provide. Use the chart below to quickly compare the benefits and features of both.

Power Source Benefits Points to Consider
  • Cordless
  • More powerful
  • Offer a range of bar lengths
  • Possess better bar oiling systems
  • Ideal for heavy-duty use
  • Require gas and oil mix
  • May be heavy and noisy
  • Provide unlimited mobility
  • Easy startup
  • Quieter
  • More economical
  • Require less maintenance
  • Most require extension cord
  • Battery-powered units available
  • Ideal for light- to medium-duty tasks
  • No fuel required
Gas Chainsaws

A gas chainsaw generally provides the greatest power and mobility of all. Consider the size and type of the wood you plan to cut, and then decide if a gas chainsaw is the best choice. Gas chainsaws are ideal for heavy-duty cutting jobs, and for cutting hardwood such as oak or maple. These saws also offer the greatest portability, making them perfect for farm and rural use. A two-cycle engine requiring gas and oil for fuel are common for most gas chainsaws, but will be more expensive and noisier to operate than electric models.

Pole Saws

A pole saw has a saw mounted at the end of an extension pole. Pole saws are best suited for cutting high tree limbs, and for gardeners who don't want to use a ladder to cut hard-to-reach areas. The cutting length on pole saws is slightly smaller than on regular-sized chainsaws, about 12" to 14", and may work best for smaller home gardens that require less intense yard work.

Electric Chainsaws

An electric chainsaw won't deliver the same power as a gas chainsaw, and is suited for smaller tasks such as garden pruning, or cutting softwood such as pine and spruce. Most are lighter and quieter than gas chainsaws, but may add the inconvenience of dragging a power cord behind you. If you plan on working far away from an electrical outlet or think a power cord will be too cumbersome, consider an electric chainsaw that runs on battery power for increased mobility.

Chainsaw Size

Bar Length

Bar length refers to the length of a chainsaw's cutting saw. This can be as small as 8" or as large as 42". Generally the higher the bar length the more efficient it will be at cutting through wood. A chainsaw can safely cut through wood twice the size of its bar length. Therefore, a chainsaw with a 20" bar length should easily cut through a piece of wood no greater than 40" in diameter. However, keep in mind that the greater the chainsaw's bar length, the more difficult it may be for you to manage and hold while cutting.

Engine Displacement

Engine displacement, or engine size, is measured in cubic centimetres (cc) or cubic inches (cu. in.). As with bar length, the greater the size the more power will be at your disposal. Look for a chainsaw with a 30cc engine or higher to cut through wood reliably without being overloaded, or a chainsaw with a 45cc or 50cc engine for heavy-duty cutting, such as taking down trees.

Chainsaw Safety

Chainsaws can be dangerous tools when used improperly. Kickback is a primary cause of chainsaw accidents. Kickback occurs when the chain around the nose of the bar makes contact with an object or the chain is pinched in the cut; this causes the guide bar to either kick up and back or push rapidly towards you. A chainsaw with a tip guard will prevent you from cutting with the tip of the chainsaw, minimizing the chances of kickback. A hand guard can also prevent your hand from accidentally slipping onto the chain while it's running.

Chainsaw Maintenance

To ensure your safety and the safety of those around you, remember to have the chain regularly sharpened, and chain system checked for looseness. Also, make a habit of cleaning the fuel system and air filter, and inspecting the carburetor, muffler and spark plugs for any deficiencies. If you don't feel comfortable making these service changes on your own, consult a chainsaw service technician for regular maintenance.

Additional Safety Features

Leg Protection

Be sure to wear heavy-duty chaps, leggings or cut resistant pants to help protect your legs while cutting.

Chain Brake

A chain brake will allow you to manually stop the chain when kickback occurs, minimizing the risk of serious injury.

Safety Throttle

This feature provides additional safety by requiring the user to depress two triggers to activate the saw, reducing the chance of accidental operation.

Chain Catcher

A chain catcher will prevent a broken chain from shooting off the saw back towards the user if it breaks or becomes derailed.

Vibration Reduction

A vibration isolator or dampening system will reduce user fatigue and buffer the impact on the blade and chain, helping extend the life of your chainsaw.