TOH Tested: Chainsaws
Weekend lumberjacks need to look no further. Dealing with trees is no problem with our five favorite chainsaws
This new crop of chain saws possesses the perfect combination of size, weight, and speed for the weekend lumberjack. You can fell a tree for firewood or clear one after a storm. And the engines on our five favorites are a cinch to start. Let 'er rip.
What to Look for in a Chainsaw
1. A translucent gas tank or one with a window to check the fuel level.
2. A tool-less tensioner for quick and easy chain adjustments.
3. An easy-start system, paired with a primer bulb, that fires up the engine with fewer pulls.
4. A handle spacious enough to hold down with your boot during starts.
5. A blade brake you can comfortably nudge with your wrist.
Some tree species give off more heat when burned—expressed in British Thermal Units (Btus)—than others. The higher the number, the hotter the fire. Here's how some of the best common firewoods stack up.
Red Oak: 7,013 Btus per pound
Hard Maple: 7,012 Btus per pound
Hickory: 6,999 Btus per pound
White Ash: 6,998 Btus per pound
White Oak: 6,991 Btus per pound
Black Locust: 6,989 Btus per pound
Cutting down trees for firewood requires a game plan. Here's yours:
1. Cut diagonally down into the trunk at a 70-degree angle to the ground until you're one-third of the way through it and a few inches above grade.
2. Make a horizontal cut to complete a notch, then knock the wedge out of the trunk.
3. Make the hinge cut: Slice toward the notch's point or slightly higher from the opposite side, leaving an even strip of meat ¾ to 2 inches wide. Shout "Timber!" Now cut off the limbs.
To cut a log into sections without pinching the saw blade, use a timber jack.
1. Slip the jaw around the log a few feet from the cut end, with the T-shaped kickstand between you and the log. Push the handle away until the inside of the jaw touches the bark.
2. Ease the handle back until the jaw bites and the kickstand jacks up the log.
3. Lay the handle on the ground and saw the log into lengths that will fit in your fireplace.
Stand the log section on a larger log or solid earth. Line up the splitting ax so that its blade meets the edge closest to you, with one-third of the blade hanging off—you don't want to bury the blade in the center. Grasp the end of the handle with one hand and the top of the handle with the other, and raise the ax overhead. Now swing, letting the handle slip through the top hand, and drive the blade into the perimeter.
Tip: "If wood is your primary heat source, it's worth investing in a log splitter. It's a real labor-saver."
—Roger Cook, TOH Landscape Contractor
Price: about $300; stihlusa.com
This beast didn't flinch when we buried the 18-inch bar into a 17-inch-diameter log. Its engine is larger and more powerful than most in the DIY class, and it roared to life with just three pulls. We only wish it was paired with user-friendly features—at least a primer bulb. The blade brake is well placed, and the looping top handle lets you cut stumps nearly flush to the ground.
Fine print: 45.4cc engine
Speed: 14,000 rpm
Weight: 12.2 pounds
Price: about $400; oregonpowernow.com
A 40-volt lithium-ion battery produces enough power to make 125 cuts through a 3-inch-diameter log before it needs recharging. The motor has the guts to fell a small tree, too, yet it's quiet enough to run at sunup on Sunday. And its 14-inch bar, the longest available on a cordless saw, has a built-in sharpener. We appreciate the translucent window that lets you check the level of your bar oil.
Fine print: 40 volts
Speed: 6,400 rpm
Weight: 11 pounds
Price: about $190; ryobitools.com
You won't fell much of a tree with this 10-incher, but it's perfect for big pruning jobs and storm-damage cleanup. We like the long run time, the battery gauge, and the tool-less tensioner. The handle is less than comfortable, so long jobs could be difficult. The battery's location, ahead of the handle, keeps the saw well balanced when slicing logs, but it feels awkward if you run the blade parallel to the ground.
Fine print: 40 volts
Speed: 2,175 rpm
Weight: 9.8 pounds
Price: about $140; homelite.com
This entry-level saw works for sectioning downed branches after a storm and for slicing through logs up to 15 inches in diameter in one cut. For well under $200, you get a tool-less chain tensioner, an anti-vibration design, and a primer bulb. We like the bolt-on safety tip that keeps the chain from kicking back as it rounds over the tip—even if it does prevent plunge cuts.
Fine print: 38cc engine
Speed: 12,000 rpm
Weight: 11.4 pounds
Price: about $290; husqvarna.com
How do you start this thing? Read the handy instructions printed near the handle. We sliced a dozen pieces of 6- and 8-inch-diameter storm-damaged conifer without a problem. Cutting larger logs with the 16-inch bar required a bit of finesse to prevent the saw from binding. Still, this saw doesn't cause fatigue like a lot of chain saws; springs in the handle insulate you from engine vibration. DIY-friendly indeed.
Fine print: 40.9-cubic-centimeter (cc) engine
Speed: 12,000 revolutions per minute (rpm)
Weight: 12 pounds