The purpose of this guide is to help you buy the best outdoor extension cord for your lawn and garden equipment, such as electric chainsaw, lawn mower or hedge trimmer. Corded-electric tools are the most affordable of all the tool types, but it does mean you have to manage an extension cord. Beyond that, it’s essential that you buy the correct gauge extension cord, for safety reasons and to maximize the power you get from your electrical tools. We explain all of the details in this article.
Having said that, ALWAYS read the owners manual first and use the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Extension cords, or otherwise referred to as power cords or electrical cords, whatever you prefer to call them, doesn’t matter. They’re a useful accessory but far too many people are misinformed when it comes to purchasing the correct one for their power tools. They can be used for almost every electrical device on the market, giving us mobility and freedom so we can use our tools, gadgets and devices far away from a power outlet. But, having said that, I still can’t wait for that day when we never have to use extension cords ever again. They’re a bit of a nuisance too.
All Outdoor Extension Cords are not Equal
A common myth for people who don’t use power tools professionally, or on a regular basis, is the idea that all extension cords are created equally. Nothing could be further from the truth. Too often consumers buy the cheapest extension cord they can find. This is a big mistake, especially when it comes to buying an outdoor extension cord for your electric chainsaw. By understanding the qualities of an electrical extension cord you’ll be on your way to achieving the optimal performance for any of your power tool equipment, as well as safer operation and maximizing energy efficiency.
VIDEO | Overview on Choosing an Extension Cord
Before you read on, I just want to let you know that this guide also applies to buying an indoor extension cord. The principles are essentially the same but I focused on outdoor extension cords because that’s where people generally use chainsaws. Well, unless you have a tree growing through your house.
Consider These Factors :
- Environment: Where will you be using the extension cord and what are the variable weather conditions?
- Plug Type: 3-prong or 2-prong?
- Power Rating: Maximum current, wire gauge, and overall length.
- Safety Listing: Has it been tested and certified to be safe?
Extension cords are classified as either indoor (S) or outdoor (W) use. Although they may look similar they are indeed different. The insulation, or jacket, of an outdoor extension cord is composed of a more durable material, designed to withstand temperature changes, moisture, and in some cases even chemicals. It’s okay to use an outdoor cord indoors but never use an indoor extension cord outside as it can create a safety hazard.
Make sure the extension cord you buy has a safety listing. This is a guarantee than an independent testing agency, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek (ETL) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) has certified, validated, and tested the cord to ensure that it has met strict standards and that it is safe for its rated use.
Extension Cord Chart | Minimum Guidelines
|Cord Length||Device Amp Rating||Minimum Extension Wire Gauge|
|25 Feet||1 to 13 Amps||16 Gauge (Light Duty)|
|25 Feet||14 to 15 Amps||14 Gauge (Medium Duty)|
|25 Feet||16 to 20 Amps||12 Gauge (Heavy Duty) or
10 Gauge (Extra Heavy Duty)
|50 Feet||1 to 13 Amps||16 Gauge (Light Duty)|
|50 Feet||14 to 15 Amps||14 Gauge (Medium Duty)|
|50 Feet||16 to 20 Amps||12 Gauge (Heavy Duty) or
10 Gauge (Extra Heavy Duty)
|100 Feet||1 to 10 Amps||16 Gauge (Light Duty)|
|100 Feet||11 to 13 Amps||14 Gauge (Medium Duty)|
|100 Feet||14 to 15 Amps||12 Gauge (Heavy Duty)|
|100 Feet||16 to 20 Amps||10 Gauge (Extra Heavy Duty)|
I should emphasize that this chart represents the minimum requirements, and although this chart is fairly standard not everyone agrees on what’s best. Personally, I recommend going one step down in gauge (thicker inner wires) for electric chainsaws. For example, for a 15 amp electric chainsaw the chart suggests you buy a 14 gauge cord but I recommend a 12 gauge extension cord at 50ft for a 15 amp power tool, and 10 gauge for 100ft cord.
In addition, as the length of an outdoor extension cord increases, it’s capacity to carry electricity decreases, as explained on the Underwriters Laboratory website:
To determine what size, or gauge, cord is needed, you will also have to determine the cord’s length. A cord, based on its gauge, can power an appliance of a certain wattage only at specific distances. As the cord gets longer, the current carrying capacity of the cord gets lower. For example, a 16 gauge extension cord less than 50 feet in length can power a 1625 watt (W) appliance. A 16 gauge cord that is longer than 50 feet in length can only power an appliance up to 1250W.
Typically, outdoor extension cords will have a number on the packaging or in the listing that looks like this: 12/3. The “12” represents the gauge wire rating (or wire diameter), and the “3” means it has three wires (or conductors) inside. Sometimes the wire gauge might be referred to in a more formal manner, such as, the American Wire Gauge (AWG). The AWG system has been used since 1857.
Whoever came up with gauge ratings made things very confusing for the average consumer. The lower the gauge number the thicker the conducting wire(s) inside the extension cord and thus the greater flow of electricity. A wire’s thickness directly affects the amount of current (or amps) it can carry. Choosing a slightly lower gauge (thicker wires) will ensure electricity flows freely through the outdoor extension cord.
So, you’re better off with a slightly smaller gauge (thicker wire, greater electricity flow) than a slightly larger gauge (thinner wire, less electricity). If you’ve ever had an outdoor extension cord that feels hot, it’s because the conducting wire inside was too thin (high gauge) and electricity couldn’t flow freely due to resistance from an inadequate wire that couldn’t handle the full current for your chainsaw, or other power tool or device.
Important points to follow
- Only buy an outdoor extension cord with the UL symbol (or the recognized symbol from the country you live in). This indicates that the cord has been tested by Underwriters Laboratories and has received their official stamp of approval.
- Exposure to outdoor conditions can cause cords to deteriorate over time, so store your extension cords inside when you’re not using them.
- Only use extension cords marked “For Outdoor Use”. It should have a “W” designation. Quality outdoor extension cords have connectors molded onto them to prevent moisture from seeping in, and outer coatings that are designed to withstand damage from being dragged along the ground.
- Buy only the length you need. The shorter the better.
- Never plug an extension cord into another to extend your reach. Just use one.
- Never use a damaged cord. Whether it’s frayed, cut, or flattened. Toss it out and buy a new one.
- Keep the cord away from any moving parts of your power tool, including, chains, blades and anything else that spins, rotates or cuts.
- Always unplug an extension cord when not in use. The cord continues to conduct electricity while plugged in, which makes it a safety hazard if kids or pets chew on the cord or stick sharp metal objects into the exposed end. Serious injury could occur and it’s easily avoidable. Just unplug and store indoors
Extension Cord Letter Designations
|J||Junior service - 300V Service cord|
|P||Parallel wire construction|
|T||Made from vinyl thermoplastic|
|E||Made from thermoplastic elastomer rubber|
My Outdoor Extension Cord Recommendations
|US Wire 74025 ||4.9/5
|US Wire 65025 ||4.9/5
|Yellow Jacket 2737 ||4.5/5
|Coleman Cable 02568||4.6/5
|Coleman Cable 02408||4.5/5
|US Wire 65050||4.8/5
|Coleman Cable 02308||4.5/5
|US Wire 74050||4.7/5
|US Wire 74100 ||4.8/5
More information about amps, watts and how extension cords work
The amp rating for an outdoor extension cord refers to the number of amps it can safely transmit based on its length and gauge. Before you plug-in your chainsaw to an extension cord, you need to know that the power demand (or pull) of that device doesn’t exceed the extension cord’s amp rating. Consequently, if you plan on powering multiple devices from one outdoor extension cord, you need to calculate their total energy demands to ensure that the combined total isn’t higher than the amp rating for the cord. But, I highly recommend you use one extension cord to power your electric chainsaw, or any power tools. Keep it simple.
The maximum limit for most power tools is 15 amps because the standard US outlet is 110v rated for 15 amps and manufacturers are always trying to push the performance of their tools but there is a limit. That’s why electric saws can never compete with gas chainsaws when it comes to sheer power and speed.
You must take into account the cord gauge and the wire gauge because every foot of cord increases the electrical resistance, which decreases the power the cord can deliver to your chainsaw. And this is why you should only buy an outdoor extension cord no longer than is needed. Why buy a 100-foot cord to power your chainsaw if your yard is no further than 45 feet in any direction? Don’t do that. It doesn’t make any sense and it will compromise the power delivered to your electric chainsaw.
Sometimes the power requirements of some tools are listed in watts, and not amps but you can use this simple formula to convert watts to amps: Amps = Watts÷110. For example, to calculate the amps of a 100-watt bulb, you simply divide 100 by 110 to get .9 amps
Some tools will indicate power usage in amps, not watts, so if your chainsaw indicates that it uses 12 amps at 125 volts, then its wattage rating is 1500 watts (12×125). Watts=Amps x Volts
Watts, Amps and Volts, oh my!
If you’re like me, you might want to know what a few of these terms mean.
- Watt is a unit that measures power. Power directly refers to the speed or rate that energy is consumed or produced. For example, when you turn on a 100-watt light bulb it consumes energy at a rate of 1 watt (or 1 joule) per second.
- Amps, which is typically reduced to amp, is a unit measuring electric current. An amp is defined as 1 coulomb (a unit of electric charge) flowing past a point per second. To put it simply, amps refer to the amount of electrons passing a point in a given period of time.
- Volt is a unit that measures electromotive force. The voltage of a given system is the inclination of that system to allow electric current to flow.
What’s the Best Outdoor Extension Cord?
The best outdoor extension cord is always the one suited to the power equipment you’re using and you should never just settle for the cheapest cord you can find. If you buy the wrong extension cord you may pay the price in other ways, like burning out your tool prematurely, or even worse, creating a fire hazard. Honestly, it’s not worth the few extra dollars. Make sure you read your owner’s manual to find out what the manufacturer recommends – and never go below their recommendations. I think it’s best to go one step above their recommendations, especially if you’ll be heavily using your chainsaw, or other power tool. Follow the guidelines and always choose safety first.
If you’re looking to buy a corded chainsaw or are looking to upgrade we have a lot of great resources to steer you in the right direction. The best place to start is with our guide on how to buy a chainsaw. And if you want to buy a chainsaw but don’t want to spend a lot of money then you’ll love our section on cheap chainsaws that are reliable.
Chainsaws are complicated tools and all the options available can be overwhelming. Gas chainsaws are ideal if you need power. Electric chainsaws can’t compete with gas — and that includes battery saws and corded electric saws. Top handle chainsaws are designed to be used while working up in trees or above ground and concrete chainsaws are designed to be used on heavy-duty cutting projects, especially for applications such as construction.