In this article we compare the two largest chainsaws you can buy — the Husqvarna 3120XP vs. Stihl MS 880. These chainsaws are engineered for serious professionals, like loggers, capable of cutting massive trees with ease.
We take a close look at every spec to help you determine which one of these professional chainsaws are right for you.
Husqvarna 3120XP vs Stihl MS 880
Husqvarna vs. Stihl. When I grew up, it was Ford vs. Chevy, Apple vs. Microsoft, or IBM vs. Honeywell. Whenever you reach the top there is always another company that reaches the same peak, competing against you. In the chainsaw world it seems to be Stihl vs. Husqvarna. At the top of the professional range they are close competitors. The Husqvarna 3120XP and Stihl MS 880 are top professional logger chainsaws. The two chainsaws are the largest from each brand. Both brands are well respected, with lifetime supporters. Once you buy one you are converted and become either a Stihl or a Husqvarna guy (or girl).
VIDEO | Husqvarna 3120XP vs Stihl MS 880
The primary applications for both chainsaws are extreme logging, portable sawmills, and stump work. These chainsaws are not intended for anything else. You require advanced skills and expertise to cut with a 121.6cc saw. They are BIG, heavy, and powerful, intended to create up to five-foot cuts in wood.
But, how do they differ? How do you choose between the two most potent chainsaws from Stihl and Husqvarna? I will provide all the detail you need in our in-depth comparison of these two great chainsaws. However, before we start, let’s first introduce the products:
118.8 cc, 8.31 hp, 42″ bar and chain, Powerhead = 22.9 lbs.
- Adjustable oil pump : Allows you to control oil flow depending on application and weather conditions.
- Quick-release air filter : Facilitates cleaning and replacement of the air filter.
- Magnesium crankcase : Sturdily built crankcase withstands high rpms and tough professional use, ensuring a long service life
- Three-piece crankshaft : Forged three-piece crankshaft for maximum durability for the toughest applications.
- LowVib : Anti-vibration system
- Smart Start
- Felling marks
- Inertia activated chain brake
Documents (Husqvarna 3120XP) :
Husqvarna chainsaws are all equipped with the X-TORQ engine, with reduced fuel consumption and exhaust emission levels. The biggest Husqvarna uses a two-stroke engine with a cylinder displacement of 118.8cc. It delivers 8.31 maximum horsepower at a speed of 9000 rpm. The 3120XP develops a maximum torque of 7.7 Nm at 6000 rpm. By comparison, the very popular Husqvarna 455 Rancher uses a 55.5 cc engine developing 3.49 HP at 9000 rpm. It’s almost half the size, yet it is considered the best all-around chainsaw.
The fuel tank holds 2.64 US pints, and its fuel consumption is 570 g/kWh. Maybe because of the bigger engine, it’s 2dB(A) quieter than the 455 Ranger.
Husqvarna uses a chain pitch of 0.404,” and they recommend bars of 24″ to 42″ for general use. The chain speed at maximum power is 65.95 Ft/sec. The Husqvarna 3120XP chainsaw Weighs 22.9 LBs (excl. cutting equipment).
Tech Specs (Husqvarna 3120XP) :
- Cylinder displacement : 118.8 cm³
- Cylinder displacement : 7.25 cu.inch
- Power output : 8.31 hp
- Maximum power speed : 9000 rpm
- Fuel tank volume : 2.64 US pint
- Fuel consumption : 570 g/kWh
- Idling speed : 2500 rpm
- Spark plug : Champion RCJ7Y, NGK BPMR7A
- Electrode gap : 0.02 in
- Torque, max. : 7.7 Nm
- Equipment Recommended bar length, max : 42 in
- Recommended bar length, min : 24 in
- Chain speed at max power : 65.9 fts
- Weight (excl. cutting equipment) : 22.9 lbs
- Sound power level, guaranteed (LWA) : 116 dB(A)
- Sound power level, measured : 115 dB(A)
- Sound pressure level at operators ear : 102 dB(A)
- Equivalent vibration level (ahv, eq) front handle : 6.7 m/s²
- Equivalent vibration level (ahv, eq) rear handle : 7.8 m/s²
Stihl MS 880 MAGNUM
121.6cc, 8.6 hp, 17″ to 59″ bar and chain, Powerhead = 22.3 lbs.
- STIHL ElastoStart : Has a starting grip with a built-in shock absorber that greatly reduces the effort when pulling on the starter cord.
- IntelliCarb Compensating Carburetor : Automatically adjusts the air/fuel ratio when the air filter becomes restricted or partially clogged and maintains the engine’s correct RPM. Uses air from the clean side of the air filter to control the diaphragm and flow of fuel. When the air filter gets dirty it adjusts the fuel flow to compensate for the decrease in air flow.
- Side-Access Chain Tensioner : Adjust the chain with a bar wrench
- Decompression Valve : Vents compression in the engine cylinder, making it easier to start. Closes automatically as soon as the engine fires.
✓ View or download the MANUAL for the Stihl MS 880.
The Stihl MS 880 MAGNUM is the most powerful in the Stihl professional chainsaw range. It has a slightly better power-to-weight ratio than the Husqvarna 3120XP, and it is lighter. The Stihl is well known as being precision balanced with excellent handling and reliability.
The two-stroke engine has a displacement of 121.6cc (7.42 cubic inches) and delivers 8.6 BHP. It’ll accommodate guide bars from 17″ up to 59” in length – almost five whole feet of cutting power to tackle the most demanding jobs. The ElastoStart starter handle has a built-in shock absorber to reduce shocks when pulling on the starter cord. It is a feature that is unique to the Stihl.
VIDEO | Cutting an Oak with the Stihl MS 880 MAGNUM
Stihl OILOMATIC chains feature specially engineered grooves, designed to channel oil to critical wear areas. This superior lubrication feature helps extend chain life and reduces the tendency for stretching. The advantage is that you save on chain oil and the chain and bars last longer.
It has the same advanced carburetor technology as the Husqvarna 3120XP which I’ll explain in detail further down.
It differs from the Husqvarna in having a side-on chain tensioning mechanism.
Tech Specs :
- Displacement : 121.6 Cc (7.42 Cu. In.)
- Engine Power : 6.4 Kw (8.6 Bhp)
- Powerhead Weight : 10.1 Kg (22.3 Lbs.)
- Fuel Capacity : 1300 Cc (44.0 Oz.)
- Chain Oil Capacity : 700 Cc (23.7 Oz.)
- Oilomatic Chain : .404″ Rm, Rs 3/8″ Rs3
- Guide Bar Lengths (Recommended Sizes) : 43 To 150 Cm (17″ To 59″) Stihl Rollomatic
The position of the Husqvarna 3120XP chain tensioning screw is not ideal when used on a portable sawmill. It is to the front of the saw, next to the bar. To reach it with the chainsaw mounted to a sawmill, you will have to modify the mill. This is another feature that differentiates the Husqvarna 3120XP from the Stihl MS880 MAGNUM.
VIDEO | How to Tension your Husqvarna Chain
A chain stretches during use, you compensate by adjusting the bar further away from the sprocket, thereby tightening the chain on the bar. The tensioning mechanisms on the first chainsaws were all built into the front of the saw. They used a forward facing screw next to the bar. Some Husqvarna saws still use this method. However, the problem is that they get mucked up with bar oil and saw chips, so you have to dig a little to find them. It is also easy to gnash your knuckles against the chain whilst adjusting the chain.
Stihl implements a refinement to the design by positioning the tensioning mechanism in the side cover. Husqvarna uses this method on a few saws. The adjustment is made from the bar side of the machine, making it easy to reach on a mill. Considering that this is one of the primary uses for these big chainsaws, the screw position on the Husqvarna 3120XP is unfortunate.
VIDEO | How to Adjust your STIHL Chain
Torque vs. Horsepower vs. Chain Speed
During competitions, the Stihl MS880 is two seconds slower than the Husqvarna 3120XP on each cut. Conversely, I’ve seen some u-tube videos that indicate the opposite. Many will tell you the horsepower of the chainsaw is more important than torque. You will also hear an opposing argument in favor of torque. Internal combustion engines deliver more power as the engine speed increases. At idle it has virtually no power and horsepower increases to a point where the internal stresses reduce the engine power. Horsepower is therefore quoted at a specific engine speed when it delivers maximum power. Torque also increases to a maximum and then decreases, but the two will not peak at the same RPM.
The best engine speed for the chainsaw is when the combined values are at their peak. This will coincide with the ideal cutting speed of the chain. For most applications, it does not matter what these figures are. Bigger engines deliver more power than smaller engines and reach their peak performance at lower speeds.
The Stihl MS880 has a power-to-weight ratio of 2.535 LBs/horsepower. By comparison, the Husqvarna 3120XP’s power-to-weight ratio is 2.632 LBs/HP, making Stihl the winner by a small margin. How important is this? The difference is slight, indicating that the two are well matched. Both are powerful and will not bog down during the most arduous conditions. The biggest consideration, when handling these chainsaws, will be the weight difference.
When comparing the weight of the chainsaws without a bar, chain, and with empty gas tanks, both are heavy. The Stihl MS880 weighs 21.8 pounds and the Husqvarna 3120XP 22.9 pounds. Surprisingly so, keeping in mind that the Husqvarna has a smaller engine than the Stihl and both manufacturers strive to optimize weight reduction. It does not sound like a lot, but this weight difference means a lot in the field.
Stihl is one of the few chainsaw manufacturers that still use rubber vibration isolators; most manufacturers use steel springs. The isolators minimize vibrations generated by the saw from the handlebars to reduce user fatigue. The Husqvarna 31220XP uses springs to isolate vibrations. Even though steel springs may make a large saw feel floppy, they are better.
Steel isolators last longer and also perform better. Rubber mounts can harden, tear, or slowly wear out. Even if they never completely fail, they don’t work as well as springs to isolate vibrations. Supporters of the rubber mounts argue that they can give a saw more “feel” as they are stiffer than springs. Stihl introduced spring anti-vibration mountings on some models, but not on the MS880, which is equipped with rubber dampers.
Stihl recommends guide bar lengths from 17″ to 59″, while Husqvarna recommends modest guide bar lengths from 24″ to 48″ for the 3120XP. However, Husqvarna also indicate that the 3120XP chainsaw can power bars of up to six feet. That’s a lot of bar and chain; they tend to become floppy and add extra weight to the chainsaw.
Automatic oil feeder
The Husqvarna 3120XP delivers up to 54 ml/minute bar-oil, compared to the Stihl MS880 with 36 ml/min. No surprise then that there are many discussions over the amount of oil needed vs. what is delivered by them. Especially on bars longer than 28″. Many users refer to the manual oiler on the Husqvarna 3120XP and that it provides more oil than the Stihl. However, in the specification sheet and manual, Husqvarna indicates the oiler delivers between 30 and 54 ml/minute bar-oil. The manual lever, to be used only under EXTREME conditions delivers 40-80% more oil, depending on the oil pump’s basic setting. So, in general use, both chainsaws will use the same amount of oil. Many users mention that both chainsaws fling oil from the tip, suggesting it does not reach the bottom of the bar.
It got me thinking that using oil of incorrect viscosity is a common source of damage to chainsaws. Both manufacturers have developed optimal chain oils using a vegetable oil base. Chain oil must adhere to the chain and maintain its flow characteristics, regardless of the temperature. Using the incorrect oil type or a lack of chain-oil, leads to rapid bar wear. The chain stretches as a result, and may come off the bar. It can even cause the chain and bar to seize.
Manufacturers go to great effort to reduce the amount of oil thrown off the chain. The Husqvarna 3120XPcan possibly oil longer bars and support bars and chains with different characteristics. But this is generally the same for Stihl. With the Stihl MS880, I would stick to the recommended bars, chains, and oils. Stihl chains are highly regarded for the built-in grooves that help move oil and lubricate the chain and bar.
Putting too much oil on the bar is no solution, it is merely flung off. The oil and bar/chain combination must be good enough to carry the oil all the way to the bottom cutting edge.
The fuel tanks on both the Stihl MS880 and the Husqvarna 3120XP have a special cap that seals tight to avoid spillage. Half the cap-top flips up to create a large tab that can be used to tighten or loosen the cap. When partially opened, it will first release some pressure, and then you may open it safely. The only difference here is that the Stihl MS880 uses a cap that must be pressed down and given a ¼ turn to release pressure. The Husqvarna cap screws in and out.
The fuel tank capacity of the Husqvarna 3120XP is 2.64 US pints. The Stihl MS880 has a capacity of 2.75 US pints to cater for its bigger engine. Once again, not much difference here.
These chainsaw models are in the ANSI category of saws above 3.8 cu. in., so do not have to comply with low kickback performance requirements. Chainsaws of this size are capable of severe kickback that could result in serious injuries. Keep in mind that these chainsaws are intended for professional use and extraordinary cutting needs. You must have experience and specialized training for dealing with kickback.
Both the Stihl and Husqvarna chainsaws are equipped with an inertia chain brake. A violent kickback, when the bar tip is farthest away from you, will activate the brake. Inertia in the kickback direction activates the chain brake, even without contacting the front hand guard.
Always keep in mind that the safety features do not prevent a kickback, you must remain vigilant and ensure that a kickback will not occur.
A topic of many discussions on chainsaws turns out to be the difference between the inboard and outboard clutches. So, what is the difference between inboard and outboard clutches?
Chainsaws have a centrifugal clutch inside a drum and sprocket. The centrifugal clutch expands as the engine speed increases, making contact with the inside of the drum. The drum is fitted with either a fixed (spur) sprocket, or a replaceable rim sprocket. The Stihl MS880 is equipped with a rim sprocket, but it seems the Husqvarna 3120XP can have either a spur or a rim sprocket.
When the engine is idling (typically 2500-2700 rpm) the clutch is disengaged, and the chain does not move. When using the chainsaw, the clutch is engaged to drive the chain. If the chain stops in the wood or gets stuck for some other reason, it protects the engine by disengaging the chain drive. As a safety feature, the clutch disengages when the chain brake stops the drum during a kickback situation.
- The centrifugal mechanism of an inboard clutch is mounted close to the chainsaw body. The drum, sprocket, and chain are on the outside, over the clutch, protecting the clutch mechanism.
- The sprocket and chain of an outboard clutch are behind the clutch drum, close to the chainsaw body. The clutch mechanism fits inside the drum, visible from the outside.
Both designs have pros and cons. On the positive side, it is easy to replace the sprocket of an inboard clutch; especially when it is a rim sprocket. You simply remove the clutch side cover and pry off a C-clip. You not only do this to replace a worn sprocket, but also for routine maintenance. You may also want to exchange the sprocket to change the gear ratio and therefore the torque.
To change the sprocket of an outboard clutch you have to remove the clutch and the drum, sometimes with a special tool. You also have to remove the spark plug and block off the piston. With the chainsaw on a workbench, this may not be difficult. But out in the field, it is. Therefore, changing the sprocket is considered a more time-consuming process. You don’t often replace the sprocket in the workplace, but rescuing a saw with a pinched bar is impossible with an outboard clutch.
The advantages of the outboard clutch are that it more rapidly and efficiently clears chips from behind the clutch cover. The bar and chain are also closer to the center of the saw. It results in a narrower body, and better balanced saw that feels more maneuverable and nimble.
True to human nature, many people will favor one particular type of clutch over another. However, it makes little difference to most. The functionality is the same, although the narrower saw body of an outboard clutch could be an advantage.
Most popular professional felling saws from Stihl and Husqvarna use inboard clutches. It is, therefore, no surprise that the Stihl MS880 and the Husqvarna 3120XP uses an inboard clutch.
The engine used on the Husqvarna 3120XP is their X-TORQ reduced emission engine that runs cleaner and uses less fuel. Stihl uses a similar engine type, and both conform to all legal requirements and are fit for use in any state.
Reduced emission engine technology
The Husqvarna 3120XP uses unleaded gasoline because a catalytic converter is used to conform to the new regulations. Leaded gasoline will deposit lead particles, overheat, and destroy the catalytic converter. Saws fitted with catalytic converters have a green fuel cap to indicate that you may only use unleaded gasoline.
VIDEO | Husqvarna X-Torq Engine : See How it Works
The lowest recommended octane grade for the Husqvarna is 87 and Stihl recommends 89 octane because gas below these ratings will increase engine temperatures. Higher temperatures increase the risk of piston seizure and damage to the engine. Both Stihl and Husqvarna recommend using high-quality unleaded gasoline. Some fuel additives have a detrimental effect on elastomers like fuel lines, carburetor diaphragms, oil seals, magnesium castings and catalytic converters. It could create running problems or damage the engine.
Both are two-stroke engines with an oil/fuel Mixture of 1:50 (2%). When not using the oil supplied by the manufacturer, you should only use good quality two-stroke oil intended for air cooled engines.
When you pull on the cord to start the engine, it turns the crankshaft. Which causes the piston to compress the air/fuel mixture to fire up the engine. Doing this requires some hard work and skill to get the engine up to speed while fighting the compression buildup. It is especially true with modern high compression engines, like those used by Stihl and Husqvarna. So the engineers had to find a solution.
What they came up with, is a user activated decompression valve that vents the combustion chamber. It temporarily reduces compression in the combustion chamber during startup. The purpose is to reduce the effort needed to spin the motor with the cord. When the engine speeds up, the valve closes automatically, allowing the piston to fully compresses the air and the engine starts. The user experiences a softer pull and finds it more comfortable to accelerate the engine with the cord.
VIDEO | How A Chainsaw Decompression Valve Works
The starting effort is reduced further by electronic ignition that provides a better spark, with perfect timing to ignite the fuel.
Husqvarna AutoTune vs. Stihl Intellicarb Carburetors
Husqvarna developed the current computer-controlled generation of carburetors. An EU court ruled that Husqvarna had to license the technology to Stihl because they feared a monopoly. They complied, and Stihl called it M-Tronic. Husqvarna called their integration AutoTune. This is a carburetor, but it is re-designed to be controlled by a microcontroller. It has features similar to fuel injection, but it is not fuel injection.
Fuel injection works under high pressure and is controlled by a computer. Fuel injectors inject metered fuel into the manifold as controlled by the computer. The computer uses various sensors to determine the values of all the variables that affect engine performance and compensates for changes in the environment. It is a highly complex system that’s used in most modern cars, but is too bulky and heavy for a chainsaw.
VIDEO | How A STIHL Chainsaw Carburetor Works
Instead, they retained the carburetor. Actively controlling the butterfly valve and the fuel supply with a microcomputer. It uses a PID controller with a control loop feedback mechanism that monitors the environment and engine conditions to control process variables. It varies the amount of air entering the cylinder with the butterfly. The system used on Husqvarna chainsaws is remarkably effective and keeps the chainsaw running with a badly clogged air filter. The same filter on a chainsaw with a regular carburetor completely smothers it.
The newest version of the Stihl M-Tronic carburetor is the Stihl Intellicarb compensating carburetor. This carburetor is fitted to the MS880, and it compensates for a dirty air filter as adequately as the Husqvarna system.
VIDEO | Stihl M-Tronic carburetor
Both systems make a huge difference in the usability of the chainsaw. It extends the time you can use the chainsaw, and it also makes the chainsaw more effective in varying conditions.
Husqvarna saws use a centrifugal pre-filter mounted to the flywheel, which forces air into the machine. They call it Air-injection technology. It uses centrifugal force to accelerate larger particles in the air to the outside and away from the flywheel. In a cleaner air-stream path closer to the edge of the flywheel, an air scoop funnels clean air toward the air filter. The system is effective in most conditions but fails to filter out the smaller dust particles. This is because the flywheel cannot accelerate the small dust particles sufficiently to separate them from the air stream. They remain in the air path to the air filter, which then filters it out.
VIDEO | Husqvarna Air Filter Overview
In general use, Husqvarna air filters remain cleaner for longer during use in most conditions due to their air-injection technology. The air-injection patent has since expired and some of the newer Stihl saws now also use it. Stihl call this system “Pre-separation filtration technology”.
Unfortunately, the MS 880 does not use this technology and is, therefore, prone to filter blockages. To ensure a clean air supply to the carburetor, with maximum airflow, chainsaw manufacturers offer filters with fine or less fine mesh. The fine filter keeps the air optimally clean but tends to clog quickly. To prevent the Stihl air cleaner from becoming blocked, many professionals use a piece of stocking which is easily removed and shaken off.