What are the main types of chainsaws and what are they used for? This will be a helpful guide for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of chainsaws in general, or if you’re in the market to buy a chainsaw but aren’t sure which chainsaw type is most suitable for your needs.
Intro | Types of Chainsaws
So, you want to buy a chainsaw? We have both good and bad news for you. The good news is that there is almost certainly a chainsaw perfectly suited to your needs somewhere out there on the market. The bad news is that you will have an extremely hard time deciding which model to purchase, since there are literally hundreds of options to choose from, even within a single brand. And that’s why we are here – to help you narrow down your search by informing you about the various types of chainsaws. Once you know what type of chainsaw you are searching for, things become slightly easier. You can then start sifting through suitable models based on things such as power, bar and chain length, etc.
We can place all chainsaws into broad categories based on certain attributes such as the type of fuel they use (gas vs electric), their overall design (pole saws, top handle chainsaws, etc.), and even the type of materials that they are meant to cut through (concrete chainsaws). But chainsaws can also be distinguished based on the type of user they are targeted towards. For example, you have saws like the Husqvarna 455 Rancher which are advertised as “prosumer” models, suitable for everything from DIY work all the way up to felling and bucking of medium sized trees (16” to 20” trunks). Going one step beyond that, you get monsters like the Husqvarna 3120XP and Stihl MS880 Magnum which are designed with professional lumberjacks in mind.
And don’t think chainsaws are limited to cutting just wood. If you have the right chainsaw and chain combination, you can rip your way through pretty much everything from reinforced concrete walls to stainless steel. Maybe you didn’t know this, but there are more ways to power a chainsaw than just gasoline and electricity. We are going to briefly overview hydraulic and pneumatic chainsaws, something you will rarely see unless you work in a construction crew or the firefighting department. Another unique type of chainsaw is the rescue saw, which is very similar to a concrete saw but has some unique features such as an adjustable depth limiter and reflective markers. Without further ado, let’s get started!
Used by both professionals and homeowners, the gas chainsaw is an extremely powerful tool. It is loud, emits fumes, and requires a bit of hassle in order to get started (especially if it is cold outside). But once you have it revving, there is no tree on Earth that a 100cc gas chainsaw with a 60” bar cannot cut through. These machines are powered by lightweight 2 stroke engines, and their displacement can range from 30cc (DIY work and pruning) all the way up to 120cc (professional lumberjack saw).
The fuel they use is a mixture of engine oil and gasoline, since the crankcase of a 2-stroke engine acts as an intake and hence cannot be used as an oil sump for splash lubrication like 4-stroke motors. You have to mix engine and gasoline together in a ratio specified by the manufacturer, which is typically between 40: 1 and 50: 1 (fuel to oil ratio).
Popular gas chainsaw | Husqvarna 455 Rancher (Review)
One of the main reasons people prefer gas chainsaws, is their sheer cutting performance which cannot be matched by electric or cordless models. And this really starts to show when you begin to cut more than 3 or 4 cords of firewood per year – despite it requiring more maintenance and taking longer to start up, a gas chainsaw will keep slicing through timber all day without losing power. Keep the chain sharp, and you will easily go through 16” thick logs of maple even with a mid-range 50cc gas chainsaw like the Tanaka TCS51EAP.
One of the things you must consider before purchasing a gas chainsaw is the fact that they will almost always cost more compared to electric models, not including cordless chainsaws. A gas chainsaw will also weigh more than corded electric saws, since it is using an internal combustion engine instead of an electric motor and has extra parts like a fuel tank, carburetor, air filter, etc. which an electric model doesn’t need. Always make sure to wear hearing protection, since gas chainsaws can generate 100 to 120 decibels of noise at the operator’s ear. The large 80cc/ 100c models are louder than a rock concert or almost as loud as a jet taking off from the runway.
Gas chainsaws are great if you want to cut lots of wood in the shortest possible time or fell giant trees in the forest for sawmills and logging companies. But what if you’re an average homeowner who has never cut a tree before in their life? Maybe you are a DIY enthusiast and just recently read about the benefits of owning a chainsaw. Say you want to gift your son or daughter a new desk for their birthday. Now you’re looking for something that is both light and easy to maneuver, capable of cutting 2 x 4 and small 8” logs in your backyard. For such applications, an electric chainsaw would be perfect since it is both lighter than a gas chainsaw and much easier to start. The best part is that it requires no refueling or maintenance. Well you still have to plug it in, so make sure there is an outdoor power outlet within reach if you plan to operate an electric chainsaw around the house.
Electric means managing a cord | Makita UC3551A (Review)
So how do you decide what kind of electric chainsaw to purchase? First you need to consider the amperage of the motor which is a good indicator of how powerful the chainsaw will be. A higher amp rating means that the motor draws more current and is capable of spinning faster or generating higher torque. Most electric chainsaws will have motors in the 8 to 15 amp range but remember that amperage alone isn’t an indicator of cutting performance.
For instance, some manufacturers will try to trick you into believing that the chainsaw draws 14 amps of current on average when in reality it is the maximum current this chainsaw can draw for short bursts of time only. Once you have the amperage in mind for the job that you want to do, consider the bar length. For DIY work a 12” or 14” bar is sufficient and if you are occasionally cutting firewood a 16” bar would be needed.
For light pruning and maintenance of ornamental trees, you can get away with a 10” or even 8” bar. Note that you can’t just plug any extension cord into the wall socket if you want to operate an electric chainsaw – it has to be heavy duty. There are electric chainsaws like the WORX WG304.1 and BLACK + DECKER CS1518 which can draw up to 15 amps of current from the wall, and you will need a 14-gauge (50 feet) or 12-gauge (100 feet) extension cord.
✓ Learn more : Electric vs Gas Chainsaws
Battery-Powered (Cordless) Chainsaws
The biggest weakness of corded electric chainsaws is their limited working range. Since you’re tethered to an outlet, you can only move so far before your chainsaw stops working. And this is why electric chainsaws are utterly useless once you move outside the confines of your home. Doing post storm cleanup or cutting firewood in the forests is simply not possible with a corded electric chainsaw. But what if you could have the quiet and maintenance free nature of an electric saw, but with the portability of a gas chainsaw? Cordless units operate through onboard lithium-ion battery packs, and thanks to the various advances in motor and battery technology, the cordless chainsaws of today can match or even outperform small gas chainsaws.
Battery Power is Convenient but Expensive | Makita XCU03PT1
Cordless chainsaws use either 0.25” or 3/8” low profile chains with anti-kickback design on both the bar and chain. Newer models can give you 60 or 70 cuts on a 6” x 6” block of pressure treated pine with a single charge, which translates to just enough power for felling and limbing a small to medium sized tree in the real world. Makita and DeWalt are the leaders in cordless electric chainsaws, and they have designed universal lithium ion battery platforms which are interchangeable between a range of cordless tools. The same LXT 18V battery you use for your Makita impact driver or lawn mower can also power your 36V cordless chainsaw.
Cordless chainsaws have their weaknesses too, for instance – they tend to lose power over time, especially as the battery goes under 20 or 30 percent charge level. You can notice the decreased power if you are cutting beams on a construction site or trying to fell a tree. When buying a cordless chainsaw, pay close attention to the Ah (Ampere hour) rating of its battery – this will tell you how much energy the battery can supply before it needs to be recharged. Even a 40V cordless chainsaw can outperform a 60V model if it draws more amps from the battery. A 3Ah battery can supply 3 amperes of current continuously for 1 hour before going dry. With a 9Ah battery, you can draw up to 3 times the energy of a 3Ah battery within the same period of time.
When you want to prune some branches on the top of your ornamental tree but are scared of climbing up on a ladder with a chainsaw in your hand, try out a pole saw. These are basically tiny electric, or gas chainsaws mounted on top of an extending pole for better reach. You don’t have to bother with ladders, you can keep your boots on the ground and reach parts of the tree that are 6 to 8 feet above your head. Pole saws can be used by anyone from children to adults, but we suggest that you treat them like regular chainsaws since they can easily cut through clothes and human flesh despite their diminutive nature and small bar sizes.
Cut High Branches Safely | Remington RM1035P Ranger II
Pole saws can come in two variants – you either have the entire chainsaw mounted at the top of the pole, or you have the powerhead and bar placed at separate ends of the pole (2-in-1). One example of a 2-in-1 pole saw is the Remington RM1035P Ranger II. You can release the chainsaw from the top of the pole without using any tools, thanks to the quick-release button. Then you can simply remove the handle + chain brake part from the pole and slide it onto the chainsaw. If you notice any overgrown branches that are inching dangerously close to your house windows, use the saw in pole mode and fell the branches without having to climb any ladders. Once the branches are on the ground, you can disconnect the chainsaw from the pole and use it in standalone mode to chop up the fallen branch for firewood during the winter.
A more traditional option would be the BLACK + DECKER LPP120 20V cordless pole saw. It is meant exclusively for light trimming, allowing you to cut down damaged tree limbs and branches up to 10 or 14 feet above the ground. This pole saw is cordless unlike the Remington RM1035P, so you can actually take it around an orchard or garden with a couple extra 20V batteries in your belt and do a whole day’s work of trimming and pruning.
Some pole saws with separate bar and powerhead also allow you to convert them into other tools such as hedge trimmers or blowers with a couple attachment changes. Take for instance, the Remington RM2599 Maverick – it has a pole with a 25cc 2 stroke engine mounted at the base along with a full wrap handle. At the business end, there is a self oiling 8” bar and chain. You can change this into a hedge trimmer, blower, etc. just by removing the chainsaw bar and fixing a “TrimmerPlus” attachment.
Safer Alternative Chainsaws
Not defined as a specific class of chainsaw, rather it is the common name used when referring to a type of compact chainsaw that is designed with the bar and chain enclosed underneath a protective outer structure. This way, you can’t accidentally touch the spinning chain, or get it snagged in your clothes. Most of them are designed to cut wooden branches up to 4” thick and are electrically driven.
The prime example of a safety chainsaw is the extremely popular WORX JawSaw. This is a basic 5amp electric chainsaw with a tiny 6” bar, the cool thing about it is that the bar can pivot around the drive sprocket. And all of it is enclosed within an external steel structure that resembles the jaws of a predatory animal. There is a pump action lever and handle at the rear, by moving this handle forward and backward you make the bar of the chainsaw go up and down within its “jaws”. This sweeping vertical motion lets the JawSaw cut through tiny branches and shrub while keeping its user away from all the sawdust and flying debris.
Designed to Make Cutting Branches Safe | Worx WG320 JawSaw 20V
In case the chain snaps or if you hit a nail embedded within the wood, you don’t have to worry about a broken chain link flying at your face because of the protective enclosure around the saw. It only weighs 8.1 pounds and comes with a self-tensioning chain so senior citizens and younger teens can use this chainsaw without much difficulty. You can take down low hanging branches, chop up fallen branches, cut limbs that are blocking sunlight from reaching flower plants, or trim hedges in your garden. It even supports an extension handle, so you can use it like a traditional pole saw.
There is even a 20V cordless version of the JawSaw, called the WG320. Another safe alternative to traditional chainsaws, is the BLACK + DECKER LP1000 Alligator Lopper. It is designed like a traditional lopper, with long scissor like handles and a pair of pivoting jaws within which is enclosed a tiny 6” chainsaw bar.
Top Handle vs Rear Handle Chainsaw
When you move the handle from the rear of a chainsaw to the top, you do two things – make it much more compact, while also improving the weight balance around the handle. Now you have got yourself a top handled chainsaw with most of the weight hanging right underneath the handle (engine, fuel tank, etc.). Top handled chainsaws are designed to be used by professional arborists and tree climbers for limbing operations at extreme heights.
These chainsaws need to be compact and lightweight, so a tree maintenance professional can swing his chainsaw around with just one hand while using his other hand to stabilize himself on the tree. They can be used by common people such as homeowners for DIY projects and firewood cutting but know that the kickback with these tiny saws will be harder to control since your two arms are so close to each other. With a rear handle chainsaw, you can maintain a much firmer grip and reach out further without having to bend your back as much.
The bar on most top handle chainsaws will be around 14 to 18 inches in length, and they typically feature 40 to 55 cc engines. There will be a lanyard loop on the back, so you can secure the chainsaw to your harness or belt while climbing a tree or working inside a bucket 70 feet above the ground. One nice thing about top handle chainsaws is that they are much lighter and don’t require as much wrist movement while making cuts, so people with back problems who don’t want to lug a 16 pound chainsaw along with them all day can pick up one of these for pruning or limbing.
Remember that top handle chainsaws aren’t intended for felling trees, and if you try to do so you may hurt yourself badly. On the ground, you should only use them for pruning and limbing logs or chopping up fallen branches. They are compact and extremely maneuverable, so you can effortlessly weave through thick brush and branches without getting your arm or chainsaw bar stuck.
Similar to concrete chainsaws in many ways, with certain features that make them suitable for use in high risk environments. A rescue chainsaw is usually equipped with a 75cc or larger 2 stroke engine that has unique modifications made to its pistons and crankshafts for superior durability and higher power output. The air filters on a rescue chainsaw are several leagues above what you would find on a consumer saw, they are designed to suck more air into the carburetor allowing the engine to rev higher and generate more torque so that it doesn’t bog down while cutting through a roof or ventilation hatch.
The Ultimate Rescue Chainsaw | STIHL MS 461 R Rescue
You will find that some rescue saws are equipped with special cutting depth limiters on the bar which prevent the chainsaw from digging too deep into the material. When firefighters are cutting through the roof of a house, they don’t want to accidentally chop off the support members or hit a rafter. Typical rescue saw bar lengths range from 16” to 24” with the majority being 18 or 20 inch models for a nice balance of reach and maneuverability during ventilation operations. These saws are equipped with special carbide tooth chains that feature thicker cutters, thicker tie straps, and thicker drive links (bigger gauge as a result).
The chain of a rescue saw is designed to go through moderate quantities of metal stuck in the wood and can keep on running even when a couple of its teeth are damaged or completely broken off. A rescue saw can cut through car doors, roofs, bulletproof glass, metal sheets, train compartments, lightweight concrete, etc. You will notice that rescue chainsaws have oversized D-shaped starter handles so firefighters can fit their hands inside while wearing super thick gloves. And they have reflective stickers on them that glow in the dark for higher visibility. A fine example of a rescue chainsaw is the Stihl MS 461R. It has all the unique features we talked about, and a special metal guard in front of the muffler to protect the exhaust from dust and soot. The muffler guard also prevents hot exhaust gasses or sparks from flying into combustible materials lying nearby the rescue personnel.
Concrete Chainsaws & Utility Chainsaws
These are used by construction crews, HVAC installation workers, rescue personnel, military, and demolition teams. Anything that you thought was really tough and impossible to cut through before, won’t look so tough when it is facing the business end of a concrete or metal cutting chainsaw. Reinforced concrete walls with steel rebar, fiberglass panels, rocks, Lexan glass, HDPE pipes, steel plates, masonry, cinder blocks – you can easily cut through any of these materials with a concrete chainsaw. The type of chain used on a concrete chainsaw is very specialized – it consists of tiny synthetic diamond pieces molded into a metal alloy base which is then welded onto the cutters of the saw chain.
Engineered for Construction Professionals | Husqvarna K 970
Unlike a regular woodcutting chainsaw which uses chisel cutters to chip away at the wood, concrete chainsaws don’t slice through or chip away the material. Instead, they act like sandpaper – they grind down the surface of the material at an extremely fast pace. And despite how powerful they are, concrete chainsaws don’t kickback vertically since their chain doesn’t get caught like a traditional chainsaw. But they can kickback linearly if the material pinches the chain by collapsing onto it from both sides. All concrete chainsaws are fed water through a hose to cool the chain and carry out all the slurry from the bar.
There are several types of utility/ concrete chainsaws. They can be powered by gasoline engines (Stihl GS 461 Rock Boss), hydraulic motors (ICS 890PG), or pneumatic motors (ICS 701A). Hydraulic chainsaws are capable of much heavier duty work than gas chainsaws and generate more torque. These are the chainsaws you will find on mechanical timber harvesters, using .404” or 0.75” pitch chains. Hydraulic chainsaws must be connected with a separate power pack which is comprised of a gasoline engine and hydraulic pump.
This power pack pumps hydraulic fluid into the chainsaw at pressures of 2500 psi and at a rate of 8 or 12 gallons per minute. There is a portable water reservoir as well, which feeds water into the chainsaw at a pressure of 20 psi or higher, to keep the chain cool and lubricated as it slices through concrete and metal. Hydraulic chainsaws don’t need to breath air, they emit no fumes or sparks by themselves and are less noisy compared to gas chainsaws, therefore you will find them being used in environments like coal mines and underwater operations where a gas chainsaw cannot operate. Pneumatic chainsaws are very similar to hydraulic saws except these operate on compressed air.
Husqvarna has an entire website dedicated to their construction industrial grade power tools and equipment including their full line of concrete chainsaws and power cutters. If you’re a construction specialist you’re already well aware of the depth and quality that Husqvarna offers.
Learn more about what STIHL has to offer for construction experts by visiting their site.