Purchasing power tools can be confusing and stressful. You don't want to spend more money than you need to, but at the same time, there are plenty of brands and products out there that aren't going to get the job done. If you make a purchase without doing the proper research you could end up with too much or not enough chainsaw, and you could be wasting hundreds of dollars. There is also a chance that you don't need a chainsaw at all. Continue reading below for our buying guide or head over to our extensive cordless chainsaw review to see a side-by-side breakdown of which models are the best.
Deciding If You Really Need a Chainsaw
The first thing to consider is whether or not a chainsaw is the right tool for you. If you're only doing some light pruning on an ornamental tree you might want to think twice about buying one. It's crucial to consider how much time, money, and effort you're willing to spend on learning how to use and maintain a very hazardous tool. It's possible that a simple hand saw or telescoping pole saw can take care of all of your needs. For larger jobs, especially involving actual tree removal, we recommend that you hire a licensed, insured professional tree service or arborist.
Types of Chainsaws
Chainsaws come in a vast array of sizes. On one side of the spectrum, there are behemoth gas-powered models with bar lengths of 5 feet that weigh upwards of 25 pounds — these are made for heavy-duty logging. On the opposite end, there are tiny battery-powered models that can't do much more than trim a few small branches, but that may be all that you need. All chainsaws essentially fall into two main categories — gas-powered and electric.
Chainsaws have been around for a long time, arguably hundreds of years. In the early days, they were gaudy, heavy tools that took more than one person to operate. Since the invention of the internal combustion engine, humans have fitted one to just about any tool possible, so it's no surprise that gas-powered chainsaws eventually became the standard hand tool in the lumber industry. Gasoline has its benefits as opposed to electric. If you're going to be using the saw somewhere where there isn't a power source to recharge your battery on an electric saw then you might be out of luck if it dies partway through a project. Bringing a gas can along is pretty easy in most cases. For all-day, constant use a gas-powered saw will likely be a better solution unless you plan on hauling multiple batteries and a way to charge them to the location of your project or job site. Also, electric saws have yet to develop a model with enough power to spin a longer chain on a bigger bar. For bigger trees and cuts you're still going to need a gas powered saw.
There is a whole slew of advantages to using an electric powered chainsaw rather than a gasoline model. One of the prime benefits is the reduction in noise. They are definitely quieter than gas-powered saws when they're operating, but the best part is that unless you are throttling the saw they are silent. Other benefits include the lack of a pull cord, a choke lever, or the need to mix two-stroke oil and gas to an exact ratio. Our very favorite advantage of using an electric chainsaw as opposed to gas is there are zero toxic fumes. Anyone who has huffed two-stroke exhaust all day knows the smell and taste of chainsaw smoke all too well.
Corded vs Cordless
Within the category of electric chainsaws exists two subcategories — corded and cordless. Corded models are the least popular of the variations of chainsaws, but they are definitely not the least powerful. Being plugged into the grid has its advantages — having 120 volts for a house current means a whole lot of cutting power. The main drawback is, of course, the cord itself. Unless your trees or wood stack are very close to a plug or you have a generator you don't mind lugging around, corded chainsaws are generally impractical for the job. A terrific quality of chainsaws is that they are easy to move around. Loggers and firefighters take them deep into the wilderness, outdoorsy folks like to take them camping, and commercial tree services send climbers to the tops of enormous trees with them. All of these tasks are either difficult or impossible with a cord. Our final criticism of corded versions is that the cord adds a bit of a hazard in the form of something to trip on or nick with the chain.
Cordless chainsaws combine the best of both worlds from the electric and the gas-powered models — Like corded models, they don't produce smoke and they're relatively quiet, and they are similar to gas-powered saws in the sense that they are very portable. If you're sick of gasping for fresh air while you work, struggling to get your engine started, and the constant idling of your chainsaw but you still want the performance and flexibility of not having to think about electrical wires, a cordless model is the right choice for you.
I'm going cordless! Now what?
Before you purchase a cordless chainsaw you must first define the main purpose or application for which the saw will be used. If you are a professional landscaper or tree worker then you are probably going to want to purchase a different saw than someone who's going to trim a few trees once or twice a year. If you are close to electricity then a saw with more cutting power likely makes sense. If you are planning on using the chainsaw where you won't have a power source then you should consider purchasing a saw with more battery life or even additional batteries. Gas-powered chainsaws all generally have the same anatomy, electric chainsaws not so much. There is a large degree of variability as far as where the battery ports are, how to turn them on and off, and how to throttle the saw. If you already own power tools, there's a chance you can buy a saw that uses batteries and a charger that you already own. Some brands sell landscaping bundle kits that include other tools such as leaf blowers, string trimmers, and hedgers. If size and weight are deciding factors for you then purchasing a saw with a shorter bar and smaller body would be wise. Also, it should be noted that, in general, batteries with more voltage are heavier.
If you are only going to be using the saw for short periods of time then there's no reason to spend the money to get extra voltage. If you're going to be trimming trees in the backyard then it may make sense to get a saw that is lighter and easier to lift. For some, the main task of the chainsaw will be cutting firewood to prepare for winter. If this is the case then it probably makes sense to get a chainsaw with a battery that is known for its longevity and power.
More vs less maintenance
Changing and tensioning chains is the most technical aspect of chainsaw maintenance so it is important that it is as painless as possible. If you aren't comfortable using tools then a model with tool-free chain tightening would be a good idea. The downside to the tool-free tightening systems is that they're made out of plastic, so if it fails your saw might be useless. The models that use bolts to attach the bar and chain may be preferable for folks that like to be sure that their saw chain is tensioned to their exact specifications. There are also models with onboard chain sharpening stones that can increase cutting performance by simply holding a lever that holds an internal sharpening stone against the chain and running the saw at full throttle for a few seconds. Sharpening chainsaw chains truly is an art. If you don't have the time or interest to learn how it's done then you should consider a saw with an integrated sharpening system.
We hope that you now have all of the advice needed to buy the best cordless chainsaw for you. If you are curious which saws we have found are the best for certain applications, read our comprehensive chainsaw review.