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How to buy the best chainsaw

By Adele Dyer

How much do I need to spend to get a great chainsaw? What protective clothing do I need? This expert guide will help you pick out the best model for you.

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Whether you're slicing wood for the log burner or pruning the garden, you can't get the job done effectively without a reliable chainsaw.

You might be tempted to pick up the cheapest model you can, but without consulting our independent reviews, you risk buying a chainsaw that's weak and lacking on features. 

Our guide runs through the various types of chainsaws on offer based on your budget, as well as vital safety information and key features to look out for.

To see which tried and tested chainsaws we recommend, explore our expert guide on the best chainsaws.

Video: how to buy the best chainsaw 

Watch our video to see the key things to look out for when you're on the hunt for a new chainsaw.

What type of chainsaw should I use? 

Cordless chainsaws

Cordless chainsaws are ideal if you want to work among branches, as they don't have a trailing cable and are generally quite light and compact. They're less tiring to use and easier to manoeuvre than other types. It’s still worth testing one out before you buy to check it has enough battery power and will run for long enough for your jobs.

Pros: Lighter, easier to maintain and quieter than petrol chainsaws, no need to be plugged into a power source

Cons: The battery may not give you a lot of run time and they're very expensive

Cordless chainsaws are battery-powered. The battery powers the motor and drives a metal chain, with lots of cutting ‘teeth’, at high speed around an oblong-shaped guide bar. As the spinning chain makes contact with a log or tree trunk, its teeth are dragged along the surface, cutting the wood. The circular motion of the chain keeps the bottom teeth in contact with the wood, so the saw keeps slicing until it has cut all the way through or the power is stopped.

Chainsaw batteries are powerful and can take a while to charge; between 30 minutes to over two hours is normal. They are quite expensive and often cost almost as much as the body of the machine itself. However a lot of manufacturers including Stihl, Ryobi, Bosch and Makita have batteries that can be used with other garden tools from that brand so, if you keep to one brand, you'll only have to buy one battery for most of your garden tools. If you use your cordless chainsaw a lot, it might be worth buying a second battery so that you don't have to stop working while it charges.

The chain needs lubricating with specialist oil to ensure it runs smoothly and doesn’t snag. Look for a chainsaw with an integrated oil chamber that supplies this oil automatically, as this will save you time and hassle; most models come with these as standard, but it’s worth checking before you buy.

Manufacturers often have one or two standard batteries and chargers that can be used with a wide range of tools. Before you buy check to see if any of your existing tools has a battery and charger that can be used with the tool you are planning to purchase as this could save you a considerable amount of money.

As some people may already own a compatible battery and charger, these are sometimes not included in the price quoted for your tool, so check the small print before you buy.

Alternatively, you may see it as a good chance to buy a second battery for your tools. Batteries are sometimes cheaper when bought with a tool, and it’s often useful to have a second one charged and ready to go when you’re carrying out jobs that will take some time to finish.

Most corded electric chainsaws come with an 18V or 36V battery. The more powerful batteries will give you more cutting time but will cost more. Stihl, Bosch and Black & Decker make cordless machines.

Petrol chainsaws

If you have a lot of logs to cut or heavy pruning to tackle in the garden, a petrol chainsaw is a good choice; it will cut through large logs faster than any other machine and you can use it anywhere without the hassle of a trailing power cable.

Pros: Powerful, portable, great for chopping logs

Cons: High maintenance, noisy, overpowering emissions, expensive

A petrol engine drives a metal chain, with lots of cutting ‘teeth’, at high speed around an oblong-shaped guide bar. As the spinning chain makes contact with a log or tree trunk, its teeth are dragged along the surface, cutting the wood. The circular motion of the chain keeps the teeth in contact with the wood, so the saw keeps cutting until it has sliced all the way through or the power is stopped.

Most petrol chainsaws have two-stroke engines, which are similar to those used in mopeds or outboard boat engines. They normally sound similar, too – just think of the noise a moped makes to get an idea of how loud these machines are.

It’s worth bearing in mind that a petrol chainsaw’s engine will require regular servicing to keep it in good working order.

Petrol chainsaws need a certain type of fuel, which is a specific mix of petrol and engine oil. Most petrol chainsaws run on a 50:1 petrol-to-oil ratio, but check the user manual for the exact ratio your chainsaw needs.

As well as the right oil-fuel mix, petrol chainsaws need lubricating oil to ensure the chain runs smoothly and doesn’t snag. Look for a chainsaw with an integrated oil chamber that supplies this oil automatically, as this will save you time and hassle; most models come with these as standard, but it’s worth checking before you buy.

If you don’t use a petrol chainsaw regularly you must drain it of fuel and oil between uses.

Petrol chainsaws come in different sizes and power capacities depending on the sort of work they’re designed to do, from pruning the branches of a shrub to felling large trunks.

Generally, there are three categories: domestic use, heavy use and professional use. Most of the petrol chainsaws you’ll find in DIY stores and garden centres will be designed for domestic use and have a guide bar of 40cm or less. These are the best choice for cutting jobs around the garden.

Corded electric chainsaws

Corded electric chainsaws are the cheapest models you can buy. They are ideal if you’re sawing logs or pruning close to the house and can plug the cable straight into a mains socket. Often the power cable is quite short, so if you're chopping logs at the end of your garden you may need to use an extension cable and residual current device (RCD), which cuts off the power if the cable is cut.

Pros: Much easier to use than petrol chainsaws, great for chopping logs, easier to maintain and quieter than petrol chainsaws

Cons: Bulky motor and cable can make them awkward to handle, tend to lack the power of petrol machines, need to be plugged into a power source

Corded electric chainsaws are mains-powered and come with a power cable attached.

An electric-powered motor drives a metal chain, with lots of cutting ‘teeth’, at high speed around an oblong-shaped guide bar. As the spinning chain makes contact with a log or tree trunk, its teeth are dragged along the surface, cutting the wood. The circular motion of the chain keeps the bottom teeth in contact with the wood, so the saw keeps slicing until it has cut all the way through or the power is stopped.

The motor doesn't need maintenance in the same way as a petrol engine, but this does mean that if it fails, there is less chance of a simple repair.

The chainsaw chain needs lubricating with specialist oil to ensure it runs smoothly and doesn’t snag. Look for a chainsaw with an integrated oil chamber that supplies this oil automatically, as this will save you time and hassle; most models have these as standard, but it’s worth checking before you buy.

Any corded electric chainsaw can be a useful tool if you’ve got a lot of wood to cut, but they can also be dangerous and cause serious injury, so always wear full safety gear when using them.

Most corded electric chainsaws are either 1,800W or 2,000W and have a guide bar of 35cm or 40cm in length. Both are effective for cutting tasks around the garden: a 40cm guide bar can cut thicker logs than a 35cm one, and a 2,000W model will cut more quickly than 1,800W.

How much do I need to pay for a good chainsaw? 

This all depends on what type of chainsaw you want to buy, how much you can afford and how robust you need it to be. If you're using it only occasionally then a cheap, corded electric machine will be fine. But for more substantial jobs or more frequent use, you'll need to get a petrol chainsaw. Remember that you will need to buy appropriate protective clothing, too.

  • Cordless chainsaws - with the convenience of electric and the portability of petrol, they can cost as little as £95, rising to more than £400 for a top-of-the-range branded model.
  • Petrol chainsaws - more expensive than electric, although you'll find some own-brand models for less than £100. You’ll pay more for well-known brands, such as Stihl, Husqvarna and McCulloch.
  • Corded electric chainsaws - cost less than £100 in DIY and chain stores. These usually seem to have all the features you might want at a low price. But they do tend to be less robust and may not be able to cope with tough jobs such as sawing through very thick, hard, wood logs.

See our roundup of the best chainsaws to find a bargain Best Buy.

Which chainsaw features do I need? 

Our interactive tool shows the key features to look out for when you're buying a chainsaw.

Chain features

  • Guide bar: The chain runs around this, in a groove. If you're just chopping logs for a woodburner, a 30cm long guide bar should be plenty. If you do need a longer bar, you'll also need a more powerful engine to keep the chain turning fast enough around it.
  • Chain: Make sure you use the correct chain, or your chainsaw won't work properly. For the safest option, use a chain that reduces the risk of kickback.
  • Chain catcher: A handy safety feature that stops the chain if it loosens and comes off the guide bar.
  • Chain tensioning: You need to tighten the chain as you work to stop it slipping off. Look out for chainsaws with tool-less adjustment to make it easier.

Other features

  • Chain brake: Essential or safety, this bar stops you from accidentally turning on your chainsaw and automatically triggers the brake if the chainsaw jumps back towards you.
  • Oil tank: Holds the oil that keeps the chain lubricated as it moves around the bar. Transparent tanks are handy for quickly checking if you need to top up the oil.
  • Starting mechanism: The motor on petrol chainsaws can be complicated and physically difficult to start, so look for simplified or enhanced starting mechanisms.
  • Trigger: All chainsaws should have a double trigger to stop accidental starts, but some also have a second chain break in the trigger to slow the chain down after you remove your finger.

What protective clothing do I need? 

Before you start sawing, you'll need to buy a full set of protective clothing. We recommend a safety helmet, boots and ear defenders as well as chainsaw gloves and chainsaw trousers.

Find out more by reading our guide to using a chainsaw safely.

Batteries and chargers for cordless models 

Manufacturers often have one or two standard batteries and chargers that can be used with a wide range of tools. Before you buy check to see if any of your existing tools has a battery and charger that can be used with the tool you are planning to purchase as this could save you a considerable amount of money.  

As some people may already own a compatible battery and charger, these are sometimes not included in the price quoted for your tool, so check the small print before you buy.

Alternatively, you may see it as a good chance to buy a second battery for your tools. Batteries are sometimes cheaper when bought with a tool, and it’s often useful to have a second one charged and ready to go when you’re carrying out jobs that will take some time to finish.

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