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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. Our expert guide highlights the chainsaw features to look out for.

You might be tempted to pick up the cheapest model you can, but without consulting our expert 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.

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

Video: how to buy the best chainsaw 

Which type of chainsaw should I use? 

Our interactive tool will help you choose the best type of chainsaw for your needs.

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.

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.

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.

  • 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.
  • Cordless chainsaws - can cost as little as £95, rising to more than £400 for a top-of-the-range branded model. Cordless chainsaws have the convenience of electric and the portability of petrol.

What protective clothing do I need? 

Safety helmet

These look like construction hard hats. They're designed to protect your head from the force of impact from the guide bar if kickback occurs, provided the chain brake has been activated and the chainsaw chain isn’t spinning. They won’t stop the path of the guide bar or the chain from cutting if it’s in motion.

Most safety helmets have built-in ear defenders, and often transparent plastic or fine-mesh visors to protect the eyes from flying woodchips and dust. Prices start at about £15 online.

Ear defenders

Chainsaws are incredibly noisy and prolonged use can cause hearing damage. Whether you’re using a petrol, corded electric or a cordless battery model, always wear ear defenders. Most safety helmets will have ear defenders built in, but you can also buy them separately for about £10.

Chainsaw trousers

Chainsaw trousers are made from layers of specialist fabric designed to slow the chain down by snagging it. They won’t block the path of a spinning chain completely but, by slowing its progress, they'll make the resulting injury less severe. Prices of chainsaw trousers vary considerably, with a top-of-the-range branded pair costing in the region of £200 and the cheapest cost around £50

Chainsaw gloves

These gloves are heavily padded with similar fabric to that used in chainsaw trousers. They are designed to protect hands, while still being flexible enough to let you work comfortably, and cost between £10 and £35 to buy.

Safety boots

Buy a pair of safety boots that have a steel toe cap and a good grip to prevent accidental slipping when you’re using a chainsaw. Prices vary, starting at about £50.

To get a good deal, it’s worth shopping around and comparing prices for protective clothing. Alternatively, you can buy the whole clothing kit (boots not included) for about £100.

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.

Find out more about cordless chainsaws. 

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