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If you’re in the market for a chainsaw and want the best combination of power and portability available, there’s just no substitute for a gas chainsaw. You can buy a gas chainsaw for light pruning and woodland tidying, or you can buy a monster gas chainsaw for taking down a forest. Indeed, there are a wide range of gas-powered chainsaws to choose from. So how do you judge which is the best for you?
At BestReviews, we offer well-researched, independent guidance on the best products available. We buy what we test rather than accepting manufacturer samples, and we pride ourselves on our unbiased, objective reviews.
The five chainsaws above are those that receive our highest recommendations. Please feel free to click through the product matrix to find out more about them. If you want to learn more about gas-powered chainsaws in general, please continue reading this shopping guide.
In the past, gas chainsaws had a reputation for being noisy, dirty, difficult to start, and kind of scary unless you happened to have lots of experience with them.
But the advent of powerful electric chainsaws has forced manufacturers of gas chainsaws to make their tools a whole lot more user-friendly. And let's be honest, how long does mixing gas and oil really take? A couple of minutes? Once done, a gas-powered chainsaw will run and run. There is no cord to worry about and no stopping halfway through a job because the battery has gone flat.
As good as electric chainsaws might be, they still don't offer the performance power that gas chainsaws do. A professional wouldn’t be without one. Even for occasional users, a gas chainsaw offers reliability and an established technology that many prefer.
How do you choose the best gas chainsaw for your needs? A 60cc chainsaw with a two-foot blade might be an awesome beast that will fell enormous trees, but it's certainly not the right tool for everyone. Below, we’ll examine each of the key elements to consider when shopping for a gas chainsaw: motor, bar, and operation.
Luke owned and operated his own lawn and landscaping business for over a decade. Founding the business and growing it prior to an acquisition, Luke led all procurement decisions, from the purchase of blowers and lawn mowers to weed whackers and tillers. Luke uses all of these machines regularly.
Most chainsaw motors are two-cycle (also called two-stroke) motors. Instead of having engine oil in a sump (which would add weight and make it cumbersome to carry around), you mix a small amount of two-cycle oil with gas. Common rations are 40:1 and 50:1, but you should always check your chainsaw operating manual to be sure.
In terms of power, gas chainsaw motors cover a fairly small range. You'd be unlikely to find one under 30cc or over 75cc. Machines using a 30cc to 40cc engine would usually be considered consumer-grade chainsaws – the kind you would use for general pruning, yard maintenance, and storm clearance. A motor like this usually produces around 1.5 to 2 horsepower.
If you step up to the 40cc to 60cc range, you’ll find gas chainsaws that are often referred to as “ranch” or “farm” chainsaws. Producing somewhere between two and four horsepower, these tools can handle a heavier workload. The majority of homeowners, even those with substantial properties, would never need anything more powerful than this.
Chainsaws with motors above 60cc can produce anywhere from four to eight horsepower. These are specialist tools for the serious professional. In fact, they're often so big that they're only used for tree felling.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Husqvarna Rancher Gas Powered Chain Saw
A Cut Above
There's probably no better-known chainsaw brand than Husqvarna, and their 24-inch Rancher underlines why it's often the professional's choice. It's superbly built. The 60cc motor provides the consistent high power that a saw of this size demands. This is a full-on forestry chainsaw, yet for all its potency, it's still easy-starting and easy to live with. It's not a beginner's saw, but if you've got some experience and are looking for more performance than an entry-level chainsaw offers, it's an excellent choice.
On a chainsaw, the blade that the cutting chain runs around is called a bar. Different bar lengths offer different cutting capacities. Therefore, a chainsaw’s bar length gives an indication of intended use. However, it's not a direct translation.
Using the right technique, a chainsaw with a 12-inch bar is theoretically capable of cutting down a tree nearly two feet across. But in practice, that's not likely; the motor on a 12-inch gas chainsaw just isn't going to provide enough power for that.
The following is a better guide to general chainsaw performance.
If you have little experience using a chainsaw, consider a model with a bar of 14 to 18 inches. This size gives the best balance of power and manageability. Most people would never need anything else.
A 12-inch to 14-inch bar will generally be matched to an engine in the 30cc to 40cc range. You end up with a tool that's relatively light and easy to manage – a tool that’s perfect for clearing overgrown areas, pruning, lopping, and cutting logs. It's capable of felling a modestly sized tree on occasion, but it's not the machine for doing that regularly.
A 16-inch to 20-inch bar may be be paired with a 40cc to 60cc motor, though the latter is unusual. While it's easy to think of this kind of chainsaw as “medium” or “average,” there's no way that should be interpreted as a derogatory description. These are powerful, flexible tools that can do pretty much everything a small chainsaw can do, but they have the capacity to work hard all day if needed.
Chainsaw bars of 20 inches and longer are found on professional-grade models – big tools for heavy-duty logging over extended periods of time. These gas-powered giants demand a considerable price and a high-level of skill to get the most of out of them. For most people, a bar of 20 inches or greater would simply be overkill.
There are always chainsaws that overlap these parameters. In those cases, we would want to look carefully at why a particular motor/bar combination had been chosen.
Most chains have a 3/8-inch pitch (the distance between rivets). Gauge (width) can be 0.050, 0.058, or 0.063 inches. A wider chain removes material more quickly, but it may not fit your bar. Unless you're a pro, stick with the chain size that your saw was supplied with.
The key to the right combination of motor size and bar length is balance. The gas chainsaw guide above gives a good indication of what works well together. How easy a chainsaw is to use should also figure prominently in your buying decision.
A gas chainsaw’s heaviest component is its engine. More power therefore means more weight. If you’re fairly fit, a heavier chainsaw shouldn’t be a problem. But most people are concerned about user comfort and minimizing fatigue, and rightly so. There's no point buying a heavy chainsaw if you don't need one.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Husqvarna Rancher Gas Powered Chain Saw
According to our research, Husqvarna actually invented the inertial chain braking system, so it's no surprise that this safety feature is included on the Husqvarna 460 Rancher Gas Chainsaw. The top handle and shield/lever are canted at seven degrees, which is purported to offer a better grip and reduce user fatigue. We appreciate this feature, as operating a chainsaw while tired is never a good idea!
Starting has long been considered something that was difficult with gas chainsaws. However, good modern gas chainsaws are much easier to start thanks to electronic ignition, automatic chokes, air purges, and other start-friendly features.
The key is to follow the starting procedure as explained in the manufacturer's manual. Many times when people complain of troubles, it's because they've tried to start a chainsaw using a method they used years ago – and their new machine is different.
If you read your manual and follow the instructions carefully, starting a gas chainsaw shouldn’t present any problems.
Starting problems are often the result of not following the manufacturer's procedure. It's important to follow the instructions closely.
Automatic Chain Oiler
If your chain isn't lubricated properly, it will overheat and stretch, leading to poor cutting performance and shortened life. An automatic chain oiler is a definite bonus.
The easier it is to adjust your blade, the better. Many chainsaws have a tool-free adjuster that is fast and simple.
A chain brake is an excellent safety feature that is usually incorporated into a guard for the front handle. Push it forward, and it prevents the chain from rotating when the engine is running. Pull it back, and the chainsaw works normally.
All gas chainsaws should come with a blade cover. A carrying case is a bonus.
In certain states, it's illegal to use a gas chainsaw with a motor that isn't CARB-compliant. Check local regulations before buying.
You'll be wearing gloves when you use your chainsaw. As such, a saw with nice chunky grips and easy-to-use controls is preferable. And because the chainsaw will vibrate, an anti-vibration device will also make the tool more comfortable to use.
As previously mentioned, it’s important to become familiar with your gas chainsaw user’s manual.
In general, however, you should do the following to ensure proper chainsaw maintenance:
Check the blade tension and adjust it regularly.
Check the chain oil level regularly. If you have an auto-oiler, make sure that it’s working properly.
Before you turn on the saw, perform a quick check to make sure nothing is loose or damaged.
If you’re storing you chainsaw, drain the carburetor and empty the fuel tank first. Remove the blade and bar, give them a light coating of oil to protect them, and keep the tool in a dry, dust-free place.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Husqvarna 2 HP Chainsaw
Big Brand, Massive Value
The Husqvarna 240’s 38cc motor is a powerful option for a saw of this size. Combine that with the 16-inch bar, and you have a tool that will do all the pruning, lopping, and firewood-cutting that most people would ever need. It’s an outstanding value, too.
There are some very cheap gas chainsaws available, but we advise caution. A low-quality chainsaw may not stand up to the rigors required of it, and component failure could have serious consequences.
Many good-quality gas chainsaws with a motor of 30cc to 50cc and a bar of 12 to 20 inches fall in this price range.
Professional-level gas chainsaws can be found in this price bracket. As you can see, they jump substantially in price.
Low kickback bars help prevent accidents, but they aren't foolproof. You should still follow proper cutting procedures.
While chainsaws are not the scary tool they're often made out to be, there's obviously an inherent danger in something with the power to rip through trees and branches. Sensible precautions will help keep you safe.
Wear work gloves, ear protection, a face shield, and sturdy footwear at all times when you operate a chainsaw.
Make sure your body is properly balanced and your footing is firm. Always work in front of you; never twist to the side as you work with your chainsaw.
Never over-reach with your chainsaw, and never cut above shoulder height.
Make sure you understand how to turn the chainsaw off quickly.
Make sure the chain is properly adjusted. Replace it if it is worn.
Start the chainsaw on the ground. On most gas chainsaws, the rear handle is designed so you can put your foot in there to keep it steady.
Never operate a chainsaw when you’re tired or unwell.
If you need to cut high branches, using a pole saw is much safer than trying to cut from a ladder with your chainsaw.If you need to cut high branches, using a pole saw is much safer than trying to cut from a ladder with your chainsaw.
Luke advises that you need a chainsaw at least 16 inches long to fell trees. An 18-inch saw is most appropriate for larger trees and firewood.
If you've never used a chainsaw before, start on small branches and work your way up. Get comfortable with the machine.
Kickback is the most common problem when sawing. Avoid cutting with the tip of the bar. Never undercut.
Never make adjustments to your chainsaw while the engine is running.
Keep your work area free of children and pets.
Beware of fuel spills that could start a fire.
Often, poor chainsaw performance is a result of a badly adjusted or blunt blade. Check your blade regularly and sharpen it as needed.
If your chainsaw is smoking or choking, check that the air-intake slots are not blocked by sawdust or debris.
Don't be cheap with replacement chainsaw blades. A high-quality replacement can be like having a whole new chainsaw.
If the majority of what you do is woodland management that rarely requires tree-felling, consider a small, top-handled gas chainsaw. These tools have plenty of power but are remarkably compact.
Q. How will I know when to sharpen my gas chainsaw blade?
A. The manufacturer will probably suggest a time frame, in working hours, by which you should sharpen the blade. But if you don't use your saw often, it's tough to keep track of the number of hours worked. Don't worry; you'll know anyway. When your chain fails to cut efficiently, it tends to stall or jam. You'll get fine dust or sludge instead of the sawdust you're used to. In extreme cases, the saw will burn the wood where it's rubbing instead of cutting.
Q. How do I sharpen my chainsaw blade?
A. You can sharpen your chainsaw blade with a round file specifically designed for the purpose. It may take a bit of practice to get the angle right. Round files cost very little; for a bit more money, you could buy a jig that holds the blade and file at the proper angle.
Easier still is a mechanical sharpener. Several models are available. Alternatively, you could find a local garden center or hardware store that offers a sharpening service. For a few dollars, they'll do it for you.
Q. Can I buy a replacement chain from a brand other than the manufacturer of my chainsaw?
A. You can, but we advise against doing so if you’re just trying to save some money. You should always buy high-quality chain replacements from reputable makers. They stay sharp longer, last longer, and may even improve the performance of your chainsaw.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.