The summer fall seasons are behind us, and winter has arrived. Our focus as homeowners is now turned towards pruning our trees and removing unwanted timber. For many, winter also means it is time to gather wood for the fireplace or wood burning stove. Additionally, some also choose to cut down their own fresh Christmas tree.
The one thing that makes all of these annual chores easier and even enjoyable is a good quality chainsaw. Today’s modern chainsaws offer the homeowner a multitude of options that range from engine size, gas or electric power, top or rear handle, even the size of the cutting bar and style/size of the chain. While having many options to choose from can be a good thing, it can also be confusing. Safety should also be a primary concern, and must be taken into consideration when choosing a chainsaw that fits your individual needs. This guide is designed to address the key areas as they relate to choosing the right chain saw for you.
Safety Is An Important Consideration
Some consumers simply purchase a large chain saw as a “cover-all-needs” blanket type solution. However, it is worth mentioning that while this may seem like a good idea, there are multiple safety concerns that make this option potentially dangerous. Chainsaws with larger bars/chains can be difficult to control, and the operator of any chain saw, (especially the large saws) must always be aware of “kick-back.”
What is Kick-Back?
Kick-Back refers to the sudden, unexpected upward motion of the guide bar. Kickback generally occurs when the end portion of the nose of the bar (the kickback zone) strikes an object such as a knot in the wood, and the chain momentarily snags, or becomes pinched. The most common and usually most violent kickback occurs when contact is made, either accidentally or intentionally, in this “kickback zone” (see picture to the right). In some cases the blade tip may move upward and back toward the operator who could suffer a very serious or fatal injury.
1Here are some tips for addressing safety concerns when choosing a chainsaw:
– Select a chain saw that is equipped with kickback-reducing devices (e.g., chain brake, low kickback saw chain, reduced kickback saw chain) that are designed for the chain saw that you are using and meet standards like the CSA Standard Z62.3-2004 : Chain Saw Kickback, or ANSI Standard B175.1-2000: Safety Requirements for Gasoline Powered Chain Saws . Keep in mind, These devices will reduce, but will not prevent kickback.
– Watch the guide bar nose. Do not let it touch logs, branches, or the ground when saw is running.
– Cut only one piece of wood at a time.
– Run the saw at full power when cutting.
– Keep the chain sharpened to specifications (e.g. correct depth and angle).
– Match chain and bar for exact pitch and gauge.
– Set depth gauges to manufacturer’s settings.
– Maintain correct chain tension
– Hold the saw securely with both hands. Have one hand on the handle bar and the other on the grip or trigger.
– Ensure that you have firm footing before starting to saw.
– Stand to side of the cutting path of the chain saw.
– Position yourself so that you are not near the cutting attachment when the chain saw is running.
– Know where the bar tip is at all times.
– Make sure the chain brake functions and adequately stops the chain. The stopping power of a chain brake can be greatly reduced by wear, or by oil, dirt or sawdust in the brake parts.
– Install a safety tip that covers the nose of the guide bar on the saw to prevent contact with the kickback zone. The tip must be removed for making bore cuts (pocket cuts) or for cutting wood thicker than the length of the guide bar.(see picture below)
– Wear any required personal protective equipment.
– Follow all safe use precautions when using chainsaws.
Do not stand directly behind the saw.
Do not cut in the kickback zone.
Consider your individual needs
Simply stated, What do you need to accomplish with your chainsaw? Pruning tree limbs? Removing dead timber from your property? Cutting timber to be used as firewood? First, Let’s look at the three main types of chainsaws available today.
If you’ll be sawing regularly or plan to cut substantial trees, get a gas-powered chain saw. Ranging from 12-24 inches, these saws can take on jobs that less powerful saws cannot. However, these saws are heavier, require more strength to use and have a higher chance of kick-back, so make sure you can manage the saw you choose.
If you’re cutting smaller trees or will only be using your saw occasionally, an electric chain saw may be right for you. The biggest benefit of electric chainsaws is the motor requires no real maintenance. Just turn it on and start cutting. Remember, if you want to cut large trees and/or hard woods, a gas chainsaw is a better choice.
If you’re primarily pruning pesky branches and removing low-hanging tree limbs, then you’ll want a pole saw. Essentially, it’s a miniature chain saw on an extendable shaft. A pole saw provides you the safest way of trimming hard to reach tree branches. You can extend the pole up to 15 feet so you don’t have to cut from a rickety ladder. These saws are small and are not meant to take on large jobs.
Choosing the correct saw for you
If you’re looking to purchase a gas powered saw, You’ll need to determine how often you will be using the chainsaw. Gas powered saws are divided into three classes, Consumer, Prosumer and Professional.
1Consumer Chain Saws
Consumer Chainsaws are a great starting place for the novice user. These saws are equipped with features such as easy start engines, and are designed for occasional use such as after-storm clean up or removing lone trees. The typical bar length of a consumer saw is between 14 and 20 inches.
2Prosumer Chain Saws
If you will use your chainsaw frequently through out the year, then a prosumer class chain saw may be for you. These saws more power for cutting through harder wood and bigger trees and typically have a bar length of 14-24 inches. One of the main features of these saws is an adjustable oil flow, which allows the the operator to control chain and bar oiling depending on cutting conditions. Pro-sumer chainsaws are for professionals who don’t want the big price tags and homeowners who cut trees and wood on a semi-regular basis.
3Professional Chain Saws
If your need to cut several trees each day, then you may want to consider purchasing a professional class chainsaw. Professional chainsaws are light-weight, making them easier to use all day, everyday. Pro-class saws are built to withstand rigorous daily use and handle large trees and are available in bar lengths ranging from 12-24 inches.
4Corded Electric Saws
Even though the power provided by an electric saw usually does not match the power of a gas saw, Corded electric saws work well for storm clean up and annual pruning/trimming of branches closer to the ground. Corded electric saws typical operate at 8-15 amps with bar lengths that range from 6 to 18 inches. Keep in mind that since corded electric chainsaws are powered by extensions cords, you are limited to about and operating range of about 100 feet from the nearest power outlet.
5Cordless Electric Saws
Cordless chainsaws allow more versatility because you are not tethered to a power cord. Cordless saws are typically the least powerful chainsaws available, with a power range of 2-40 volts with bar lengths of 8 to 16 inches. Cordless Chainsaws are powered by batteries you can recharge. A single charge provides approximately one hour of cutting time.
6Cordless Pole Saws
Cordless Pole Saws, like cordless hand held chainsaws, are powered by a rechargeable battery, giving the operator approximately one hour of cutting time. Cordless pole saws equipped with Lithium-ion batteries typically offer improved performance, longer life and less charge loss than Ni-Cad batteries. Cordless Pole saws need little maintenance beyond sharpening the chain at regular intervals. The convenience of a cordless pole saw should be weighed against your power needs, as these pole saws are generally the least powerful of all pole saws available.
7Corded Electric Pole Saws
Corded electric pole saws are still very popular because you simply plug in the saw and go to work trimming. This type of pole saw is designed fro light duty, small-diameter trimming work, as the bar length is in the 6-10 inch size range. Corded pole saws, much like cordless saws, require little maintenance because of the electric motor. Remember that corded saws give the user about 100 feet of operating range from a power outlet, because they require the use of an extension cord to power the saw. Corded pole saws are also lighter than cordless saws because they do not have the extra weight of a rechargeable battery.
8Gas Powered Pole Saws
Gas Powered Pole Saws offer the user top performance and power over all electric saws, both corded and cordless. Gas powered pole saws are designed to stand up to heavier duty cutting as they are equipped with heavy duty bars and chains, making it the right choice if you need to cut bigger diameter hard to reach limbs. Gas powered pole saws typically offer 8-14 inch bar lengths and offer up to a 15 foot reach so you can keep your feet on the ground and trim branches and limbs safely from the ground. Though the engine on a gas powered pole saw adds more weight, these pole saws are well balanced making them easy to operate.
There are two main classes of Electric Chainsaws – Corded and Cordless. For the occasional use, Electric Chainsaws are great for trimming branches and cutting small trees close to the ground.
If you’re primary use will be pruning branches and removing low-hanging tree limbs, then you’ll want a pole saw. The pole saw class is given its name because these saws are actually miniature chainsaws mounted on an extendable pole shaft and are designed to handle smaller jobs such as pruning hard to reach branches and overhanging limbs.
Pole Saws have a typical bar length of 8-12 inches and can normally handle approximately 6-8 inch diameter limbs. Additionally, pole saws provide the operator with the safest method of trimming hard to reach branches. Most saws in this class offer the ability to extend the pole up to 15 feet so you don’t have to try and manage the use of your saw while balancing on a ladder or tree limb. These saws are inherently small and are not meant for large tree cutting jobs.
Let’s take a look at the three different pole saws:
When shopping for a chain saw, it is always a good idea to seek the advice of a knowledgeable and reputable outdoor power equipment sales professional. Discuss your needs and concerns, and the sales professional will help you select the tight saw for you based on the chain saw features that fit your individual needs.
Finally, Always employ good safety practices when using a chain saw. Never disable, remove or otherwise modify the safety features of your chain saw. These features were designed to make using your chain saw as safe as possible. Keep in mind that even though the chain saw you choose will come with safety devices and features, there is always a risk of injury when using outdoor power equipment, especially chain saws. Choose the correct saw for your needs, use and maintain the saw properly, and always be conscious of safety and you can enjoy years of reliable use from your chain saw.