And I know that cheap is relative.
I now have a fireplace so I want to be able to cut then split my own firewood. What is a good low-cost chainsaw that is also easy and safe for a beginner to use?
Gas or electric?
And I know that cheap is relative.
I got some excellent advice in this thread:
In particular, I hired someone to take down a few trees. I’m still not sure what I’ll do if some rogue tree (silently?) falls across our driveway. Maybe I’ll buy an axe.
Gas chainsaws have lots of advantages but they are sometimes a pain to start and mix fuel for. One cheap chainsaw that will will give good results is this electric Poulan model. I don’t know how much you want to spend but it is only $75 and made by a reputable company.
If you don’t know what you’re doing and your work will be one place, by all means get an electric. Gas saws can be brilliant, but they are fussy, expensive and are one of the two things an Alaskan won’t let you borrow.
Go to a big-box store, buy an electric with an 18" blade, a spare chain and the longest warranty they’ll sell you. Splitting the wood will be way more trouble than cutting it.
When it comes to chainsaws there’s a limit as to how “safe” they can be and still perform their basic task.
I have a small electric chainsaw that I purchased about ten years ago which I use to cut up the occasional fallen tree limb. For taking down or cutting up complete trees I call in a professional, but sometimes you’ve just got a fallen tree limb to cut up and haul away.
…and I’ve scared myself silly more than once when the chainsaw “caught” while in the middle of a cut and bucked off in a direction I wasn’t anticipating. Might have had to change my pants once or twice.
Ha! Something else I did when I was a lad!
Saint Cad, what kind of wood are you looking at cutting/splitting and what kind of diameter? Growing up in the Pacific Northwest we did a lot of fir (around 3 feet in diameter IIRC), some slightly smaller cedar, cottonwood and black locust. If you’re just doing small pines 6"-1" in diameter you’d probably be ok with an electric and a nice axe. If you’re doing the bigger stuff you just can’t beat gas for getting the hell through the log. They’re a bit of maintenance–bar oil, mixed gas/oil, sharpening–but you can do that in the shop at any time of day. When it’s time to cut into rounds you’re really going to want to finish with the saw sooner than later. I much preferred my time with the hammer & wedge than I did with the saw.
So my 2 cents: get the saw that will do the job the fastest so you can put it down sooner. You will not regret spending a couple extra hundred bucks 5 years from now, but you will hate yourself after your first day if you go cheap. And go for power–when you saw into a knot you want your RPMs to stay high so it cuts through it instead of binding up on it and leaping for your throat.
ETA: A longer bar is good for monster trees, but it’s also more teeth. More teeth means you can cut longer between sharpenings. And that means you will be less tempted to keep cutting when you get dull. And sharper means less likelihhod of bucking & frightening.
Question about these electric models:
We have a 400’ driveway. The likely need for a chainsaw is after a snow or rainstorm. Aren’t these going to be useless 50’ away from the house? Wouldn’t connecting eight extension cords (in the snow) qualify for a Darwin Award?
Not if you buy a decent 100 foot extension cord and plug it into a properly grounded receptacle. If you need to do your business 400 feet away a gas model is probably a more convenient solution.
This question really depends on how much money you want to save. 100 ft extension cords add to the cost as well. If you can reasonably afford it, the standard answer is to get an 18 inch Stihl or Husqvarna gas model. You can get those for a few hundred dollars and they will last for years with few problems.
No chainsaw is perfectly safe or problem free however. Get someone to show you how to use safely and effectively no matter which one you get. Most beginners get the chain bound into the the wood fairly often by making poor cutting decisions and that is a pain get it free at best and really dangerous at worst. DO NOT ever cut anything over your head like a limb. That is a quick way to the emergency room or morgue. Today’s chain saws don’t tend to kick back as often as they once did but it can still happen in the blink of an eye.
You need to know how to sharpen a chain as well. New chains cost about $20 and you can dull or destroy one in just a few seconds by hitting dirt or an embedded obstruction like a nail. Even in the best case, your chain won’t stay sharp for more than a couple of hours of cutting before it gets dangerous and ineffective. You have to learn how to take the saw apart and use a special file to sharpen it. If you get a gas model, you have to learn how to mix gas and start it too. They are usually two-stroke and sometimes require a starting procedure more complicated than a jet fighter.
The issue with a 400’ driveway is going to be line drop. You simply won’t get the voltage at the end of the run, and your saw won’t be able to deliver its rated power.
You need to factor in what your expected use of the saw is. Domestic quality saws are often only rated for 50 hours use. Really. For people that use them to cut the odd fallen branch and do a bit of trimming these will still last a lifetime. If you are going to be using the saw on a weekly basis through the winter every year you need a higher rated saw. I think Sthil call these their “farm” range. You will note that you don’t seem to get any more saw for the money, same size bar, same power. But important things, such as the bearings, strength of crankcase, are all uprated.
If you can, do a chainsaw safety training course. These will take you through how to tear down, sharpen, and generally care for your saw, as well as take you through the safe use. There are simple rules that need to be drilled into your brain.
They are not all that hard to look after, but if you neglect them they can become a real problem. I sharpen the chain once per tank of fuel. It takes a few minutes with a file, and you get pretty slick at it. Every few tanks I flip the bar. If the chain is still not ripping into wood the guides probably need levelling. Maybe do those once a year. A very typical issue with inexperienced users is to persevere when the chain is not sharp (not really blunt, just not sharp) and to push down on the saw. A sharp chain will cut with nothing more than the weight of the saw on it.
Starting is like any two stroke - environmental rules are making four strokes more available so this may be becoming less of an issue. The usual problem with starting a two stroke is to flood the engine. I find at most three starter pulls with the choke engaged, turn the choke off and then pull again, usually starts very quickly. Only engage the choke for a few pulls if it doesn’t tart after about ten more pulls. Don’t do this and you will understand why two strokes are considered the spawn of Satan.
Of any power tool, a chainsaw requires the greatest care in all respects. But they are not ridiculous. In the modern world where we expect everything to work first time and stay working with no effort on our part they are an outlier. But they are not out of the capability of anyone who can take the are needed.
I heat with wood, and thus own two chainsaws - both Stihl - that see frequent use. My comments:
Any regular use more than 50’ from a properly wired outlet strongly argues for a gas chainsaw.
There are few tools where “emphasize quality over low price” is better advice than for a chainsaw.
Unless you’re at least average in mechanical ability, judgement of forces and angles, and general handiness, serious chainsawing may not be a wise choice of pastime.
Felling trees is really dangerous. Limbing and bucking a fallen tree are not dramatically less so.
An astonishing number of people don’t wear ear protection, which is far beyond stupid.
I came across a gas chain saw at an auction at a wooden boat show. Since everyone there was into boats that were hand-made, preferably with hand tools, a buzz-kill gas guzzling oil smoking screeezzzming machine was not popular. The only bid was mine ($5). It has been working nicely for me.
All true. Chainsaws are basically the in the same category as guns except much more unpredictable and dangerous. As long as you follow a few basic safety rules every single time without questioning them, you likely will never be hurt. If you get overconfident and slack off, you may get lucky a few times but you are at risk of serious injury. I know a whole bunch of people that have been hurt by chainsaws. I never have despite felling hundreds of trees but that is only because you have to follow the rules that will protect you even when you THINK you can push it just a little farther. You just have to stop, take a break, and rethink the whole thing when you get tired and frustrated. Every person that I know that got injured by one did not do that.
Don’t buy a Poulan “Wild Thing” (gas powered). If you get a gas model, spring for a Stihl.
If it’s just an ambiance or a ‘sometimes’ thing [having a fire], you may be better off and safer to just buy cords of wood, you might even be able to buy large rounds of uncured wood or find slash piles already cut by a fuels crew in your area that would save you some money and still let you get your inner lumberjack on by splitting them when you get home. Sometimes you might be able to arrange to clean up after a tree-trimming services and you would be able to take some nicely sized and bucked logs and not even have to drive off into the forest for them.
If you are trying to heat solely with a wood burning stove I think you should probably think about how much wood you are planning on using and how much time you want to invest in it.
Not to shit on your plans, but taking enough wood to heat a reasonably-sized house is no minor work: you’ll have to be bucking reasonable sized trees, possibly felling some dead and standing timber depending on your location, many truckloads and Saturdays doing it, plus maintenance and permits etc. Definitely it becomes more economical the more you are doing it, but one trip to the ER or ICU will munch your savings in no time.
If you’re still game to go whole hog, you can’t go wrong with a Husqvarna or a Stihl. I have 2 Stihls for personal use, one 24" bar and one 36" bar. You almost have to have 2 because if one goes down when you’re an hour+ from the house you don’t want to waste the whole day. The ‘Farm’ models and up are good for near continual use. Learn to break it down and clean it each day after you use it, sharpen it at least every truckload (I keep multiple chains and just swap out then do a major sharpening when needed). Like others have said, a chainsaw should cut easily without any downward pressure from the operator. You’ll know you’ve mastered chain sharpening when you are getting 4-6 inch shavings. Expect to pay 150-200 for a quality saw that can handle this kind of use.
Make sure you take the training class from a local chainsaw shop to learn the basics of operation and safety and they should have some way of getting you in touch with people who can show you the basics of bucking and felling if you’re planning on doing any of that. Never (Never, Never, Never) go out in the forest by yourself to cut wood, unless you have a desire to preform an emergency leg-ectomy on yourself with that nice new chainsaw you just purchased. Downing and bucking trees is far more dangerous and difficult than it first appears. Safety equipment should be considered mandatory.
Honestly, I can’t see hardly any use for an electric chainsaw, don’t waste your money.
I put in over 1,000 hours on a saw over 2 seasons on hand and fuels crews and I’m still considered a relative novice. Saws are great tools and can be used safely, but be very cognizant of your limits and safety unless you want a nickname like ‘Lefty’, ‘1 Thumb’ or ‘Peg-Foot’. I don’t work for the forest service anymore, and I’m happy that we have a nice gas furnace and fireplace in our new house, although I do miss the smell of a wood burning stove sometimes, just not the work that goes with it.
Is there anything that can be done to make using a chainsaw safe, like a suit of chainmail armor? I just saw a TV show about meat-packing, and the people who cut up steaks wear chainmail vests and gloves. I wonder if it would stop a chainsaw.
Any small motors dealer will sell protective clothing for use with chainsaws. Chaps are the most common, because almost all saw injuries are to the legs, but you can get clothing for any body part.
Chainsaw PPE is basically a quilted garment, with the layers stuffed with a very, very loose weave of Kevlar or similar fibres. When the chain hits, it tears the outer covering and rips out the Kevlar fibres, The fibres then choke the chain and the saw stops almost instantly.
ETA: I highly, highly. highly recommend the use of chaps to anyone using a saw. They aren’t that expensive, and the injuries form a saw can be horrific and happen very fast. The chaps are well worth the price and discomfort in hot weather…
Listen to Xema.
When it comes to chain saws, Murphy’s Law rules.
A cheap chain saw is a cheap chain saw. Buying a quality saw is a lot cheaper than an unnecessary accident.
Buy a Stihl or a Husqvarna (or something of comparable quality). That doesn’t mean you have to buy the largest saw they have to offer. You are not a lumberjack. Just stick with their quality, ease of use and safety features.
Chain saws on logs are not to be trifled with. If it’s just branches of about an inch, well then, have at it. If you can’t feel comfortable using it, hire someone. There are far too many chain saw accidents. When there is an accident it is usually nasty.
Don’t laugh, but what about 20 volt lithium-ion electric battery chainsaw. For example a black and decker 20 volt? Gas chainsaws are a little intimidating as I’ve never used on before (and I’m on anti-coagulation medicine that means I would really bleed out).
I’ve got a couple of big logs (3’ diameter) and lots of scrap wood. The 3’ piece I’d kinda like to cut into a makeshift table for the backyard, and the remainder for firewood.
I also have English laurel hedges. Your basic electric hedge trimmer can cut maybe 1/2 inch diameter hedge but I have some nasty stuff that hasn’t been hacked back in years. I don’t think a gas trimmer could take it down through the thick stuff. I think I need a chainsaw to take the upper level down a few feet (I would be cutting parallel and not overhand).