Chainsaws are an incredibly useful tool used across a wide variety of industries. However, with such a broad selection available, how do you know which chainsaw is right for you?
To help you out, the team at Hughie Willett have put together this guide to understanding chainsaws and what you need to consider before buying one…
What is a chainsaw?
First things first, let’s start with a simple question: what is a chainsaw?
In simple terms, we would describe a chainsaw as ‘a saw made up of a chain of small, sharp blades that rotate around a guide bar’. In the past, this was done by cranking a wheel by hand, but modern chainsaws are either petrol, electric or battery powered.
Chainsaws became popular as a power tool because the speed of the chain blades allows you to cut through thicker materials much faster than by hand, which is perfect for industries like forestry and agriculture where manual saws are too slow.
However, a chainsaw is also a great tool for DIY enthusiasts and casual use - for example where you may need to clear a fallen tree after a storm.
Parts of a chainsaw
Before buying a chainsaw, it’s important to learn about the different parts, what they’re commonly called, and what they do. To help you understand more, we’ve included a labelled diagram of a chainsaw, alongside a brief explanation of each part and their function.
Note - whilst the essential elements are the same across chainsaw models, the design does change slightly depending on the power source and model type For reference, we’ve used a petrol-powered Stihl chainsaw here.
Front handle: this is where you hold the chainsaw during use to control and guide the blade.
Chain brake/front hand guard: the chain brake is a way to quickly stop the saw chain in an emergency, like if the chainsaw bounces off the material you’re cutting (called kickback). It also provides additional protection to your front hand when it’s on the handle.
Saw chain: the saw chain is made of individual sharp links that rotate around the guide bar, and is what will actually be cutting the wood, or other material.
Guide bar: A specially constructed metal guide which the chain drives round on.
Note - the guide bar and saw chain can be called the saw assembly when referred to together.
Chain tensioner: this is an internal mechanism that helps you tension the saw chain. This is essential because if a chain is too tight or loose, it can be dangerous, and have a negative impact on your chainsaw function.
Throttle trigger: the throttle trigger controls engine acceleration and when the saw blade moves. This needs to be engaged for the chainsaw to move.
Rear handle/hand guard: a rear handle offers additional stability when you’re using a chainsaw, and helps protect your other hand from the blade.
Throttle lock: many chainsaws have a throttle lock to prevent leaves and branches from accidentally engaging the saw blade via the trigger. This lock needs to be pressed down alongside the trigger to make the chain move.
Carburetor box: on a petrol chainsaw, this holds the spark plug and combustion carburetor which provides power to the chainsaw.
What are the different types of chainsaw?
Before you can buy a chainsaw, you need to consider what type you’re looking for. In this section, we’ll explain the two main types of chainsaw and their uses.
As the name suggests, a pole saw consists of a chainsaw saw assembly mounted onto a pole to extend the reach.
Pole chainsaws are primarily used on hard to reach areas, like for pruning or trimming tree branches from ground level. This is useful because allowing the operator to work from ground level is much safer.
They’re ideal for domestic use because battery powered/cordless pole saws are less powerful than 2-stroke machines, which makes them easier to control. For heavy-duty pruning or trimming, most industries will use a handheld chainsaw at branch level.
If you’re not sure whether you need a pole pruner or hedge trimmer, check out our Complete Hedge Trimmer Buying Guide.
You’re probably more familiar with the handheld chainsaw. This type of chainsaw is more commonly seen in popular use, and popular media.
Shop Now - Husqvarna 120 Chainsaw 14"
Handheld chainsaws are used across different industries for a variety of applications, including:
- Forestry - tree felling, maintenance and cutting logs.
- Agriculture - cutting firewood and fallen trees.
- Hobbyists - wood sculptors, DIYers, domestic gardening.
Chainsaw buying considerations
As you’ve likely gathered from reading so far, buying a chainsaw is dependent on a lot of different factors. In this section, we’ll explain several points you need to consider which can help you narrow down the best type of chainsaw for you.
The first question you need to ask yourself is what you need a chainsaw for. Functionality should always drive your equipment purchases, as this is the most important aspect.
For example, if you’re looking to fell trees, you’ll need a bigger chainsaw, with a longer guide bar and a more robust and powerful engine to provide the necessary cutting power. On the other hand, a wood sculptor needs something lighter, with better mobility and a smaller carving guide bar for precise work.
You also need to consider how often you’re planning on using your chainsaw. For frequent use, it’s worth investing a lot more into a chainsaw with more power, durability and reduced vibration. If you only need a chainsaw for occasional, light work, a cheaper and smaller model will suit you.
Lastly, you should think about where you’re going to be working. Corded, or electric, chainsaws are better for domestic use where you’re always near a power outlet, whereas petrol chainsaws are ideal for more remote or rural areas.
The next aspect to consider is how your chainsaw is powered. As we’ll explain below, chainsaws are typically powered one of three ways which will impact your purchase.
Petrol chainsaws use a combustion engine to generate power. These work by feeding petrol into the carburetor, which is then lit with a spark plug to power the chainsaw.
Petrol chainsaws are the most powerful of the three energy types, with the engine being able to generate up to 6.4kW / 8.7 hp of power. They’re also the most portable, as all you need is a jerry can to refuel on the go.
This is ideal for heavy-duty applications, especially in forests or remote areas where power is limited.
However, you do have to contend with exhaust fumes with petrol chainsaws, and they’re much heavier because of the engine. They can also be more expensive to maintain, as they need to be regularly serviced and will need the usual replacement parts such as fuel filters, air filters, spark plugs, etc.
Electric chainsaws are a great mid-range option that is ideal for domestic use because they’re much quieter than petrol models, and are typically lighter too.
Electric chainsaws are much simpler to use because they just need to be plugged into an electrical mains source. From there you can switch on and get to work, making them much easier for beginners to use.
However, the cord means you have to sacrifice a lot of manoeuvrability as you constantly have to be aware of where it is to ensure you don’t accidentally get tangled up, or cut the cord midway through your task.
Battery powered chainsaws
As a type of electric chainsaw, battery powered models share many of the same features. However, they have some distinct differences that can affect which one you should buy.
Battery chainsaws are powered by lithium-ion batteries. These are rechargeable, which is a more sustainable and eco-friendly way of powering your chainsaw.
They’re also a lighter option, which is ideal for smaller tasks or for beginners who aren’t used to holding a chainsaw for a long period of time. Plus, there’s no cord to get in the way whilst you’re working.
The main downside to battery chainsaws is that you need to remember to charge the battery regularly to ensure you’re not left with no power in the middle of a job. They’re also the least powerful, so wouldn’t be suited to heavy-duty applications.
If you’re planning on working in remote areas, this may not be the right chainsaw for you - although spare batteries will help to mitigate some of these issues.
For a more in-depth examination of the differences between the types of chainsaw, explore our guide to Petrol vs Electric vs Battery Chainsaws: Which One Is Right for You?
Working in tandem with the type of power you choose, you also need to decide which type of starter mechanism you’re comfortable with using.
Petrol chainsaws have a recoil starter. This is a rope with a handle that you pull to manually start the internal combustion engine, and can be difficult to get to grips with if you’re a beginner.
This is because there is a risk of flooding the engine with petrol - which will prevent your chainsaw from working efficiently, or at all. This happens when the choke is on the wrong setting in regard to the ambient temperature. This is easy to overcome with a little knowledge shared from our team.
Alternatively, electric chainsaws are much easier to use as you can start them with the press of a button. This method of starting a chainsaw is much more accessible for beginners, those who have limited dexterity or are suffering from an injury.
Above everything else, you need a chainsaw you can start, so this is an important aspect to consider.
Weight should play an important role in your decision making process, as this is what will dictate whether you can use your chainsaw safely for as long as you wish to use it.
Petrol chainsaws are heavy. You have the weight of the chainsaw itself, plus the fuel tank - which adds weight when full.
If you’re not strong enough to carry this weight for an extended period of time it could result in injury to you or those around you - user fatigue is a huge contributor to accidents occurring. Plus, you won’t be able to use a petrol chainsaw efficiently if you can’t lift or move it where it’s needed.
Electric chainsaws are much lighter, which makes them a lot easier for the average person to use safely.
The size of your chainsaw will affect its usability. This includes both the size of the guide bar, and of the unit as a whole.
If the chainsaw is too big for you to use comfortably, this could lead to accidents and injuries which could have been prevented. You’ll need to decide what size you can safely handle that will also suit your purposes.
You also need to decide which size guide bar you need as this will impact the materials you can cut.
A longer guide bar can cut through larger diameters, like tree trunks. However, these can be more difficult to use because the centre of gravity will shift along the chainsaw. Smaller guide bars are more controllable, and suitable for thinner branches and logs.
Depending on the materials you’re looking to cut, you’ll need to consider the type of chain you use on your chainsaw.
Full-chisel chains are sharper in the corners, which makes for a more aggressive cutting style and speed.
However, they’re also the quickest to blunt, which means they require more maintenance and sharpening. They’re also more susceptible to damage from dirt and sand, which can hamper their performance.
Semi-chisel chains are slightly rounded at the corner which helps them stay sharper for longer. Whilst they’ll cut comparatively slower, a semi-chisel chain is preferable because of its durability and safety. They’re also much easier to sharpen when needed.
Another aspect to consider is the average chain speed you need to safely complete your tasks. Chain speed refers to how quickly the saw chain moves around the guide bar, and dictates the speed through which you can cut through a material.
This is measured in metres per second, or m/s. For harder materials, you need a faster chain speed to get through the material safely and within a reasonable time frame.
A slower chain speed can be safer, as there is a reduced risk of kickback, and it’s much easier to control the blade.
Petrol chainsaws typically have a faster average chain speed (around 20m/s) because they have more powerful engines, whereas electric chainsaws are slower at approximately 9m/s.
Professional chainsaws often have various optional extras which can be bought to increase the speed of the chain. Please speak to our team who can advise you on what options are available for the different chainsaw models.
Another aspect to consider is what brand of chainsaw you’re looking for. At Hughie Willett Machinery, we have a fantastic selection of chainsaws from different brands, including Echo, Stihl and Husqvarna chainsaws for you to choose from.
Each of these brands has an amazing range of chainsaws and power tools, so you can trust that you’ll get a quality product from any of them.
However, a preference for a brand can be useful. For example, if you already have several Stihl power tools, you may want a Stihl chainsaw for consistency.
Another advantage of keeping the same brand is that you could share batteries across the product range, for example if you were to buy a battery-powered Husqvarna chainsaw the Husqvarna battery can then be used in other machines from the Husqvarna brand. This can save you money and storage space in the future, and make your life easier.
Before committing to a chainsaw, you should always see if there are any additional features that can make your life easier, or make the chainsaw work a little harder for you.
For example, many Stihl chainsaws have been especially designed to be more comfortable to use, or with a simplified tensioning system. They also have an ‘ergo start’ range, which uses innovative technology to make a petrol Stihl chainsaw easier to start.
Top tip - you can spot these models by the letters in their names. For example, the comfort range has a C at the end of the model name, the ergo start has an E, and the quick chain tensioning range is denoted by a B.
You should also keep an eye on any anti-vibration technology. Reducing the vibration makes it easier and safer to handle your chainsaw over time, so this is an important feature to look for.
Different brands offer models with different benefits, and our team here at Hughie Willett Machinery Ltd are here to help you compare and make the best decision, based on your requirements.
Level of experience
One of the most important, but often neglected, considerations for buying a chainsaw is your level of experience with this type of tool.
Whilst some chainsaws have become more accessible to members of the general public, they’re still a powerful piece of equipment that can cause serious injuries if not used properly.
Never overestimate your ability in these circumstances. If you’re a beginner, it’s worth becoming more familiar with electric or battery powered chainsaws because they have less power and are easier to start and use.
Petrol chainsaws require more maintenance, are heavier, and harder to get started, which is why they’re more suited to experienced chainsaw users who are familiar with their features.
Top tip - whatever your experience with a chainsaw, you should always use PPE like chainsaw trousers, chainsaw gloves, goggles and ear protectors, and follow the necessary precautions for your safety, and the protection of the people around you.
Looking for the best place to buy a chainsaw?
If you’re looking for unbeatable prices on your next chainsaw, you’ll find them here at Hughie Willett Machinery.
We’re one of the leading suppliers for chainsaws from top brands like Husqvarna, Stihl and Echo, so you have plenty to choose from when it comes to purchasing a new chainsaw.
This also means our friendly team of experts are knowledgeable about our products, and can give you the best advice on your new purchase.
Browse our range of chainsaws at Hughie Willett Machinery
For more information about groundcare machinery and equipment buying guides and advice, explore the Hughie Willett Machinery blog…