Overview: Chain saw reviews and best features
With the top four manufacturers offering more
than 80 models combined, choosing the right
chain saw can be a daunting task. To help you
make a choice, we divided the saws into two
categories based on cost and engine size. Then
we fired them up and made hundreds of cuts.
We compared features and performance. Choose from the ones that best fit your particular needs and budget.
But first, especially if shopping for your first chainsaw, read through the chainsaw features we love. They’ll orient you to the key problem-solvers that manufacturers build into their products and make chainsaw use safer and easier.
Many of the features listed below, like tool-free chain tensioning, are found on the entire
range of saws. Others, like an air pre-cleaning system, are only available on more expensive
models. Go online or stop at your local dealer to pick up manufacturers’ literature that outlines
the features and offers you comparison charts to help in your selection.
Feature 1: Tool-free chain tensioning
The chain on your saw has to be tensioned correctly.
If it’s too loose or too tight, it can damage
the bar and present a safety hazard. Without tool-free
tensioning, adjusting the chain tension
requires a wrench and screwdriver. With this innovation,
you don’t need either.
Systems vary slightly among saws, but in general,
the nuts that secure the bar to the saw’s body
have been replaced by a mechanism built into the
clutch cover. You loosen the bar by hand and then
turn a knurled wheel of some sort to adjust the
chain tension. We like this feature and think it’s
worth spending a few extra dollars for.
Feature 2: Choke and on/off switch
Starting a cold chain saw requires closing the
choke and increasing the throttle speed. To stop
the saw, you switch it off. Some saws combine all
these functions in one switch. Others have separate
on/off and choke switches.
We prefer the type of switch found on the
Husqvarna and Jonsered saws because it’s large
enough to operate easily with gloves on, pushing
down on the switch stops the engine, and the
switch automatically returns to the “run” position.
You don’t have to switch the saw back on to start
it again. This helps prevent accidentally flooding
the engine by trying to restart it with the switch
Feature 3: Easy-start system
The bigger the engine, the harder it is to pull the
starter cord, unless there’s some feature built in to
reduce the starter cord tension. One innovative solution
changes the spring mechanism in the recoil (the
part that rewinds the starter cord) to make it easier
to pull. Stihl’s Easy2Start system, which uses this
mechanism, is surprisingly easy to pull, and works
great. Other manufacturers have easy-start recoils
too, but the difference isn’t as dramatic.
Another design that reduces starting effort opens
a temporary hole in the cylinder to reduce compression,
making it easier to pull the starter cord. Look
for this decompression valve feature on larger chain
Feature 4: Body width
Pros who work with chain saws all day prefer compact saws.
More expensive saws like the Husqvarnas, Jonsereds and Stihls have narrower bodies than some of
the cheaper ones. The narrower body makes the saws easier to carry and to maneuver in tight spots.
Feature 5: Carbide-toothed chain
A dull chain cuts slowly, but worse, it can
damage the chain and the bar as well as put
extra strain on the saw. It only takes a fraction
of a second to dull the blade if you touch the
ground with the chain, saw dirty wood or hit
A chain with carbide tips, like the one
you’ll find on the Stihl MS 230 C-BE, can
withstand encounters with dirt and nails
and still be sharp enough to keep cutting.
You’ll pay an extra $50 or so for this feature,
but if you cut dirty wood, need to cut
stumps close to the ground, or cut a lot of
“urban wood” that’s likely to have nails
embedded in it, then this may be money well
The downside is that you can’t easily
sharpen a carbide chain yourself, and even
sharpening shops may not have the equipment
to do it. Before you buy a carbide-tipped chain, or
a chain saw that includes one, find out if you can get it sharpened and how much it will cost.
Tough Enough to Keep Cutting
I used the carbide-tipped chain to
cut a dozen weed trees flush to the
ground. Sometimes the chain actually
went into the dirt. It cut as well
on the last tree as it did on the first.
Editor in Chief
Other features: Anti-vibration, air purge, and more
Easy-access air filter
Every chain saw has an air filter connected to the carburetor, and if it gets clogged, your saw will
waste gas, pollute more and perhaps run poorly. If you can access the air filter easily, without having
to pull out a screwdriver, you’re more likely to keep it clean. Stihl saws have one of the easiest covers
Most of these saws have a
translucent, rubbery bulb
that you press five or six
times before you start the
cold engine. It’s called an air
purge or a primer bulb
because it replaces the air in
the gas line with fuel. This
reduces the number of times
you have to pull the starter
cord, saving wear and tear on
the saw and your arm.
On some saws, you can see
the level of the fuel in the
tank without removing the
Easy-to-remove fuel and oil caps
Stihl chain saws have fuel
and oil caps that you remove
by flipping up a handle and
twisting a quarter turn. Other
saws include a raised
“handle” that allows a better
grip. Both are nice features.
Air precleaner system
Many of the more expensive
saws have a precleaner
system that throws out most
of the larger dust particles
before they reach the air
filter. This reduces air filter
maintenance and improves
All but the cheapest chain
saws have springs or rubber
bushings that separate the
handle assembly from the
rest of the saw to reduce the
amount of vibration you feel.
The more expensive the saw,
the more robust the springs
or bushings are. We could
feel the difference between
the saws that didn’t have any
springs or bushings and
those that did.
6 Things You Should Know Before Buying a Chainsaw
1. Engine size is measured in
cubic centimeters (cc) or
cubic inches. In general,
the bigger the number, the
more powerful the engine.
Most homeowners will do fine
with a saw in the 32 cc to
45 cc range.
2. A bigger bar isn’t
For most homeowners,
a 16-in. bar is plenty. Longer
bars can get in the way and
increase the likelihood of
3. In general, more
expensive saws have
and will last longer, but most
DIYers will never wear out
even a less expensive saw.
4. Safety gear isn’t
optional. You need a
helmet with a face
shield, hearing protection,
leather gloves and special
chain saw chaps. Expect to
spend about $120 total for
5. In many cases, you can
buy the same saw
with or without special
features like tool-free chain
tensioning. You can save
money by forgoing a little
6. If you’re not experienced
saws, consider buying
from a full-service dealer that
can help you set up the saw
and show you how to start it.
For more details on safe saw use and safe cutting techniques, see Using a Chain Saw Safely.
Saw reviews: 3 Chain Saws for a Tight Budget
We limited this class of saws to a price point under $150, which means they’ll typically have an engine size under 40 cc. If you’re not heating with wood or cutting
down 2-ft.-diameter trees, a chain saw in
this category may be all you need. We tried
three saws that cost under $150. Keep in
mind that if you increase your budget to
$200, you’ll have a lot more choices, which
will include saws from Stihl, Echo,
Husqvarna and Jonsered.
Review 1: Homelite UT10560
This saw has
many nice features
an air purge, springs
for vibration control, tool-free
chain tensioner and see-through
gas and oil reservoirs, and it
comes with a case. We found the
tool-free mechanism slightly harder
to use than most and the
clearance between the
handle and the chain
brake a little tight. Online reviews are mixed, but our test saw ran smoothly.
Review 2: Poulan P3816
Craftsman (below), this saw
includes an air purge
bulb and comes
with a case. It
doesn’t have the tool-free
chain tensioner but does have a chain tensioner built into the
bar that’s easier to access than more-conventional chain tension
adjusters. You have to remove screws to access the air
filter. We like the big grips on the fuel and oil filler caps but
don’t like the fact that there’s no vibration dampening built
into the handle. For the same price, the Craftsman offers the
additional tool-free chain tensioner.
Review 3: Craftsman 35170
saw appears to be identical
to the Poulan P3816
(above) except the Craftsman
has the tool-free
chain tensioner. The saw
has an air purge and
includes a carrying case. We had a little harder time starting this saw
than we had with some of the more expensive models. We don’t like
the lack of vibration dampening in the handle of this saw. Otherwise
it’s a good value and worth considering in the under-$150 price range.
Gearhead’s Guide to What’s Under the Hood
Ever wonder why one chain saw costs
30 percent more than another comparably
sized saw? Here’s a list of the features
you’ll find on more expensive
- Two- or three-piece crankshaft vs.
five-piece cranks means less vibration
and longer life.
- Forged rather than stamped connecting
rods. Forged rods are stronger.
- Centrifugal precleaner built into the
flywheel means better airflow for better
- Chrome-impregnated vs. chrome-plated
cylinders. Chrome-impregnated cylinders
have microscopic pores that hold
oil to help lubricate the piston.
Saw reviews: 4 chain saws for medium-duty use
We limited this class to a price point under $350 with engines about 40 cc. If you cut wood several times a month,
want a saw that doesn’t struggle when cutting
at full capacity, or just like to buy top-quality
tools, then this is the category for you. Saws in
this range often include all of the quality
components and features of more
expensive chain saws. They just
aren’t quite as powerful.
Review 4: Stihl MS 230 C-BE
This saw is loaded with
every feature you could want, plus
it comes standard with Stihl’s Duro carbide-tipped chain. But what really sets it
apart is the Easy2Start system. A gentle,
steady pull on the starter rope winds a
spring that releases when it overcomes
the compression pressure,
turning over the engine. It’s noticeably
easier to pull, without the jerkiness you normally feel.
We also like that the air cleaner cover and gas and oil caps are easy to take off and
replace without tools. For an extra $50 over similar-size saws, you get a chain saw that’s
super easy to start and includes a carbide-tipped chain.
Review 5: Jonsered CS 2240 S
You can’t go
buying a Jonsered
saw. Jonsered offers models
in all but the lowest price range. This
saw includes a tool-free chain tensioner,
a spring-assisted starter cord,
an air filter precleaning system, a press-down-
to-stop and return-to-start switch, a fuel level indicator and
robust springs for vibration dampening. The saw starts easily, runs smooth
and cuts fast. We couldn’t find any fault with this saw.
Review 6: Husqvarna 440 e-series
Jonsered, you can
buy a Husqvarna
of the best chain saws on the market.
In fact, under the cover, this saw looks identical
to the CS 2240 S and has all the same features
(see Jonsered’s CS 2240 S above). We couldn‘t
discern any difference in the way the two saws
start, run and cut. The tool-free tensioner on both
of these saws is outstanding. There’s a large
handle that flips out to give you extra leverage,
and the adjuster has “teeth” that are large enough
to work with gloves on.
If you’re trying to decide between the Jonsered
CS 2240 S and this saw, we recommend you
choose the one that’s available at a local dealer.
The Husqvarna narrowly edged out the nearly
identical Jonsered for our Editors’ Choice only
because the retail price was $10 less.
Review 7: Echo CS-400
from a respected
name in outdoor power
equipment. The Echo CS-400
includes an air purge bulb, air precleaner
and an air cleaner cover that’s easy to
remove without tools. This saw lacks a
tool-free chain tensioner but does have
an easy-start system that works well.
There’s a small toggle switch to turn the engine on and off and a separate
choke lever. The saw has rubber bushings rather than springs for vibration
dampening. It starts easily and runs great. Unless you can find this saw on sale,
however, we recommend either the Jonsered or the Husqvarna because they
have better features for the same price.
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Saw reviews: 3 chain saws for heavy-duty use
This class includes saws that cost $350 to $600 with engines larger than 40 cc. If you own acres of land and spend a lot
of time on tree cutting and cleanup, spending
a little more for a chain saw makes sense.
Saws in this category have the best-quality
components and are made to withstand
daily use. Plus, you can get bigger engines
capable of handling longer bars.
The three saws here are typical
for this range.