Best Cordless Chain Saws
Surprise! Some battery-powered saws perform like gas models. Find out how the latest models compare and which are the best cordless chain saws available today.
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What we discovered
If you’re wondering how battery-powered chain saws compare with gas-powered versions, or whether this type of chain saw is right for you, we can help. For this review, we chose 10 chain saws ranging in price from about $177 to $540. We’ll show you what separates the most and least expensive saws, and walk you through features you should consider if you decide to buy a cordless chain saw.
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Comparing Cordless Chain Saws
There was a noticeable improvement in performance from the two lower-priced battery powered chainsaw models to the more expensive models, but after that the differences were more subtle. The DeWalt, Echo and EGO saws were at the top of the class for cutting speed and endurance. The saws with higher amp-hour batteries tended to cut more logs before running out of juice. Also, we found that with battery-powered chain saws, it was especially important to let the saw do the work. Most of the saws will stop abruptly if you overload them by applying too much pressure. Check the comments on individual saws for more details. Picking a favorite was difficult. In the end, we chose two saws with high amp-hour batteries that also included all our favorite features. But there were several close seconds.
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The small battery provided far fewer cuts than other saws, but the cutting speed was as fast as that of much more expensive models. The variable speed trigger provided good control. This saw is a good choice if you don't need to cut large quantities of wood at a time, and you don't mind not having tool-free chain tensioning or a blade brake.
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Can a battery-powered saw replace a gas model?
Most of these saws are powerful enough to cut through even big logs. And the best performers cut almost as fast as a small gas-powered chain saw. But if you cut cords of wood every year to heat your house, a gas-powered saw is a better choice. For everyone else, a battery-powered saw is an option worth considering. Battery-powered chain saws are convenient, quieter than gas-powered saws and lower maintenance. Also, if you own or purchase other outdoor power equipment that can use the same battery, it makes even more sense to own a battery-powered chain saw. We were surprised at how closely their performance matched that of gas-powered saws. But there are a few downsides. Run-time is limited, so if you have a lot of cutting to do, you’ll have to either take a break while the battery charges or splurge on a second battery. And extra batteries are expensive ($150 to $250 each). Also, as with any rechargeable battery, the lithium-ion batteries on these saws won’t last forever, so factor the battery replacement cost into your decision. Plus: Click here to check out our chain saw race!
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This EGO saw was a top performer. EGO claims that its unique battery design keeps the battery cooler during use and charging for a longer-lasting battery. The large battery is mounted transversely, creating a wide-bodied saw. If this isn't an issue for you, then this saw should be on the top of your list. Our only criticism is the filter basket on the bar oil reservoir makes it difficult to fill, but fortunately it's removable.
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This saw practically tied EGO for top speed and number of cuts on a single charge, and was one of our favorites. The only feature missing is the tool-free chain tensioner. But the wrench required to loosen and tighten the bar nuts is securely attached in a convenient pocket on the underside of the handle.
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Batteries & chargers
Batteries for the saws we tested ranged from 36 to 80 volts, and from 1.5 to 6 amp-hours. If you’re curious what these numbers mean, think of voltage as horsepower and amp-hours as the amount of fuel in the tank. Using this analogy, you would expect the 80-volt, 2-amp-hour battery on the Kobalt and Greenworks saws to provide tons of power but run out of juice sooner than the 36-volt, 6-amp-hour battery on the Stihl saw. And that’s consistent with our test results. All of the saws include smart chargers that sense when the battery is too hot or too cold to charge properly, and delay charging until the battery is at the ideal temperature. Listed charging times range from 30 minutes to 3-1/2 hours, but these can fluctuate a lot depending on the temperature and battery condition. Even though the chargers are designed to prevent battery damage, be sure to read the use and care instructions for your saw’s battery and follow them carefully to make sure your battery lasts as long as possible.
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Black & Decker LCS1240
This saw is acceptable for trimming branches and cutting small trees, but it’s noticeably less powerful than the other saws we tested. Since the chain speed is slow, inexperienced lumberjacks may find this saw less threatening. It’s one of two in our test that does not have a chain brake.
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Convenient bar-oil filling
Filling your saw with bar oil isn’t a maintenance task—it’s something essential just to keep cutting, just like adding gas to your car. So it’s important that adding oil be as simple and convenient as possible. We liked the caps on the DeWalt and Stihl saws with flip-up handles and quarter-turn action. We also liked the oil reservoir on the Greenworks and Kobalt saws. Since you fill them with the saw upright, you can see the oil level through the translucent window as you’re filling.
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This saw, along with the Stihl, has the highest amp-hour battery of the group. The design of the tool-free chain tensioner is top notch, and we liked the quarter-turn oil reservoir cap and wide oil-filling opening. It's one of a few saws that have variable speed. Our only criticism is that the space between the hand guard and the handle is a little tight.
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This is another nice saw from a respected chain saw brand. The battery voltage and amp-hours are average, and the performance on tests was about what you would expect considering the battery is less powerful than some. The saw includes all the features we like except variable speed. This model is being discontinued and replaced by a similar saw (Model No. 120li) that includes an improved brushless motor and a lower price ($299).
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Tool-free chain tensioning
Keeping the chain on your saw tensioned correctly is crucial for safety and preventing damage to your bar and chain. The tool-free feature found on many of these saws allows you to easily adjust the chain tension without a wrench or screwdriver. The mechanism varies somewhat from saw to saw, but in general, the bar nuts have been replaced with a large knob that you turn to loosen or tighten the bar. There’s another knob to adjust the chain tension. We think it’s worthwhile to look for this handy feature.
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This is the only saw with a built-in chain sharpener. And because of that, it’s the only saw with a different chain design. After cutting with the other saws, we found that this saw took some getting used to. The chain seemed more aggressive and required us to let up and simply let the saw work. If you tend to dull your chains quickly or simply want a more convenient way to sharpen your chain, this saw is a good fit.
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Bar lengths on the saws we tested ranged from 12 to 18 in. Some of the saws, like the Stihl, are available with different bar sizes, so you can choose the size you want. A longer bar allows you to cut bigger logs, of course, but it also requires more power. The saws we tested generally had the power to match their bar length. Plus: Chain Saw Safety
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One of the most powerful saws in the group, the Greenworks cut fast without bogging down. The 2-amp-hour battery provided only about half as many cuts as saws with 4- to 6-amp-hour batteries. We liked that the oil reservoir level was easy to see. This helps prevent messy overfilling. If you're looking for a powerful saw with a long bar and don't mind the shorter run-time and the absence of a tool-free chain tensioner, this is a good choice.
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Kobalt KCS 180B-06
Courtesy of Kobalt
The Kobalt saw appears to be identical to the Greenworks saw except for the color. And the two saws performed similarly, with plenty of power to cut even 10-in.-diameter logs. The batteries are not interchangeable, though. The 80-volt battery provided plenty of power but didn’t last as long as batteries with a higher amp-hour capacity. This saw is a great choice if you need to cut big logs and want a cordless tool that can rival the power of a gas chain saw.
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You must press a button on the handle to turn on the Greenworks, Kobalt and Husqvarna saws. The Greenworks and Husqvarna saws turn off after about 60 seconds. The Kobalt saw remains on for only about 20 seconds. This feature ensures that you don’t grab the saw and accidentally start the blade spinning. We found this additional step a little annoying but not a deal breaker if you otherwise like the saw.
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Room for gloves
Some saws provide more clearance between the handle and the hand guard. If you’ll be using your saw in a cold climate with heavy gloves, more space is better. Plus: How to Sharpen a Chain Saw
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Stihl MSA 160 C-BQ, AP 300 battery, AL 100 charger
This saw comes fitted with a unique thin-kerf, 1/4-in.-pitch chain. It was one of the fastest and most powerful saws we tested and was one of our favorites. The saw felt great and had every feature you could want, except variable speed. Unlike any of the other saws, it can cut brush and small limbs like butter because of its unique chain. The downside is the cost. The saw, charger and battery are sold separately, which drives up the price. If you don't mind spending more for a Stihl saw, or you own other Stihl tools that can use the same battery, this saw would be a great choice.
Originally Published: April 17, 2018