These tools combine the portability of a gas saw with the quiet, clean performance and low maintenance of a corded electric saw. I divide battery powered saws into three categories: Cordless tool crossover saws, dedicated battery OPE (outdoor power equipment) platforms, and pro line battery OPE. Saws I consider compact come with 12-inch or shorter bars, and the rest have 14- or 16-inch bars, with 16-inch being the most common.
As a professional tool tester, I’ve evaluated two dozen of these saws over the last eight years, and my tree service work allows me to constantly evaluate them. Here’s one big lesson I’ve learned: Avoid kits that include compact battery packs. Chain saws draw a lot of current, and using full size or extra-capacity battery packs will help you avoid frustration. Plus: Check out 10 chain saw tips all homeowners should know.
There are two basic buying strategies for battery chain saws, or for any battery-powered outdoor power equipment.
1). Buying a tool compatible with a cordless battery platform you are already invested in (or are planning to buy into).
2). Selecting the optimum tool for the job, even if it means buying a standalone tool, battery, and charger kit. This strategy includes all of the options on the market of course, but the first strategy is probably more relevant to most people, so let’s start there.
Cordless Tool Crossover Saws
If you own cordless power tools in the popular 18-volt (and 20-volt max) voltage class, you have several compatible chain saw choices. Major brands like DeWalt, Makita, Milwaukee, and Ryobi offer saws that use the same battery packs. And these brands also offer other outdoor power tools as part of the same voltage platform.
Makita offers the most variety, with half a dozen saws already and even more coming later this year. A few of their smaller models run on a single 18-volt battery pack, but most require the installation of two packs to provide 36-volt power. Two of my favorites are the full-featured 36-volt XCU04Z and the 18-volt ultra-compact top handle XCU06Z, which is great up in the trees for pruning. I’m also looking forward to getting my hands on the new XCU08Z 36-volt top handle pro saw coming later this year.
Milwaukee has one 18-volt saw (2727-20), but make sure you use their largest 12.0 amp-hour (Ah)—or at least their 9.0 Ah battery pack—to get the mighty performance this tool is capable of.
I’m curious about DeWalt’s latest 20V Max compact saw (DCCS620B), but I have yet to try it. Their larger 60V Max Flexvolt saw (DCCS670B) is the brand’s fastest cutting chain saw, and the large Flexvolt battery packs are also compatible with DeWalt’s 20V Max tools.
Ryobi’s latest 18-volt saw (P548A) is a light-duty, compact saw, but a huge improvement over the previous model. It still lacks a chain brake–which I frown upon—but this saw is probably the most affordable option for pruning and other light-to-moderate wood cutting.
Dedicated Battery OPE Platforms
This category consists of outdoor tools with higher voltage platforms, and a greater selection of OPE including full size string trimmers, hedge trimmers, blowers, lawn mowers, and even some snowblowers. Though the named voltages vary, the battery platforms are variants of 36-, 54-, and 72-volt packs.
The DCCS690B chain saw in DeWalt’s 40V Max OPE line, cuts a bit slower than the nearly identical Flexvolt model mentioned above, but offers much longer runtime when purchased with the 6.0 Ah battery pack instead of the 4.0 Ah. Curiously, the giant 7.5 Ah pack doesn’t seem to offer any advantage in this tool.
Greenworks markets OPE in at least five different battery platforms. Since a portion of the company is owned by Stihl, I’m intrigued with the new top handle saw in the Greenworks Commercial line that seems to share some styling cues with the new Stihl top handle battery saw, but I have not used it yet. Among their saws I have reviewed, the standout is actually their modest 40V G-Max model 20322. When purchased as a kit, it’s a real bargain, but also capable of real work.
Echo and Ego saws are neck-and-neck in the competition for being the most powerful battery-powered chain saws available. These tools are large and heavy, but go like mad, even with their bars fully buried in hardwood. In my estimation, these saw rival gas saws in the 45- to 50-cc class. If you want a saw that you can down trees two feet in diameter with, or buck firewood at a good rate, you can’t go wrong with either the Echo CCS-58VBT or the Ego CS1600. I get more use out of my Echo saws as I have several of their battery packs and I like their balance and feel a little better, but the Ego is a step more affordable. It’s a toss-up, but if you’re in the market for other OPE along with a saw, Ego’s dominance among battery lawn mowers may make your mind up for you.
Pro Line Battery OPE
As you may have expected, at the top end of the battery OPE market we have Husqvarna and Stihl. These brands have the widest selection of lawn, garden, and landscaping tools of all sorts, and despite being focused on the pro user, both brands also have scaled-back lines of battery OPE for occasional users that include some chain saws. I’m not very familiar with those intermediate lines, but I rely on pro battery saws from both brands for my tree work. These models aren’t made to be the most macho battery saws fitted with the longest bars, but rather are designed as highly efficient tools with advanced features and a finesse the frequent user appreciates.
I use a handful of Stihl tools from their professional AP battery line. In fact, their first battery saw model available in the USA—the MSA160C-BQ—singlehandedly enabled me to give up gas saws for a lot of tree work several years back. I have since added a battery pole saw and Stihl’s most powerful battery saw, the MSA200C-BQ to my arsenal and have put a lot of productive hours on both. And after waiting expectantly for years, Stihl’s top handle battery saw will finally be available in the USA later this year–I can’t wait!
Husqvarna didn’t wait to when it came to getting their top handle battery saw on the market here, and for years it has been the choice of the pro working in a tree or bucket truck who wants to avoid the hassles of a gas saw. The T536LiXP is the strongest-running top handle saw I have, and it even cut a little faster than Husqvarna’s very similar rear handle battery saw–the 536LiXP—in some test trials. Both saws have great feature sets and fine balance, and the latest 9.3 Ah battery pack has the highest storage capacity of any cordless tool battery I’ve ever used.
(Note: Both Husqvarna saws are undergoing a name change and will become the T535iXP (top handle), and the 535iXP.)