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Buying the right chainsaw

buying a chainsawA chainsaw is an essential tool on many lifestyle farms. You can pay someone to trim trees, chop firewood and remove unwanted trees but if you have your own chainsaw you can save yourself money and help keep yourself fit too.

The first thing to consider when buying a chainsaw is safety. Actually, it's the only thing you should think about. Choosing the right chainsaw is all about safety.

What you need to know:


If you can't afford to buy the full safety gear, then you can't afford a chainsaw. Chainsaws are responsible for many injuries and even fatalities every year - it's just not worth risking life and limb, literally!  Full safety gear includes:

  • Protective gloves
  • Chainsaw leggings or chaps
  • Steel capped boots
  • Earmuffs
  • Safety glasses
  • Hard hat
  • You can also buy a hat with built-in earmuffs and face guard.
Once you have the safety gear it's safe to buy your chainsaw.

What type of saw to purchase

When buying a chainsaw you have a number of things to consider:
  • Petrol or electric?
  • Power?
  • Bar length?
Buying an electric chainsaw is a good idea if you only want to do a small amount of work with it, close to the house. Electric chainsaws are in general less powerful than their petrol counterparts but they make less noise. They are no less dangerous and a trailing cord adds another safety hazard.

Bar length

A chainsaw works by having a chain, like a bicycle chain, made up of many links with small cutting edges. The cutting chain runs around a guide bar, and chainsaws are sold with varying length bars. The bar is measured from the rounded tip to the place the bar enters the housing.

You need a bar length that will cope with the jobs you will throw at it. If you're going to be felling trees then look at the tree diameter you will be cutting, and buy a saw with a bar at least half that size. So for a 32 inch diameter tree, get a bar at least 16 inches long. Chainsaw bars are usually measured in inches, and standard lengths are 12, 14, 16, 18, and 20 inches

If you're only going to be cutting firewood and limbing trees then consider getting a small chainsaw.

If you're only going to cut down trees very rarely then you're better to buy a small chainsaw and employ someone to chop down the trees, rather than use a larger chainsaw for all your limbing and cutting jobs. Or buy two chainsaws. Why? You're more likely to hit the ground, or something else, with the tip of the chainsaw if you have a longer bar than if you have a more appropriately sized chainsaw. Also, the longer the bar length you choose, the more power you will need and the heavier the chainsaw will be. Using a large and heavy chainsaw will tire you out more quickly and is more difficult to use safely. Buy the smallest bar length you need, bigger is not better!


The other important consideration is the power rating of the chainsaw. Using a too-powerful chainsaw can be as dangerous as using one with not enough power.

How much power you need depends on what you are going to use your chainsaw for: cutting hard wood will require more power than cutting soft wood. The greater the bar length, the greater power you will need to run the chain around it.

In general, the more powerful the engine, the heavier it will be but this is not always true. A lighter saw is safer and easier to use. Some cheaper models may be heavier than others of a similar power rating. Try to get the best power/weight ratio you can afford.

Discuss with your retailer what size chainsaw would be appropriate for you and ask to try out different models so you can find the one best suited to you.

Other things to look for:

  • A well-balanced chainsaw - much safer and easier to use.
  • Ease of starting - this can make a big difference to how good (or bad) your mood is when you begin sawing. Remember that what may be an 'easy pull start' for a 2m bodybuilder may not be as easy for a slighter family member.
  • Anti vibration system - where there is a chainsaw, there will be vibration but keeping it to a minimum means the work will be less tiring…and therefore safer.
  • Kickback protection - kickback is caused when the chain at the tip of the bar hits something, or is pinched then released in a cut. The saw kicks back and is a danger to the operator. Kickback brakes and kickback guards give some protection.
  • Muffler - a muffler can make the saw less noisy to use and direct exhaust fumes away from the operator.
  • Ease of maintenance - you will have to look after the saw to ensure that it's safe to use. How easy is it to add oil, clean the air filter or tension the chain? If you have to dismantle the saw or fiddle about with tiny parts then you're less likely to work safely.
  • Parts and servicing - make sure you can get your chainsaw serviced locally and that all parts are easily replaceable.
Finally, using your new chainsaw correctly is as important as the other safely considerations. Read the manual for your chainsaw to find out the best cutting techniques and don't forget to insure it.

There are short courses available on safe use and care of chainsaws.  Book up for one before you start working.