When it comes to buying power tools, homeowners don’t typically place a chainsaw high on the list—unless you’re planning on cutting your own wood to burn.
But when you do have a need for a chainsaw, there is no other tool that can come close. From clearing brush to bringing down dead trees to cleaning up large-branch debris from a storm, a quality chainsaw that you rely on can be a homeowner’s best friend.
To find the best chainsaws for regular homeowner applications, we put 10 of the most popular mid-sized chainsaws on the market to the test: five gas-powered chainsaws and five battery-powered chainsaws.
After lopping slices off of logs, trimming branches from felled trees, and cutting up firewood, we named the 42cc Echo CS-400-18(available at Amazon) our top gas-powered chainsaw, and the Kobalt 180B(available at Lowes) as our best overall battery-powered chainsaw.
If you’re looking to splurge on a well-rounded, brand-name product with a price to match, then the Stihl MSA 220 (available at Stihl) battery-powered saw is a great smaller homeowner saw.
While we have crowned three winners, I was surprised to find that all 10 of the chainsaws we tested performed very well. There really aren’t many bad options in this lot.
Here are the best chainsaws we tested ranked, in order:
Stihl MSA 220 C-B
Kobalt KCS 180B
Stihl MS 170
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In a crowded field of quality options, the Echo 400 really stands out. A pro-grade, 40cc chainsaw, it was powerful and heavy-duty enough to cut easily through everything we put in front of it. The 18-inch bar makes tackling large projects so much easier. The power and extra bar size give it a bit more weight than some of the other contenders, but during testing it was still maneuverable enough to trim branches and clear brush out of the way as I moved through the woods.
All of the chainsaws we tested cut up pine firewood easily enough, but it was in our small slice test that the Echo really stood apart. I was cutting 1- to 2-inch slices off of large (14 to 18 inch diameter) sections of a hardwood beech tree, which is the perfect size for cutting boards and tabletops. All of the saws were able to complete this task, but the Echo made it easy, cutting straight and smooth. It pulled itself through even this moderate hardwood without my needing to apply any extra pressure.
I always know that a product is great when I keep coming back to it. Even though cutting down trees wasn’t officially part of the testing, I did have five dead trees that I needed to take down in my backyard, two of them about 16 inches at the base. The Echo was the chainsaw I trusted to get the job down without any hiccups, and it didn’t let me down. This is a saw that will be a workhorse for a moderate to heavy use homeowner for years to come.
The Kobalt 180B chainsaw was the largest battery-powered saw that we tested, at 80V with an 18-inch guide bar. It cut faster through hardwood than the other battery-powered saws we tested, but that extra power comes with some additional vibration and a noticeable weight increase.
Being heavy duty makes this chainsaw more work to wield than the smaller battery chainsaws, but not so much that I would classify it as difficult. It is still lighter, quieter, and has less vibration than most of the gas saws. I have no objection to bucking firewood for a few hours or even cutting down medium-sized trees with this saw. It has plenty of power and bar-length for either task.
It also features the kickback chain brake in front of the handle that some of the other electric chainsaws lack. I consider this a critical safety feature, and I wouldn’t buy a saw without this way of stopping the chain.
If you are looking for a battery-powered saw, but need something with size and power, this is an excellent option at a middle-of-the-road price.
The Stihl MSA 220 battery-powered chainsaw is actually the base model professional saw from Stihl. It cuts well for only 36V; in fact, it cuts better than some of the 40V saws, while still being quiet, lightweight, and easy to use.
The Stihl MSA 220 features the chain brake that a few of the other battery-saws lack, and it feels durable and well-built in the hand.
It completed every test we put it through without complaint. I wouldn’t want to try to take down a large tree or spend hours cutting up oak logs, because for heavier-duty tasks like this, it’s a bit underpowered. But, for typical homeowner applications, this Stihl absolutely does the job.
Unfortunately, the Stihl MSA 220 is also twice the price of the second-most expensive saw that we tested. So, you have to personally assess whether Stihl’s excellent reputation, local dealers, and known quality are worth paying double the price.
If budget is no object, and you’re looking for a battery-powered saw, this is the one I would go with.
Hi, I’m Jean Levasseur. I’m a former conveyor mechanic, current property manager, and a hobbyist woodworker, in addition to being a writing instructor at a local university. I come from a family of tool-users—my grandfather was a carpenter, my father owned an excavation company, and my mother was a mechanic. Between growing up working for my family’s businesses and then moving onto my own projects, I’ve used most tools you’ve heard of and quite a few that you haven’t.
In testing these gas and electric chainsaws, we tried to recreate real working conditions that homeowners would likely experience. We wanted to be out in the field, so to speak, using these chainsaws on real trees in real yards, in practical applications.
In my own yard, I had a few dead trees, a pile of firewood logs, and a bunch of brush to cut up, so we had plenty of practical applications to test on.
Our first test was basic: How easy is it to set up the chainsaw and get it running? I added fuel, charged batteries, filled the bar oil (never forget bar oil—battery-powered chainsaws need it, too!), adjusted the chainsaw chain tension, and started each and every one of them. With one exception, all of the saws were easy to set up out of the box and fired right up without much effort.
From there, I took each saw through a precision cutting test. I had quite a few beech logs ready to be cut up into firewood. I selected several similarly-sized logs, about 14 inches in diameter, and cut 1- to 2-inch thick rounds off of them with each chainsaw. We didn’t time each test because of the lack of uniformity in log size and engine size. Instead, I paid attention to how easily the saw actually cut through the wood and how much effort was needed to keep it tracking straight. A good chainsaw with a sharp blade should pull itself through the wood without any downward pressure from the user.
Once I ran through the log slices, I went into some precision maneuverability. I had several areas of brush and fallen trees that needed the branches trimmed off. The point of this test is to see how easy it is to wield each saw at different angles—could I cut high and low and side to side with ease, or is the saw burdensome to move around? This is a function of weight, balance, and length.
After these two tests, the original plan was to select the top few chainsaws to buck some trees into firewood. However, at this point, I didn’t have a good sense of which saws were really best, since they all performed well. So, I decided to buck trees into firewood-length sections with each of the saws, getting a better sense of how each saw felt in the hand over a longer period of time.
Finally, I took the chainsaws down into my workshop to do some basic maintenance. I changed the air filter, sharpened the chainsaw chain, replaced the chain, and replaced the guide bar. These tasks were all essentially uniform and very easy across all of the saws. Not one posed any difficulty in doing basic maintenance. The saws all also come with a wrench/screwdriver tool to perform most of these tasks, so the only basic tools you may need to purchase are the chainsaw sharpener and the tool to adjust the carburetor, if your model can do that.
The obvious missing test here is actually felling a tree. We decided not to do this for a few reasons: lack of enough trees needing to be cut down, safety concerns, and my own comfort-level. I am not an expert logger, and I didn’t want to do something as potentially dangerous as felling trees while using different, unfamiliar equipment each time.
What You Should Know About Buying A Chainsaw
Power tools are by their very nature dangerous. Chainsaws are no different, and indeed may be in a league of their own in terms of the severity of possible injuries. According to the CDC, there are around 36,000 chainsaw injuries each year, enough to have dedicated an entire webpage to chainsaw safety tips.
A chainsaw is one of those tools that can send you to the hospital with a single mistake or lapse in attention. Do I tell you this to make you nervous?
Absolutely. If you’re not a little bit nervous when using a chainsaw, then you’re probably not being careful enough.
This said, chainsaws are used by millions of people every year safely, and there’s no need for your experience to be any different. I highly recommend reading through the CDCs safety tips, as well as carefully reading the manual for your specific chainsaw.
Here are a few general things to keep in mind:
Understand how your chainsaw works and its safety mechanisms. Every chainsaw is different, and these differences are important. The chain brake operates slightly differently on gas and electric chainsaws, for example. Chainsaws also have different starting and stopping procedures.
Wear the proper equipment. When we asked Stihl to loan us a test saw, one of their first questions was what size chaps, gloves, and helmet do I need. It was important to them that I was testing with only the best safety equipment. The right safety equipment can literally save limbs or lives. Every time I started up a chainsaw, I wore steel-toed boots, special chainsaw chaps over jeans, special chainsaw gloves, safety glasses, and a helmet with a face shield and ear protection. Don’t run a chainsaw in shorts and sneakers.
Know what you’re doing, and know your limits. Understand the kind of cutting that you’re doing, and how best to do it. You’ll notice that our testing didn’t include cutting down any trees. Part of my decision was practical—I don’t have 10 trees in my yard that I wanted to take down. But more importantly, I didn’t feel comfortable cutting down trees while switching between saws. If you feel uncomfortable with a task, you should stop and think about if it’s really right for you.
Chainsaws are a great tool for any homeowner to have and be able to use comfortably and confidently. But this is one tool where you can never skip over safety.
When you’re buying a chainsaw, you want to make sure that you’re getting a tool that’s the right size for your specific application. A chainsaw that’s too small will frustrate you at not being able to complete the job—or worse, you’ll try anyway and put yourself in a dangerous situation.
A chainsaw that’s too large may tire you out quickly. You may also not be able to keep control of the machine, again creating a dangerous situation.
Our two overall winners are chainsaws on the larger size, but if you’re not planning on working with firewood or any kind of hardwoods, these two may not be the best options for you.
The first measure of chainsaw size is the guide bar length, which is very literally the length of the bar that the chain wraps around. In general, bars range from around 6 inches all the way up to 6 feet or more for some professional grade machines.
As a general rule of thumb, you want to buy a chainsaw with a bar about 2 inches longer than whatever you’re going to be cutting most frequently. So, if you’re planning to cut up 12-inch diameter logs, then a 14-inch chainsaw is what you’re looking at. You also want to think about the kinds of tasks that you’ll be doing.
Smaller chainsaws, in the 6 inch to 12 inch range, are great for pruning trees and shrubs. Some of these, called pole saws, are attached to long, extendable poles to reach up high into branches. They’re good for regular maintenance of your yard and keeping your trees and brush under control. We didn’t test any smaller chainsaws.
Medium sized chainsaws are those with bars in the 14 inch to 18 inch range, and are great for a wide variety of jobs. We tested this category because these chainsaws offer the most versatility across potential homeowner projects. They’re small enough that you can get into brush and cut it back, but large enough that you can cut up or cut down some decent sized trees. What they’re not going to be good for is getting branches that are high up in trees or cutting trees more than 14 inches to 16 inches in diameter, unless you have training and equipment.
Once you hit the 20-inch bar size, you’re getting into true professional territory. These chainsaws are big and heavy, with power to match. They are primarily made for taking down large trees beyond what the majority of homeowners would be comfortable doing.
The next sizing option that you’ll want to look at is power. In gas chainsaws, power is measured in ccs. In electric chainsaws, power is measured in volts. In both cases, the higher the number, the more power your chainsaw possesses.
For the most part, chainsaws all have a lot of power. But, if you know that you’re going to be cutting primarily through a hardwood like oak rather than only pine, you might want to look into something with a few more ccs or volts.
The gas chainsaws we tested ranged from 30ccs to 42ccs, while the battery chainsaws ranged from 36V to 80V. There is a noticeable and important difference in power and weight at each end of those ranges.
There are three ways to power a chainsaw: gasoline/oil mixture, electricity via an extension cord, or battery. All three have pros and cons, and you’ll have to decide which one works best for your needs.
Gasoline-powered chainsaws are standard, tried-and-true tools. Their biggest advantage is that they’ll cut for as long as you have gas to power them, and they’ll put out a lot of power. You can also buy a gas chainsaw for quite a bit less money up front than a battery chainsaw saw.
Gas chainsaws are generally louder, and you have to deal with both the smell and environmental consequences of the fumes from a 2-cycle engine. They also require more maintenance, which can get pricey if you don’t do it yourself. Finally, you have to factor in the cost of fuel, which is much more expensive than recharging a battery.
If you’re a moderate to heavy chainsaw user, bucking firewood or cutting down decent-sized trees, then you’ll probably want to go with a gas saw.
Over the past few years, battery-powered technology has come a long way across the tool industry, and chainsaws have been a major beneficiary of those improvements. Many battery-powered chainsaws have plenty of power and battery life for average homeowner tasks. However, they do tend to have noticeably less power than their gas counterparts. All of our electric chainsaws completed the same tasks as the gas saws, but took more time and effort to do some of them.
Battery-powered chainsaws are generally quieter (though still loud) and aren’t going to release nasty fumes. This said, they will run only as long as your battery has a charge, so you will need to either buy a pricey second battery or be prepared to take hour-long breaks whenever your battery runs out of juice. They also have a higher up-front cost, though the long-term cost of fuel (electricity) and maintenance tends to be lower.
If you’re looking for something basic to clear away debris or brush, or cut up some fallen branches, or if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your tools, then a battery-powered chainsaw might be the right choice for you.
The last way to power a chainsaw is plugged into an outlet. Like battery-powered saws, these are less powerful than their gas counterparts, but are still plenty of saw for many homeowner applications. The big advantage of an electric/corded chainsaw over something with a battery is that you never have to worry about running out of juice. It will run for as long as you need it to, without any breaks. They also tend to be the cheapest chainsaws that you can buy.
Having an extension cord that can reach where you’re cutting is the drawback, since you are tethered to that cord. It obviously limits the distance from the outlet you can travel, and can be frustrating to work with if, for example, the cord gets wrapped and tangled around logs and branches and rocks and feet.
We decided not to test any electric chainsaws, recommending that homeowners focus on either a gas or battery-powered saw due to the increased portability.
Dealer Versus Big Box Store
One last decision that you’ll have to make is the brand of chainsaw that you want to purchase, and the benefits or drawbacks of each brand.
A few of the chainsaws that we tested—Stihl, Husqvarna, and Echo—all have dedicated local dealers that you can bring your saw back to for service. There’s something to be said for having a knowledgeable professional nearby when something goes awry, though oftentimes you’re paying a premium for those brand names.
Pricing for one of the big box store-branded chainsaws may be lower, but you’re not going to get the same level of service that you would at a local, dedicated dealer. So, thinking about how you will handle maintenance, and how much access you want to support, is an important step in the buying process.
And, finally, you want to think about longevity. This involves thinking about the quality reputation for the brand itself and the warranties that are offered by each company.
Other Chainsaws We Tested
Craftsman CMXGSAMNN4216 S160
The Craftsman S160 chainsaw is a solid, powerful saw that performed every task I put in front of it without hesitation. It started up with little effort, maneuvered well through the smaller tasks, and was able to rip right through the harder woods. In terms of raw engine power, it was the largest saw we tested, and it kept right up with our overall winner.
However, the Craftsman chainsaw doesn’t feel quite as robust and heavy-duty as the Echo, which is technically a professional model. Likewise, it feels like it will last a long time, particularly if well-maintained, but won’t handle the same kind of punishment that the Echo can.
This is a great saw for a moderate to heavy-use homeowner looking for something affordable with power.
Easy to start and maintain, this 37cc gas-powered Ryobi chainsaw is a mid-sized workhorse. It is well balanced, not too heavy, and easy to maneuver through branches and brush without getting hung up.
In terms of cutting ability, it made it through all our tests without much trouble. There were a few times it noticeably slowed down through some of the harder woods due to its somewhat lower-powered engine, but it finished everything with some help.
The Ryobi RY3716 also comes standard with a valuable safety feature, particularly for inexperienced users: a tip guard. Tip guards prevent you from being able to cut with the very tip of the blade, which is where the ever-dangerous kickback comes from. If you’re confident and comfortable with safely using the tip of the blade, the tip guard is easily removable.
As one of the lowest priced options that we tested, this Ryobi feels like a quality saw perfect for a low to moderate use homeowner looking to trim branches or brush, or buck some softwood firewood like pine for outdoor burning. If you’re planning on cutting a lot of larger logs or trees, or dealing heavily in hardwoods, this may not be a good choice.
With a 14-inch guide bar and 36V of power, the Makita XCU03PTI chainsaw is one of the smaller saws that we tested in either category. This said, it performed well in all of our tests.
It is able to cut through hardwoods of appropriate size, albeit a bit more slowly than some of the others, and has no issue bucking pine firewood. Its low weight makes it easy to maneuver through brush, and it is quiet and comfortable to use. And even at the lower size range, it has the important kickback chain brake.
The Makita XCU03PTI saw has a few unique features. Firstly, it is part of the overall Makita battery system, which means that rather than having one massive battery like the others, the Makita chainsaw holds two 18V batteries. These are the same batteries that Makita’s drills, circular saws, reciprocating saws and other tools use. If you’re already invested in the Makita 18V LXT ecosystem, then this could be a great option, particularly if you’re only looking for lighter-use applications.
The Makita is the only saw we tested that didn’t need a tool to tension or replace its chain and bar. The locking and tightening mechanisms are built right into it, making it easy to do out in the field without worrying about dropping nuts (which I did with a different saw), but the components were made of plastic, and I can definitely imagine them breaking rather easily.
This was the second-most expensive battery saw that we tested, next to the Stihl. If you’re already on the Makita battery ecosystem, then I would seriously consider this saw. If not, there are other electric chainsaws for far less money with equal or more power and bar length.
Previous to testing out these chainsaws, I had only used one tool from Walmart’s Hart line, and it was a reciprocating saw, which did not perform well. I was curious if it would turn into a trend with the brand.
Hart’s battery-powered chainsaw provided some level of redemption for the reciprocating saw’s failure.
With a 14-inch bar and 40V of power, the Hart HLCS011 is one of three smaller chainsaws we tested. It performs right up there with the other smaller saws, and it completed every task we put in front of it. It is also the cheapest battery-powered chainsaw on our list. If all you’re doing is smaller, occasional-use jobs, then this could be a solid little chainsaw for you.
Here’s a caution: I question the longevity and durability of this tool. Several parts felt flimsy, and I don’t know how well it will hold up to long-term use.
The Hart also lacks a kickback chain brake, relying only on a hand guard for safety. I am not comfortable using a chainsaw regularly without this basic safety feature. Not having a way of automatically stopping the chain in the event of kickback made me very uncomfortable while I was using it.
The top-selling Stihl 170 is Stihl’s baseline homeowner chainsaw. At 30ccs, it is significantly less powerful than the other gas chainsaws we tested, which is the only reason that it winds up this far down the list. It performs extremely well for its size, completing all the same tasks as the other saws, just a little bit slower and with some additional persuasion. It does absolutely everything that I would expect a chainsaw of this size to do.
This model is more expensive than several of the other significantly more powerful chainsaws on the market. The high price tag is predicated on the Stihl name and reputation for quality, longevity, and service—all important traits. But, I do have to question if getting a less powerful chainsaw for more money, when the alternative seems of good quality, is the right choice for an occasional-use homeowner, which is this saw’s target audience.
For the occasional-use homeowner doing small projects who wants a top-name brand with exceptional service, then the little Stihl MS170 is a great choice.
Like Stihl, Husqvarna is one of the most highly recognized chainsaw brands. Unfortunately, Husqvarna’s 435 is the only saw that I had actual problems with.
Out of the box, I simply couldn’t get it to start and stay running. When I was finally able to coax it into running for a few minutes, it didn’t cut consistently. Its chain kept starting and stopping as I was cutting.
Knowing the reputation of the brand, I did a little research and maintenance, and found that adjusting the carburetor got it going. Once I got it running, it ran fine, and performed as well as the other saws in our tests. I had no further complaints while I was actually using it.
Normally, I would say that this was an anomaly—maybe it got knocked out of whack during shipping. However, as it turns out, my father in-law’s Husqvarna does the exact same thing. The carburetor gets out of tune after using it, and he has to adjust it several times per cutting session. In scanning through reviews on the Lowes website, several people mentioned similar issues out of the box.
Despite the reputation of the brand, I’m not sure that this is a saw I would trust.
The Ryobi RY40530 is one of the smaller saws we tested, and it is priced to reflect that. Like our other small saws, this one performs well within its weight class, completing all of our tasks, even if it took a little bit more time to do so.
To be clear, I would not want to spend all day bucking firewood with this saw, but it’s got plenty of juice to cut up fallen branches or smaller trees.
My disappointment with this saw is the lack of a kickback chain brake in front of the handle, an important safety feature in preventing injuries. Even though this saw has less power, kickback still happened during our testing, and I would have felt much more secure with that chain brake adding a layer of protection.
I do not recommend purchasing a chainsaw without this safety feature.
Jean Levasseur became a professional writer over a decade-long career in marketing, public relations, and technical writing. After leaving that career to stay home to care for his twin boys, Jean has continued to write in a variety of freelance roles, as well as teaching academic writing at a local university. When he's not reviewing tools or chasing toddlers around the house, he's also an avid fiction writer and a growing woodworker.
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