Although some might consider the chainsaw not a true DIY power tool in the strict sense, it is, however, one of the powered tools that DIYers often have in their ‘toolbox’. Traditionally chainsaws have been petrol engine-powered machines that were expensive, making them an often unjustifiable purchase for most DIYers. However, in today’s world of advancing electrical technology, even the humble chainsaw has gone electric, with reasonably-priced mains electricity-powered and battery-powered machines now readily available to the ordinary consumer. In this review of the modern chainsaw, we first look at what a chainsaw is used for and how it does its job, before examining what characteristics to look out for when purchasing one. Then at the end of the page, we compare the technical characteristics of actual chainsaws sold in the UK with a view to identifying the best chainsaw for DIYers to buy.
The Use and Functioning of a Chainsaw
Chainsaws can be used for quickly slicing through larger wooden structures such as logs and garden branches. Functionally, they are not unlike reciprocating saws, although chainsaws tend to be used for cutting wood of greater girth, and they are not used to cut other types of materials such as metals and plastic as are reciprocating saws. Structurally, the chainsaw consists of a powered motor that drives a cutting chain at speed around a guide bar. The metal chain that travels along the guide bar is bladed and when the chain makes contact with the workpiece material the cutting teeth are dragged through the wood to make the cut.
The Petrol-Powered Chainsaw
Probably the most familiar chainsaw type is the petrol-powered chainsaw which is mostly favoured by tree-felling professionals for its power and speed of cutting, as well as for its ability to cut a large amount of wood on a single tank of gas. It also has the advantage of being untethered unlike mains electricity-powered machines that need to be plugged in. However, for the DIYer, there are a number of things to take into account, many of which are disadvantages, when considering buying a petrol-powered chainsaw. To begin with, petrol engine-powered chainsaws are noisy and require far more maintenance and servicing than electrically-powered machines. They also require a specialised blend of petrol and oil as their fuel supply which is inconvenient to put together and produces unpleasant fumes when used. The chainsaw fuel also needs to be drained between use if the machine is not used frequently to prevent damage to the carburettor, and if the fuel happens to run out during operation, the chainsaw has to be left to cool down before refuelling in the interests of safety. The weight of the engine in a petrol-powered chainsaw also tends to make the machine much heavier than electric chainsaws, and the need to carry a reservoir of liquid fuel only adds to the weight. Finally since one is buying what is essentially a small vehicle engine, the price point of many-a-petrol-powered chainsaw is higher than it is for electrical equivalents, making them less appealing to the DIYer especially if they are only used occasionally.
The Electric Chainsaw
Given the many disadvantages of the petrol-powered chainsaw, it is perhaps not surprising that amongst DIYers the saw that is more prevalent is the electric chainsaw. The electric chainsaw is generally much quieter and lighter than their petrol-powered equivalents making it easier for just about anybody to handle. The electric chainsaw may lack the power of the petrol chainsaw, but unless one is cutting down large trees regularly, the average DIYer will not need so much power. Electric chainsaws can also be used without worry of generating too much noise which might be important if the chainsaw needs to be used indoors, or in locations at risk of disturbing anyone close by such as the neighbours, and they also do not emit any fumes like petrol-dependent ones. Finally, electric chainsaws are often fitted with safety chains which means that if the chain sticks in the material being cut for any reason, there is less of a chance of a kickback occurring where the chainsaw jumps back at the operator risking injury. The relative lower power of the electrically-powered machines also makes any kickback that does occur less violent.
What to look for when Buying an Electric Chainsaw
Corded vs cordless
As with other power tools, deciding on the type of electrical power system one wants in their chainsaw is one of the first questions to ask when looking to buy one. The decision is one that is based on a number of factors including personal preference, where the machine will be predominantly used, and access to mains power or a universal power tool battery system amongst other criteria.
Cordless battery-powered chainsaws are the least powerful of all the chainsaw types but are probably the most convenient to use as they are relatively lightweight and lack any sort of restricting power cord. This means they are particularly useful in certain situations like when precariously perched up a ladder cutting branches from a tree where they are less tiring to use and easier to manoeuvre amongst the branches. On the more negative side, cordless chainsaws tend to be more expensive than their corded brethren and their operation is time-limited by battery capacity.
Corded chainsaws, on the other hand, are more powerful (although not to the level of petrol-based machines) and so are able to handle larger more difficult cutting jobs than cordless ones. They are also generally cheaper than cordless machines and so represent good value for money. On the negative side, however, they tend to be limited in the location in which they can be used due to the need for access to mains electricity, and the trailing power cord can often get in the way when working.
For corded chainsaws which are measured in Watts (W), the higher the power rating of the machine, the faster it will cut. Therefore, a 2000W machine will cut faster than an 1800W one. For battery-powered machines, the power rating is measured by voltage (V) of the battery which is usually 18V. However, some machines can use 2 batteries at the same time doubling the voltage and allowing these higher voltage battery-powered chainsaws to cut faster and more aggressively than lower voltage ones.
The speed at which the metal chain rotates around the guide bar determines the speed at which chainsaw makes its way through the wood being cut. So a slower chain speed will mean a slower rate of cut whereas a higher chain speed will cut through material more quickly.
Guide Bar Length
The guide bar guides the metal cutting chain of the chainsaw as it rotates. It also determines the chain length and the size of log or other wooded structure that can be cut, so for example if one is only cutting small logs, then a 30cm guide bar should be sufficient. It is also important to remember that the longer the guide bar, the more powerful the machine has to be in order to drive the chain over a greater length of cut.
Tool-less Chain Tensioner
One of the regular maintenance tasks that needs doing when using a chainsaw is to ensure that the tension in the chain is correctly set. This is achieved by adjusting a chain tensioner which is usually in the form of an adjustable screw or a tool-less system where the tension can be set by the turning of some sort of knob. Obviously for convenience, the tool-less system is the better of the two.
Electric chainsaws are lighter than their petrol counterparts as they have simpler internal working components and don’t have to carry a reservoir of liquid fuel. This makes electric chainsaws much easier to handle and allows their use for extended periods of time without tiring out the operator. Mains-powered chainsaws tend to be slightly heavier than the battery-powered machine mainly due to their greater power output, larger guide bars and longer chains.
Petrol chainsaws are very noisy due to the sound of the internal combustion engine, not unlike those found on the road and other petrol-driven vehicles, and can make their use indoors or in residential areas prohibitive. Electric chainsaws, on the other hand, are much quieter and are one of the reasons why they are preferred by DIYers. Corded electric machines tend to be slightly noisier than battery-powered chainsaws mainly due to their greater power output.
Automatic Oil Lubrication
The chain on a chainsaw needs oil to ensure that it always runs smoothly. Application of this oil can be done either manually, or through an automatic oil application system where the oil is stored in an onboard reservoir and automatically dispensed to the chain as it turns. Obviously the automatic oiling system is preferred over having to manually do it oneself, and if the oil tank is transparent, helping to better keep track of the oil level, even better!
Popular Electric Chainsaws in the UK
|Black & Decker CS2040|
|Einhell GH-EC 2040|
|Bosch UniversalChain 18|
|Black & Decker GKC1825L20|
|Black & Decker GKC3630L20|
Electric Chainsaw Reviews
Einhell GH-EC 2040 Chainsaw Review
Looking for a decent budget-friendly electric chainsaw? The Einhell GH-EC 2040 chainsaw could be your guy. This mains-powered chainsaw has a powerful 2000W motor and a 375 mm maximum cutting length (406 mm chain bar) which allows it to tackle even the wider arboreal girths. Like other corded electric chainsaws, this Einhell machine is just as powerful and useful as its petrol-fuelled equivalents but with an operating range limited by the length of the power cord.
The Einhell GH-EC 2040 chainsaw comes unassembled but is not difficult to put together and requires no tools. Importantly, however, the cutting chain must be fitted in the correct orientation or else the chainsaw will appear unable to cut, as some inexperienced chainsaw operators have incorrectly concluded. During cutting chain installation, an extra pair of hands will come in handy to steady the saw and for getting the initial chain tension to the right level, which can be challenging.
As with most chainsaws, the tension in the cutting chain falls as it heats up and expands during use. This means that the chain must be checked regularly for the correct tension as it is used and tightened up when necessary. Fortunately, the Einhell chainsaw possesses a tool-less chain-tensioning mechanism which makes keeping the right level of chain tension a breeze. Importantly, however, one needs to remember to unlock the larger fixing wheel before adjusting the chain tensioning screw. Equally, the tension in the chain also must be released at the end of a chainsawing session since the chain will contract as it cools. If the tension is not released after extended use, the chain can become permanently stretched, eventually making it too big to operate on the fixed-length chain bar.
Like other mains-powered chainsaws, the Einhell GH-EC 2040 is intermediate in weight coming in at approximately 5 kg. This makes the chainsaw quite heavy to operate, especially when compared to battery-powered machines. However, its extra weight is a testament to the power contained within its motor. The Einhell chainsaw also has an extra-long 5m power cord which allows the use of the chainsaw some distance away from a power socket, typical of what one needs in the home garden.
Safety-wise, the Einhell chainsaw has a couple of safety features that make the machine safe to use even by inexperienced operators. Firstly, the Einhell chainsaw incorporates a motor brake which stops the chain rotation immediately upon trigger release. In addition, the handguard on the front of the machine prevents the chainsaw from operating when it is pressed forward. This acts as an inbuilt kickback protection mechanism through the activation of a chain brake. This is an important protective measure to have on more powerful chainsaws as kickback can be surprisingly strong even on electric-powered machines.
As for accessories, the Einhell GH-EC 2040 does not come with anything other than a blade cover, which allows the machine to be stored safely when not in use. However, the one blatant omission with the Einhell machine is that it does not come with any chainsaw oil. Chainsaw oil is required for automatic chain lubrication during operation, so its omission makes it impossible to use the Einhell chainsaw out of the box if you don’t already have some oil handy. Fortunately, chainsaw oil is relatively inexpensive (which smacks of penny-pinching from Einhell for not including some!) and lasts a reasonably long time, so it is important to remember to order some at the same time as purchasing this Einhell chainsaw. The oil reservoir on the Einhell chainsaw is a generous 160ml in volume and has a good-size inspection window to make keeping tabs on the oil level easy.
Overall, the Einhell GH-EC 2040 chainsaw is excellent for any household with a garden where it can make short work of just about any branch or tree the typical homeowner or DIYer will encounter. It is also excellent for cutting logs down to size for fireplaces, another fairly common activity amongst homeowners and DIYers. As for cost, the Einhell chainsaw does well here too since, when it comes to corded chainsaws, one can hardly do better in terms of value for money, even with having to purchase chainsaw oil separately.
Bosch UniversalChain 18 Chainsaw Review
The UniversalChain 18 electric chainsaw from Bosch is a small, lightweight, cordless log-cutting tool that is easy and safe to use by amateurs as well as professionals. It uses an Oregon chain that gives rise to a blade length of 200mm once installed on the guide bar. Due to the incorporation of a tip protector into the blade's design, however, the actual chainsaw cutting length is reduced to only about 13.5 cm, meaning logs and other wooden structures no bigger than about 5 inches or so in diameter can be cut. This small blade size, while it functions well, limits the chainsaw's use to cutting small branches, firewood logs, young trees and other medium-duty cutting tasks. Like most electrically-powered chainsaws, the Bosch UniversalChain 18 is also not powerful enough to cut through more mature tree girths. Even with smaller logs, best practice is always to apply as little pressure as possible to the blade, letting the cutting action itself do the work.
The tip protector's function on the Bosch chainsaw is partly to stabilise the chainsaw against the structure being cut, but more so to act as a kickback safety feature for DIYers with little experience of operating a chainsaw. This protective feature does its main job by preventing the tip of the saw being pressed into the workpiece, which would otherwise put the user at risk of a kickback. Chainsaw kickbacks most often occur when the tip of the cutting blade momentarily snags in the workpiece, causing it to move violently upwards and backwards towards the operator, risking injury. However, even though the tip protector is permanently riveted to the machine, it is not impossible to remove the rivets, which some owners of the Bosch chainsaw have done to increase the effective cutting length of the chainsaw to its full bar length. This is not a recommended practice, however, as the tip protector is a crucial safety component especially for first-time or less-experienced chainsaw users.
The battery the Bosch UniversalChain 18 uses is an 18V battery that can be interchanged across a range of Bosch battery-powered tools. This also has the advantage of only needing a single charger across the range of tools. Several Bosch battery-powered tools come with 1.5 Ah versions of this 18V battery, and although these can also be used with the Bosch chainsaw, their run time is quite short for this power-hungry device. The Bosch 18V batteries more recommended for use with this chainsaw are the 2.5 Ah or higher capacity ones. Typically, one can expect the saw to run for about an hour of intermittent use on a 2.5 Ah battery, although actual battery life will depend on the level of chainsaw use and the hardness of the wood being cut.
The Bosch UniversalChain 18 arrives partially unassembled, with the chain requiring attachment to the drive mechanism and bar before tensioning. Unlike some older model chainsaws where chain attachment and tensioning can be a tedious process, doing so on the Bosch machine is a straightforward affair. The chain installation requires no tools, and its tensioning is achieved through the twist of a dial, engaging a ratcheting system. This blade tensioning system works remarkably well, even better than other tool-less systems of competitor machines. Once the chain is tensioned correctly, one is left to just fill a small 80 ml oil reservoir on the machine, responsible for automatically lubricating the cutting chain, before the chainsaw is ready to start work. The tensioning system is also handy during routine chainsaw use, as chains, in general, tend to loosen as they are used. Being able to quickly re-tension the chain without disassembling the chainsaw, and without the need for any tools, makes the Bosch machine a pleasure to use. Note, however, that the battery on the chainsaw should be disconnected before hand-checking the chain tension. This is because inadvertent activation of the Bosch machine, by catching the safety button and the trigger with a single hand, is easy to do and poses a safety risk.
No tool is without its share of minor imperfections, and the UniversalChain 18 chainsaw is no different. Issues to be aware of on the Bosch machine include the typical Bosch instruction booklet, where diagrams and text are separated by instructions in a plethora of different languages, making it difficult to follow along. As alluded to earlier, when it comes to trigger design, safety has taken a bit of a back seat with the safety switch and the trigger in too close a proximity, making the inadvertent activation of the device not difficult. Ideally, a safety switch should have been incorporated on to the auxiliary handle ensuring, by design, that both hands are kept away from the blade when operating. As a consequence of this switch positioning, a little extra care should be taken when handling the Bosch chainsaw, to make sure it is not activated unintentionally when touching the chain.
Another change we would like to see is a redesign of the battery attachment mechanism so that the battery can be disconnected more easily with a single hand. As it currently stands, it can sometimes be awkward to simultaneously push the battery release lock on the chainsaw while pulling the battery off in the opposite direction. Making battery removal easier will further encourage users to remove the battery when inspecting the chainsaw chain, increasing safety.
As for day-to-day maintenance of the Bosch chainsaw, users should remove the lubricating oil from the chainsaw reservoir when stored for an extended period as it will continue to slowly release the chain lubricating fluid even when the chainsaw is stored upright. One final thing to note with the Bosch UniversalChain 18 is that it is designed for right-handed use only forcing left-handed individuals to use the machine on their less familiar side, which is not ideal.
Overall the Bosch UniversalChain 18 chainsaw is one of the best small battery-operated chainsaws on the market. As expected from Bosch tools, design and build quality on the machine is excellent, and using the chainsaw is a pleasure. Obviously, given its size and power, it is limited to cutting smaller diameter timber. Still, in that job, it performs flawlessly with its chain tensioning mechanism a particularly appreciated feature. The Bosch UniversalChain 18 also represents good value for money if the new owner already has an 18V Bosch charger and 18V batteries from other Bosch tools, or intends to buy other Bosch tools that use the same power system. However, having to purchase batteries and a charger specifically for the chainsaw probably makes the Bosch machine a little too expensive with better value available elsewhere.