Electric Chain Saws

Cutting firewood with electric chain saws is cleaner and quieter than using gas-powered.
By Neil Soderstrom
October/November 2005
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The three electric saws we tested cover a wide range of prices and features.
Photo courtesy NEIL SODERSTROM
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In 1997, I traded my two gas chain saws for an electric model, and I’ve never regretted it. My electric saw emits no exhaust and requires no maintenance other than refilling the chain-oil reservoir and sharpening the chain. With just a flip of the switch, my electric saw shuts off, providing welcome silence while I reposition logs. Also, unlike a gas-powered saw, my electric always starts.

In contrast, long after using my gas-powered saws, I could still smell the exhaust in my nostrils. To keep a gas saw running well, you must dispose of stale fuel, mix fresh gas with engine oil, adjust carburetor settings, and occasionally replace a faulty spark plug or a broken starter cord. Besides, unused fuel left in a saw for a season or two tends to gum up, which can damage the carburetor. Also, gas saws generally weigh up to 2 pounds more than comparably powered electrics.

Electric saws have drawbacks too, most notably the limited work space imposed by the length of their cords. Dragging and repositioning a power cord can be bothersome, as well. What’s more, temperatures below 40 degrees dramatically reduce cord pliability.

The chain of an electric saw travels slower than that of a gas saw. This means you will need to be a bit more patient with an electric as its chain works its way through wood. Of course, after a power outage, you will have to wait until the power returns to do any work with the electric saw.

Although the power cord makes electric saws less appropriate than gas saws for the felling and limbing of large trees, electrics are great for bucking logs for firewood, as well as for cutting landscape timbers and notching logs for log building.

If you need a chain saw for these and other types of work near a power source, an electric saw will serve you well.

Saw Testing

I tested three electrics that have very different price points and features. Thus, I’ll simply describe the three as alternatives to gas saws, rather than evaluate them head-to-head. Measured at ear level, the noise from all three saws ranged between 89 and 96 decibels (dB), strongly indicating need for hearing protection. (In industrial settings, 85 dB is the threshold for which hearing protection becomes mandatory.)

Stihl 180C: I’ve used this 10-pound, 2.3-horsepower electric saw for seven years, and it’s performed wonderfully. Complete with a fast-stopping chain brake, it has a 15-amp motor and a 16-inch bar. I’ve used the 180C to cut through the notoriously dense, hard crotch wood of a 20-inch-diameter maple. The 180C has as much torque power as a midsize gasoline-powered saw.

The Stihl 180C costs about $370; the 140C costs $300 to $320, depending on its bar length, and the heavier-duty 220 costs about $500.

Husqvarna 316: This 10-pound, 7-ounce saw is rated 2.2 horsepower and 13 amps. It has good heft and a solid feel, as well as an impressive chain brake that activates when the operator’s left hand bumps against the left hand guard. As an added safety feature, the chain brake is activated by inertia if the chain ever catches on the topside of the bar, suddenly pushing the saw toward the operator. The 316’s helical drive allows the motor to line up with the saw’s long axis, so it doesn’t project its bulk leftward, as other saws do.

Priced at about $230, the Husqvarna 316 is virtually identical to the Jonsered 2116E — both companies are subsidiaries of the Electrolux Group.

Remington 625-01: The largest of several Remington models marketed to the cost-conscious consumer, this 9-pound, 10-ounce, 12-amp saw offers a surprising 3.5 horsepower for its weight and low $100 price. It’s the lightest of the three saws tested.

Almost all chain saw manufacturers specify standard chain-and-bar oil with high viscosity (stickiness), but Remington instead recommends standard SAE-30 motor oil for chain lubrication in temperatures between 30 and 75 degrees. However, because the oil is gravity-fed, the oil tank must be emptied after each work session; otherwise, it will drain onto your storage surface. This saw seems less solid than the Stihl and Husqvarna, yet it appears sturdy enough for modest amounts of work each year.

The 625-01 costs about $100; smaller Remington electrics can cost as little as $50.


Appropriate Cord Gauges

Maximum cord length is dictated by a saw’s amperage rating. Most outdoor circuits are 15-amp, and cords lose amperage the longer they run from the source. Under load, saw motors overheat unless the cord is of sufficient gauge and shortness to maintain sufficient amperage. Saws rated in the 7- to 12-amp range can work at distances up to 150 feet, with a specified cord. Outdoor-rated cords are round-jacketed and stamped with a suffix of “W” or “W-A,” for Wet or Wet-Applications, as in SJTW or SJTW-A.


Resources

Manufacturers 


Neil Soderstrom is the author of Chainsaw Savvy: Cutting, Sharpening, Troubleshooting. He lives in Wingdale, N.Y.


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Post a comment below.

 

Jalopy
8/19/2011 8:43:51 AM
I have a Worx chainsaw, not rated in the article. It's 15 amp with 18" bar and weighs 11.2 lbs. I'll never go back to gas. A chainsaw, gas or electric, is only as good as the chain attached. If the chain is dull the saw will be slow and unsafe. As long as I keep my chain sharp my Worx saw hasn't met a tree it couldn't handle. In the woods I use a generator to supply power to the saw. I have the power to run a radio or cooler, works great. The generator is easy to drain and I can dump it in my truck for the trip home. I could also use an inverter hooked up to my truck if I was going to work out there a lot and it would be far cleaner and quieter than a chainsaw. It's no different than a carpenter building a home. They start out using generators and when power is finally run to the house they use the electrical in the house. The reason I first switched to electric was because of what a Stihl saw shop owner told me. He said they were getting a lot of ruined saws due to two problems. The first problem was the gas being left in the tank for a couple of weeks and having the ethanol in the gas attracting to much water into the gas and ruining the engine. The second problem was finding gas with up to 30% ethanol, which also ruins the engine. You can drain your gas every time you use your saw, but what do you do if you find 30% ethanol in the gas? Buy a new saw I guess. So I'll keep my chain sharp and make do with electric and a generator when I have to.

Matt_24
8/18/2011 5:15:26 PM
I have cut 80% of the wood for my stove with an electric chainsaw (Remington $65 at Tractor Supply) for the past Three years. When I'm out in the woods I cut everything to 6 and 8 foot lengths to fit in my truck and trailer. Then stack it at home and cut to stove length with the electric, as needed or at my leisure. The electric doesn't spin as fast but has more torque and will power through anything the blade will fit, without bogging down.

Abbey Bend
8/17/2011 5:57:20 PM
Outside of this article is older than my current saws, electrics have little use outside of the shop or around the house to trim smaller stuff, under 14-16 inches. They are just too slow to really be useful for larger items and fatigue is a problem when you are attempting to do very much with a saw. As for those thinking they are more eco-friendly, nothing could be further from the truth! Electric saws use electricity produced most likely by fossil fuels and more of it for the same amount of work. Also a good set of chaps will just as easily stop and electric saw as a gasoline one. The best bet is to pay attention and not need to be relying on the chaps to save your leg! In felling thousands of trees, I have only needed them once and that was because I was too tired, knew it, and put myself in a bad position, knew it! Once you pay attention to what you are doing and do not push yourself past the point of exhaustion, chaps are just a nice thing to wear, protecting your jeans! Really, electric saws are nice in shop but have little real use outside of a shop. A decent gasoline saw is easy to maintain, drain the gasoline when you park it, not that hard to do, unless you are just lazy. Lazy people should not be using a chainsaw in the first place, they are too dangerous for lazy people. And if you like your equipment don't use vegetable oil for a lubricant, it has very little lubrication quality, and the equipment will quickly suffer for it!

Abbey Bend
8/17/2011 5:56:22 PM
Outside of this article is older than my current saws, electrics have little use outside of the shop or around the house to trim smaller stuff, under 14-16 inches. They are just too slow to really be useful for larger items and fatigue is a problem when you are attempting to do very much with a saw. As for those thinking they are more eco-friendly, nothing could be further from the truth! Electric saws use electricity produced most likely by fossil fuels and more of it for the same amount of work. Also a good set of chaps will just as easily stop and electric saw as a gasoline one. The best bet is to pay attention and not need to be relying on the chaps to save your leg! In felling thousands of trees, I have only needed them once and that was because I was too tired, knew it, and put myself in a bad position, knew it! Once you pay attention to what you are doing and do not push yourself past the point of exhaustion, chaps are just a nice thing to wear, protecting your jeans! Really, electric saws are nice in shop but have little real use outside of a shop. A decent gasoline saw is easy to maintain, drain the gasoline when you park it, not that hard to do, unless you are just lazy. Lazy people should not be using a chainsaw in the first place, they are too dangerous for lazy people. And if you like your equipment don't use vegetable oil for a lubricant, it has very little lubrication quality, and the equipment will quickly suffer for it!

ecofreako
6/23/2007 10:09:41 AM
Good article. I thought I could add something interesting: because I found myself drawn to home-heating by a woodstove to get off 'natural gas' fossil fuel heating last winter, (in northrn B.C. Can. the winter occupies a large part of the year) I also then couldn't justify feeding the stove with wood cut used with the energy of gas chainsaws. So after some searching online, I found you could buy little rechargeable (portable) electric chainsaws. Really little! My "ryobi" brand has a 10" blade. Yes, I did get through the winter exclusivly with woodheat using this tool...for felling a couple dozen standing dead forest trees, and "bucking" them into smaller pieces to carry home in a hikers backpack. You can (and should) use canola vegetable oil for the 'bar and chain' oil instead of the dirty fossil-fuel kind, too! It gels up when really really cold out, but with some agitation with a stick it loosens to fluid again. I must say that after the bulk of winter was complte, I got to try out an old one-man cross-cut saw (really big, like six feet) and will probably opt for this over the rechareable saw as it saves time overall, like not having to carry out and change the several battery packs I needed to have the electricity for significant cut-time. I hope someone/s read this message to realise the inspirational possibilies of heating without the 'aid' of fossil fuels!

joe50
7/24/2006 12:00:00 AM
hi i agree i have both elc and gas i use gass at hunting cabin and elc i have genator or care on 4x4 with power inverter both have place power invert plugs into 12v and is light. and dose not flood or break pull cord but can have its own proublems too. so i see both as very usful

SHANNON McGraw
7/24/2006 12:00:00 AM
I use my lightweight electric chain saw around the house and the gas powered one out in the woods. They both serve their purpose. I like the fact that I don't have to keep gas mixed up for the electric saw.

Ben Richey
6/27/2006 12:00:00 AM
Most electric chain saws are designed for use in the workshop to cut timbers and larger boards which are too big for a table saw. One very important safety consideration with electric chain saws is that chain saw safety chaps will not stop the chain, due to the electric motor's higher torque. They need to be handled with due respect.

CATHERINE McGurk
4/18/2006 12:00:00 AM
An electric chain saw would have been no good when we needed it the most after Hurricane Isabel knocked out power for up to 2 weeks. Driveways and roads were blocked with fallen trees. Thank goodness for gas power!

THOMAS TOWNSEND_1
12/16/2005 12:00:00 AM
The biggest problem or drawback of an Electric saw is the fact that I have yet to find an electrical outlet in the woods. I use a reciprocating saw at the house and it works just fine for the small household needs.

joe50
11/16/2005 12:00:00 AM
on elec chain saws dose chain have safty fiture to help keep it on saw

joe50
11/16/2005 12:00:00 AM
i have had some close calls with gsa chain saws chain comming off bar how hard is it to adjust chain on elc one








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