The best chainsaw

The Ego is powered by a battery, so compared with a gas chainsaw, it’s far simpler to start, easier to maintain, quieter, and doesn’t emit exhaust. For power, it’s comparable to a 30 cc to 40 cc gas-powered saw, which is small on the chainsaw spectrum, but is the recommended size for general property maintenance, storm cleanup, and light firewood work. Unlike many of the other cordless saws we tested, the Ego had little problem cutting through oak, maple, and even a 17-inch-thick pine. The battery has a long run time, giving us over 60 cuts through a 7-by-7 block of fir—and the only other cordless tool this capable costs about $150 more. For ease of use, it has a tool-free chain tensioner, a feature usually found on premium gas saws. Last, the battery included with the Ego is compatible with the company’s mower and string trimmer, both of which we also recommend.

Who this is for

Chainsaws are expensive and dangerous and not everybody needs one. We have more thoughts on chainsaw safety, as well as some details on the protective gear you must wear any time you pick one up, in our full guide. If you’re undecided about if you do need a chainsaw, start out doing your lighter pruning work and tree maintenance with the peace and quiet of a well-made, sharp, quick-cutting pruning saw.

If a pruning saw isn’t cutting it (so to speak) and you need to do work on a larger scale, a chainsaw becomes essential. The saws we recommend are general-purpose, light-duty saws for regular property maintenance, storm cleanup, and light firewood work. These are quality saws, but, again, they’re on the small side of the chainsaw spectrum, so they’re not designed to spend day after day, week after week felling 40-foot trees. They have solid capabilities and can take down a fairly large tree (during testing we successfully felled and cut a 17-inch-thick pine), but they’re really designed for lighter yard work. Because of their smaller size, they’re also safer and easier to maneuver than larger saws.

How we picked and tested

The tested saws. Photo: Doug Mahoney

The best chainsaw for most people is a cordless battery-powered saw. These have power equivalent to a gas saw in the 30 cc to 40 cc range, which is on the small side for a chainsaw, but more than adequate for general home use. Cordless chainsaws avoid the hassles inherent with a gas-powered tool, including pull-starting, maintenance, and prepping for winter storage. They’re also considerably quieter and don’t emit exhaust, and the weight is roughly the same (usually between 12 and 14 pounds). Though going cordless over gas costs more, we feel that it’s a trade-off worth making due to the long-term simplicity inherent in a cordless tool. Battery life is a concern with any cordless tool, but a decent cordless saw should handle a considerable amount of light cutting.

In choosing saws to test, we zeroed in on ones with a tool-free chain tensioner. Instead of a specialized, easy-to-misplace tool, tool-free tensioners employ knobs or dials built into the saw itself. Using this criteria, we dismissed tools from Husqvarna, Ryobi, Greenworks, and Echo. We avoided top-handled saws, which are smaller and have only a cumbersome single handle in line with the bar, and corded electric saws, because they need to be tethered to an outlet. That’s often inconvenient—and worse, it renders them useless if you need them after a bad storm has knocked out power (and knocked down trees).

Out in the woods testing the saws. Photo: Doug Mahoney

We evaluated the saws in a number of settings. First, we looked at battery life by making cuts through a block of fir 4-by-4s (totaling a 7-inch-square of solid wood) until the batteries emptied. During this test, we also timed five cuts from each saw and averaged them to get a sense of their cutting speed.

Second, we took the saws into the woods of New Hampshire and spent five days getting a jump on next year’s firewood situation. As part of this, we took down a number of small, medium, and large trees, limbed them, and cut them into 16-inch lengths. We also cleaned up a lot of deadwood and did some lighter brush clearing. This process had us testing the saws on softwoods like pine and fir as well as more dense wood like oak and maple. While using the saws, we kept an eye on ergonomics, maneuverability, and overall ease of use.

After this, we put the saws in the hands of Jon Lounsbury, a professional tree worker since 2002. He used the saws for three days on a clearing project where he and his crew worked with trees up to 7 inches in diameter. He also spent time cutting up firewood with each saw.

We did all of our testing with the factory chains on the saws. In most cases they were manufactured by Oregon, and in all cases they were anti-kickback chains. (Anti-kickback chains are designed to reduce the chances of the chain catching on the wood, which can cause the bar to very quickly jerk back toward the user’s torso and head.) Other chains are available that can alter and increase performance, but as Springer told us, with an entry-level saw no one is going to take off the chain. Regular chains have a much deeper bite and though they remove more material, they’re more prone to kickback—a situation worth avoiding.

Our pick

The best chainsaw for most people, the Ego Power+ 16″ Chainsaw. Photo: Doug Mahoney

After all the tests were done, all of the trees were down, and all the sawdust mushed into the mud, we recommend the cordless Ego Power+ 16 Chainsaw as the best option for yard maintenance, light firewood work, and storm cleanup. It’s a great combination of power, run time, convenience, and cost. It’s a cordless saw, so it has none of the upkeep, noise, or exhaust of a gas engine, but it doesn’t skimp on power, cutting just as well as a high-end gas model of similar size.

Of the tested saws, the Ego’s battery had the best run time and fastest cuts (tied with a saw typically priced $150 more) and is compatible with a number of other tools we recommend. On a single charge, it made 62 cuts through the 7-by-7 block of fir, considerably more than the majority of the tested cordless saws. The Ego has a convenient tool-free chain-tensioning system with oversized dials that was easy to use even while wearing gloves, which wasn’t the case with many of the other saws we tested. It’s also among the least expensive cordless saws with a tool-free tensioner (and priced about the same as a high-end gas saw). All of these reasons are why Lounsbury told us, “The Ego is definitely the best one.”

The cordless nature of the Ego makes it much easier to maintain. It doesn’t require storing gas in your garage, any engine maintenance, or fussy winterizing. As Clint DeBoer of Pro Tool Reviews wrote in his review, homeowners “may appreciate the ease-of-use afforded by a tool that will never require a spark plug change or special fuel stabilizers to carry it through winter.”

The one thing that Lounsbury didn’t like about the Ego is that the bar-oil reservoir has a small filter on it, which really slows down the filling process. The filter is meant to catch any gunk or debris from falling into the reservoir, so it has a good reason for being there, but Lounsbury said that he’s in the habit of just wiping the area clean before taking the cap off. We tested the saws in the middle of summer, but Lounsbury said that using cold-weather bar oil is going to compound the problem because it’s so thick. “Imagine pouring honey through that filter.” He said, “If this was my saw, I’d cut the filter right out of there.” The good news is that the filter can be removed along with the cap.

The Ego also stalled out from time to time, especially when we were pushing the saw through thicker, harder wood. Among the cordless tools tested, the Sun Joe, Oregon, and Ryobi saws stalled more often, but the more expensive DeWalt hardly ever stalled out. It’s easy enough to start the Ego back up, so it’s more of a nuisance than anything else, but it is a reminder that the saw does have an upper power limit.

Runner-up

Our runner-up: The DeWalt 40V Max XR 16″ Chainsaw (DCCS690H1). Photo: Doug Mahoney

If the Ego isn’t available, we also like the DeWalt 40V Max XR 16″ Chainsaw (DCCS690H1). It offers similar run time and cutting speed as the Ego, and stalled out less often during tough jobs. We also liked how the chain got up to its top speed faster than the others. On the downside, the safety switch is awkward to use, the cap to the bar-oil reservoir is poorly designed, and, unlike the Ego, it usually ran out of bar oil before the battery died, which had us constantly checking the level while we worked. It’s also a very expensive saw, typically about $150 more than the Ego.

Both the DeWalt and Ego made the same number of cuts through the fir beam (62) and the large pine out in the woods (17). They also matched results during the timed cuts through the 7-by-7-inch fir block (8 seconds). With lighter cuts, like tree limbs and smaller-diameter trees, the two saws felt equal, but during more aggressive work, like the 17-inch pine, the DeWalt stalled less often.

Despite its issues, the DeWalt delivers when it comes to power and run time. It’s just too expensive to be our primary recommendation. With the battery life and power being so similar to the Ego’s, we feel that the needs of most people would be satisfied with the less expensive saw.

Care and maintenance

Any chainsaw requires a little bit of upkeep, even a cordless one. But as Springer said, “Unlike a lawnmower, a chainsaw requires constant attention”—whether it’s cordless or gas-powered. By this, he’s talking about chain tensioning and bar oil.

Bar oil is poured into a reservoir in the saw, from where it slowly “leaks” onto the chain through a hole. This lubricates and cools the chain as it’s cutting. We found that with the cordless Ego, a tank of oil ran out at about the same time the battery did. Springer’s advice is to not only keep the tank filled, but to also “make sure the hole is clear enough that it’s actually oiling.” Sawdust and gunk can block the delivery hole, shutting off the flow of oil. The owners manual should have specifics on this.

Also, the chain needs to be kept at the correct tension for efficient cutting. New chains do stretch, so this is something to keep a close eye on when you first get a saw. The owners manuals all go into the specifics of adjusting the chain tension.

Lastly, keep your chain sharp. This means keeping it away from the ground, as one swipe against dirt and rocks can really destroy the chain’s cutting edges. Files and sharpening kits are available; another option is to get two or three chains and rotate in a new one when one gets dull. Most hardware stores and service dealers have sharpening services if you don’t want to do it yourself.

This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from The Sweethome: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

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