If all chain saws cut quickly, safely, and easily, you could simply buy what’s left on the shelves after the next big storm. But Consumer Reports’ latest tests of gas and electric saws found that some should clear driveway-blocking branches much more briskly than others. Findings include:
Two gas saws are top values. Gas-powered saws cut quickest and still work during a power outage. Speed and balance help make Stihl’s MS 180 C-BE, $230, a Best Buy and Consumer Reports’ top saw overall. Also good for less: Craftsman’s 34190, $150, which gives up some speed for a much lower price.
Corded electric beats cordless. Electric saws spare you from fueling, pull-starting, and tune-ups. The corded Worx WG303.1, $100, sawed as quickly as some gas models. Battery-powered saws add the mobility of a gas model.
How to Choose
The fastest gas models are best for extensive clearing or frequent cutting. But light-duty gas saws should handle most tasks. So should corded-electric saws, provided you’re near an outlet or generator. Here’s what else to keep in mind:
Look for safety features. Along with a chain brake, look for some form of vibration dampening if you’re considering a gas saw; most that Consumer Reports tested have it.
Get the right gear. Essentials include Kevlar chaps, gloves, steel-tipped boots, and a helmet with a face shield. You’ll also need hearing protection.
Inspect before you buy. This spring, Consumer Reports’ secret shoppers found several saws at three Home Depot stores that had been used and returned but were back on shelves, coated with oil and sawdust. Open the box to be sure the saw really is new.
Use it carefully. Start a gas model on the ground or another secure surface at least 10 feet from a fuel source. Hold all chain saws with two hands while sawing. Don’t lean into the cut or saw above shoulder level. And avoid cutting with the tip of the bar and chain to help minimize the chance of kickback.
Chain saws need some upkeep to cut as they should:
Keep the chain properly tensioned. One that’s too tight will wear quickly; if it’s too loose, it can slip off. With the engine off or the motor unplugged, adjust it after every 10 to 15 minutes of sawing by loosening the bar, placing a dime between the bar and chain, then retightening the bar before removing the dime.
Keep it sharp, clean, and oiled. Have a pro sharpen the chain (about $10) if you don’t want to do it yourself — you’ll see fine sawdust instead of chunks when it’s time. Refill the bar-oil reservoir when needed; most saws today show the level at a glance. And remove the chain cover, chain, and bar for cleaning after each major use.
Keep the engine up to snuff. Gas saws usually require a mix of gas and oil. Consider buying premixed fuel without ethanol, which can harm small engines, according to industry experts. Price: about $5 to $8 a quart.
Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.