STIHL MSA 120C Review
A flexible, quiet and powerful battery-powered chainsaw, the STIHL MSA 120C can handle all of your domestic cutting jobs.
By David Ludlow Contact via Contact via linkedin
You can cut larger logs but this is about as big as you can go
Proof that battery power is really coming of age: the STIHL MSA 120C is a 36v battery-powered chainsaw designed for domestic use. From managing trees in a large garden to cutting up timber for firewood, the STIHL MSA 120C is the perfect garden accessory and its low operating noise means it won’t annoy your neighbours either.
Thanks to the improvement in battery-powered tools, we’re now at the point where a chainsaw is a real option for home users. Thanks to its quieter running and easier operation, the STIHL MSA 120C makes light work for those with big gardens, or for those wanting to cut up logs to use as fuel in a wood fire.
Excellent performance, plenty of safety features, and the same build quality that you’d expect on STIHL’s professional equipment makes the MSA 120C a serious tool for those who need it.
STIHL MSA 120C design – A full-on chainsaw
Battery-powered it may be, but the STIHL MSA 120C is a full-on chainsaw, looking and acting the part. Decked out in STIHL’s familiar white and orange colour combo, this chainsaw sports a similar look to the company’s professional range.
This model is designed for home use, so has a 30cm (12-inch) guide bar and ¼-inch chain gauge, designed for medium-sized timber. As with professional models, the chain is exposed on the STIHL MSA 120C, which means that you’ll need full-on protective equipment to use it: chainsaw trousers, protective footwear, gloves, and eye protection. Ear protection isn’t strictly needed for this model, since the electric motor is comparatively quiet.
This is a full-on chainsaw, only it’s battery powered
Safety is a big issue with chainsaws, so it’s reassuring to see that STIHL has provided several features to prevent the saw from being started before you’re ready. First, the battery slot at the rear has two positions. When you first slide in a battery, it clips into place but doesn’t make contact. As such, the chainsaw is effectively dead; a second push gets the electrical system up and running.
At the front of the saw is a large plastic handle that has to be pulled up to get the STIHL MSA 120C ready for action. Thereafter, you have to press the thumb button and trigger to start the saw. It should mean no accidents, but there’s also a plastic sheath for that extra layer of security.
There are several safety features to ensure the saw isn’t triggered by mistake
As with other chainsaws, some maintenance tasks will need to be performed. First, you need the chain to have enough tension; it’s a tool-less job. Once the sprocket cover has been loosened using the screw on the side, you can tighten or loosen the chain using the dial. It’s a touch fiddly to get right, so maybe have a dealer talk you through the process.
Chain tensioning is achieved via a tool-less system
You’ll also need to top up the oil reservoir. I found the best time to do this was on depletion of a battery, to avoid forgetting. For cleaning, you can take the sprocket cover off, to give the chainsaw a thorough clean after use.
You need to keep the saw topped up with oil
You’ll need to have the chain sharpened from time-to-time; this is a job that’s better suited to a dealer, as it can be fiddly and difficult to get right.
The main difference between this model and the petrol model is that you have to use batteries for power. You get an AK 20 model in the box, but larger capacity batteries are available for a longer run-time; you can get faster chargers, too, if you want a quicker turnaround time between outings.
Performance – Easy to handle and perfect for most domestic tasks
With its 3.7kg weight (including battery), the STIHL MSA 120C is surprisingly easy to wield – which makes it all the more important to ensure you wear the right safety gear to prevent any accidents. With the bundled AK 20 battery, you should get up to 35 minutes of run-time, although the type of wood that you’re cutting can make a difference. Upgrade to the AK30 battery and you’ll get closer to 55 minutes.
If you’re a regular user, then upgrading the charger might make sense, too. Using the bundled AL101 charger, 100% charge of the AK 20 battery takes 180 minutes; with an AL 300 charger, full charge is 55 minutes away, and 80% charge is achieved in 35 minutes. There’s a handy battery gauge on the rear of each battery: press the button to light up the four LEDs (each one represents 25% charge).
The bundled charger is quite slow, but you can buy faster models
Putting the STIHL MSA 120C into action, I was impressed with its cutting power. Although this chainsaw is really for pruning back branches and cutting up smaller logs for a fire, I decided to push it to its limit and started with a large log of 25cm in diameter, which required a bit of patience to cut through. Using too much pressure or trying to go too fast will jam the saw; go slow and methodically and the STIHL MSA 120C can manage it. However, this size of log did feel as though it was at the limit of what the MSA 120C can handle, which is impressive given the price and size of this saw.
You can cut larger logs, but this is about as big as you can go
Switching down to something smaller that you’d more reasonably have to deal with in your garden or for cutting up fro the fire, I used logs with a 15cm diameter. Here, the STIHL MSA 120C cut through straight away, giving me some a nice bundle of logs to season for firewood. Impressively, the STIHL MSA 120C doesn’t pull too much, even though it has a decent amount of power to it. That makes it less overwhelming to use, particularly for chainsaw newbies.
Realistically, given the two sizes of log that I cut, the chainsaw can cope with the vast majority of domestic needs easily enough, and you’d only need something more powerful (or a professional) for dealing with lots of harder wood or very big trees.
Slightly smaller logs are easy for the chainsaw to tackle
Thanks to the electric motor, the chainsaw is rated at just 83dB(A), which is somewhere just under city traffic and a lot quieter than a petrol chainsaw. Again, for domestic use, the comparatively low noise levels are great, as you can use the chainsaw in the garden without upsetting the neighbours.
To see what a professional thought of it, I handed it over to Joe Lovell of Gardencare Tree Services. He found that cutting softer woods was problem-free, but Joe felt that the chainsaw could struggle a little on tougher woods, such as Apple. However, he said that for domestic use and for cutting up smaller logs for firewood that this is the perfect tool. Joe’s only minor complaint was that he felt that it was a bit fiddly to adjust the chain and recommended that buyers get a dealer to take them through the process.
Should you buy the STIHL MSA 120C?
For bigger jobs around the garden that need a chainsaw or for cutting up smaller logs for firewood, the STIHL MSA 120C is an excellent choice. It’s lightweight, powerful and comparatively quiet thanks to its battery operation. With plenty of safety features and a more gentle operation than its bigger brothers, it’s a useful tool that’s easy to use on thick and thin logs alike.
STIHL MSA 200 C Chainsaw Review – Battery Powered
As the market leader with gas-powered chainsaws, STIHL keeps their stellar reputation with their MSA 200 C battery powered chainsaw. Smooth and fast, without the noise.
I’m a logger, just up from Coos Bay, Oregon. Not really, but it makes me sound tough. While I may not be a logger, I have felled my share of trees. I even worked with my uncle, who was a real logger in South Alabama. On that subject, a small storm rolled through our town a few months back, the name was Irma, Hurricane Irma. One of the victims was a mature oak tree just outside one of our shops, struck by lightning during one of the many thunderstorms. This is perfect timing with the arrival of the STIHL MSA 200 C chainsaw. Let’s see how much real work this STIHL battery powered chainsaw can handle.
Picking up the box with the MSA 200 C chainsaw inside is a bit perplexing. You get the feeling of: Did they forget to put the saw in here? Sometimes we make the mistake of equating weight with quality. Sure enough, the STIHL MSA 200 C chainsaw was in there, sans bar, chain, and battery. Of course, picking this up from your local STIHL dealer, they will have all this assembled and ready for you. Included with our setup, but in separate packages, are the 14″ rollomatic mini bar, thin kerf blade, AP300 battery, and the charger.
Lightning Strikes Twice
Well, maybe there was just one lightning strike, but it killed two trees in one strike. To be honest, you may even regard this as one tree, but for all practical purposes, let’s call it two. This was a mature oak tree that had a common twenty-something-inch trunk for about two feet, after this, it separated into two ~18-inch trees. We’ll just call them twins. “Wait, you cut two 18-inch trees down with a 14-inch saw?” Yeah, we don’t recommend this, but we wanted to see what the STIHL MSA 200 C chainsaw could handle.
For felling larger trees, you might want to try something like the STIHL MS 441 Magnum.
Survey and Widowmakers
First, we did our safety survey of the tree and surroundings. This was a near-perfect opportunity since there no buildings lie within reach, just grass. We also made sure there were no widowmakers ready to strike. Finally, we assessed the lean of each tree to determine which way to fell them.
Pro Tip: In forestry, the term widowmaker (or fool killer) is a detached or broken limb lodged in a tree. If you’re not aware, these can become dislodged while felling and hurt or kill someone. Widowmakers are the cause for 11% of all fatal chainsaw accidents.
Bore Cut Method
We like to use the bore cut method for felling a tree, so we started by making a face cut. This cut should only go about 1/3 the depth of the tree. The MSA 200 C had no problem cutting through the oak. In fact, the saw cuts very smoothly, mimicking the cut of gas-powered STIHLs, just not quite as fast.
Next, we used the STIHL battery powered chainsaw to plunge cut into the oak, just behind our face cut. Even plunging the 14-inch chain and bar into the oak was like butter. This STIHL MSA 200 C chainsaw never even struggled. Since the trees are wider than the bar, we did have to plunge from each side. The plunge cut should cut all the inside area of the tree, leaving about an inch behind the face cut. This ~one-inch area is the “hinge”, and this will determine which way the tree will fall. Furthermore, the plunge cut continues toward the opposite side, leaving an inch or two uncut (backstrap).
Next, we drove a couple wedges into the cuts, to ensure the tree falls in the correct direction. Our last cut was on the backstrap. A quick squeeze of the trigger on the MSA 200 C and the chain roared to life, making quick sawdust of the few remaining inches of the backstrap. Go ahead, say it: “timberrrrr!” Down went one, and then we repeated the process on the other. This STIHL battery powered chainsaw is powerful, nimble, and quiet.
STIHL MSA 200 C Chainsaw Features
Even with the lack of weight, it’s easy to recognize the quality of the STIHL MSA 200 C chainsaw when we assembled it and gave the saw a ‘once-over’. The MSA 200 C chainsaw weighs only 7.3 lbs by itself and only 11 lbs with the AP300 battery. As for any consumer needs, there are no tools necessary. Removing the side cover for access to the bar and chain is simple, hence it requires no tools. Just flip the half-circle lever out on the side cover retainer and twist left to remove. This same access retainer is what is also loosened when adjusting the chain tension.
The STIHL battery powered chainsaws can be configured with a variety of bars and chains. We opted for the 14″ rollomatic mini, which is the largest bar and chain available for any STIHL battery powered chainsaws. The 1/4″ STIHL Picco chain is a thin kerf design, made to work with the Rollomatic E bar. The bumper spikes, some call bucking spikes, are made of metal providing another resemblance of a gas chainsaw.
MSA 200 C Battery Powered 36V Chainsaw Assembly
As mentioned earlier, you will probably pick up your saw from the STIHL dealer completely ready to use. However, many Pros service and maintain their chainsaws, so the following would apply. The quick chain adjuster internal mechanism needs to be fastened to the bar, before installing the bar and chain. This is very simple, but mistakes can be made if you don’t pay attention. One straight-slotted screw holds the adjuster to the bar. There are two (2) holes in the bar and adjuster, seeming that there should be two (2) screws. However, after careful observation of the saw, I realized that only one screw is used, on the bottom hole of the bar and adjuster. I used a drop of Loctite on the threads to ensure the screw stays put.
Be careful with the new chain, they are very sharp. These smaller Picco thin-kerf chains seem even sharper than their larger cousins. We placed the chain on the bar and then moved the adjuster all the way in. Holding the chain stationary on the bar, we put the slack of the chain around the sprocket and placed the bar (and chain) over the adjuster stud. Make sure the screw, holding the adjuster to the bar, is facing towards the saw. The quick change adjuster will face outward.
Batteries and Power
Our setup included the STIHL AP 300 battery. This is their 36-volt lithium ion, 6.0 Ah battery. STIHL claims a 45-minute runtime with this saw and battery, but it’s hard to equate what runtime minutes mean with a chainsaw. We want to know how many cuts we can make. We found a large section of the oak tree that had a consistent branch diameter of roughly 10-inches. Now, with a fresh battery, we made 43 coasters from the oak limb. It was actually 42-7/8 cuts, but I’m hoping that we can agree to call it 43. Keep in mind, this after felling two trees and cutting them up for firewood. While the STIHL chain stayed pretty sharp, it was by no means a brand new chain at this point.
No Mess – No Tools
One of our pet peeves is a chainsaw that leaves a trail. You know, that puddle of bar oil that’s left when the chainsaw is picked up. We saw no trace of bar oil leaking from the MSA 200 C tank or auto oiler. The chain stays lubricated, but very little residual can be found. There’s not even enough residual to puddle or drip. Topping off the bar oil is very easy and requires no tools. Just like the side cover, the oil cap has a flip-out half-circle. A quick quarter-turn and the cap is off, ready to be filled.
Balanced and Easy to Handle
Handling the STIHL is almost like an extension of your arm or hand. With the AP 300 battery attached, this saw is very balanced on the handle. Whether you’re cutting with the bar vertical (pruning and cross-cutting fallen limbs) or horizontal (felling trees), the rubber overmolded handle is comfortable and functional. Furthermore, the throttle trigger is easy to engage, once the safety button is depressed. The user’s thumb (for right-handed people) autonomously depresses the throttle lockout button when the rear handle is grasped. This allows the throttle to now be engaged.
The simplicity of the MSA 200 C is a feature in itself. Many battery powered saws we have tested have too many electronic processes, detracting from the sawability (that’s my new word). On this STIHL battery powered chainsaw, there is no button or switch to turn on the saw. If the battery is engaged, just depress the lock button and squeeze the trigger.
It can’t be a secret, from our positive outcome above, that I highly recommend the STIHL MSA 200 C chainsaw for anyone looking for a high-performance battery operated saw. At the same time, make no mistake, I don’t see this as a replacement for a gas saw when felling trees. To be fair, STIHL doesn’t claim this either. In fact, I think STIHL is making this statement by offering a 14″ bar for their largest option. For felling small trees, pruning, and brush-cutting, this is a great choice.
Power is ample on the battery-powered MSA 200 C for any cutting in its 14-inch capacity. In addition, the cut is clean and smooth, much like the STIHL gas-powered cousins. I would like to see a 16-inch bar and chain offered, to give a bit more cutting capacity. Also, the price is pretty steep when compared to the others on the market. Arguably, this stands as one of the best in its class, and the quality is typical of STIHL. Even with the higher price, the build quality and performance still make this a great buy.
STIHL MSA 300 C-O Battery Saw Review
When we compare the STIHL MSA 300 C-O with the classic STIHL MS 261, they seem quite similar in theory. Multiple tests were conducted to ensure that the comparison was accurate, and it’s safe to say that the STIHL MSA 300 C-O is one of the most powerful battery-powered chainsaws on the market in 2022.
Why having the right cutting equipment matters
The emergence of battery-powered chainsaws has made cutting equipment (chain and guide bar) more important than ever. This is because it’s easier to determine the power output of electric motors as compared to gas engines, and we have exact knowledge of the battery power. For instance, during tests on smaller battery saws like the STIHL MSA 220, there was a noticeable difference in performance with different cutting equipment. It was also interesting to see how manufacturers optimized power output for specific cutting systems.
STIHL opted for the trusted Light04 system for the MSA 300, the same system recommended for the STIHL MS 261. It uses a 0.325″ pitch chain and a 1.3 mm gauge. The test saw provided by STIHL came with a 14″ Light04 bar, and the chain used during testing was the RS PRO.
After conducting the test, the team found that the MSA 300 and Light04 combination worked extremely well. They found that the RS PRO chain had little kickback tendencies while still maintaining a good cutting capacity. They concluded that the Light04 bar with an RS PRO chain is an appropriate cutting system for the STIHL MSA 300.
Is the STIHL MSA 300 for you?
Who would be the primary users of a powerful battery saw that can be compared to a 50-cc gas-powered saw? Forest owners could be one target group, along with loggers who work shorter hours close to home. The elderly may also appreciate its easy-start function, and tech enthusiasts always want to have the latest gadgets.
While the STIHL MSA 300 C-O may not be the go-to saw for full-time professional loggers, it could serve as an all-purpose saw kept nearby on an ATV or tractor. It’s also a useful tool for various jobs around the farm.
In addition to arborists, professional loggers who work in urban and populated areas might also find the MSA 300 useful due to its quiet operation. However, the MSA 220, which is also battery-powered, presents tough competition for the MSA 300 as it is lighter and smoother, and its power is sufficient for thinning tasks. However, the MSA 220 has a downside with its throttle trigger lockout that needs to be pushed by the thumb, which may take some time to get used to.
AP 500 S
STIHL released a new battery called AP 500 S around the same time as the MSA 300. If you want to use the MSA 300 to its full capacity, you’ll need this battery. The AP 500 S is an improved version of the AP 300 S battery, with a 36V output and the same size and connections. However, the new battery has new cells, which STIHL claims provide more power while maintaining the same size as the previous battery. Additionally, the AP 500 S can withstand more charging cycles than the AP 300 S.
The AP 500 S battery from STIHL has a higher energy content of 337 Wh compared to the AP 300 S which has 281 Wh. This means the AP 500 S battery has about 20% more power. Interestingly, the new STIHL battery is on par with Husky’s BLi 300 battery in terms of energy content, as they both have 36 V and 337 Wh.
In the “RFF-test” (Ready For the Forest), the STIHL MSA 300 with a 14″ Light04 bar weighed 7.6 kg (16.7 lbs.). Without a battery, it weighed 5.65 kg (12.46 lbs.). To give some context, the STIHL MS 261 weighed 6.45 kg (14.22 lbs.) and the Husky 550 XP Mrk II weighed 7 kg (15.43 lbs.).
While the battery saw weighed 1.15 and 0.6 kg more than the corresponding gas saws in the test, the difference may not be a big deal for everyone. The test logger, Lars-Erik, didn’t seem bothered by it. However, compared to the STIHL MSA 220, the MSA 300 is around 40 percent heavier.
Looks and features MSA 300
The saw we tested from STIHL was a demo sample, most likely from a pre-series at the factory in Germany, but it’s expected to be the same as the one that will go into serial production. That could explain why the MSA 300 has such high quality, on par with other professional STIHL saws.
One positive difference from the STIHL MSA 220 is that the throttle trigger lockout is placed at the top of the rear handle, like normal chainsaws, instead of on the thumb side like the MSA 220. While the MSA 300 is longer and feels bigger, the balancing is good and our test operator, Lars-Erik, had no complaints.
MSA 300 vs Gas saws?
Simply put, the answer is yes, the MSA 300 can compete with the STIHL MS 261 and Husky 550 XP Mrk II. We conducted tests to compare their efficiency and made sure that the gas saws were fueled with the same Aspen fuel from a single can while the MSA 300 was powered by fossil-free electricity. All three saws were lubricated with chain oil from the same can. The saw chains on the MSA 300 and Husky 550 XP were new, while the STIHL MS 261 chain was slightly used. You can watch the video below to see that all tests were performed on the same logs.
Unfortunately, the Husky 550 XP broke down during the test. It was an older saw belonging to someone on the test team and obviously needed service. It started cold but refused to start when it was warm.
You can see the result of the cookie-cutting test in the chart below.
|Cut No (species)
|Time sec MSA 300
|Time sec 550 XP Mrk II
|Time sec 550 XP Mrk II
On the field test
When the MSA 300 was tested and compared in the forest, the results were similar to the gas saws in terms of felling, delimbing, and bucking. However, this is a subjective assessment and you can form your own opinion by watching the video below. In the video, Lars-Erik can be seen working with both smaller and larger trees.
MSA 300 battery
STIHL claims that the MSA 300 can produce a maximum power of 3 kW and reach a maximum chain speed of 30 meters per second. Our test confirmed that it can keep up with the other two saws in the test. We tested the different power modes during the cookie-cutting test and were impressed that the saw did not overheat once during testing, even though the air temperature was around 18 degrees Celsius (64o F).
The battery did get hot, but the saw continued to run without any issues. Delivering a large amount of energy quickly from a battery is a challenge, but STIHL seems to have succeeded. However, it’s worth noting that intensive cookie-cutting, like what we did in the test, is not a regular chainsaw routine.
Managing Charging and Power Usage
After intensive use of the MSA 300 at its highest power mode, we had to wait a little while for the battery charger to detect a low enough temperature for recharging. Besides that, everything else went well, and recharging took approximately 35 minutes.
Regarding power consumption, the MSA 300 was able to cut 45 “cookies” at maximum power mode and 65 at ECO mode. These tests were done with an average log diameter of 20 centimeters. This performance is in line with what we found in our previous tests of the Husky 540i, STIHL MSA 220, and Echo DCS 1600.
In terms of running time in the forest, our personal experience indicates that the MSA 300’s battery life is similar to a gas tank on a comparable gas-powered saw, as shown in the video below. This means you need to bring enough batteries with you, depending on how many hours you work and what power mode you use. If you opt for the ECO mode, you’ll need fewer batteries, but it won’t be comparable to a 50-cc gas saw.
Impact in Economy
When it comes to comparing battery-powered and gas-powered chainsaws, it’s a hotly debated topic within the logging community. You either love the battery saw or hate it, and it’s not easy to combine the two depending on the job at hand.
While a battery saw can be expensive to purchase, it’s important to consider that you’re investing in a system that will last you for the entire lifecycle of a gas-powered saw. So, when comparing the two, it’s crucial to consider the economics over the saw’s lifetime.
In terms of cost, the price for the saw itself is about the same for both battery and gas-powered options, and the wear on guide bars, chains, and chain oil consumption is also the same. So, these factors don’t need to be taken into account when making an economic comparison.
Our test revealed that a fully charged battery in the STIHL MSA 300 lasted roughly the same amount of time as a gas tank in the STIHL MS 261. So, if you typically use six tanks of gas per day in the forest, you’ll need six batteries and six chargers for overnight charging.
When comparing costs, you’ll need to take into account the cost of batteries, chargers, and gas, as well as how many hours you’ll be using the saw per day and how many years you’ll be using it for.
While I won’t provide specific cost figures here, it’s worth noting that according to Fredrik’s calculations for a full-time logger using a chainsaw for three years, the battery saw (STIHL MSA 300) would be around 100 cheaper per month compared to the corresponding gas saw (STIHL MS 261).
Ultimately, companies with many chainsaws in their fleet can save a significant amount of money on electricity by investing in battery-powered saws. However, it’s important to keep in mind that gas and electricity vary greatly between countries, so it’s crucial to do your research and compare costs in your local area.
The battery saw industry is rapidly developing, and the STIHL MSA 300 and the Husky 540i are already on par with professional gas saws in the 50-cc class. It seems like battery saws will eventually become the norm.
During our test, logger Lars-Erik fell trees of various sizes using the MSA 300 in an area of summer houses. The saw’s quiet operation made it a hit among the locals, proving that it’s suitable for use in populated areas.
It can take some time to get used to the unique features of a battery saw, such as the MSA 300’s safety function that turns off the saw after being stationary for a while. But it’s no big deal and easy to learn. However, Lars-Erik, being an experienced logger, did have a slightly embarrassing moment when he repeatedly reached for the non-existent starter grip, much to the amusement of the onlookers.
The release date of the STIHL MSA 300 in different countries is unclear, so keep an eye out for updates from your local dealer.
The Best Electric Chainsaws of 2021
Electric chainsaws reduce emissions by using electricity, and they’re cheaper to run than gas chainsaws. Here’s our list of the best electric chainsaws of 2021.
Electric chainsaws are better than gas chainsaws. That may feel like a controversial statement, but cordless electric saws eliminate most of the issues that make gas saws a pain.
They seriously reduce emissions by using electricity instead of oil and gas. And they’re cheaper to run — most don’t need maintenance beyond an occasional chain sharpening.
Electric chainsaws also eliminate carburetors, fuel lines, spark plugs, and air filters, including the cost and hassle of maintaining, cleaning, and replacing those. Because they don’t use gas, gas won’t go bad inside the saw. And some are so quiet, not only will they be less disturbing to your neighbors and wildlife, but there’s also less of a chance they’ll impact your hearing.
They’re also super easy to start. If you’re an intermittent user, that may be what convinces you to make the switch. Electric chainsaws start when you release the safety and pull the trigger with your finger. There’s no pull cord, so there’s no need to leave a saw idling so you don’t have to start it again or keep the gas engine warm. Electric chainsaws turn on and off in a flash. And when they’re on, because they vibrate less, they’re less tiring to use.
Be careful when you use an electric chainsaw. Because there’s no roar of a gas-powered engine, they can seem like toys. But an electric chainsaw chain can do just as much work as a gas-powered saw — and just as much damage if used inappropriately.
Operators should wear the same PPE. And before you use any chainsaw, it’s imperative to get educated on proper safety and handling. Then, get after your project. Electric chainsaws can handle it, no matter how big or small.
Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys, or jump to the category you’re looking for:
For more information about electric chainsaws, check out our buyers guide at the end of this article.
The Best Electric Chainsaws of 2021
Best Overall Saw: Greenworks GS181 82V 18″ Chainsaw
The chainsaw that made me rethink owning a gas saw, the Greenworks 18-inch-bar GS181 (350), can handle any task my prosumer STIHL can, from felling mature ash and maple to bucking up the log. I used it to fell and cut four cords of firewood, and I never missed my gas saw.
Greenworks GS181 has the power and torque of a 50cc gas engine with a more reliable, efficient, and economical brushless electric motor. It runs on a 4Ah 82V battery, the biggest battery of the saws on this list.
The battery had exceptional life. Greenworks optimized it for performance in the tool as well as efficient charging. It’s Bluetooth-enabled, so I could register it and track its performance. With Bluetooth, I always know which is the oldest. And when I loaned one to a neighbor, Bluetooth reminded me to get it back.
The GS181’s motor provided instant high torque, zero maintenance, and zero-exhaust cutting with decreased vibration and noise. I’ve used this saw’s predecessor for 2 years, and while it was a fantastic second saw, it didn’t have the power to fell the largest trees. The thinner blade felt too delicate to fell big hardwoods. This tough, powerful big brother crushed any tree felling, trimming, or log sawing project I threw its way, including forestry work.
To operate this saw, I filled the clear oil reservoir with chain oil. Because the reservoir is translucent, it was easy to monitor chain oil levels on the fly. That’s important because, unlike a gas saw, I didn’t need to refill the oil every time I switched batteries. On my gas saws, I typically refuel and refill the oil at the same time. The saw’s automatic oiler applied oil to the bar and chain as needed to ensure durability and smooth functioning.
When I was ready to saw, I pressed the power button above the handle and I was ready to go. To start the chain spinning, I released the lock on top of the saw, pulled the trigger, and the saw came to life. My upper hand was protected by a chain brake that stopped the saw instantly when I engaged it. I could also stop the blade by releasing the trigger.
The saw’s battery status and remaining charge were indicated by LED lights on the 400Ah battery. (It can also be run with Greenworks 250Ah and 500Ah batteries, and Bluetooth batteries are not required.) When the chain brake was engaged, a caution light flashed to let me know.
With the saw pressed against a tree, the steel bucking spikes bit in to give me leverage and control. And the high-quality chain driven by the powerful battery and motor ripped through wood with the same power as a gas saw, but with none of the fumes and a whole lot less noise.
Made for professional use, this saw has a metal plate protecting the bottom. It adds weight, but it also means I won’t ever crack the saw’s body. The new plate ruggedizes the saw and makes it feel even more trustworthy.
For quick tasks, I didn’t feel like I needed hearing protection. But this saw is so big and powerful, and because I have hearing protection built into my STIHL helmet, I wore it anyway.
For people who use a chainsaw a lot, and who depend on it for tasks of all sizes, there’s no better saw. It’s somewhere between prosumer and professional in design and power. And while it’s hefty, it gave me the confidence to get any job done. This is the only saw on this list suitable for professional use.
- Weight w/ battery: 17 lbs., 4 oz.
- Weight w/o battery: 12 lbs., 12 oz.
- Bar length: 18”
- Bucking spikes: Steel
- Chain brake: Yes
- Chain tensioning: Via included but no onboard tool
- Warranty: 2 years
- Batteries and chargers sold separately
- No onboard chain-tightening tool
- Manual chain tightening
Best-Value Long-Bar Saw: Ryobi 40V HP 18” Brushless Chainsaw
Powerful and aggressive, Ryobi’s 40V HP 18-inch Brushless Chainsaw (379) rivaled more expensive saws with its ability to fell trees and cut firewood. While it wasn’t as powerful or long-lasting, it was powerful enough for small projects and occasional use, and it gave us a lot of bang for the buck.
The saw’s load-sensing, brushless motor auto-adjusted the saw’s power levels to what was needed to cut. Using it, I cut a wedge from a 10-inch birch and then felled it with confidence.
A mechanical chain brake protected me from kickback and let me disengage the chain anytime I wanted to stop the saw. It was placed comfortably so I didn’t knock it accidentally but could easily engage it when I needed it. In past Ryobi saws, some users have complained there wasn’t sufficient space between the handle and the chain brake, so it engaged unintentionally.
The clear oil reservoir was a handy window that let me keep track of my chain oil level. And the tool in the handle was handy for tightening the chain, though smaller than what’s usually specced with a chainsaw. It clips into the handle, so I always had it. But I sometimes needed to use a branch or other tool to remove it from its handle storage area.
This saw can handle the occasional downed mature tree, making it perfect for the homeowner who needs a saw with a longer bar. But plastic spikes, not metal ones, and the smaller battery made it best for household projects, not production work. Plastic spikes gave some purchase on rougher bark, but not enough grab to leverage the saw. And the battery didn’t last long enough to buck up a whole tree.
The saw is well-balanced, with a good grip. My only design concern is that the battery, which is on the bottom of the saw, is exposed. It’s recessed into the frame, but it feels vulnerable.
Pack the saw up, and the scabbard not only sheaths the bar and chain but also covers the bucking spikes. The scabbard inserts into the saw’s plastic carry case that transports the saw and keeps any leaked chain oil contained. It was a convenient system that also didn’t take up awkward space when I stored the case when the saw was in use.
The battery didn’t last as long as the Greenworks or STIHL batteries, but it did recharge in just under an hour, and it’s compatible with many Ryobi tools and chargers. Plus, it has a 5-year warranty.
- Weight w/ battery: 13 lbs.
- Weight w/o battery: 9 lbs., 15 oz.
- Bar length: 18”
- Bucking spikes: Plastic
- Chain brake: Yes
- Chain tensioning: Via onboard tool
- Warranty: 5 years
Best Midsize Saw: STIHL MSA 220 C-B
Capable of felling and limbing small and medium-size trees, and ideal for softwood projects, this light- to medium-duty 36V STIHL (410) is the brand’s first battery-powered chainsaw with a 16-inch bar. And it’s the most powerful electric saw in the STIHL lineup.
This rugged, well-designed, well-built saw has all the most important convenience and safety features. Its bar and chain stay lubricated while also using up to 50% less oil than conventional saws, according to STIHL. The system works via two ramps placed in the guide bar rail that contain oil flow and channel oil to the sliding faces of the bar, the chain links, the rivets, and the driver holes.
The saw’s chain brake stopped the chain fast when I activated it with my hand. It would auto-engage if the saw kicked back. And one of my favorite features of this saw was a raised and printed felling stripe, a feature not found on any of the other saws I tested. It gave me a visual of where the tree I was cutting would fall. It was accurate and educational.
A clear chain oil reservoir let me continuously monitor how much was left and when I needed to refill. But the handiest feature of this saw was STIHL’s Quick Chain Adjuster, which let me tension the chain without tools.
The MSA 220 C-B uses a light and compact brushless electric motor with reduced vibration. The soft rubber on the handle was easy to grip and comfortable to hold all day. While it was quieter than a gas saw, this saw was louder than other saws we tested and required hearing protection at all times.
I ran this saw with STIHL’s AP 300 S battery — a 7.8Ah battery and the most powerful STIHL offers. The battery has 25% more capacity than the AP 300 for longer runtime as well as an enhanced power-to-weight ratio. It’s compatible with a wide range of STIHL tools, including extended-reach hedge trimmers, pole pruners, chainsaws, and blowers.
The saw comes with STIHL’s three-eighths-inch PICCO super chain and a low-profile, low-kickback saw chain with a square-cornered cutter shape for minimum chain friction and a smooth, clean cut. It was one of the nicest chains of any saw we tested. It sliced through small logs like a knife through butter with the power and precision practically synonymous with the STIHL name.
Metal and plastic spikes bit into the bark to give me a purchase. But when I tackled trees 8 inches or larger, despite the long bar, the saw hesitated even when I wasn’t applying pressure. We tested the 16-inch bar saw. But considering its power, I’d buy this saw with the 14-inch blade instead.
- Weight w/ battery: 12 lbs., 9 oz.
- Weight w/o battery: 8 lbs., 8 oz.
- Bar length: 14″ and 16″
- Bucking spikes: Plastic and metal
- Chain brake: Yes
- Chain tensioning: Tool-free
- Warranty: 3 years
Best for Trail Work: DeWALT XR 12″ 20V Battery Chainsaw Kit
Small and light enough to carry in a backpack, this 12-inch saw (279) is my new go-to for trail work. A homestead workhorse, it cut landscaping timbers, cut down a stud wall, limbed trees, and cleaned up winter blowdown.
The 12-inch-blade saw was light and easy to handle, but it had the safety and convenience features of bigger, more expensive saws. It was the only sub-14-inch saw we tested that had a chain brake. It was self-oiling for continuous use, with a sealed reservoir that kept it from leaking when I carried the saw in a pack. All of the other saws in this class that we tested had manual oiling mechanisms, which were messy and unreliable.
The low-kickback, 12-inch Oregon bar and chain got the job done, though with a lot more vibration than larger saws. On the bright side, when the chain rattled loose, adjusting it was tool-free.
The tool is designed for smaller jobs. It had plastic ridges — not quite spikes. But that wasn’t a deal-breaker, as most of the time I used this saw to clear branches, cut down saplings, and trim bridge planks. It could cut down a tree up to 8 or so inches; it just took longer than the larger saws we liked.
This saw is part of DeWALT’s 20V Max system of tools. The kit includes the tool plus a 5Ah 20V Max battery, charger, and a bar cover.
- Weight w/ battery: 9 lbs., 5 oz.
- Weight w/o battery: 7 lbs., 15 oz.
- Bar length: 12″
- Bucking spikes: Plastic ridges
- Chain brake: Yes
- Chain tensioning: Tool-free
- Warranty: N/A
Best Light-Duty Saw: Hart 8” Pruning Saw
One step up from manual loppers, the no-oil-required Hart 8-inch pruning saw (118) is a handy lawn and garden tool for light jobs around the house and relatively infrequent use. The 20V saw is powered by a 2Ah battery with a fast charger. The battery is compatible with many other Hart tools, and the saw is compatible with any Hart 20V battery.
Though the saw is light-duty, it comes with a chain-tensioning tool in the handle. There’s no chain brake, but a plastic block protects your hand.
Hart does provide a tip guard to help prevent improper sawing techniques that could lead to kickback. With the tip guard installed, the bar cover didn’t fit. The frame of the saw keeps the blade off the ground, so when I stopped to clear out the branches I had cut, it didn’t get in the dirt.
- Weight w/ battery: 6 lbs., 8 oz.
- Weight w/o battery: 5 lbs., 11 oz.
- Bar length: 8″
- Chain brake: No
- Chain tensioning: Onboard tool
- Warranty: 3 years, limited
Best for Hard-to-Reach Branches: Greenworks 10″ Brushless Pole Saw
For most people, a pole saw falls in the n1 category, — as in non-essential. But once you’ve used this pole saw, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.
With a small chainsaw at the end of a three-piece pole that extends to 10 feet, this pole saw (179) is ideal for maintaining trails and driveways, cleaning up storm damage, pruning fruit and ornamental trees, and getting to broken branches that are higher than you can reach.
The saw, which has an automatic chain oiler, is on an angle at the end of the pole. That gave me the best angle for sawing overhead tree limbs and let me be precise. The angled head also directs the weight of the saw down for a gravity assist with cuts. The three-section 10-foot gave me 11 feet of reach. It twists to adjust.
To engage the saw, I pressed on the release and pulled the trigger in the handle (at the end of the pole farthest from the saw). That’s also where the battery lives, which kept the weight low and acted as ballast to help me control the saw overhead.
When I cut a limb and it got hung up in the tree, a branch hook at the base of the saw helped me pull it down. I also used the branch hook to hang the saw when I was alternating between the pole saw and the chainsaw.
The 10-inch Pole Saw ran on the same batteries and used the same charger as the Greenworks GS181 82V 18-inch Chainsaw. It was a great tool for an ambitious homeowner but is capable of handling professional jobs.
- Weight w/ battery: 12.8 lbs.
- Weight w/o battery: 12.65 lbs.
- Bar length: 10”
- Bucking spikes: No
- Chain brake: No
- Chain tensioning: Tool-free
- Warranty: 4 years
Buyers Guide: How to Choose an Electric Chainsaw
What Other Battery-Powered Tools Do You Already Own?
The key to battery-powered tools is that many of the batteries can be used in a family of tools, not just a single tool. This can save you some major money.
If you’re already committed to a brand’s battery system, it may make sense to buy a compatible chainsaw. If you haven’t committed to a brand’s battery system, choose carefully, because you may be committing to more than just the chainsaw once you get started. The batteries in my Greenworks chainsaw also power my lawnmower, leaf blower, pole saw, and more.
Choose Your Batteries and Charger Wisely
Electric chainsaws run on quick-charging lithium-ion batteries. Many recharge in about an hour. A bigger battery will give you saw longer life. It will also weigh more. If you’re doing light yard work and using your saw infrequently, it may make sense to have multiple smaller batteries instead of big ones.
Actually, it always makes sense to have multiple batteries, because there’s nothing more frustrating than being halfway through a project and having to wait until your battery recharges, which could be 40 minutes to several hours. Some e-chainsaws have battery-charging options. If a quick recharge is important to you, spend a few extra bucks to save yourself hours of waiting.
What Do Ah and V Numbers Mean?
When shopping for a battery-operated chainsaw, amps (A), amp-hours (Ah), and voltage (V) tell you how much work you’ll be able to do with the saw-and-battery combination.
Amps or amperage is the amount of electrical current the battery can provide. Amp-hours tells you how long the battery can provide a certain amount of current. And voltage is how much force the saw has to push current from one part of the electrical circuit to the next. expensive saws will have higher numbers.
Weigh Your Options
Smaller saws are lighter and easier to operate. Pick one large enough to get your jobs done. If you’re planning on carrying a saw for trail work, you may want the smallest, not the most powerful. If you’re using your saw to fell trees and buck up firewood for the season, power and large size are key.
Battery choice also affects the saw’s running weight. Choose batteries with enough juice you won’t be waiting for a recharge. Keep in mind that lighter batteries are usually shorter-lived but also make a saw easier to manage.
What Features Matter?
Not every saw has a chain brake and not every saw is self-oiling. Pick a saw with the operation and safety features that are important to you. Some e-chainsaws have tool-free chain tensioning, some have clip-in storage for a tool, etc.
You Get What You Pay For
Electric chainsaws are like most other tools: You get what you pay for. If you buy a cheap saw, expect that it won’t have all the bells and whistles of a more expensive saw, and the battery likely won’t be as powerful or long-lasting.
Not everyone needs a pro-grade saw, but for me, features like a chain brake and automatic chain oiler are non-negotiable. Chainsawing safety is paramount, and an auto-oiler will keep your saw in tip-top shape.
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Berne Broudy is a contributing writer at GearJunkie.com.
Broudy has been writing about cycling, skiing, and outdoor gear for more than 20 years. Prior to that, Broudy spent time guiding hiking and cycling tours in South America, Europe and the U.S.
Based in Vermont, Berne Broudy is a core user of and expert in outdoor, cycling and ski gear, as well as overlanding and powersports gear. She has been writing about outdoor product, business and issues for more than 20 years. She has written and photogtraphed for more than 20 publications, and has served as a contributing editor at many of them. Broudy currently sits on several non-profit boards in her home state of Vermont. She is an avid mountain biker, gravel biker, backcountry skier, overlander, and adventure traveler.