Giving myself to a chainsaw
March 18, 2013 5:30 PM   Subscribe

As a homeowning citizen of the Northwest, I find myself with a hankering to buy a chainsaw.

I'd like to spend about $200. I'll probably use it three or four times a year to turn felled trees into firewood. I'm 5'4", reasonably strong, not tremendously mechanical.

Is this Poulan Pro PP5020AV 20-Inch too much saw for me? What would you recommend instead?

Other than visiting my dad for a hands-on lesson in using and maintaining a chainsaw, which I intend to do, what tips and resources do you have for a novice chainsaw user?
posted by ottereroticist to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Get Chainsawing Chaps. Chainsaws are stunningly dangerous tools, especially when you don't use them very often. Chaps can make the difference between a giant, gaping wound in your leg and a scary but not fatal/disfiguring experience.

A helmet/face guard/ear protection combo is also a good purchase.
posted by rockindata at 5:38 PM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

If I was going to buy a chainsaw, I would buy it locally so that I have a chance to try out its heft and balance.

But before buying a chainsaw, I would look into getting a good bow saw first. It takes longer to cut with a bow saw, but you may be surprised at how quickly you can cut with it. And the bow saw will work even when you are out of gas or the motor on your chainsaw has seized up due to poor maintenance. If you are mostly dealing with branches and small trees, you might not need a chainsaw at all.

And absolutely never use a chainsaw without eye protection. Sawdust will occasionally spray at high velocity into your face. You don't want a bunch of painful crap in your eyes and a running chainsaw in one hand.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:43 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Consider getting an electric chainsaw. If you're going to be doing your sawing within 100' of your house, the ease of use and maintenance of an electric saw are a huge benefit. Poulan makes several electric models.
posted by cosmicbandito at 5:46 PM on March 18, 2013

Don't forget ear protection! Chainsaws are surprisingly loud.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:57 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you a man or woman? Can make a difference in strength capability.
How are your reflexes? Slow or sharp?
If you need it just for firewood, can you make do by firewood that many in your area do not need, and will gladly give you?

Chainsaw ownership by a non experienced user is not recommended given the chance of serious injury, even with chaps. Chaps are not for the novice, but for the experienced.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:03 PM on March 18, 2013

20" is a big saw (though 50CC on a 20" bar won't be especially powerful). A 16" saw is likely to be sufficient for your purposes, and also safer and lighter/less fatiguing.
posted by jon1270 at 6:29 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

As rare as you may want to cut something up, when you do you want a real tool. Chainsaws are not something to go halfway with.

If you really want to get one, get one with quality. Stihl is the brand of choice around here.

1. Watch make sure you get the right gas/oil mix.
2. The chain is important. Treat it well. Keep it sharp. Either do it yourself or find a place that will. I find it's time to sharpen my chain after an hour or two of use. Experienced people might disagree with me on that. It makes a huge difference.
3. Clean up the gunk from the chain mechanism after/before use.

Other than go Stihl, I don't have any particular advice on what model to buy. I wouldn't be too concerned about bar length.
posted by Folk at 6:57 PM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding Stihl.

One tip, the moving chain should only touch wood. If you hit dirt or stone at speed your chain is done and needs touching up. Does no good to try cutting with a somewhat sharp chain.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:07 PM on March 18, 2013

Let me add, that the most dangerous part of a chainsaw is the tip of the cutting blade. There are only a couple of inches between a nice cut and a kick back that will can cause terrible damage. If you've never used one, have someone with experience show you how to utilize this tool.
posted by HuronBob at 8:13 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Put the Echo CS-330-T on your list for consideration. I've run a lot of saws of all sizes made by all of the major manufacturers and now use this little Echo as my primary saw. I was out today cutting dry walnut up to 18 inches with the Echo and it did a great job. I gave my brother-in-law a Stihl as a house warming gift when he moved into the mountains, but for myself I'm content with the Echo. I think that the Echo vs Stihl comparison is like comparing Honda vs Mercedes. I like my Honda and I like my Echo saw. I think that for your use you'll be happy with the Echo too.

Two cycle motors need to be run frequently, don't let your saw sit with fuel in it for more than a week or two without being run. If you let it sit you'll end up with a gummed up carburetor.

Check YouTube for chainsaw safety and operating guides.

I used to teach chainsaw ops. Pay close attention to the safety info. Mind your footing at all times, don't slip or get off balance.
posted by X4ster at 8:30 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have lived around chainsaws all my life.

You do not want to get an electric saw. Having a cord underfoot while running a chainsaw is a terrible idea, they are also grossly inferior in terms of power. An underpowered saw is actually more dangerous, and will wear you out. Accidents happen when you're tired.

A 20" saw is a large saw, and overkill for bucking up firewood. Get a smaller saw, not a bigger one. Big saws are heavy and tire you out. This is especially a concern since you're small-ish. Again, accidents happen when you're tired.

Sharpen your saw every day. Get a flat file and a round file of the right size, as well as the tool to make sure you're filing at the proper angle. File two times per tooth- don't file some more than others. Dull and missharpened saws are dangerous as hell.

Get a grease gun for your blade tip. Lubricate it every time you run the saw.

Cut with the line of the blade facing away from your face and body.

Hearing protection is a must.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:32 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding getting an Echo, too. Nice, lightweight, cheap.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:33 PM on March 18, 2013

Having owned a bunch of Husqvarna two-strokes and watched them get worse over the years, please make sure you do not buy -either- Poulan or Husky saws. If I understand correctly Husqvarna bought Poulan and adopted the cheap Poulan carburetors across the board. Thirding Folk, get a Stihl and accept the bar length you can get. A 16" saw is quite a beast, if you are not used to chain saws. When it's running my Husky 350 with a 20" bar will go through all kinds of big, big timber and I live in redwood country so big timber is routine.

Using a two-stroke occasionally is bad for the machine. If you are going to use pump gas it is probably contaminated by ethanol which is hell on the rubber parts of the carb and not much better for the aluminum. If you use pump gas run the saw dry when you're done using it for the next couple months. TruFuel, while extremely expensive, has no ethanol in it and your carb will thank you for using it. If you are going to run through a lot of fuel quarterly, get a gallon of VP racing gas and use that, it contains no ethanol. Avgas might be OK, I don't know that for sure.

Above all, think your situation through whenever you want to cut something. Where will the bits go when you have cut through them? Do you have an escape route? Is your footing secure? Are pets out of the way?

Wear eye protection or don't start the saw. Chips find their way everywhere. My boots are full of chips after a day's wooding and the goggles have warded off plenty of chips too. Seconding dunkadunc, keep the chain wicked sharp - just like kitchen cutlery, you're much more likely to be hurt by a dull saw than a sharp one.
posted by jet_silver at 8:57 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're not yourself felling trees, just and only cutting firewood, I'd buy electrical. I have a powerful Stihl, used it for many years, cut approximately 100 cubic meters of wood for our heating with it over the years, likely more. This includes cutting up an entire massive fur tree that went down in a storm.
It's quieter, less messy and rreally strong nevertheless, and I've never had a major technical issue with it in at least 12 years.
Electric saws aren't for field work, though, even if you would be able to get power somehow. So cutting down a medium size cherry tree in your garden, with some planning, would perhaps be something I'd risk, but strictly spoken, felling is no-no. The whole ballet of planning retreat paths and so on when felling big trees doesn't work when you also have to take care of a power cord.
posted by Namlit at 1:15 AM on March 19, 2013

As a newcomer to the chainsawing myself, I highly recommend this book.

Safety and technique described within; I guess it's not perfect (see amazon reviews), but it is a good start and an enjoyable read.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:42 AM on March 19, 2013

One more thought. Search for reviews of saws you're considering in the forums of and They may not have much to say about the Poulan since it's strictly a low-end "homeowner saw" and these forums are targeted at professionals, but they can help you distinguish amongst the better and worse models made by Husqvarna, Stihl and Echo.
posted by jon1270 at 7:40 AM on March 19, 2013

In addition to learning from your dad, sit down and watch this video from Stihl about chainsaw safety, maintenance and technique.
posted by workerant at 11:08 AM on March 19, 2013

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