Petrol powered chainsaws are the ultimate portable power tool – they allow you to do an enormous amount of work, and deliver an incredibly powerful package in a compact size. Using a petrol chainsaw is not much more or less dangerous than using an electric one, and before you pick up a saw and begin using it, make sure you are confident enough to do so. Some folks assume that because a gas powered saw is loud and rips through heavy timber easily it is more dangerous…this is not really true when you consider that most accidents happen when a chainsaw bar gets jammed or the chain catches. With a bigger more powerful chainsaw, you are actually less likely to experience jams and stops – rather the bigger chain will just rip through tough patches like knots and the like.
If you live in the country, are doing construction work, or plan to cut your own firewood, I would say a petrol powered chainsaw is generally the best choice. It’s not that Electric chainsaws are ineffective, it’s just that they simply don’t pack the same kind of power that the gasoline engine does. Then you need to consider the portability aspect. Electric chainsaws are also fairly limited in their maximum size, not just for power, but also the for length of the blade, or bar, and therefore maximum cut depth.
A petrol chainsaw is essential to cut large quantities of firewood
There might be any number of reasons for needing more than just a compact electric saw.
You can generally use a larger chainsaw to do the same work that a small saw can do – in fact some people would say that it is safer to use a saw that is too big, than a saw that is too small. I will talk more about that later on. Generally speaking, you’re better off getting a petrol chainsaw which can handle things that are a bit larger than necessary. At the risk of sounding like a bit of a caveman, using a big chainsaw gives you an incredible feeling of power too!
Of course the other reason to get a petrol driven it chainsaw is if you’re not going to be near a power point. That sounds pretty obvious, and something you need to consider. But even if you are going to buy a small chainsaw to use around the home, what are you going to do if you need to use it when the weather is wet? It’s no good using extension cords and mains voltage electricity in the rain, and is not much use if the power goes off in an emergency. I myself have been in the situation where trees have come down in storms, blocking our road. I would have been in serious trouble if I had only had an electric chainsaw!
If you think that a petrol powered chainsaw is going to be too big for you, think again. It’s amazing how small some of these tools are, the smallest of the Stihl chainsaws weigh only about 5 kg (that’s about 10lbs) which means that really anybody, including women and fairly young children could potentially use them.
Portability is a great advantage with a petrol powered chainsaw
I guess one of the only factors against a gasoline powered chainsaw is the noise output, and perhaps the emissions. This is really only a problem if you live in an environment where noise pollution is a problem, such as in the city somewhere. It’s a shame that we have to run our lives according to other people, but you have to show respect to your neighbours. You probably wouldn’t like it either, if your next door neighbor started jack-hammering or revving a car engine during the daytime, so if you live in a densely populated area an electric chainsaw might be a better option.
In my experience, petrol powered chainsaws are no more dangerous than electric ones. People tend to be more intimidated by noisy petrol driven engines, and tend to assume that these are the saws that are going to cause the bad accidents. However, there is nothing to say that you won’t slip, or get a kick back with an electric saw – if you are careful, and observe safe practices, a petrol powered chainsaw is relatively safe to use. Having said that, you should always make sure that you wear the best protective clothing you can get. This includes good chainsaw trousers, as well as chainsaw gloves and a helmet.
It doesn’t matter whether you have an electric chainsaw, a petrol chainsaw , or even a cordless chainsaw. One of the most important things you need (after safety gear of course) is a chainsaw sharpener. These tools are absolutely vital for ensuring that your saw keeps working at maximum efficiency, and keeps cutting reliably and safely.
Using a file looks simple, but takes a lot of practice to master. Working freehand like this can also be risky, as a slip often results in deep cuts to your knuckles. If you have a workshop area, try clamping the chainsaw bar in a vice to hold it steady while you work, and remember to work with slow, even strokes. You should feel the teeth of the file cutting smoothly with every stroke - if not, your file might be blunt or you are not following the correct angle.
A dull or blunt chainsaw chain is not only going to waste power, time and your energy, it can also potentially be dangerous – kind of like using a blunt knife, you’re more likely to apply excess force, and become frustrated when the chainsaw doesn’t cut well. This is the time when accidents happen.
If you’ve never sharpened a chainsaw before, get ready to take some notes! Although there is a science behind it, it does take practice and a few mistakes to learn to sharpen the saw well. Let us take a quick look at how a chainsaw chain cuts.
Unlike a regular fixed point saw, a chainsaw blade consists of a series of sharp blades which are designed to each scoop out a small amount of wood. If you look closely at a chainsaw cutting link, you will see that each little blade is kind of scoop shaped, and sort of hooks around – in order to sharpen it, you need to use a round file, or other contoured sharpening device.
The simplest way, and also the cheapest is to simply use a round chainsaw sharpener file. Although this can be quite effective, it is also the hardest method to master, much more difficult than using an electric chainsaw sharpener. It’s almost like free-form carving – you need to know, and be able to feel the correct angle to sharpen at. The best thing to do is to actually watch somebody who knows what they are doing, and then try and copy them. A round chainsaw file only costs two or three dollars, and is by far the cheapest chainsaw sharpener you can have.
A good way to improve your manual chainsaw sharpening skills is with a sharpening guide. These come in various different shapes and sizes, and basically consists of a small angled jig which you can clamp to your chainsaw bar. This is useful, because you can set it to the precise angle which you want to run your file at. This way you don’t need to guess the correct angle, and can simply align your file with the angle of the guide. These chainsaw sharpener guides can range in price from $10, up to about $50. They are an excellent way to sharpen, and a great for use in the field. Because they are quite small and lightweight, you can just keep one in your chainsaw tool bag.
To the ultimate way to sharpen your electric, petrol or cordless chainsaw is with an electric chainsaw sharpener. These sharpeners take all the hard work, and the guesswork out of the task. They generally use a small electric motor (this can be mains powered or DC voltage powered, so you could run it off your car battery) to spin a diamond grinding wheel, which puts a perfect edge on your chain cutting links every time.
The two most popular types of electric chainsaw sharpeners are those which are small enough and portable enough to be used while you were in the field (these are the ones that generally run off a 12 V car battery), and larger models which commonly are designed to be permanently attached to a bench or counter top. These larger models are mains powered, and best suited for use in a workshop or machinery shed.
Electric chainsaw sharpeners can range in price from about $50, to well over $200. Most professional chainsaw mechanics will use one of these larger mains powered sharpeners to quickly and effectively sharpen clients saws. Using an electric chainsaw sharpener can save you a lot of time, with many professionals being able to sharpen a link in as little as two or three seconds. This means you could sharpen an 18 inch or 20 inch chainsaw chain in as little as a couple of minutes.
An electric chainsaw sharpener costs more, but will give you professional grade results
So what kind of chainsaw sharpener should you buy? For the average consumer, who just wants to sharpen their chainsaw for home use, you are probably best off buying a small DC powered sharpener. These chainsaw sharpeners are very effective, and although they are not as fast as the professional grade mains powered models, they are more than good enough for light duty use. If you can justify the extra expense though, a mains power sharpener would be great anytime.
Even so, I would strongly advise you to always keep one or two chainsaw files handy. The case may be that you are working to far away from your vehicle workshop, or that you accidentally strike an obstacles and damage just one or two links on your chain. In this case it might not be worth getting your electric chainsaw sharpener, and be faster and easier to just touch up the damage manually using a file. in addition, it can be nice to do something as tactile as sharpen by hand once in a while…it’s actually quite relaxing after the noise and vibration of using a saw after a while.
Would you like to hear a gory little chainsaw story? Don’t worry, it’s not too bad. One of the most annoying injuries I’ve ever incurred while using a chainsaw actually happened while the saw was not even running. I was working in the rain, which is always a bad idea, and a long way from my vehicle. I had to sharpen the saw, and the only thing I had was a chainsaw file in my pocket…This is fine – I don’t mind sharpening chainsaws by hand in fact I find it quite satisfying. So I put the saw down, and start sharpening away. Low and behold, after a few strokes my hands slips on the wet file, and instead of running the file over the saw tooth my hand goes across instead. The result? Deep gashes down to the knuckle bone, and not much work done for the rest of the day!
A word on safety
It doesn’t matter what sort of chainsaw sharpener you are using, you still need to exercise due caution. Even when dull, chainsaw chains can still cut you deeply, and you should always wear leather gloves were sharpening them. As you can see from my little anecdote, sharpening with a file can be particularly dangerous because you are applying a lot of force using your fingers.Put those chainsaw gloves to good use – at least wear one glove (on the hand which is going to be closer to the chain!) And save yourself a lot of pain and lost time.
You have heard me talking about chainsaw safety before, so let’s look at some of the safety gear available. Growing up, I learnt to use it chainsaws wearing shorts, a T-shirt and sometimes maybe a pair of ear protectors. There was simply no such thing as chainsaw safety – the safety aspect was that you just didn’t cut yourself with it.
It was my dad who taught me to use a chainsaw, and he had this saying: he used to say, that you start out life with two bags. The one bag is empty, and the other bag is full of luck. The aim of life was to fill up your empty bag with experience, before your bag of luck ran out.
Although I like this philosophy in many ways, I don’t think it should be applied to using any sort of power tool. I guess I managed to fill my bag of experience before my luck ran out, but I know plenty of people who didn’t. I’ve seen plenty of accidents in the forestry industry where I used to work, and all I can say is that luck only goes so far.
Oh yeah, chainsaws are totally safe and definitely not dangerous...
If you are going to work with a chainsaw, there are some things you absolutely need to have. The first of these is a good pair of chainsaw trousers, sometimes called chainsaw chaps. These can come in various forms, sometimes as full pull over pants you can wear over your clothing, and sometimes more in the form of an apron type garment. What they all have in common, is that they are composed many different layers of materials, which are designed to protect you if you slip with the saw and cut into your leg.
As you can imagine, cutting into your thighs with a chainsaw would be disastrous, and that’s the area that protective pants are there to cover mainly.
Chainsaw trousers (or chaps) are kind of like a bullet-proof vest: you need to remember that they don’t make you invincible, there really are just there to buy you some time. A powerful petrol chainsaw will cut through chainsaw trousers in a few seconds it’s running at full throttle, but what these plans are designed to do is to give you enough time to ease off the throttle, jam on the chain brake, or do whatever else it takes to get yourself to safety. From seeing these pants being cut into a number of times, and I can tell you from personal experience that they are worth their weight in gold.
Basically, they are composed of tough, smooth fibrous material, which the chain simply slides over as it spins. In a way they are like a motorbike helmet, in that they are a one use item – cutting into them makes an absolute mess (there’ll be fibres and shreds of cloth flying everywhere) but they do what they are supposed to do. There are varying grades of protection available in chainsaw trousers, and personally I would recommend that, if in doubt, you go with something which is heavier duty than you need. I don’t think it’s worth compromising when your safety is at stake. I’m not going to post any gory videos and pictures on my site, but I’ll let you use your imagination – chainsaws cause absolutely horrendous injuries.
Wearing chainsaw trousers is something you get used to fairly quickly. The main safety aspect, of protecting you from actual cuts, is only one of the benefits that you will gain. Once I started wearing these kinds of hands, I found that I was getting far less sawdust and chips into my boots and socks, and in winter time they actually keep you warm and dry too!
This guy is wearing apron type chainsaw trousers
A lot of the other guys I used to work with used to say that they felt a lot more comfortable trekking through the bush while wearing chainsaw chaps, because they were also good protection against snake bite. This is a good point, especially if you live in a tropical area, or where snakes are a problem. I haven’t been in the position where I’ve had to rely on it, but I seriously doubt that any snake would get its fangs through a good pair of chainsaw trousers.
The next thing you need is a good pair of chainsaw gloves, nice solid leather ones that not only reduce vibration but also prevent you from getting cuts and splinters. Like the trousers, chainsaw gloves don’t make you invincible – they are there to HELP protect you.
You can expect to pay about $100 from good-quality pair of chainsaw chap, and about $15 for a sturdy pair of chainsaw gloves. You can pay more, or you can pay less, but are make sure to get something which is going to suit your level of experience and exposure.
What about a helmet and ear protection? Check out my next post for info on this gear.
The cordless power tool revolution has taken the world by storm. 15 years ago, you might have seen some tradesmen with cordless drills, or cordless screwdrivers. Back then, these tools were not very powerful. Anyone serious still had mains driven appliances.
So here we are, 15 years later. The cordless drill is the weapon of choice for DIYers, tradesmen, builders and pretty much everyone else. Cordless tools have come a very long way. With the advent of powerful new battery packs, and innovations in manufacturing, there is hardly any cordless tool that you can’t get. What about a cordless chainsaw?
It goes without saying that cordless tools are electrically driven. As such , the advantages of a cordless electric chainsaw are potentially many – quiet operation, no gas emissions, and simplicity are all strong positives.
Not very powerful, but a cordless chainsaw is compact and convenient for small jobs
At this stage, you can get cordless chainsaws but they are pretty darn small! Most of the ones available are marketed as gardening and pruning aids, and are really only designed to cut small branches to diameters no larger than 1.5 to 2 inches maximum. Commonly the bar length is no more than 6-10 inches, and you can expect between 50 and 100 actual cuts before the cordless chainsaw battery needs recharging.
At this stage, these saws are not ready for real hard work, such as docking timber or felling trees. However, I’m going to follow the development carefully and I have no doubt that within a few years we will have “green” red-necks out there felling trees with eco-friendly chainsaws!!! Who would have thought it would ever come to this…
Joking aside, cordless chainsaws are great for the gardener who needs to do a lot of pruning and trimming work. If you think a cordless saw sounds good, do yourself a favor and learn how to sharpen a chainsaw chain. You will need a chainsaw sharpener, or at least an appropriate sized chainsaw file.
Although they look deceptively small and safe, cordless chainsaws are not toys. If you are using one yourself, be careful. If you are teaching a kid to use one, give them 100% supervision. You should still wear basic safety gear, at least a pair of light weight chainsaw gloves.
I’ve mentioned Electric chainsaws in the past, and you may have picked up the idea that I don’t particularly like them. It is true that I prefer the petrol powered chainsaw, but the electric models to have certain advantages. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again-neither is particularly more or less dangerous on the other, and you need to be as equally careful when using small Electric chainsaws as with bigger and more powerful petrol ones.
A close friend of mine, who has worked his whole life in the bush often used to often used to say that you are better off having a big, heavy chainsaw that actually bigger than you need. He used to say that he’s never seen an accident from someone using a sore that was too big for them, buddies are plenty of accident that in trying to hard work to saws. His theory was that a bigger, heavier chain saw was more likely to simply rip through an obstacle (such as a burl, a branch or knot in the wood), and less likely to get jammed or kickback. I actually agree with them. I found myself that small lightweight saws simply don’t have the same kind of momentum or power, as a result of showing its snake and sometimes bounces off things. Bigger, heavier saws might scare you sometimes with their power, but it’s pretty rare for them to actually get jammed and kickback because of this.
Electric chainsaws are a good choice for the backyard and garden
Don’t read this the wrong way – I’m not telling you to go all out and buy a massive chainsaw just to do some work around the house, all I’m saying is that a smaller saw is not necessarily safer. You’ll hear me say this again somewhere else I’m sure, but I just feel very strongly about it. Being lulled into a sense of false confidence is one of the most dangerous things to allow to happen.
Despite what I may have said, there are many good reasons to buy an electric chainsaw to use. Electric saws are relatively inexpensive, and great for indoor use. I’ve known many carpenters and tradesmen who use an electric chainsaw and do a lot of rough cutting work. An electric chainsaw is much faster than say a circular saw, or reciprocating saw, and although it does leave very rough edges, it can save you a lot of time. Clearly you couldn’t use a petrol driven machine indoors, not only because of the noise but also because of the fumes and emissions.
If you are building it is also rare to have to cut any timber which is larger than 3 or 4 inches across at its thickest point, so it is unlikely an electric chainsaw will ever be out of its depth in terms of power.
If you plan to use an electric chainsaw to cut firewood, I think you need to be very careful. It’s not that Electric chainsaws are inadequate for cutting up firewood, it’s just that many people who plan to use them for this purpose are often not going to observe important safety precautions. If you are going to use an electric saw to cut a five wood, please make sure to secure the wood first, and don’t do anything dangerous like get your husband/wife/child to hold the piece of wood in their hands while you cut it! Does this sound exaggerated? God help me, I’ve seen it done before!!!
There are several ways to divide up chainsaws into categories. For a start, let’s just take a look at the different types of engines you can find.
1. By far the most versatile, and most iconic type of chainsaw is the petrol chainsaw. Small petrol, or gasoline powered engines, provide excellent power to weight ratio, and are relatively cheap to produce. They make an excellent choice for any portable tool that requires a lot of power, a recent years have been developed to point where they are not only quite efficient and reliable, but also pretty safe to use. Petrol chainsaw engines are almost exclusively of the two-stroke design, because this lends itself to more compact, more powerful, and simpler engine design.
Petrol chainsaws are large and very powerful. Image courtesy of DVS.
2. Electric chainsaws can be found in any home wares depots, and a popular amongst craftsmen. An electric chainsaw is best suited to indoor use, and delight home use because you don’t have to worry about mixing fuel, or venting the emissions. Electric saws can still be quite powerful, but generally are built to be fairly small and compact. You need to be careful when using an electric chainsaw, because the smaller size and quieter engine often lulls people into a false sense of confidence – but an electric chainsaw can still hurt you just as much as a petrol powered one can.
Usually smaller, electric chainsaws are favored by gardeners and for light yard work
3. Alternative types of engines can include compressed air, and hydraulic drives. I will not talk about these extensively, because they are quite rare and use only specialty fields. Basically, the petrol or electric engine simply replaced with a hydraulic rotor, or an air driven rotary instead. The main application of these kinds of saws is on the cutting of stonework, and also in emergency use areas such as by fire brigades or emergency services to gain entry to buildings. You can sometimes be advantageous to use an air driven tool, because this type of drive mechanism does not rely on any combustion processes, and is very unlikely to generate sparks which could unite any combustible materials. Hydraulic drive chainsaws are sometimes used to cut stonework.
Check this baby out!!! It's actually used to cut coal seams, and your local hardware store might not have it in stock just yet.
For the most part, you going to hear me talking about petrol powered chainsaws. It’s true that I am a bit biased, because I use these the most and believe they are the most versatile type of saw, but we’re going to talk plenty about electric powered ones as well. Both have their own pros and cons, and will get into that later on.
The earliest known chainsaws were built in the late 1800s. These early saws were huge, slow and dangerous bits of machinery. They were built from discarded old bits of other machinery, and look absolutely nothing like what you might see in stores nowadays! Most were way too heavy for a single person to lift, and were not much faster to use than the old cross cut saws.
Believe it or not this is pretty modern and sleek compared to the first models! This early petrol chainsaw is from the 1930s, as the sign indicates.
It was in 1929 that the first useful gasoline powered chainsaw was developed. These saws were first built by the company Dolmar, but it was not until after World War II that the modern chainsaw as we would recognise it really took off. The main reason for this was that in the post war years, the technology and expertise was finally advanced enough to allow for cost-effective engineering and manufacturing of steel and aluminium components, which made for reliable and powerful small engines.
It was only at this point that petrol driven chainsaws were reduced to a size where they could be effectively used by one man, and that they began to seriously change the face of the forestry industry.
Since this time, the chainsaw has continued to evolve. Many innovations have been made in the field of safety, efficiency, and reliability. It would be rare now to find a working man on the land who does not own a chainsaw, and they have become an icon of pioneers and workers around the globe.
In many ways, the chainsaw has now even been superseded by machinery such as the feller buncher, and timber Harvester. Machines like this are now being used to harvest vast tracts of forestry land, and are able to fell and process trees a lot faster than a crew of men with chainsaws.
Love it or hate it, the chainsaw has changed the way the primary industry lives and works.
A good chainsaw is one of the most powerful and versatile tools that a man can own. Since the first chainsaws became popular in the early part of the 20th century, this piece of machinery has become a symbol in itself.
For some people, a chainsaw symbolises an income, a means to accomplish a huge amount of work, and a means to feed their family. To others, it symbolises destruction and devastation of the natural environment.
But at the end of the day, the chainsaw is just a tool – but in my humble opinion, it’s a mighty fine one at that!!!
Image courtesy of runrunrun
I don’t sell chainsaws, or chainsaw parts. I live and work in the country though, and what I have learnt has mainly been through personal experience. I don’t profess to be a great writer, and all I hope is that these pages can help you out if you need some information or useful tips to get you ripping through some timber – safely of course!