Clear Cut

Cutting up brush. Felling trees. Trimming limbs. Without the help of a chain saw, you probably would never even consider offering these services to your clients. It would be too time consuming, not to mention too hard, to do these things without one. But even though you know your business could benefit from owning a chain saw, you might not know how to select the saw that is best suited for you. Choosing the right chain saw primarily depends on the type of work you need to perform and your level of experience. A good rule of thumb is to select a size of chain saw that fits at least 75 percent of your application needs. This is the reason many professionals choose to own two or three chain saw models to perform a variety of tasks. The right saw for the job is the one with the right weight, balance and power.


The two basic configurations of chain saws are top handle and rear handle. Top handle saws are so named because the user controls the saw from the top of the unit. These saws are designed primarily for use while working in a tree, either with climbing ropes and gear or from a utility bucket. Rear handle saws feature both front and rear handles that are spread apart, providing greater control. This is important for operations that require more control and leverage such as felling large trees and cutting large-diameter logs. The most popular saws for all-around use are rear handle saws.

Aside from handle configuration, there are other factors to consider before purchasing a saw. First, consider what applications you'll use the saw for most of the time. Will you use it for felling and bucking/cutting firewood or for limbing and trimming? Next, bear in mind the knowledge level of the operator — especially if you'll have members of your crew operating the chain saw. Is the operator a professional, experienced user or a beginner? Beginners should use saws in the 30cc to 40cc range in a rear-handle configuration. Heavy-duty applications may require a 40cc to 60cc saw and professional loggers generally use 70cc or higher displacement saws.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when purchasing a saw is to buy on guide bar length alone. Your primary consideration should always be engine size and power output, and then select the appropriate bar length for the job. Manufacturers will generally recommend the optimum bar length for any individual unit, but pick a unit on which the bar length is 1 inch to 2 inches longer than what you will be cutting most of the time. Using this guideline will provide you the option of cutting trees or limbs with diameters that are double the bar's length, as outlined in the manufacturer's operator and safety manuals. Another important consideration is to not be tempted to select a model that is too heavy or too big. While the “bigger is better” trap is an easy one to fall in to, doing so will cause the operator to tire more quickly. Additionally, selecting a saw that is underpowered will also have the same effect by making the work longer and harder than it needs to be.

When handling a saw, feel the weight and check the balance while holding it by the left handle only. A well-balanced saw, with the correct length bar and chain attached, will remain horizontal to the ground and not be back- or front-heavy.


Saws have many features and there are a number to look for when making a saw selection. For maximum life of the chain saw, one of the most important features is the air filtration system. Most commercial users look for saws with a large air intake area. The intake areas are usually part of the starter assembly and ignition/cylinder cover system. The more openings in the design allows saws to draw in a maximum amount of cooling air, thus keeping the engine running cooler without risking vapor lock, power loss, stalling or difficult re-starts due to overheating and also provides a longer engine life. Newer model commercial saws run at 12,500 to 13,500 revolutions per minute, which translates to over 200 air intakes each second. A poor air filtration system will allow dirt in, causing premature engine failure. Look for an automotive-type, pleated air filter or a felt-type filter where the edges are covered with rubber to prevent dirt from entering into the engine.

Other features related to longer engine life are the fuel and oil filters. Look for a saw that allows removal and changing of the fuel filter from the outside through the fuel cap and oil cap openings. A plugged fuel filter will starve an engine for the fuel-oil mix and result in major engine damage. A plugged oil filter will reduce oil delivery to the bar and chain, causing premature wear and costly replacement.

Select a saw with an easy-to-access chain tensioning system such as one with side access or long reach front adjusters. A loose chain is the second biggest culprit (second to poor oil delivery) of bar and chain and sprocket failures.

All saws today feature an automatic oiling system, but select a saw that also has an adjustable one. Fixed output oilers do not automatically reduce oil output for simple limbing or brushcutting, thus wasting oil. They also do not allow more oil output that you need for increasing bar length, cutting harder wood or for cutting wood penetrated with sand, dirt or road grime. This limited oil delivery causes excessive wear to sprockets, bars and chains, and results costly replacement. Remember, the better a bar and chain is lubricated, the longer it will last.

Choose a chain saw that features a vibration-reduction system. Saws equipped with these devices allow longer work periods and less fatigue. In addition, these systems will increase saw life through the reduction in vibration, which may cause loosening of components. The amount of engine vibration also depends on engine design, specifically counter-balanced crankshafts. A single counter-balanced crankshaft will produce much more vibration than a double counter-balanced crankshaft. Also, commercial-grade saws generally use higher-grade components that are designed to take the day-to-day punishment dished out by professional loggers. The difference between commercial-grade and consumer-grade products is reflected in the price and warranty provided.

Ease of starting is another feature to consider. How easy the saw is to start is controlled by the design of the starter assembly, which can be either decompressors or electronic ignition systems. For best results, select a chain saw with an electronic ignition feature that contains computerized retard and advance timing mechanisms, making the engines easy to start without the use of troublesome decompression mechanical devices.

Finally, look for saws that feature a low-tone, USDA-approved, spark-arresting muffler system in which you can quickly change the spark arrestor. Also consider length of warranty, which can range from 90 days to one year.


Safety. When you're using a chain saw, there is not much room for error. So before you purchase one and put it into the hands of your crew, it's critical that you make sure it will be used safely. It is imperative, whether buying a saw for professional or consumer use, that all anticipated operators fully read and understand the instruction and safety manual provided by the manufacturer prior to operating any saw. In addition, every operator should wear safety equipment and learn about kickback by reading safety manuals or watching DVDs or video tapes available from the manufacturers. These manuals are designed to provide important information needed to successfully set-up, operate and maintain your chain saw safely. Users should wear hard-toed boots to protect feet from rolling logs and chaps to protect legs in felling, limbing and bucking operations. Eye protection is essential for keeping out flying wood chips, saw dust or twigs. Ear protection is necessary due to the constant exposure to engine noise. Gloves will reduce the vibration to the operator's hands and reduce fatigue as well as protect knuckles from bark scrapes and branches. Also, the operator's clothing should fit properly and be snug to the body to prevent snagging on branches while limbing or felling. In addition to safety equipment, there are safety features on saws to also consider.

Saws should feature a chain-catcher guard. If the chain should come off the bar for any reason during operation, a chain catcher will stop the chain from approaching the rear handle. A safety interlock prevents accidental operation and movement of the chain. Unless this device is depressed, the engine will stay in an idle state. Front and rear hand guards protect fingers, knuckles and tops of hands from scrapes, abrasions, or accidental contact with a moving chain. Inertia chain brakes trip into use when the tip of the bar is thrown upward or back during cutting. These brakes stop the chain from moving under these circumstances and you can also operate them manually. Finally, the use of low-kickback chains can reduce kickback intensity by as much as 75 percent. To eliminate rotational kickback, it's smart to also use a tip guard. For further instructions on tip-guard use, see the safety or operator's manual included with the product.

In the end, which chain saw you choose will depend largely upon what you want to do with it. Being knowledgeable of available features safety measures, the right chain saw will make any cutting job easy to handle.

Andrew Kuczmar is the director of national service and technical training for Echo, Inc. (Lake Zurich, Ill.).

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