When you picture a chainsaw, the typical uses that come to mind usually have to do with wood (and, you know, chopping it). But why were chainsaws invented, really? It might surprise you that the device’s origin lands about as far away from a lumber yard as you can get: The creators of the chainsaw were two Scottish surgeons named John Aitken and James Jeffray. And they developed their gnarly and dangerous device to help them do their jobs—cutting human bone and flesh.
Even under the best possible circumstances, giving birth is not what most would call a pleasant experience. But in the 18th century, prior to the development of anesthesia and other modern surgical tools, delivery could turn incredibly dangerous with little warning. When babies came out feet-first or their bodies were otherwise trapped in the birth canal, doctors would have to widen the pelvic area by cutting into the cartilage and bone.
Aitken and Jeffray found that a sharp knife just didn’t do the trick in a timely fashion, so, somewhat shockingly, they created a chainsaw as a more precise and humane option.
Fun Fact: Chainsaws Were Invented for Childbirth
In short, at this time in history, C-sections were incredibly dangerous, often resulting in the death of either or both the mother and child in the process. For this reason, C-sections were more generally a last resort following the exhaustion of all other options.
Far more common during this period in history was the surgical procedure of the symphysiotomy. During this procedure, the pubic symphysis, which is a joint above the vulva covered and connected by cartilage and reinforced by ligaments and tendons, is severed to widen the pelvis and make the childbirth process a bit more likely to occur.
Yet, like all procedures of this era, it remained very risky to conduct because it required both speed and accuracy. This was possible to accomplish by hand with varying degrees of success.
In comes the chainsaw. In the late 18th century, 2 Scottish doctors, John Aitken and James Jeffray, developed a prototype of the chainsaw—familiar today in the timber industry—for symphysiotomy and the excision of diseased bone.
The design of the chainsaw was based on a watch chain with teeth that moved through the use of a hand-crank. This meant that although the mother may not have looked down to see her doctor holding a version of the chainsaw we know today, she would instead see her doctor furiously cranking a chainsaw against her vulva.
With the invention of the chainsaw, obstetricians and gynecologists (OB/GYNs) working in the field at the time were bowled over by how much better chainsaws were to use for conducting symphysiotomies than the previous methods they were relying on.
In light of this success, the chainsaw was eventually mechanized in the later 19th century to increase its ease of use by OB/GYNs on expectant mothers. However, shortly after this, the chainsaw was superseded by the Gigli twisted wire saw, which was most commonly used to cut bone.
This led to the mechanized chainsaw eventually getting adopted by the timber industry in 1905, allowing the instrument to be applied to trees, rather than its original use on women.
Reasons to Use a Chainsaw
Chainsaws Have Specific Cutting Uses
Certain cutting jobs need a chainsaw. This includes felling trees, removing debris, cutting concrete and rebar, and any other loose ends around your property that another saw just can’t cut effectively.
Chainsaws Get The Job Done
Chainsaws are powerful and cut very fast. If you are struggling to cut wood with a hand saw, a chainsaw will very much shorten the time and energy you are spending. They may be a little loud, but then they only need to run for a short time because they are so efficient at cutting. Just make sure to wear earplugs or muffs, safety eyewear, and gloves.
Chainsaws Are Great for Emergencies
Chainsaws can save the day if you are ever in an emergency or time – constrained situation where removing a fallen tree or cutting up useless plastic just needs to get done so you can move on, out, or into a property.
Chainsaws Take Up Little Space
This is especially true of non-professional home chainsaws which can sit well in the corner of your garage or in the back of your pickup or vehicle trunk. For their size, chainsaws pack quite a punch in terms of how much power they have and how well they cut. Keeping a chainsaw around your home can help you maintain your property and remove debris when needed while storing them takes up relatively little space.
But although chainsaws have their benefits, there are a few disadvantages as well. Chainsaws are relatively loud as they use a chain saw motor to cut through the wood which could hurt your ears and annoy your neighbors. They can also be dangerous in terms of cutting the operator or causing a fire from a fuel spill. If a chain saw cuts the wrong material, the blade can catch on things and cause kickback. This is why it is important to always consider safety when handling or operating a chainsaw and wearing the right safety gear.
Types of Chainsaws
Chainsaws are either gas-powered or electric, which include corded and cordless battery-powered options. Each kind has advantages that make them better suited for different applications. Below, learn more about the types of chainsaws.
Gas chainsaws are the most powerful type of chainsaw available. They run off of a fuel mix of gas and oil. Most gas chainsaws range in size from 16 to 20 inches. Gas chainsaws generally run faster than electric chainsaws, making them suitable for bigger jobs, like removing medium and large trees. They also are better for cutting through hardwoods such as oak and birch.
Gas chainsaws can last for about 40 minutes to an hour on a single tank of gas depending on how the chainsaw is used. They require more maintenance to ensure the engine runs properly and cost more than corded electric chainsaws.
Battery-powered chainsaws offer quite a bit of flexibility. They’re low maintenance, like a typical electric chainsaw, but they provide the portability of a gas chainsaw. Today’s options are pretty powerful while also being less noisy than a comparable gas-powered model. The downside is that batteries for these saws tend to be pricey, so keeping a few on hand can cost as much as the saw itself.
Battery-powered saws are best suited for DIYers without sizable properties who only plan to use the saw occasionally. Their low-maintenance needs and portability make them among the best small chainsaws for these scenarios. One additional benefit of a battery-powered chainsaw is that many of the top power tool brands offer saws that work with the same batteries as their power tools.
Corded electric chainsaws have been around for a long time, and there are many great options on the market. They have very few maintenance needs other than a quick cleaning and maintaining the bar-lube levels. Many corded electric saws rival the power offered by gas chainsaws, as long as there is a reliable power source.
The issue with a corded electric chainsaw is that they’re limited to where their cords can reach, so they are generally better suited for small yards that don’t require a lot of frequent chainsaw use. For larger areas, corded chainsaws require larger 10- to 14-gauge extension cords and are limited to 100 feet. Looping together multiple extension cords is not recommended, as it creates a fire hazard.
The Best Chainsaws in 2021:
1. Best Overall, Electric: Makita UC4051A 16-Inch Electric Chain Saw
This corded electric chainsaw is surprisingly powerful for a model that doesn’t have a gas motor. It features a 16-inch bar that is robust enough to cut through large logs and limbs with ease. The chain speed is 2,900 feet per minute.
This Makita features an ergonomic, rubberized handle, a soft-start trigger switch, a built-in current limiter that helps guard against motor burnout, an automatic chain oiler, and an electric chain brake. Adjusting or replacing the blade and chain is as easy as turning a lever—no tools needed.
You’ll appreciate how easy it is to use this chainsaw and will especially love not dealing with a high-maintenance gas engine, and you’ll still get plenty of power. However, the chainsaw weighs just over 15.5 pounds, which is heavier than many comparable models, and it requires an outdoor-rated extension cord (all electric chainsaws do).
It’s backed by a one-year warranty and a 30-day satisfaction guarantee.
2. Best Overall, Gas: Echo 18-Inch Gas 2-Stroke Cycle Chainsaw
If power is what you’re after, you’ll love the Echo CS-400-18, a gas chainsaw with an 18-inch bar and a two-stroke, 40.2-cc engine. This tool doesn’t blink when it’s time to slice through imposing pieces of wood quickly and confidently, and it’s easy to use and handle.
This professional-grade chainsaw features an automatic oiler, heavy-duty air filter, reduced-effort starting system with digital ignition, a side-access chain tensioner, and an air pre-cleaner.
Though gas-powered chainsaws can be hard to start, this one is easy to fire up and keep balanced during use. It’s also relatively lightweight at just over 10 pounds without fuel and packs enough power for heavy-duty home projects. The fuel tank holds 14 ounces. It has an impressive five-year warranty that covers it for non-commercial use.
3. Best Heavy-Duty: Husqvarna 20-Inch 455 Rancher Gas Chainsaw
If you’re looking for a powerful chainsaw that can handle a lot of use and abuse, the Husqvarna 455 Rancher is a tried-and-true option that’s hard to beat when it comes to power and reliability. Experts laud this saw. Husqvarna is widely considered one of the best chainsaw manufacturers globally, giving it top marks for cutting speed and ease of use. It has a large 20-inch bar and an impressive two-stroke, 55.5-cc engine that can rev up to 9,000 rpm.
This Husqvarna is a low-vibration model with a low fuel-consumption, low-emission X-torq engine. It has a centrifugal air-cleaning system that can help air filters last longer, a side-mounted chain tensioner, an inertia-activated chain brake, an ergonomic handle, and a Smart Start system that means less time spent trying to get the engine going.
This is an exceptionally easy-to-use chainsaw, especially compared to other gas models. More importantly, it’s powerful enough to slice through large logs and limbs easily. The saw weighs about 13 pounds with cutting equipment. A two-year warranty backs it.
This affordable model from Black & Decker is an excellent option for those budget-conscious DIYers who need a chainsaw for light-duty use only, as well as those who don’t have a lot of experience operating a chainsaw. Thanks to a smaller 10-inch blade (less likely to kick back), and a 7-pound build, it’s easier to manage than larger chainsaws. That’s not to say it isn’t powerful. This chainsaw packs plenty of punch with a 20-volt battery and can cut through branches up to 8 inches in diameter.
User-friendly features include a tool-free chain tension adjuster and an automatic bar oiling system. This Black and Decker 20-volt Max cordless chainsaw is sold on its own or with a battery pack and charger. Available through Amazon and Home Depot.
For those not keen on the idea of battery-powered saws and prefer gas chainsaws, DeWALT’s 60-volt model might change your mind. Highlights include a handy chain tension tuning screw that also reduces kickback, a brushless motor for more efficient battery use, and self-oiling capacity. This set contains the chainsaw with a 16-inch bar, one 60-volt Flexvolt battery, a charger, a bar cover, and a blower too.
At 12.2 pounds, this lightweight tool won’t strain your back while you’re cutting thicker branches or trunks. One of the dozens of satisfied customers raved about the battery life and wrote, “I cut down over 20 trees ranging from 3–12 inches in diameter, and it still had half battery.”
STIHL are still the number one selling chainsaw brand in the USA. The Stihl 271 Farm Boss is a great saw for the small farm owner, or if you have a larger section of land with mature trees, and you need a reliable saw that can handle big jobs on a regular basis. Considering its size, it’s a very manageable weight, but you still need some experience to handle this beast safely.
STIHL products are only available through a local dealer, which is important to consider as all repairs and replacements will need to go through them too. But if you can find a dealer who stocks these, then the STIHL 271 Farm Boss is fantastic heavy duty domestic chainsaw.
The OREGON CS1500 is an electric powered chainsaw at the larger end of the domestic market that offers a unique self-sharpening chain system. If you strike the ground or accidentally hit a rock, there is no need to remove or replace the chain, you can be up and running again in under three seconds.
Users should be wary of the OREGON’s reported tendency to slip the chain when in use, which is an issue caused by improper tensioning of the chain. As long as the chain is properly tensioned, you shouldn’t have an issue.
Despite this issue, we found that the OREGON CS1500 was a great medium power chainsaw with enough power to do most domestic tasks. It is a safe, easy to maintain electric saw for the larger urban or suburban garden.
For the novice user who wants a lightweight chainsaw capable for domestic tasks, like pruning or cleaning up small fallen boughs from a storm, the Kobalt KCS 120-07 40-volt electric chainsaw is perfect.
A small 12” inch bar combined with the light weight means most users will find this chainsaw to be very maneuverable. It’s cordless so you can take it right to the bottom of the garden without worrying about an extension cable. It’s low maintenance too and will store well. The downside to the short bar is that it results in a less versatile chainsaw that can’t handle big jobs.
But if all you need is a small chainsaw for pruning tree branches and such, then the Kobalt KCS 120-07 40 Volt Cordless is the perfect little chainsaw.
You don’t have to watch horror movies to have a healthy fear of chainsaws. These formidable tools are involved in more than 27,000 accidents annually, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The most common injuries are lacerations, particularly to the arms and legs, and some of the most serious injuries occur when the saw’s chain snags and kicks back toward the operator’s chest and head. Chainsaws now have safeguards, including an automatic chain brake, that are designed to reduce the hazard of kickbacks. But even if you have a model that’s fully loaded with safety features, you need to take some safety precautions.
Start with snug-fitting clothing and sturdy work boots, preferably steel-toed. Shield your legs with cut-resistant chaps and the backs of your hands with protective gloves, and wear a helmet with a face shield. You’ll also need hearing protection because practically all saws, including electric models, exceed the 85-decibel level at which hearing damage can occur.
Get a Grip and Stay Grounded
Grip gas-powered saws firmly when pull-starting and keep the saw on the ground; most handles include a spot for securing the saw with one foot while pulling the starter cord. Never saw while on a ladder or use the saw above shoulder height. If you must cut above shoulder height, use an electric lopper, whose encased cutting jaw makes it safer to use than a chainsaw, or hire a pro. And never saw using the tip of the chain and bar, where kickback can occur.
Maintenance Is Key
Upkeep is also an important factor in chainsaw safety. A chain that’s properly sharpened, tensioned, and oiled speeds cutting and helps prevent kickback while reducing wear on the chain and the bar on which it rides. A chain that’s too loose can also slip off the bar and toward the operator as it spins.
While most injuries associated with chainsaws are lacerations and amputations, all gasoline-powered tools produce carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that’s potentially fatal. Never run a gasoline-powered tool indoors or in any enclosed space.