Chainsaw Introduction for the Preparedness-Minded

Chainsaw
(Ken’s Stihl chainsaw (and my new battery powered electric))

 
Guest article by Bogan

Why a Gas powered Chainsaw?

This article is tailored toward a preparedness-minded individual who has little to no exposure to the gas (petrol) powered chainsaw, but who foresees the need.

Pros: They make short work of big projects involving wood: downing trees, clearing roads (getting home or to your BOL), firewood and more.

Cons: They make noise and smell – which may attract undesirable attention after WROL hits. Also, like any gas powered machinery, they take a bit of work to maintain.

[Ken adds:] I will be posting on my 40-volt cordless (Oregon 16″) chainsaw in a future article. So far, love it. I don’t consider it a replacement though for a gas powered chainsaw. It’s complimentary. Will serve well for a fueless SHTF.

 
There are alternatives to a gas powered chainsaw: Electric chainsaws and manual saws. One article here on MSB featured old fashioned crosscut saws, which are excellent; however bow type saws are also an option especially on smaller trees and limbs. Bow saws are available online and in big box stores for twenty bucks or even less. Since they are a lot more work and slower than a gas powered chainsaw, they are perhaps most useful after WROL arrives.

 

Your First Chainsaw: What type?

For the person considering a first chainsaw that will have the maximum utility, the first question is what general specifications to look for? After all there are hundreds of chainsaws out there from which to chose, the question is which features are important?

Recommendations

My recommendations based on a number of years at this and lots of different saws are as follows:

Engine: Approx 35-50 cc engine size

Bar size: 16” bar, more or less (but no less than 14” and no more than 20”, the 16” bar really is about ideal).

Weight is a factor. A basic rule of thumb to follow is the stronger the saw the better it will cut, however the stronger the saw the more it will weigh, and the more it weighs the more it will tire out the user. A saw with these specifications provides a balance between efficiency and wearing out the user.

A saw this size will cut soft and hardwood trees up to about 30 inches in diameter, although if one is collecting firewood the vast majority of cuts will be significantly smaller. In my opinion, for most folks a saw with these specifications should handle 80% or more of the tasks they are confronted with.

 

Chainsaw price range

What about price?

A saw with these specifications can be had in the following price ranges:

Low: $100- $150 range. Available at big box stores at competitive prices. Poulan is a big name in this price point, and I have had several over the years, but have given them away. I consider these entry level saws.

Medium: $200-$400 range, these are saws often found with names such as “Homeowner” “Farm” “Rancher”. Popular brands are Stihl (model MS 250 fits the above spec), Echo, Husqvarna (model 240), and Jonsereds. These are an intermediate level saw.

Premium: $500 and up: Stihl, Husqvarna “Professional” saws

My choice? The Stihl MS261 – about $580.
If I could only have one saw (a forbidding thought!) this would be it. In my opinion it’s like a smooth handling .30-06 if you were limited to hunting with one rifle. It’s expensive, but buy once, cry once, right?

 

Chainsaw Equipment

Support equipment?

Gas – use non-ethanol or otherwise treat your gas with products such as Stabil or PRI-G

[Ken adds:]I use PRI-G due to more apparent favorable technical details. It’s also up to 3x less expensive per treated gallon (more concentrated) than Stabil. Depends on prices of course. That said, both work! Use it!

Oil

Bar Greasing tool (like this one). Some bars have a lubrication port around the nose sprocket, others get greased through the openings in the bar once the chain is removed.

File set for sharpening chains. Buy a sharpening kit that matches the pitch of your chain. Look for an engraved label on the side of your bar for correct chain / pitch.
.325 Chain Sharpening Kit

Bar dressing tool (to keep edges nice and square)

Bar vise

 

Chainsaw Safety Equipment

– Chaps
– Helmet (eyes/ears)
– Steel toe boots
– Leather gloves

Safety Helmet and Hearing Protection System

Functional Saw Protection Gloves

[Ken adds:] Do not ignore chainsaw safety! This tool (and tree work in general) can kill you. I live up in northern NH and bought all my safety gear from Labonville, world renown for their Chaps made locally.
Labonville Safety Chaps

 

Chainsaw Spare Parts

– Chains
– Plugs
– Air filters
– Bars
– Pull cord material
– Carburetor or tune up kits (Amazon is amazingly inexpensive on these, I just bought an aftermarket full tune up kit containing new carburetor, internal tubing, air filter, plug, gas filter, and priming bulb for an Echo arborist saw for under $17!)

Keep them clean and serviceable and a good saw will last for decades. I have a saw I bought new in 1983 (still have the receipt!) and still runs great. Pay most attention to clean gas and oil, air filters, keeping the chain sharp (keep it away from the ground!), fresh spark plugs and everywhere where the bar comes in contact with the rest of the saw (Remove bar to sweep/clean out what’s beneath).

So there you have it – one person’s view on the topic.

What Do You Use And Why?

-Bogan

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48 Comments

  1. Ken,Bogan,
    Thanks for the article. Adding to your safety gear: HEARING Protection, if not mounted on your cutting hard hat. Good muff type hearing protectors are a must. And if that hard hat does not have a screen, SAFETY GLASSES. ( Even if it does have a face screen, always wear ANSI 1987 rated safety glasses, small saw dust can easily get in your eyes). I have been running saws since I was 14 years old, back in the late 60’s. Dad had an old Homelite XL-10, back when Homelite was still producing great saws. We did not have chaps back then, and I have a scar on my ankle to show for it. Now I have a professional Stihl model with a 16″ bar, and it is kept with all the safety gear (including chaps!) and tools for sharpening and adjusting.
    I always run the saw ‘to empty’, meaning until all the gas is run out of it. That way you do not have any gas left in the saw when you store it, so it can’t get any lacquering of the carburetor. taught that as a kid, still do it today.
    As Bogan said, buy the best you can early and you will have it for life. My Stihl is 20+ years old and will outlive me.

  2. Timely Article Bogan, good job, thanks

    Happens I’m now in the market for a new Chainsaw, my poor old electric Poulan, after 8 years of superb service, snapped the main drive shaft after hitting an unseen 16d nail at full speed…. oops.

  3. We have gas, electric, and battery powered chainsaws. Lately my go to chainsaw is my new 40 volt battery powered chainsaw. I love it. It’s lightweight, quieter than even electric, and the battery last longer than I last. So far I have only cut up to six inches in diameter, but it handles it with ease.

  4. – Thank you for the article, Bogan and Ken. I had to go look, as I was not sure. but I have a Stihl 250 16” as my main gas saw. OTOH, it’s not what I use most. Generally, trees where I am located, are scattered far and wide. I usually have a truck with me, and use an old Craftsman electric corded machine, also 16”, with a 1500-watt inverter and 100-foot extension cord, to take down and cut up dead wood, which is then loaded into the truck or utility trailer. I learned to use a chainsaw years ago with an old Homelite, but I really like using the little Craftsman, so what if it’s old enough to vote? It’s cheaper on gas, quiet, and less stuff to keep up with. Our climate is generally warm enough that I can’t really justify spending more money on this.
    – Papa S.

  5. Back in the days of working in the line crew for Verizon, I remember having to transfer cables on a pole in a right of way. Upon climbing and doing the work, it was apparent that I would have to top the old pole in order to swing the cables onto the new one. Was the scariest thing I have ever done with a chainsaw! There was no other way around to complete the transfer. I still use a chainsaw today. All of the safety items that have been listed are a must. Especially hearing protection and eye protection.

    1. Felinelover – Nice to hear of another “Wood Walker” here on MSB. I climbed electric utility poles for 23 years (started out on the 30-40 ft tall poles for 10 years, and then moved up to the 45-120 ft tall poles.) I topped a lot of poles during my time, and it always raised the hair on the back of my neck just a little. Today, I’ve got a couple of 16” electric chainsaws, but I don’t use them much out here where there are few trees. I had to use my handsaws (bow & pole) to cut a large fallen tree off of my yard fence during the Dec 2015 Ice Storm, but then my wife and I didn’t have much else to do except play cribbage those 5 days that the power was out. I cut and she stacked.

      CD in Oklahoma

      1. Thanks for your reply. I might mention that I was one of the first female lineman back in the late 70″s in western PA. Been retired now for about 15 yrs.

        1. Felinelover – Good on you for your female lineman status back in the 70s! During my quest to reach national Journeyman Lineman status back in the late 70s, I was paired up with an unknown but wonderful young lady for a skills demonstration at Hotstick School in Grand Jct. Colo, and we passed our test with no problems. She was an excellent wood walker, skilled in hotstick methods, and I would have climbed with her any day. It was the only time that I saw her, and I don’t know where she was from, but I’m sure that she went on to be a very good lineman. She had worked on a large sail boat setting rigging during her summers out of college for a few years before deciding to go into linework. She may have weighed 150 pounds soaking wet. I retired from linework in 2005 when I went Galt and took up sewing.

          CD in Oklahoma

  6. OFF Topic but I have a question. Mr. wants a portable power source, ie battery charger, tire inflator etc………… Who makes a really nice dependable one. Meant to ask yesterday, got busy.
    Thank You

    1. I have a jump starter box from wally world. It has jumper cables, tire inflator, 2 USB ports, 2 cigarette type plugs, and a small 110 volt power inverter built in and and led work light. Many types are available thru amazon also.

  7. I would not be without my electric chain sharpener. The one I have is similar to several listed on Amazon. The chain is clamped down and the grinder head is lowered by hand to do each tooth to the precise angle and depth. You can do that dull 20″ chain in about 15 min. or less. I usually do 8 to 10 chains on a rainy day and just hang the dull on one hook and the sharp on another. Yes, they use electricity but very little if you are able to run off your inverter. One comment on bar length – the longer the chain, the longer between sharpenings – unless that nail or rock gets in the way.

    1. It’s usually those dang rocks when you touch the ground! Plenty of those here where I live. The second you see sparks, you know it’s over. Time to sharpen.

        1. Or how.about those hidden strands of barbed wire fence that were once nailed to the trees on the fence row. Or the nails themselves. Sparks for sure.

          1. Joe c,- Hidden barbed wire is quite common, but I’ve learned to inspect the tree for the tell-tale horizontal permanent scars left in the bark that remain for the life of the tree, even though it has grown over the wire, encapsulating it out of sight.. Since a tree grows in height from the top, these wires will remain the same distance from the ground that they were when first nailed to the tree. I regularly find wire 6-10 inches deep inside the tree, but still have that horizontal corresponding scar on the surface bark.

          2. Don’t forget the porcelain electric fence insulators ,,,,,,willl make a chain break ,if your lucky the chain will stay in the cut but most often will come back and break the side cover. ,i have cut some wire in my time usually with a new chain ,,,some thing else is steel core bullets. Left from someone’s target practice

          3. Oldhomesteader,

            I once found an old Navy Colt cap and ball revolver grown into the fork of an ancient pecan tree, thankfully before I cut into it. I still conjure up images of the possible circumstances that would cause the owner to have placed it there, never to be retrieved. Did he die on that spot? Was he hiding it after a crime? The possibilities are endless.

      1. HEY! don’t be hitting the ground! Ha! One tiny touch and your done!
        If I’m not using the forks on the tractor, then I’ll use a cantilever by hand to get the log off the ground.

        I’m still using a husky (55cc 18in bar) I’ve had for 15 years. First day (believe or not) I cut down (and trimmed) close to 100 Empire Apple trees (free fire wood). My take was 6 cords, fun times back then. This saw takes about 5 or 6 cuts to warm up, after that its like the energizer bunny!!!

        1. I hear ya! When I happen to be cutting while it’s on the ground it’s a matter of ‘feel’ as to when you’re going to get through it. Problem is that sometimes that ‘feel’ isn’t always right! Whoops…

          When possible I will make cuts ‘almost’ through, and then roll the log to get the rest.

    2. Make sure when using a powered sharpener that it pinches the chain to hold perfectly upright.
      Another thing is do not take off to much in a pass, when the cutting edge of the tooth gets red, it affects the temper and will not hold the edge as long.

      1. KevinH
        Yup, very thin passes are best to not heat the metal. I also run a vac hose at the back of the grinder to take most grindings away. A dream compared to hand sharpening.

  8. There are many tools that every prepper needs to consider having in their arsenal. Everything from can openers to guns. Many articles are written on the theme “if I could only have one” or “the best______(fill in the blank) for survival/preppers. Chainsaws are no different than any other tool when it comes to a “one size fits all” analysis, whether you’re looking for “the best” or the minimum that will do the job, or something in between. The main question I would ask of someone buying a first time chainsaw is what do you plan to use it for? Daily? Occasionally? Never, just been told I will need it if the SHTF?

    I live remote, surrounded by forest, with numerous trees surrounding my home. While I don’t use my chainsaws (emphasis on “saws” plural) daily, I do utilize them frequently. I own one Stihl, two Poulans, one McCulloch, and one Ryobi 40v battery powered. They all fit a niche, and they all get used.

    No doubt the Stihl is the star of the line-up. I bought it used 20+ years ago at a yard sale for $80 bucks. It has never failed to start, has unmatched power, and has never needed repair except for an occasional spark plug and chain. The Poulans are lighter and easier to work with, don’t have the power of the Stihl, and tend to need attention before they will start, if they’ve set unused for any period of time. Once you learn the tricks of getting the fuel to flow to and through the carburetor after its dried out, the prep time needed to put it to work is shortened, but still a pain in the….well, you know.

    Then comes the battery powered chainsaw. Surprisingly, it matches the power and chain speed of the Poulan gasser, and weighs about the same, maybe a little less, requires no prep time other than keeping the chain sharp and adding bar oil prior to use.

    All my chainsaws fill a niche. My situation requires a chainsaw, sometimes for heavy usage like piling in large quantities of firewood, most times for short/quick clean-up of fallen limbs around the home-place. Any one of my saws could perform all these varying tasks with varying degrees of efficiency. The same could be said about my grass cutting equipment. I could cut my lawn with my tractor and bush hog, or my pasture with my lawn mower. My shop contains all manner of mechanic tools. I don’t break out my Snap-on pneumatic impact wrench when I need to remove one bolt or my air-nailer to drive 4-5 nails.

    I do believe in buying quality tools, but I also believe that if you are buying for a “just in case” scenario, you should concentrate on whether it will do the jobs you are most likely ask of it, how quickly can you get it going and on the job, and how well will it take setting idle for long periods without being used. I’ve found the battery powered chainsaw to excel in those categories…. for me. If I could only have one? Trick question with no answer that fits all.

  9. – Many years ago, when I was a student in Denver, there was a major flood in one of the canyons. (See Big Thompson Canyon Flood) I ended up working on Army humanitarian flood relief assistance. Spent several days, as I was one of few familiar with chainsaw use, with 20” Stihl helping to remove downed trees to clear a lane into/out of the canyon. Quite a change from a 14” Homelite. Loved the Stihl, didn’t like the bar length. I would not get a chainsaw without using it at least occasionally, as they are like motorcycles in at least one regard. Use them with proper safety equipment and do not think you will just ‘put one back’ for future use in an emergency, as they are likely to maim or kill the unsupervised and inexperienced.
    – Papa S.

    1. Papa Smurf – Just shortly after the Big Thompson Canyon Flood, I was part of a CB Radio group (React) that was serving coffee to motorists at the west-side chain station on Wolf Creek Pass Colorado. A couple moving a smallish mobile home with their pickup parked their trailer for the night, unhooked and went to town for supper, then returned to sleep on the floor of the trailer until morning. A small mudslide came down the hill near us, so I went and woke them up so they’d know. My gosh, that wife panicked in terror, ran barefoot up the highway, the husband caught her, walked her back to the pickup, and they drove off up the road at a high rate of speed. I found out later that the woman was terrified because she had barely survived in the Big Thompson Flood.

      CD in Oklahoma

      1. – CD in Oklahoma – I remember that REACT group set up serving coffee! DW and I stopped there about an hour before the mudslide, (that woman wasn’t the only one a little gun-shy about the mudslides, LOL) the paper had a photo and short article about it. Thanks for the memory, and again for the coffee!
        – Papa

  10. Picked up a Husqvarna Ranch 445 a few years ago and it was a major disappointment. Picked it up in the morning and took it back to the dealer early afternoon. First pull all the parts in the side case flew apart on the inside of the unit and froze up. The dealer told me that they would send it back and in few weeks I would get it back. You can’t just give me a new saw as this one has never cut wood? No. So now I have only Stihl pro grade and nothing else. As a contractor tools must work every time or there not tools just junk to haul around in my truck.

  11. As Papa Smurf said, “they are likely to maim or kill the unsupervised and inexperienced”. Just because you have chaps, you could still do yourself a serious injury – don’t get complacent – even if you live, being called stumpy is no fun. Saws can kick up even with the safety break – that face shield is no protection against a saw chain, chains can break or come off to injure you, … never relax. My recommendation is to use a saw that you can hold up and pull start without having to put your foot on it – what does this prove? It proves your strength is sufficient to handle the saw in a safe manner. Another suggestion is to cut for a while and then change to stacking or loading. This will reduce the tendency to become sloppy with your saw by using different muscle groups and thought process. Spoken by an idiot that got over tired and rested the saw against his chaps before the saw was fully stopped – duct tape is not a good repair for the $100 chaps – but no blood, luckily.

    1. I nicked my chaps once. It wasn’t deep, but it was enough that the chain pulled out some strands of Kevlar. I shut off the saw, took a breath, and again realized the very real and potentially very quick dangers. ALWAYS THINK SAFETY.

      Since that happened my awareness level is even higher than before when the chainsaw’s running.

      Another bit of advice: If at all possible, always have a 2nd person with you while cutting. If someone becomes badly injured, it may be the difference between life and death to get help on the way.

  12. One question I would have if you are buying a saw is what type of wood will you be cutting? If you plan on cutting much hard wood stay away from the cheaper saws. I am a stihl fan myself

  13. I am not a chain saw user, DH is. I make sure he has an Israeli compression bandage with him.
    My Dad was born on 1909 and lived without electricity etc. during his youth. I asked him what the greatest invention was for him and he said “the chainsaw”. He also scythed their fields by hand but I guess firewood was the real heavy duty job.

    I have a battery run chain saw which I am thinking of storing in a faraday cage.

    Stay frosty.

  14. Very useful subject and comments.
    My main complaint on chainsaws is buying from big box stores. I bought several,.. with numerous problems. They would last about 2 to 3 yrs. Tops.
    My last saw I bought from a Stihl Dealer 5 yrs ago with no probs. Still have my Husky but major boxstore problems thru out the yrs.
    Chaps are a def. need to have. They are a helluva lot cheaper than a run to the emergency room…..
    Not that I’d know🙄

    1. The Husqvarna saws below about 55cc are actually made by Electrolux, what most people would know as Poulan or Craftsman. The same is true of Jonsered since they were acquired by Husqvarna a few years back. Actually Husky was acquired by Electrolux, this is the reason you see them in box stores. Stihl will only sell through servicing dealers, another reason to buy their product, the money stays local. Also, I saw more than one person complain that they could not swap out a faulty Husky saw for another, that is NOT the stores fault, and it is not exclusive to Husky. Each unit is serialized and part of the “contract” for lack of a better word when you buy the unit is that it will be repaired or replaced at manufacturers discretion. Your warranty comes from the manufacturer and not from the outlet you bought from, so keep that in mind and try not to take it out on the employee where you made your purchase. When I worked at a power equipment dealer, most problems with brand new hand held equipment (chainsaws especially) was operator error, and we could generally turn it around while the customer was waiting.

  15. I can state for a fact the older saws are better due to less carb restrictions so you can run pump fuel through them. The newer Stihl I had I ended up selling as I was constantly having to remove the carb for cleaning. I switched to the new no ethanol fuel they sell premixed in quarts and I have not had an issue since with my new Echo. My old Stihl O28AV has worked regardless of the fuel type., but I bought it new in 1986 at the age of 16.

    I felt like a dork wearing the chaps so I didn’t for the past 25 years of running a saw. Then I had a chain break while in my back pasture with no cell service. The chain caught just to the side of my MAN parts and cut through my jeans but did it not make contact with my skin. Thank goodness I was finished having children. I have since bought the chaps and wear them for anything involving my saw or weed eater. The thought of a cut femoral artery due to pride as the read my obituary made me realize the $80 for chaps meant dork factor be damned.

  16. Consider an AC plug in chain saw as a reserve option. If you don’t have access to gas, your solar panels and (maybe) inverter will still let you cut wood. You can produce electricity locally and most AC chain saws are mechanically rectified DC motors allowing you to run directly from the solar panels. (They are easier to start when cold, too.)

  17. You can still find 2 man saws at flea markets. A bit of file work with a 10 mil bastard file and your good to go.
    Once you and a partner get the system down, they work pretty good.
    When the gas supply is gone, they still work. Sounds like a good prep.

  18. I have run chainsaws all of my life, I was a logger and built logging roads in the mountains of Montana and Idaho. I prefer Stihl or Husqvarna saws. One thing I have always noticed is if a saw is not used for a while it can be a bear to start. I always keep a can of carb cleaner hand for just his problem. Unscrew the spark plug and squirt in some carb cleaner. Put the spark plug back in and it will fire up.

  19. Ken, got me thinking 48 years with no Chaps, maybe I’m pushing my luck?

    So, before we get into the Human Overpopulation Disaster, how about a few recommendations of good Chaps?

  20. If cutting larger limbs and tress, it’s good to have a wedge set with you in case the wood pinches and holds in the saw.

    1. Dont try it with a splitting wedge, Make sure to get the plastic ones designed for this purpose.

  21. I bought and used smaller saws because I was spending a lot of time climbing in the trees in order to cut hazard limbs to prevent damage to roof lines. I have used and bought Stihl brand simply because there were so many saw shops that sold Stihl brand saws, trimmers and parts for everything they have sold.

    Here on the West Coast, I still see more shops that deal in Stihl products as opposed to Husqvarna products. I am nervous around chainsaws and I see this as a good, healthy thing. I do not wear chaps but I wear all the other safety gear because the chaps may give somebody a false sense of security. Look, think it through before you make your cut. I also run the saw while stone-cold sober and I am more cautious and less ambitious about cutting after lunch, in the mid afternoon when I am tired and my judgement may be impaired. That is when mistakes are made.

    On the fire line in Southern California, we had larger saws though rarely did we use the biggest saw available simply because we had to carry it and the tool bag on foot. Spare parts bag contained fuel mix, chain/bar oil, scrench ( Stihl saws come with a combo screwdriver/wrench that fits most of the screws and nuts on their saws.). for the saw, spare gapped spark plug and spare chain. There were also several rat-tail files to sharpen the teeth of the saw. For the heavy thick brush we encountered, there was a special bar called a bow bar that shortened the length and made it wide to cut high volumes of smaller branches. at a rapid pace.

    To the novices out there: Notice that I did not mention the Big Box Store? That is because you should buy a saw from a approved dealer that sells spare parts and the staff can be truly helpful to you when you have trouble starting the Beast after a period of non-use. ( store it dry after you run it dry.). You are not buying a saw so much as you are buying customer service from a small, specialized shop. The staff will help you keep it running. Experienced wood cutters go to big box stores for the low prices . Best cures for a pinched blade:? either a second saw or an axe to cut the tree or branch away from the blade. Be ready for purchasing a new bar after pinching your blade in the cut.

    I no longer own a gas powered chainsaw because: I am in suburbia and I no longer have big lumber to cut. My appliances are electric ( lawn mower and weed whacker.). I live in a land where most of the gasoline sold contains ethanol. I am too old to climb trees and I no longer cut fire line for a living. I am out of practice using a chainsaw with a bar longer than 14 inches. ( I feel so emasculated having a tiny saw with a short bar- Arnold Schartznegger would call me a girly-man.). Smaller saws are easier to pull-start than large saws.

    I am in full agreement with many posters on this topic: Do not buy a chainsaw just for emergencies. Buy one because you intend to use it. And then go out in the wood lot with an experienced saw user to observe and learn.

  22. I have a still 12″ that I’ve had for 25+ years that still runs like a champ. Tune up kits are cheap and I use a garden hose to spray it down when it gets too oily.

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