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What are electric chainsaws like compared to fuel ones?

 
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I was wondering if anyone here had used both? What are your thoughts?

Are the cordless electric ones as well-made as the usual kind? Are they as reliable and easy to fix? Or is there more that can go wrong because of the electronics?

I remember in one of Ben Law's books he said he uses an electric one, which is what got me thinking about this as a serious homestead tool.

One thing that worries me is if we're having issues with our off-grid electricity, it would mean we wouldn't be able to cut wood until the issue is fixed, seems a bit like putting all the eggs in one basket, but is that issue worth it for getting to be off the chainsaw fuel grid?
 
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Kate,

Great question and depends heavily on your use.  I have a Kobalt (Lowe’s house brand) 40 volt 12 inch chainsaw and I really like it.  Mostly I use it for trimming, but it does an admirable job.  The chain spins slightly slower than a gas model, but this has an unexpected benefit.  The chain stays sharp as the cutting surfaces never get hot enough to dull. I have had mine for about 2 years and never sharpened the chain but it still kicks out shavings and not dust.

It is incredibly handy.  I just pick it up, squeeze the trigger and go.  I certainly don’t miss mixing fuel or struggling with a stubborn engine that does not want to start.  I often take it with me when I am out on my tractor trimming branches.

The downside is that it is a bit small to do real tree cutting.  Also, the Kobalt line is a bit suspect.  The tools themselves are just fine but the batteries are not all that reliable.  I have 5 batteries and 2 have conked out early.  If you do go Kobalt, keep your receipts.  Also, they won’t take the battery back alone, they want the battery and tool for exchange which is annoying.  But battery issues aside, I do really like my Kobalt 12 inch chainsaw.  I have enough batteries that I take 2 batteries out with me on jobs and that is generally enough for me.  I will quit before they do.

If you really need to cut large logs, then you need the 80 volt model and prepare to pony up money for it. Those batteries are not cheap!  I personally can’t see myself getting one of these as I already have a gas chainsaw of similar size.  I don’t really know what your cutting needs are but the 40 volt option does a lot of cutting for me.  I actually have not even fired up the gas saw since I got the battery saw.

You might look around at different models, but I do like mine.

Hope this helps,

Eric
 
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I am definitely not an expert.  I have used both, but not sure if I can give a true comparison because I don't know the power details.  Our electric one is small and has less power. I like this one for myself better because I don't use a chainsaw very often, so I feel more in control.  It is also easier to start.  But if I had to cut lots or wood, I would want the gas one because you have to go slow with our electric one.  I don't know if it is because it's electric, or because it is small versus large and powerful.  Sorry not very helpful.  Honestly if you could swing it get one of each.  They are both useful.
 
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I prefer my 60v DEWALT over a gas model. If i was cutting all day i may not say that. My chores are 20 minutes up to an hour. The cordless does well. No fumes. No starting and killing the engine... i like it.
 
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Not a lot of experience, but I find an electric to be comparable to a big box gas saw the same size but not as fast as a high end gas saw.  That said, I can run an electric a lot longer before my arms wear out, the vibes of a gas engine are hard on arthritis and carpal tunnel.  I will be getting one for doing mushroom logs very soon
 
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I've used the cordless chainsaws at Wheaton Labs where they have 3-4 brands.

If I was cutting a few logs quick I'd use one of the electrics.  I think their green one was best and the Stihl was the least commonly used.

If I was cutting and bucking up a tree I'd grab my homeowner Poulon Pro gas saw.  

I'm sure there are better cordless saws now, but the ones I tried were underpowered and slow and couldn't cut that much before they were out of juice.  Great for 10 cuts or trimming but if you have to cut a 14" maple into firewood I'd use the gas saw.  Unfortunately.

If anyone had money to donate and wanted to really test out cordless chainsaws, buy some for the lab.  They'll give them a real-world test...
 
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I used a small 120V (plug into the grid) chainsaw for years. It was wonderful to use around the house, and farm, as long as it was within reach of an electric outlet. It was lightweight, so I did lightweight tasks with it: Cleanup after windstorms, fruit-tree pruning, weeding, etc. It started every time, the first time, and didn't poison me with noxious fumes or questionable additives. For larger tasks, I used larger non-electric tools. I don't remember cutting  through the electrical chord, but it was an extra safety worry that isn't present in gas-powered models. And the chord can get caught up on things.

 
Kate Downham
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Thank you all for your helpful responses. It's so good to hear real-life experiences about gear. We mostly cut smaller wood, so it might be something we'd consider even if it is a bit less powerful than our fuel chainsaw.
 
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R Scott wrote:Not a lot of experience, but I find an electric to be comparable to a big box gas saw the same size but not as fast as a high end gas saw.  That said, I can run an electric a lot longer before my arms wear out, the vibes of a gas engine are hard on arthritis and carpal tunnel.  I will be getting one for doing mushroom logs very soon



THIS is very important, to me!  The only other issue is, of course,  what happens when the power goes out, and I can't recharge, for a week or two. In theory, it shouldn't matter, because I think it's wisest to have all the wood cut, seasoned, split, and stacked, for the entire season, before the first hard frost. In reality? Shit happens. So, maybe the answer (for me) is to have both?
 
Kate Downham
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I think I remember reading that a rarely-used fuel chainsaw needs special attention to make sure that it doesn't get clogged up when sitting idle. We use ours at least once a week so have never needed to do this, but I imagine that having one as backup for an electric saw, it would be important to store it properly.

I can definitely relate to what you're saying about having wood put away, Carla, it makes a lot of sense. At this stage we haven't managed to do this, there is just so much other stuff that needs doing, but it's definitely a long-term goal to have two years wood stacked up, that way it wouldn't be such an emergency if the chainsaw broke.

One of each does sound like a good idea, or having a second of either sort (or extra batteries) for backup.
 
Carla Burke
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Yup - that's what I'm thinking. Plus, there are two of us, so, at least, in theory, if I'm primarily using the electric one,  because of my arthritis & CTS, and hubs is using the gas one, at the same time, there wouldn't be much of an issue about keeping the fuel fresh. It would just mean that if we can't charge the electric one, we'd at least still have one working - as long as we don't run ourselves out of fuel, and forget to get more, before we get snowed in. Which brings me to...
 
Kate Downham
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Sounds like a good plan.

Maybe I should do that too, so I can start mushroom logs whenever I want. Sounds like an electric saw would be good for that purpose.
 
Mike Haasl
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I probably go 4-6 months without using my saw each year and it starts right up when needed.  The thing I attribute that to is a combination of sheer negligence, dumb luck and also always putting Stabil in the gas for my small engines.

As for a backup when the power goes out, remember that a not uncommon issue is a storm knocking your power out and then dropping three trees across your driveway.  Even with lots of firewood put up, you still need to cut that tree to get out.  

Another fine option is a cross cut saw.

 
Carla Burke
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Mike Haasl wrote:I probably go 4-6 months without using my saw each year and it starts right up when needed.  The thing I attribute that to is a combination of sheer negligence, dumb luck and also always putting Stabil in the gas for my small engines.

As for a backup when the power goes out, remember that a not uncommon issue is a storm knocking your power out and then dropping three trees across your driveway.  Even with lots of firewood put up, you still need to cut that tree to get out.  

Another fine option is a cross cut saw.


A fine and true point, about the trees in the driveway - or worse, on/in the house! I think if all I had was the cross cut saw, though, I'd probably die of exposure, lol.
 
Mike Haasl
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Me too :)  But when debating between gas and electric, the permie sitting at the next table is wondering why we don't just use a saw.
 
Carla Burke
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My answer would be, "because, some of us are no longer physically capable of that level of hard physical labor", lol.
 
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I've been using an EGO for the last few years and I absolutely love it!  It starts instantly and reliably....no more struggling with yanking a pull cord on a recalcitrant engine!  Quiet!  No more blue smoke everywhere!  Less fire danger from hot muffler! It can do anything that I could do with my small Stihl, with a lot less hassle. I've sucessfully dealt with two-foot thick logs with it (by cutting in, and then splitting off some sections, and then cutting further, etc.)    
     That said, I've always lived in the South or California when I've burned wood, so the quantity I need in a year is moderate, and I've always been able to get it nearby....no long hauling trips.  The EGO will run for 20 or 30 minutes of pretty steady cutting on a battery, and then it needs to recharge for about that long or a bit longer.  On the farm this works very well because I can move the wood around, etc. while the battery is charging.  If I had a second battery I could cut more or less continuously.  But I couldn't drive out at a distance and cut more than the battery's worth.  With my small car, that's about good, too.  If I had a pickup truck, I'd probably need 3 or more batteries to fill it.
   The only other drawback I can think of is the relatively narrow and flimsy bar and chain.  I end up replacing both on a yearly basis.
 
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I have three saws: Stihl MS461 (big saw, 32” bar), Stihl MS161 (small saw, 16”? bar), and a E-GO battery saw (14” bar). The MS161 and E-GO are comparable in weight and bar length, but it’s hard for me to say one is better than the other. I’ll give you three different comparisons:

1. Safety: Electric chainsaws are much more dangerous than gas saws. The biggest reason is that chaps do not protect against electric saws. They are designed to tangle up saws that work in pulses (like a 2-stroke engine) and an electric chainsaw will just chew right through them. The other reason is that the lack of engine noise makes people think it’s safe, even though you can tap the button and get that chain ripping in an instant. A growling gas saw is a warning in and of itself.

2. Power: There is no comparison at all. The MS161 is at least 10 times more powerful than the E-GO and it won’t shut down from the battery overheating under load (a scary thing when you’re taking down a tree). That being said, the E-GO can get the job done with enough patience.

3. Maintenance: Again, no question — the E-GO wins hands down here. Gas saws take some care, especially if you cannot acquire ethanol free fuel. You’ve got to understand how to start a cold saw, a warm saw, adjust for elevation, clear a flooded chamber, and keep extra spark plugs on hand, and manage the age of your gas cans. With the E-GO you just put bar oil in and you’re good to go.

If you are cutting wood for heat, I wouldn’t even question it — get a gas saw. If you just need to cut down some windfall now and then, a battery saw will probably do you fine.
 
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I have used several.

I love them in general, fantastic to be without the fiddly fume-y gas motor. Great for rough woodworking, trimming logs on the mill, for brush and thinning small trees, and light falling. Amazing for throwing in truck cab and not stinking it up.

Many not great for serious firewood production, a LOT of batteries needed to work all day.

Unfortunately all I have tried have fallen short in some specific so far.

Many have ridiculous plastic ridges instead of proper spikes. HATE this.


The 14" Ego bar was too short for my taste, and in 2015 did not have speed control as I recall. I took it back.

The Kobalt had no speed control after the vendor told me  it did. It went back too.

The greenworks clone of the kobalt did have speed control, but wasn't willing to try it given the 1 year warranty.


The dewalt flexvolt was great at first, barring no bucking spikes. The 60V batteries run dry too fast; I had 5x 2AH and 2x 3AH, and would run every one dry bucking wood before filling a pickup. No larger batteries are available.

The batteries degrade fast as they are not configured to shut off soon enough. The oiler clogs easily.

Critically, the tool-less tensioner stopped holding tension, and I have seen many other reports of this. 2 cuts, retighten. Curse. Repeat.

They sent it back from RMA unfixed, so I wasted 50 bucks on shipping for nothing.

Fuck Dewalt.


The new 18" Ego was pretty nice, but the chain tensioner is a weird automatic thing. The amount of tension it wanted, was not enough to keep the chain on by my standards; it came off 3x before draining the 5ah battery for the first time. It went back. I wasn't a huge fan of thenverynhigh RPM motor, it took a moment more to get up to speed vs the others.

It did have steel mini-spikes, great speed control and did a LOT of cutting on the one battery before it went back. I may try another to see if the tensioner was a fluke.


I have also borrowed an Milwaukee M18 saw for a few cuts. 'Normal' scrench style tensioner, metal spikes, shares batteries with a great line of tools. Seemed splid, nice torquey motor. Main issue is biggest battery is 240WH vs 420WH for the biggest Ego option, and as usual with Milwaukee the price is high.


Compared to a gas saw, my 1984 husky 61 will do more work, but the 18" Ego was getting close, if I had enough batteries.
 
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Kyle Neath wrote:I have three saws: Stihl MS461 (big saw, 32” bar), Stihl MS161 (small saw, 16”? bar), and a E-GO battery saw (14” bar). The MS161 and E-GO are comparable in weight and bar length, but it’s hard for me to say one is better than the other. I’ll give you three different comparisons:

1. Safety: Electric chainsaws are much more dangerous than gas saws. The biggest reason is that chaps do not protect against electric saws. They are designed to tangle up saws that work in pulses (like a 2-stroke engine) and an electric chainsaw will just chew right through them. The other reason is that the lack of engine noise makes people think it’s safe, even though you can tap the button and get that chain ripping in an instant. A growling gas saw is a warning in and of itself.

2. Power: There is no comparison at all. The MS161 is at least 10 times more powerful than the E-GO and it won’t shut down from the battery overheating under load (a scary thing when you’re taking down a tree). That being said, the E-GO can get the job done with enough patience.

3. Maintenance: Again, no question — the E-GO wins hands down here. Gas saws take some care, especially if you cannot acquire ethanol free fuel. You’ve got to understand how to start a cold saw, a warm saw, adjust for elevation, clear a flooded chamber, and keep extra spark plugs on hand, and manage the age of your gas cans. With the E-GO you just put bar oil in and you’re good to go.

If you are cutting wood for heat, I wouldn’t even question it — get a gas saw. If you just need to cut down some windfall now and then, a battery saw will probably do you fine.



Do you have a source to share for the lack of chaps protwction with electric saws?

My understanding was that material in the chaps was meant to jam the chain, and that ratings are based on stopping chain moving at a given speed.. irrespective of what was causing it to move. I can see how the massive torque of some of the electric saws could be a new issue though...
 
Eric Hanson
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D Nickols,

I have owned the Kobalt model for about 2 years and the tool itself works well IMHO.  You are correct that it does not have a speed control—it is either on or off.  However I have never found this to be a problem.  It is nice that saw this size had actual steel bucking spikes.  

By far the biggest downside is that the batteries are not reliable.  Some have a tendency to fail early.  This is troubling.  The silver lining is that if the battery lasts more than a couple of months then you are probably in the clear.  Getting them exchanged is a real pain though as Lowe’s wants the whole tool back and not just the defective battery.  I am considering taking my battery to a nearby dealer and getting it repacked.

But batteries aside, the Kobalt 40 volt saw is a good saw.  It is a trimming saw and not the sort of saw one would use for felling mighty oaks, but then I don’t cut down mighty oaks.  It comes with a 12 inch bar and in my experience does quite well for logs up to about 8”.  Of course it will cut larger logs, but it will start to strain more, go through the battery faster and one might have to get creative with the cuts, but then that is where a much larger saw is more appropriate.

Anyhow, these are just my thoughts on this little saw.  It has become my go-to saw for most every cutting project.  I do have an 18” gas saw, but I hardly ever use it.

Eric





 
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I'm waiting, huge developments are taking place in battery research and development. This first generation of electric saws is great progress but  me, I'm gonna wait till at least the next generation of electric saws come out. Bugs will hopefully be fixed and hopefully have more power and longer run times. I've got several saws from over the years and the ones that keep going are an old makita made by dolmar, an old echo, a stihl 180 and a stihl ms261, they all work when the cord is pulled and non ethanol gas and stihl oil is used
I had opportunity to watch my nephew use an new ryobi battery saw during turkey day break and it worked well on the 2-4 inch trees they were cutting till the battery ran out, quiet and efficient but did not even run for an hour
 
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I have only one experience with electric chainsaws - received a Ryobi as a Christmas present a few years ago - what a plastic piece of crap!

You may have heard of a turd in a bag? Well the Ryobi was a turd in a box - slightly more upmarket!

All the bits that are required to keep the thing running are typically made of plastic, or worse still, a plastic/metal interface. For example, the chain tension knob is plastic/metal and simply won't tighten it enough, even when the bar is adjusted accordingly, so the chain continually fouls and falls of the sprockets. It also eats oil like a champion.

I tightened the tension knob so much that it couldn't be undone, yet the chain was still falling off. Had to get it serviced and it cost me more than a new replacement chainsaw!

Thankfully, I didn't buy it, but lesson learnt, similar to line trimmers, it pays to buy a good one e.g. Stihl, etc.

Will be donating the Ryobi chainsaw, like a previously owned Ryobi Line Trimmer, to the junk collector - what a waste of valuable resources, there should be tighter restrictions on these shitty, unreliable products.

 
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I have had my EGO saw for 5 years with no breakdown of any sort. I use it because it's much safer as well as not having to smell like gas all of the time. My Stihl and Husqvarna saws just sit there. It's been three years since I started one of them and five years since I used them much.

Cut time is a bit slower, but most of my time is spent getting into position, when I'm cutting trees that are around houses and other structures. When used from a ladder, the saw doesn't lift the nose when power is applied. There's also no fuel to spill out when it's upside down. I keep it in the car all the time and I don't have to deal with fumes. Sometimes I need to use a chainsaw when in the crawl space under a house. No fumes. I often find myself climbing through hedges that are as tall as 25 feet. When a gas saw is used in that environment, the fumes don't blow away fast enough. I use the ego saw and also a much smaller Makita that can be  wielded with one hand. I also have a cordless Stihl pole saw which I use commercially. A few years ago I bought the 80 volt Greenworks saw. It's a little bit faster than the others but much more awkward in design. I've only used it a few times. It was a waste of money. One of the batteries failed after a short time. Work and life prevented me from getting around to sending the battery in while the warranty was still active. The worst electric equipment I have ever seen is called Earth Wise. I bought a shit saw from them a few years ago and returned it a few hours later. It was half the speed of my cordless Sawzall.A toy.

I have five tools by EGO and 5 batteries, including the big one that goes in the lawn mower. If I'm cutting up larger logs for firewood, I use the lawn mower battery. It takes half an hour to charge the lawn mower battery and 15 minutes to charge the regular batteries when I use the big charger that came with the lawn mower. With the number of batteries and chargers I have , I couldn't run out of battery power even with continuous cutting. Continuous cutting is something I do occasionally. If I do a full day of tree work, in town where I'm placing ladders and dragging stuff out of the way and attaching ropes and all the other things that go into bringing urban trees down safely, the saw probably ads 15 minutes to half an hour to my day as compared to using a fast Husqvarna saw. I'm willing to spend that time, in order to not have to fill with gas and breathe the fumes and have that smell in my vehicle constantly. Then there's a thing about never having to buy gas or a spark plug. I just fill it up with vegetable oil that I don't buy, and I'm good. That vegetable oil is usually used deep fry oil that has been allowed to sit for a long time and settle until it's clear, but right now I'm using canola oil that was left in one of the vacant houses that I work on. Every few weeks someone leaves me another partial container of oil.

I have no use for high-quality gas-powered saws that I already own. Unless I were processing a lot of wood out in the bush, I would never buy a gas powered saw a again. They are obsolete for my purposes.

Some people insist on a really fast saw for processing firewood. I keep three of my friends houses heated with firewood, from tree work and demolition work I do around the city. So the firewood is really just a by-product of my obtaining money. I always give it away. When I'm working, I can bring in $50 an hour. I have found that the moment I turn my attention to fire wood, I am working for half of that or less. Those who gather firewood provide me with clean up service which is often part of the job that I take on. Few people will work as cheaply as someone who is a serious firewood hound. These guys fritter away a lot of time obtaining firewood elsewhere. So it's always a big bonus when I call them about a bunch of wood that is already cut and laying on the ground.

When someone is cutting only their own firewood, if a large high production saw is needed, I think it's time to look at the heating system, the amount of space being heated and the house insulation level. In other words, take a serious look at why you need so much wood. If you live in the city, get to know a few landscapers and tree guys. Many of them don't want to fiddle with wood. They want to finish the job and collect their money.
 
Kyle Neath
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Do you have a source to share for the lack of chaps protwction with electric saws?

My understanding was that material in the chaps was meant to jam the chain, and that ratings are based on stopping chain moving at a given speed.. irrespective of what was causing it to move. I can see how the massive torque of some of the electric saws could be a new issue though...



You can usually find the information directly on the product pages since the UL has yet to rate any chaps for electric saws. These STIHL chaps are a good example:

...material designed to reduce the risk or severity of injury to the body parts covered by the pads in the event of contact with the rotating saw chain of a gasoline-powered chainsaw.



Like you mentioned, the problem is the constant torque. Chaps are designed to halt a chain once and tangle it up. For gas powered saws this works great since the torque is extremely low at low speeds. But electric chainsaws maintain the same torque and can continue to cut through the chap threads even after the chain has been stopped.

That being said still wear chaps! It’s obviously much safer than not wearing chaps. It’s just an element of safety I consider with electric vs gas saws.
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:D Nickols,

I have owned the Kobalt model for about 2 years and the tool itself works well IMHO.  You are correct that it does not have a speed control—it is either on or off.  However I have never found this to be a problem.  It is nice that saw this size had actual steel bucking spikes.  

By far the biggest downside is that the batteries are not reliable.  Some have a tendency to fail early.  This is troubling.  The silver lining is that if the battery lasts more than a couple of months then you are probably in the clear.  Getting them exchanged is a real pain though as Lowe’s wants the whole tool back and not just the defective battery.  I am considering taking my battery to a nearby dealer and getting it repacked.

But batteries aside, the Kobalt 40 volt saw is a good saw.  It is a trimming saw and not the sort of saw one would use for felling mighty oaks, but then I don’t cut down mighty oaks.  It comes with a 12 inch bar and in my experience does quite well for logs up to about 8”.  Of course it will cut larger logs, but it will start to strain more, go through the battery faster and one might have to get creative with the cuts, but then that is where a much larger saw is more appropriate.

Anyhow, these are just my thoughts on this little saw.  It has become my go-to saw for most every cutting project.  I do have an 18” gas saw, but I hardly ever use it.

Eric







Glad it is working for you!

I use these saws doing roundwood/timberframe building projects, and find variable speed key to improved precision for this use.. for other uses it is probably not very critical.

I will not buy from Lowes again in any case, getting them to take that saw back was an epic fight, and there is no store near me anymore.

Batteries are a big deal!

Mine was the 80V saw, didn't realize they also.had a 40V.
 
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