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Photos by dotfordot.com

When you think of chainsaws in construction work, your mind usually goes to builders of log homes, pole barns, docks, fences, and perhaps timber framers. But I dug a little deeper and found them used in demolition, vintage wood salvage and reuse, panel home building, sculptural stair and railing making, woodcarving, and even in general framing and roofing operations.

In my survey of uses, perhaps the best framing trick is to use a chainsaw for cutting out window and door openings. Especially on thick walls where it is hard to cut straight with a long blade on a recip saw, guiding a chainsaw's bar along the framing will ensure a flush cut. Just be sure there are no protruding nails.

Chainsaws' plunge-cutting abilities have them cutting quick roof vents out for some guys. Different aftermarket saw bases and accessories are available for clamping onto a chainsaw's bar for uses such as gang-cutting deep rafters at a uniform angle, square cross-cutting, making angle or compound angle cuts in timbers, and even for guiding long rip cuts.

While not known for the smoothest finish cuts, chainsaws are accurate enough for the easy cutting of large LVL and glulam ridge beams without having to flip them over. And remodelers and roofers, how many times have you cut tree branches back with the wrong saw? The longer you have a chainsaw on the job, the more uses you'll find for it.

With many pros relying on chainsaws regularly, I decided to perform a comparative test of a particularly attractive segment of the market: electric chainsaws.

Why Electrics?

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An oil-level window that is easily visible, like on the Husqvarna, can be checked at a glance.

An oil-level window that is easily visible, like on the Husqvarna, can be checked at a glance.

Electric chainsaws offer some real benefits over gas models that are especially welcome on the jobsite or in the shop. Electrics are quieter and lighter, vibrate less, produce no exhaust, and don't require special pre-mixed fuel to be kept around in the truck or job box. They also offer easier maintenance, similar to other power tools, rather than requiring small-engine repair skills. And if you use one only occasionally, an electric will start right up and deliver full power every time, unlike a sitting gas unit.

It's true that electrics suffer from an image of not being as strong as their smoky siblings, but that was just another reason to test them. With some of these electrics having the equivalent power of a 35- to 40-cc gas engine saw, my experience revealed them to be more than capable performers in every application I tried.

The Tools

I set out to test only models that could deliver professional results, so I ended up with nine of the largest, most powerful units representing a pretty complete sampling of every manufacturer on the market, but not every brand. I didn't include any tools marketed under a different name if it was essentially the same model; instead, I just tested the version with the larger sales share in the U.S. This strategy saved me from testing five duplicate models (listed in parentheses) and reporting identical results.

The electric chainsaws in the test were the Craftsman 34107 (McCulloch MS1630NT–with slightly smaller motor; Troy-Bilt TBE3516NT), Craftsman 34118 (Poulan 400E–with case), Husqvarna 316 (Jonsered CS2116EL), Makita 5012B, Makita UC 4000 (Dolmar ES171–with coast-down brake), Milwaukee 6215, Remington LD3516AWB, and Stihl MSE 180 C-BQ and MSE 220.

The saws featured 16-inch bars, except for the Makita 5012B (12-inch bar) and Craftsman 34118 (18-inch bar).

Out of the Box

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The manual oiler button on the older Makita provides a measure of control not found on the others, but you must remember to use it.

A few of the saws require basic assembly, and it's a good exercise to acquaint a new user with how these tools work and how they have to be kept in adjustment. A complete saw is basically a powerhead, bar, and chain. Many different bar and chain combinations can be fitted to most saws, but I tested the stock setup for each.

Accessories are few, but those that need tools for adjustments come with them. All but the Craftsman models come with a rigid plastic scabbard, although Milwaukee's is 4 inches too short. This guard is a must for safe transport and storage; the dozens of sharp teeth on a saw chain can easily shred whatever they are riding against in your truck and become dull, so you need this protection both for them and from them. Accessory scabbards should be easy to find for less than $10.

The owner's manuals go into a lot of detail about tree-felling techniques, something you probably won't need much for these electrics, but they also feature a lot of important general safety information and operation and maintenance instructions.