Feel & Comfort

Good feel is easy to determine but difficult to describe. It includes weight and balance, and, to some degree, a user's anatomy; but to most people, a comfortable tool will just feel "right." These saws weigh from just under 10 pounds to just under 12 pounds as used, except for the nearly 14-pound Stihl MSE 220. But the actual weight of some tools is belied by good balance, making them feel lighter than they are.

My simple test for balance involves picking the tool up with the left hand where you would want it on the front handle during cutting and seeing if the tool will balance itself in that position. A slight front-to-back tilt is OK, but the saw should not want to tip to the side, especially to the right. Make sure your left thumb is wrapped all the way around the handle as you do this because that grip detail is crucial for control in the event of a kickback. Left hands actually suffer among the most injuries in chainsaw accidents.

Two of the saws have noticeably different configurations: The Husqvarna and Makita UC 4000 are inline models versus the perpendicular motor design that is standard for electric chainsaws. This inline shape centers the weight of the tool and the user's grip over the bar and very effectively eliminates the twisting forces caused by the wider grip distances common to the other style of chainsaws. I have isolated this grip torque as a major factor that makes some saws hard to control and much more likely to wear out the user's grip. As your left hand pushes down off axis with the bar, it is trying to rotate the saw counterclockwise. To keep the bar from binding in the kerf or the cut from washing out to the right, your right hand has to counteract this torsion by twisting back clockwise and strain its grip. This effect is magnified when using a saw for a series of heavy cuts as opposed to more delicate procedures that may use only the weight of the saw itself.

My second test involves checking for this grip torque. With your left hand at its balance point and the tool unplugged, grip the rear handle very lightly with your right hand and push the nose of the bar downward firmly onto a surface with your left hand. If the saw tries to twist, adjust your left hand position and try again, remembering to keep your thumb encircling the handle. All of the best-feeling saws to use were able to be pushed like this without twisting and with the left hand in a comfortable and safe position. These included the Craftsman 34118, the Makita 5012B, the Stihl MSE 180, and, of course, the Husqvarna and Makita UC 4000 inline models mentioned above. The models with the most pronounced torque effect were the Craftsman 34107 and the Remington.

Vibration is another comfort factor worth noting. The saws with especially smooth operation were both Stihls and the Husqvarna, and those with the most noticeable vibration were the Craftsman 34107 and the Remington.

Power & Speed

Electric chainsaw motors are fairly large; their amp ratings range from 11.5 for the diminutive Makita 5012B to 15 for the powerful Stihl models.

The no-load chain speeds of these saws range from 1,500 to 5,500 feet per minute, but this is not an accurate indicator of how fast a saw cuts because torque decreases as speed increases. To test the speed-of-cut performance as a reasonable gauge of the usable power of each saw, I staged more than 100 time-trial cuts through uniform timbers.

Two sizes were used: One with a cross-section of 86.6 square inches, equivalent to a 9-5/16-inch square timber, and one with 170.2 square inches, equivalent to a 13-inch square timber.

The saws all had sharp chains and adequate lubrication. I pushed them as hard as they could run without a significant decrease in motor speed. It was easy to judge the correct amount of force required by ear and some of the saws had me really working to keep up.

Most of the tools, including the fastest and slowest performers, placed consistently regardless of the demands put on them. In order, the Stihl MSE 220, Stihl MSE 180, and Husqvarna saws were fastest. The Makita UC 4000 and Makita 5012B fell in the middle of the pack as the fifth and sixth fastest (the small Makita 5012B couldn't perform the larger cuts, so a separate piece was cut that used all of its bar length and the handicapped times were adjusted fairly to represent area cut per time). The two slowest were the Remington and then the Craftsman 34107.

Two of the saws were not as consistent. The Craftsman 34118 was the fourth fastest in the lighter test, but fell into seventh position in the thicker cuts. Milwaukee was the opposite: seventh fastest in the lighter cuts, fourth fastest in the thicker cuts, showing greater reserve power under load.