The sizeable double dogs on the larger Stihl provide extra stability for a vertical cut or allow leverage on a cut close to either end of a workpiece.
Picking my favorite was very easy; one saw just seemed to get everything right. For power, light weight, comfort, convenience, safety, and the only coast-down brake, the Stihl MSE 180 C-BQ was the overall winner.
Next came the Stihl MSE 220 and the Husqvarna 316, both top-quality machines. The larger, heavier Stihl, with its pro-level bar, chain, and dogs, cut without hesitation–more than twice as fast as some of the others–and was the one I grabbed when I really wanted to power through big wood. The Husqvarna, with its lightweight inline design and high cutting efficiency, was a nimble powerhouse.
Two more I really liked were the Makita 5012B and the Craftsman 34118. The Makita 5012B is an older design, but it has stood the test of time. Light, super-compact, smooth, and versatile, its maneuverability and blazing-fast chain speed cut and detail like no other. The Craftsman 34118 was a surprise standout among much pricier saws. It felt very well balanced, had plenty of power, has quality features, and has the only 18-inch bar in the bunch. This saw received the special designation of Value Choice among its competition.
The lower end of the test results included the Milwaukee 6215 and the Makita UC 4000. The Milwaukee tool was sturdy and strong enough, but kind of basic and dated in features and performance. With a heavy feel that was low on comfort, it just didn't stand out, especially for the price. The Makita UC 4000 saw was plagued with performance problems, namely its recurring reluctance to oil and an overload clutch that constantly disengaged at normal cutting loads. It felt good and got mid-level trial times, but trying to work around its limitations was too frustrating.
The last two saws don't have much going for them except they are the cheapest. The heavy Craftsman 34107 trailed everyone in the time trials, was fraught with vibration and balance problems, and had the most twist, but I still rate it above the Remington for trying. Unlike the cheaper Craftsman, the Remington stood out by cutting corners. It's the only contemporary model without a chain brake and a sprocket tip bar. The lack of these basic performance and safety features alone keep me from recommending it.
Chainsaw carvers (of both wood and ice) have gravitated to the little electric Makita 5012B for many reasons--it's compact and maneuverable, the manual oiler provides crucial lubrication/staining control, it can be used indoors without polluting--but the main reason is for its unbeatable chain speed of 5,500 feet per minute. This speed provides very smooth cutting compared to slower saws (think of a router bit in a drill). Aftermarket carving bars with a quarter- or dime-sized tip provide a new realm of control and detail when paired with smaller chains and are practically kickback-proof (but do take some getting used to).
–Michael Springer is senior editor for Tools of the Trade.
Thanks to www.loghomestore.com for providing the carving bar, chain, and sprocket set for the Makita 5012B.
Sources Of Supply
Desa Power Tools
Remington LD3516AWB: $90
UC 4000: $209
Milwaukee Electric Tool
Sears Holdings Corp.
Craftsman 316.341070: $70
Craftsman 358.341180: $100
MSE 180 C-BQ: $370
MSE 220: $500