PERFORMANCE

Besides using these three saws on several professional small-tree removal and pruning jobs, I tested them side by side on 8-inch-diameter pine pole-barn timbers. For comparison's sake, the cross-section of these round poles is roughly equal in area to 7-inch-square timbers.

I gauged the speed of the saws by timing their cuts through this material with new chains (the Oregon had a PowerSharp chain) and freshly charged batteries. The average time per cut for each saw was as follows: Stihl 10.8 seconds, Oregon 15.9 seconds, and Ryobi 23.3 seconds. I retested the Oregon with the recommended standard chain (#91PX), and it did not cut as fast as before (18.7 seconds).

To get a sense of how much work the tools could do per charge, I put new chains and fresh batteries on the saws and counted cuts through 8-inch pole-barn timbers. The Stihl made 43½ cuts, the Oregon 22½ cuts (18 with the #91PX chain), and the Ryobi 21½ cuts.

For reference, I performed the same tests with a brand-new, popular 18-volt lithium-ion cordless chain saw; it turned in a cut time of 66 seconds, and made only 3¼ cuts on a charge of its compact battery. It would have done better with a full-size battery — but still nowhere near as well as a higher-voltage model.

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Stihl MSA160C-BQ Specs

Chain speed: 39.4 feet per second
Battery: 36-volt li-ion (4.5- or 2.2-Ah)
Bar: 12"
Chain: ¼" pitch, .043" gauge, 64 drive links
Weight: 11.3 pounds (w/4.5-Ah battery)
Kit price: $550 to $700
Includes: Tool ($350); one 4.5- or 2.2-Ah battery; standard ($50) or rapid ($90) charger
Additional battery: 4.5-Ah $260; 2.2-Ah $150
Country of origin: tool, Austria; battery, Germany; charger, Slovakia

Stihl 800-467-8445 stihl.com

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Oregon PowerNow CS250E Specs

Chain speed: 39.4 feet per second
Battery: 40-volt max (37-volt nominal) li-ion (2.4- or 1.25-Ah)
Bar: 14"
Chain: 3/8" pitch (low profile), .050" gauge, 52 drive links
Weight: 12.2 pounds (w/2.4-Ah battery)
Kit price: $500 (2.4-Ah battery); $400 (1.25-Ah battery)
Includes: Tool, one battery, and charger
Additional battery: 2.4 Ah $200; 1.25 Ah $150
Country of origin: tool and charger, China; battery, Japan

Oregon 888-313-8665 oregonpowernow.com

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Ryobi RY40510 Specs

Chain speed: 11 feet per second
Battery: 40-volt li-ion, 2.6-Ah
Bar: 12"
Chain: 3/8" pitch (low profile), .043" gauge, 45 drive links
Weight: 9.6 pounds
Kit price: $190
Includes: Tool ($100), one battery, and charger ($60)
Additional battery: $130
Country of origin: China
Saw shown here without the tip guard

Ryobi 800-525-2579 ryobitools.com

In use, all three saws had good balance and overall comfort, but the cutting performance and feel differed for each. The Stihl saw pulled its chain with consistent speed and strength in every cut made, regardless of the wood species or moisture content. Having the thinnest kerf bar and chain no doubt contributed to its cutting speed. It felt the most like a “real” gas or corded electric saw and only triggered its overload circuit when pushed way too hard — like when I ripped dry hardwood with the entire bar buried in the wood.

The Oregon has the longest bar and seemed to have the fastest no-load speed, but like any motor geared too high, it struggled under load. If I pushed the saw a little too hard, the overload circuit would shut the motor down. This happened a lot — during the timed trials, I was unable to make a single fast cut without the saw cutting out at least once. To its credit, the saw performed much better in green wood than in dry wood, and had virtually no problem cutting fresh branches up to 10 inches in diameter during tree-removal jobs. At first I didn't like the odd PowerSharp chain, because its hooked tooth gullets would clog with pieces of softer woods — but eventually its good cutting speed and the fact that I could sharpen it on the fly won me over.

The Ryobi is geared down; it has the lowest chain speed but plenty of torque and is hard to stall out. I got a lot of cutting done with it before I suddenly smoked the motor with the bar fully engaged in a tree trunk. (I had already made similar cuts with the other two saws, with no calamitous results.) Apparently, this saw's high-current/high-temperature cutoff — which is designed to protect the battery — doesn't protect the motor adequately under high-drain conditions.

At least the battery still works.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Stihl MSA 160C-BQ is unbelievably capable for a cordless chain saw and is the strongest, fastest, and longest-lasting model in all uses. Its top performance — along with a high-tech battery and a motor system that only taps out at the last second to avoid injury — makes it worthy of any cutting job its bar can make it through.

The Oregon saw was a mixed bag. It cut quickly through the easy stuff, but its tendency to stall under load proved annoying and made me feel like I had to baby it constantly. I found it difficult to be productive with this saw.

The Ryobi saw worked hard for the money and didn't stall, but its headstrong nature proved to be its undoing. With no effective overload circuit, the torquey motor will drive itself to death, so you must try to protect the tool yourself by sticking to smaller cutting tasks.

ABOUT THE WRITER

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Michael Springer is the former Executive Editor of Tools of the Trade.