Q&A / 

Electric Chain Saw

DEAR TIM: I'm considering purchasing an electric chain saw. I've never used one and wonder if they really cut as well as a gas-powered chain saw. What are your feelings about these tools? If I need to use one where there is no electric, I imagine I could use a portable generator. Can you share some tips about these saws in case I do buy one? Victoria K., Denver, CO

DEAR VICTORIA: I've got both a gas-powered chain saw and an electric chain saw. If I were to blindfold you and place them in your hands one at a time, I doubt you could tell the difference.

This looks, feels and operates just like a gas-powered chain saw, but the electric cord at the handle tells a different tale. PHOTO CREDIT:  Tim Carter

This looks, feels and operates just like a gas-powered chain saw, but the electric cord at the handle tells a different tale. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

The weight of the two tools is comparable, they look nearly identical, and both saws have virtually the same controls that operate the blade and shut it down in an emergency.

What you may be wondering is if the electric chain saw has enough power to cut through wood. The answer is yes, so long as you purchase one that has enough horsepower or gusto. My electric chain saw has a 16-inch blade and a 3.5 hp electric motor.

The cutting action of a chain saw, in my opinion, results from three things. The sharpness of the blade, the speed of the blade moving across the wood, and the weight of the saw.

An electric chain saw with a razor-sharp blade will outperform a gas-powered saw all day long all other things being equal. A dull saw blade just spins creating lots of friction, smoke and frustration.

The electric saw I have really works well when you pull back the trigger all the way. The blade spins incredibly fast allowing the cutting teeth of the blade to vigorously bite into logs over 2-feet in diameter.

You can push down on a chain saw with your arms to have the blade bite more aggressively into the wood, but why not have the saw do that for you? This means a slightly heavier saw will allow gravity to pull the blade down into the wood. But there is a sweet spot. You don't want the saw to be so heavy you get fatigued.

I feel an electric chain saw is a great tool for around the home. You know it will operate as soon as you pull the trigger, assuming you have power at your home. Gas-powered saws can be tough to start if you don’t maintain them.

As for using a generator to power the saw in a remote location, that seems like a little bit of overkill and expense. After all, you need to feed gasoline and oil into a generator, so you might as well just carry one tool, a gas-powered chain saw, into the woods.

To minimize your work, use a high-quality chain saw sharpener to keep your blade in perfect condition. Don't cut close to the ground. Don't ever allow the blade to touch the ground as the dirt and small rock particles will rapidly dull the blade. Brush off all dirt from logs and the bark to keep dirt from dulling a blade.

Be sure to use electric chain saw oil to keep the blade lubricated. This is mission critical. Monitor the oil reservoir on the saw every few minutes so you ensure it never runs dry. Fill it when it gets to the half-full point as you need to make sure the blade gets oil at all times as you rotate the saw up and down as you cut.

Above all, read the Owners Manual. Read and understand all the safety warnings. Don't cut logs or trees that are wedged or in a bind. The weight of the log can close down on the blade, or the tree can shift as you cut it. Serious injury is always a possibility if you don’t know how to use these powerful tools.

Many safety improvements have been made with chain saws, both electric and gas-powered, but understand they still can hurt you in a fraction of a second.

My father-in-law cut his leg many years ago in an injury that could have cost him his life. He still doesn't know what happened, but somehow the saw jumped out of the log and sliced into his leg in the blink of an eye.

Wear all the recommended protective clothing, gloves, helmet, face shield, etc. when using a chain saw.

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