Guide written by:
Jeremy, construction site supervisor, Cardiff
Indispensable for cutting wood and felling trees, the chainsaw is the true woodcutter's tool that will keep you in wood over winter! Felling chainsaw, pruning machine, pole pruner, each type has its own specific uses. Guide, chain, square or round cutting teeth... here's the crack!
- Guide length
- Engine capacity
How does a chainsaw work?
A petrolengine drives a chain equipped with teeth around a structure called the "guide". The longer the guide, themore powerful the chainsaw. The sharper the teeth, the greater the risks - blade recoil, jumping...
More recent chainsaws are generally equipped with a variety of safety devices (two-handed operation, chain brake, anti-rebound, etc.), but safe use still requires great vigilance and adequate protective equipment.
What are the different types of chainsaw?
Each type of chainsaw corresponds to a specific use and working context; don't mix them up!
The "all purpose" chainsaw with guide length < 45cm is intended foreveryday use. It's perfect for cutting wood, removing branches and cutting down small trees. This type of chainsaw is handled with both hands and still requires some vigilance, especially for the most powerful models.
The felling saw with guide length > 45cm is intended for professional use, including intensive felling work. A little trickier to handle and equipped with a high-power petrol engine (2500–6500W), the felling saw requires experience to be used safely. Its cutting length varies from 45 to over 80cm. Due to its bulk, the felling saw is impractical for pruning.
The pruning saw is lightweight , easy to handle and has a guide length under 35cm. Intended specifically for cutting and pruning branches, the pruning saw is held in one hand - making it highly practical but also dangerous for the inexperienced.
The pole pruner is very practical for reaching high branches without having to climb a tree or ladder. The engine is located near the controls, while the chain and its guide are at the far end of a pole. Poles may be rigid or telescopic. The cutting head can generally be tilted to different angles.
What factors should I take into account when choosing my chainsaw?
Before investing in a chainsaw, it's important to make a proper assessment of your needs. If you want to cut wood once a year in preparation for winter, or if you cut down trees all day for a living, you can imagine that the type of machine you need will be quite different. Here are some guidelines to assist you in your choice.
Pruning and regular tree maintenance
For regular use on trees and branches, choose a pole pruner. Its engine capacity is between 20 and 35cm3 and its guide length 20-35cm. For optimal ease of use, go for a telescopic pole.
For more intensive work, pruning from the ground with a pole is out of the question. Instead, choose a specific pruning chainsaw. Its guide length is 35cm max. and its engine power is 25–40cm3. Specific pruning saws are designed for use in one hand, so ideally choose a lightweight model - 3–4kg maximum. Beware, however, because even smaller pruning chainsaws are aimed at experienced users and professionals. There are many risks associated with using a chainsaw in only one hand - poor recoil control, chain skipping, injuries to the free hand, etc.
Frequent cutting, maintenance and felling use
For more regular use, choose a relatively powerful engine (> 35cm3 ) and a versatile guide (up to 45cm). Using this type of saw safely and efficiently still requires experience; regular maintenance of oil levels, starter, chain and filters is essential. Choose a high-quality chainsaw (trusted brand) for regular use.
Intensive cutting and felling
You'll need to go in at the deep end! Depending on the type of felling, choose a suitable guide length between 45 and 55cm for trees of small to medium cross-section, and greater than 55cm for chunkier trunks. Same deal with engine power: you'll need 40cm3 minimum. As you may have gathered, engine power ratings pattern with guide length. If you do choose a more powerful model of chainsaw, make sure you know what you're doing - whether you're a seasoned home user or a professional. And of course this doesn't mean taking any unnecessary risks, either from the saw itself or from falling trees. Always wear appropriate protective gear.
What different types of chain are there?
All species of wood are different. For a start, they can be divided into softwoods and hardwoods. The density of the wood being variable, there are several types of cutting chain.
Square profile: also called "chisel", this is a profile found on powerful chainsaws and specific to hardwoods. It's found mostly on chainsaws with guide length over 45cm.
- Semi-chisel profile: an all-purpose chain type, this profile is suitable for medium and high-power chainsaws.
- Half-round profile: designed for low and medium-range models, it will cut any type of wood but wears quickly.
Round profile: specifically for softwoods, this type of chain can be mounted on any type of guide. Its bite is relatively soft, meaning that on hardwoods it cuts badly and wears quickly.
All these chain types are made for a specific use. Remember to regularly check the condition of the teeth, and sharpen them if necessary to get the best performance from your chainsaw.
Sharpen them if necessary
Chainsaws: what extra features are there?
What... You don't know what a chain brake is? Well then, let us explain!
- Chain brake: a safety device which stops the chain immediately in the event of loss of control.
- Anti-rebound system: To prevent rebounds, the links in the chain have hooks that make purchase on the wood before the limiters. Limiters... whassatthen? The chain consists of gouges (sharpened cutting teeth) with limiters in front that determine the depth of the cut. When the limiters are too low, the gouges bite in too deep and cause the chain to rebound. The hooks therefore help to limit the force of this rebound.
- Capacity: expresses the power of the engine. The higher it is, the more powerful the engine. Expressed in cm3.
- Hand start: basically you pull a handle attached to a ripcord (or launcher) to start the engine.
- Chain: the bit that cuts the wood of course! Made up of three types of link (trainer, limiter, gouge in that order), it must be kept sharp. The rotation rate of the chain is determined by the length of the links.
- Chain guide: the guide is the structure that holds the chain.
- Speed: rotation of the chain in m/s.
Some manufacturers will even tell you the cylinder bore, the piston displacement... A piece of advice: don't fill your head with loads of extra data: power and guide length are the key characteristics when choosing your chainsaw.
How to maintain your petrol-powered chainsaw?
On all types of chainsaw, the chain tension must be adjusted before each use. The same goes for checking thechain oil level.
When using a chainsaw for long periods of time (several hours at a stretch), chain tension must be checked regularly.
It's also important to remember to lubricate the guide pinion at the head of the guide and checkfor burrs that could cause the chain to skip.
Same deal with the guide; check regularly that there are no burrs or snags.
Engine oil level, spark plug, air filter and petrol must also be checked regularly - at the beginning and end of the season and regularly depending on frequency of use.
Refer to your chainsaw owner’s manual as each model may have its own special maintenance requirements.
Chainsaws: final advice before you make the cut...
A chainsaw is a relatively noisy machine; noise-cancelling helmet or headphones are essential.
To stay out of harm's way, use protective gloves, protective or safety shoes if possible, and a visor or safety goggles!
There are protective garments known as "anti-cuts", in particular protective trousers, which are very useful in case of mishaps.
Protectyour head against falling branches and flying splinters, a helmet is very practical and a key piece of protective gear.
In terms of good practice, avoid doing a tightrope walker routine on a rickety ladder and obviously don't make your youngest child hold the piece of wood you're cutting! When starting the machine, don't hold the chain guide between your legs - you might regret it.
Before starting, always make sure that the chainsaw is in good working order (no missing screws or loose parts) and check that the chain brake is engaged! If you plan to use your chainsaw for structural work (i.e. in renovation), be careful not to cut through metal wires... you might end up sharpening your chain sooner than you need to!
Finally, if you have problems with your eyesight, get someone else to do the chainsaw work!
Learn more about power saws...
To find out more about power saws, follow our editors' advice and check out their other guides:
- How to choose your protective eyewear?
- How to choose your protective gloves?
Guide written by:
Jeremy, construction site supervisor, Cardiff, 128 guides
Electrician by trade, I first worked in industrial estates where I installed, wired and fixed a large number of electrical installations. After this, I managed a team of electricians for this type of work. 10 years or so ago, I turned to building and construction. From the modest family home, to gyms and theatres; I have been able to coordinate, audit and organise all sorts of construction sites. for 4 years now, I am restaoring and bulding an extrension to a bungalow in the heart of the welsh countyside. My experience in manual work and my knowledge means I am proud to be of service. Terraces, interior design, roofing, plumbing, electricty, anything goes! We have, my wife, daughter and I, built almost everything we have from scratch! So to answer all of your questions, and to orientate and advise you on coosing your tools? Easy!