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Mike McClintock: Home Sense

Chainsaws on the Cutting Edge

By Mike McClintock
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, January 20, 2005; Page H02

Chainsaws used to be huge, heavy machines that produced numbing vibrations and shattering sounds. Consumer models these days are smaller, lighter and easier to use even though they still make a racket.

Among the wide range of products, you can find one to fell trees and cut firewood efficiently and safely, the issue covered last week.

Basic buying

Many retailers now let you test power tools in the store -- but not chainsaws. You can heft the tool, but without an engine-on trial it's wise to check options of size, weight, horsepower and other variables before buying.

The saws we've tested cover the field: an inexpensive, entry-level electric; an all-around gas model; a nearly commercial-grade gas model; and a pole saw.

Most saws come with a 14- or 16-inch bar, which is all you need. A longer bar doesn't mean you're buying a more powerful saw. In fact, most saws can be fitted with longer bars if you really need to make single passes through huge trees.

Bear in mind that most are sold saw-only. A case is handy but not essential. A chain scabbard is basic protection when the saw isn't running, and only $5 to $10. You'll also need a gas can, mixing oil for the fuel, and a quart or two of chain oil.

Tool reviews

Craftsman Electric Chainsaw; model 34116; $90.

This entry-level electric model works well for occasional users cutting wood close to home. You are tethered to a power cord, but the saw is more compact and quieter than most gas-powered models.

You have to replenish the chain oil supply (chain oiling is automatic), but there's no gas to mix and store; you just plug in and pull the trigger.

Electrics generally rev at lower speeds than comparable gas saws, but this 12-amp motor develops more than enough power to cut firewood. You just have to stay with the cut a bit longer.

For the price, you may catch yourself looking for something missing -- and it's a chain brake, though the saw does have a stationary protective paddle.

But given the compact, easy-to-handle package, the controllable, lower-revving electric motor and the even lower price, the Craftsman is a very solid entry-level tool.

Stihl Gas Chainsaw; model MS210C; $280.

This mid-sized, 10-pound saw is loaded with practical features in addition to a high-revving, two-horsepower engine to slice through firewood.

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