One of the first things most aspiring mechanics learn is to use the right tool for the job. Don’t use a wrench to bang on something when what you really need is a hammer; and if a wrench is needed, make sure it’s the right size. Following tips like these can make a job go quicker and turn out better. The same is true when it comes to chain saws: selecting the right saw will improve efficiency, and possibly safety.

“Choosing the right saw is an important part of the preplanning that should be done on any job, before you even pull the starter rope,” says Cary Shepherd, senior product specialist with Husqvarna. When buying a saw, he says, “You need to think about what you’re going to use it for and how often you’re going to use it. I always recommend putting more emphasis on what you need than what you want.” For professionals, that might mean looking past marketing campaigns about all of the different technologies a manufacturer has packed into its entire line of saws, he says: “The right saw includes only the features pertinent to the application — you don’t need to layer on a ton of stuff for the homeowner. For the professional, those features might just be adding cost and weight.”

Husqvarna groups saws into five categories, beginning with a lower-cost line of homeowner/consumer saws designed to be easy to start and simple to use for smaller jobs. Does it make sense for a professional user to select a saw from this category as a way to save a few dollars? “People often are driven by price, but for the professional, the overall experience is going to be diminished,” cautions Shepherd. Homeowner-level saws are simply not designed to offer the acceleration and to operate at the higher rpm, for example, that are required in demanding, daily use. “For a pro user, it’s all about productivity, productivity, productivity,” says Shepherd.

Husqvarna’s 390XP features an outboard clutch design, which brings the bar and chain closer to the center line of the saw. This improves ease of handling and decreases heat in the clutch during demanding professional use. Photo: Husqvarna

Husqvarna also offers a “landowner” class of saws designed for cutting firewood, use on the farm and for those who need a solid, general-purpose saw. Beyond that is the company’s “professional” class, which includes models suited for ground use in the tree care industry. “The professional class is designed to give saws plenty of power with extremely high chain speeds that make them extremely productive,” says Shepherd. They are also designed to be easy to maneuver with reduced weight.

The company divides its professional saws further into subclasses, one designed specifically for limbing/bucking and another for felling. “The limbing/bucking saws have an outboard clutch design, and the tree felling saws have an inboard clutch design,” Shepherd explains. “One is not necessarily better than the other, but for limbing and bucking, where you’re turning and moving the saw side to side, the outboard clutch allows the chain to move more to the center line of the saw, which reduces substantially the gyroscopic effects generated by the rotational forces of the chain running at full speed.” The result is a saw that reduces operator fatigue while improving safety. For professionals, moving the clutch to the outside of the saw also reduces heat in that component; the downside is that it can be more challenging to take the chain on or off because it needs to go over the clutch. With the clutch inside and the chain outside on the felling saws, operators can more easily replace sprockets, as well as remove the bar/chain from the engine in the event the saw becomes pinched when making a back cut.

Husqvarna offers a “professional tree care” class of saws. “These saws are designed for work aloft. These saws offer high power in a very light, slim, easy to maneuver saw,” says Shepherd. These are top-handle saws that allow the operator to place their hands close together for work in tight areas between branches. (The top handle does not mean these saws are intended for one-handed use, he emphasizes.) The design allows the saw to be operated in tight places and lay flat against the side of climbers, and includes features such as an area for D-ring attachment to a rope or lanyard.

In general, Shepherd encourages the use of shorter bars, which offer safety as well as other benefits. “This leads to lighter weight, less cost and less sharpening time,” he says.

Another important consideration when choosing a professional saw is the power-to-weight ratio, says David Tilton Jr., with Tilton Equipment Company (importer and distributor of Jonsered chain saws). “A high power-to-weight ratio is beneficial,” he says. “Regardless of whether it’s for professional or consumer use, buying too little saw for the job is the most common mistake I know of.”

Having enough power isn’t important only from a productivity standpoint, it also impacts safety, says Tilton: “If the operator can get the cuts made quickly with less effort, they will not be as tired. Fatigue is a significant factor leading to inattention and injuries. Fast acceleration and high chain speed are also important, as are balance and ease of handling.”

Ease of handling is especially important when working up in trees, notes Tilton. “For climbing work especially, a streamlined, compact saw body, without sharp edges or protruding components that could catch on limbs, is desirable,” he explains. “It seems that top-handle saws remain the essential choice for work aloft. Jonsered has one model, the CS 2139T, a top-handle saw. It was developed with a great deal of input from professional arborists.”

Echo states that its CS-271T “is the lightest chain saw on the market in North America right now,” making it popular with climbers concerned with weight. Photo: Echo

With the recent economy, many chain saw buyers are opting to step down to lower-priced saws, observes Brad Mace, chain saw product manager with Echo. As a result, he says, “They’re not necessarily getting the durability they’re expecting out of them.” Echo doesn’t categorize its saws into various levels. He says, “Everything we have is a 300-hour saw.” There are three industry ratings — 50 hours, 125 hours and 300 hours — that refer to the number of hours a saw is designed to operate while still meeting emissions regulations, and therefore is an indication of the saw’s durability and performance, Mace explains.

Simply looking at the size of the saw, or the power it produces, isn’t enough to tell how it will work on the job, Mace adds. For instance, he says that emissions regulations have forced manufacturers to redesign many models of chain saws, which may alter how a particular model performs. “A lot of times, users will buy saws based on what they’ve used in the past. But a lot of saws have changed; they could be a little heavier or have a little less power than they used to,” he explains. “Our advice is that when you’re buying a new saw, try it out. And don’t base your decision on a model you might have purchased 10 years ago; it’s best to start from scratch and look at all of the options available.”

Tree care professionals typically need more than one type of saw on the job. “Smaller tree care companies, or people just starting out, may only have one or two saws, but most of the bigger companies and experienced tree care professionals are going to have specialized saws for different applications, whether it be a bigger saw for taking down trees or a light, maneuverable, top-handle saw for climbing,” says Mace. For example, Echo’s two largest saws, the CS-680 and CS-8000, are well-suited for felling, while smaller saws in the 50 to 60cc range are popular for limbing and bucking applications, he states.

Mace points out that using a saw designed for a specific task not only increases efficiency, but also promotes safety. “If you’re felling a tree, you definitely want power. You don’t want to be working on that tree forever, or it can become unsafe. If you can’t get through the tree in a timely manner, you’re going to put yourself in danger,” Mace explains. “Similarly, you don’t want to use a felling saw for bucking a tree up, because the saw is heavy and you’re going to risk hurting your back.”

Echo has a product selector guide on its website, but Mace says that’s designed more to help homeowners pick the right saw. He recommends that tree care professionals find a local dealer to work with when shopping for a new saw. “You want to identify what your uses will be and determine what cc [cubic centimeter] size you will want and what kind of bar length you need,” Mace says. “It’s really best to go to the dealer, because they have the most information and specific product knowledge.”

Even within similar types of saws, designs can vary in order to serve different purposes. For example, Mace says the Echo CS-271T “is the lightest chain saw on the market in North America right now. It’s very popular with climbers, because it’s much easier to climb with a light saw than a heavy saw.” This saw is designed primarily for pruning, where huge power isn’t needed. For climbing applications where more power is required, Echo is introducing its new CS-355T next year. “So, if you’re taking down a tree from the top down, or you’re pruning larger branches, this model offers more power. It just depends on your specific application.”

“A tree care professional should first consider the type of work to be done with the chain saw, in-tree work or ground work,” agrees Steve Meriam, manager of national sales and product development for Stihl, Inc. “If a tree care professional is looking for a top-handle chain saw for in-tree use, he or she will want to pay particular attention to the power-to-weight ratio.”

Meriam cautions against the notion of professional users buying one “all-around” chain saw. “A tree care professional properly trained/skilled in climbing should have a top-handle, climbing chain saw, as well as a mix of ‘ground’ saws,” he states. “You want to have enough variety in your inventory that you are not too overpowered or underpowered for any given job. Having the right product to fit the task can help reduce fatigue and reduce the risk of injury.”

Stihl’s MS201T is an example of a top-handle chain saw designed specifically for work up in trees. Photo: STIHL

There are several common errors made when purchasing chain saws, says Meriam. These include buying a saw with too little or too much power for its intended use, and selecting a bar/chain combo that is either too long or too short. However, he points out that there are other common, but perhaps less obvious, mistakes. These include: failing to buy from an independent servicing dealer who can offer advice as well as service support after the sale; failing to buy all the necessary personal protective equipment (chain saw protective chaps, helmet system, protective glasses, hearing protection, gloves, chain saw protective or steel-toed boots); and failing to read the manufacturer’s instruction manual to understand the proper operation of the chain saw.

Safety is always an important consideration when working with chain saws. While there is no substitute for safe operating practices and proper protective apparel, some saws have specially designed safety features built in. Meriam discusses one example: “We’ve found that some [tree care] companies like the second chain braking system feature on their ground crew’s chain saws.” He cites Stihl’s MS 261 C-Q, MS 362 C-Q and MS 441 C-Q as professional chain saws that offer the STIHL Quickstop Plus chain braking feature, which is designed to activate when the operator completely releases the rear handle, stopping the chain within one second.

Meriam makes the point that no matter what application the chain saw is intended for, given today’s fuel prices, it is wise to consider the relative fuel consumption of various models. “Fuel efficiency is also an important factor, plus less frequent refueling means greater productivity … in the tree or on the ground,” he states. For example, Stihl’s newest arborist saw, the MS 201 T, was designed to reduce fuel consumption by up to 20 percent, allowing for longer run times. Longer run times lead back to that most important of considerations for professional users: productivity.