If you are unsure what size of chainsaw you need, you are not alone. This is one of the most common questions asked about chainsaws, and what confuses people most often is how exactly you measure a chainsaw. You see, when it comes to the size of the chainsaw, you are not actually measuring the body. It is the size of the bar which determines how “big” a chainsaw is.
The bar is the main chunk of metal that sticks out of your chainsaw, often referred to as the blade. But in fact, the blade is actually a chain, and the chain wraps around the bar. If you’re confused, you are not the only one. If you can imagine a chainsaw in your mind, undoubtedly you can figure out which part is the bar.
There are different sizes of bars for different levels of tasks. While it may seem intuitive to just grab the biggest and meanest chainsaw you can find, it really is going to come down to exactly what type of work you are doing and what your individual skills are.
For example, a 32” bar is a little excessive for cutting tree limbs, whereas a 12” bar would be more appropriate. Let’s try and break how to pick your chainsaw into a few sub-categories.
What Do You Need the Chainsaw For?
This is a really big one. The size of your chainsaw is going to depend on what type of work you are doing. Believe it or not, chainsaws are used for a lot more than cutting trees.
And while we are on the subject of cutting trees, if you are buying a chainsaw to cut down big ones, you are going to want something 20” or bigger. Any tree with a diameter of 16” or more, you definitely need a bigger chainsaw.
Anything smaller than 16” in diameter is considered a small tree. For this, you can easily use a lightweight electric or gas chainsaw between 18” or 20”. As a general rule of thumb, you want your chainsaw bar to be a few inches longer than whatever it is you are cutting. So, a 16” tree should be cut with at least an 18” chainsaw.
Any other basic tasks, like pruning bushes, cutting small branches, doing a bit of yard maintenance, or tackling some small lumber projects – all of that can be done using a small chainsaw between 10” and 16”.
As a side note, you can still cut thick trees with a small chainsaw. The rule of having a longer bar does apply 99% of the time. However, if the tree is not that large and you have quite a bit of chainsaw experience, you can probably take care of a 20” tree with a 16” chainsaw.
What is Your Strength & Experience With a Chainsaw?
Before you even think about handling a big chainsaw, you should have some experience with a small one. Chainsaws are undoubtedly the most dangerous tool a person can handle, and using one that is too large for you with too much power will drastically increase the possibility of you falling victim to an accident.
For starters, you want to get some experience with a chainsaw that is between 10” and 16”. You also must be strong enough to wield the chainsaw. You don’t need to be a bodybuilder, but you should have the wrist and arm strength to control the raging power of a chainsaw. If you have no experience, definitely don’t purchase a large saw.
What Type of Saw Do You Want?
A big variable is which type of saw you want to use. If you are in the market for a gas chainsaw, it is going to be much different than if you are in the market for an electric chainsaw. Gas chainsaws tend to be heavier, more complex, and more powerful than an electric.
If you only have small tasks to complete, and you will only be using the chainsaw for smaller jobs like cutting firewood, cutting branches, and cutting thin trees, then you may want to consider an electric chainsaw between 12” and 16”. This will be easier to handle and fully effective for what you’re doing.
On the other hand, a gas chainsaw that is 16” can tackle bigger jobs. Gas chainsaws tend to have a much stronger engine, and so you can use a 16” tool for cutting medium trees, whereas an electric unit might struggle.
In any case, you generally won’t find electric chainsaws with anything bigger than an 18” bar. Anything above 18” is probably going to be gas-powered. If you are fashioning yourself a chainsaw mill or anything of the sort, you’ll probably want a chainsaw with a minimum 20” bar, and 99% of the time it is going to be gas.
Another thing to consider is that electric chainsaws are always going to be lighter than gas units. Because a cordless chainsaw weighs so little, you will be able to handle a 14” or 16” electric chainsaw more comfortably than you will be able to handle the same size of chainsaw with a heavy 2-stroke engine.
Picking the Right Chainsaw: Final Thoughts
Choosing the right chainsaw depends on a lot of factors. It depends on your own strength and what you can handle, it depends on if you are looking for a gas chainsaw or an electric cordless chainsaw, and it depends heavily on what type of work you are looking to do.
Remember that big jobs require a chainsaw with at least a 20” bar, and these chainsaws are almost always going to be gas. Also, remember that smaller tasks around your property will only require a chainsaw with between a 10” bar and a 16” bar. These are often electric.
The best thing to remember is the rule of two inches. Take a look at what the average diameter is of the wood you are cutting, then add 2 inches and that is the exact size of chainsaw you need.