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Whether you own a plot of land in or near the woods, have a working farm, or just need to trim some branches around your home, chainsaws find plenty of use for professionals and DIYers alike. Of course, there are so many different chainsaws to choose from, finding the right one can be difficult.
Aside from the different brands available, you also have to choose what type of chainsaw you should use: electric or gas. To the uninitiated, this choice might seem inconsequential, but anyone who has used chainsaws for any length of time knows this choice can mean the difference between a quick, relatively easy task or a frustrating, time-consuming chore.
That is why we took the time to break down the difference between electric and gas chainsaws, comparing how each type tends to fare in different situations. Depending on why you need a chainsaw in the first place, this question does not have any easy answers.
While the article is ostensibly about the comparison between electric and gas-powered chainsaws, that contrast does not truly encompass the entire debate as there are two different kinds of chainsaws for each power source. With gas chainsaws, you have a choice between a 2-stroke engine and a 4-stroke engine, while electric chainsaws come in corded and cordless models.
Rather than examine the difference between the four types of chainsaws here, we will consider how each type compares with each other and their alternatively-powered chainsaws as we go through different specs and qualities.
While most people may not know the difference between a 2-stroke and 4-stroke engine, how the engine generates power impacts a host of factors related to performance. Likewise, a cord or a battery might seem like a small difference, the way an electric chainsaw is powered impacts how it performs in a variety of different contexts.
Granted, there will be a couple of situations where the two compare similarly, especially when compared to a gas chainsaw. But, when trying to choose between a gas and electric chainsaw, you cannot simply rely on one type to inform you about the overall performance of the other.
Conversely, when choosing between the two types of engines might be more similar to one another than to the electric chainsaws, but they are different enough from each other that they cannot be taken as equitable in all situations.
This is one of the considerations where a clear winner rises out of the fray, and the competition is not even that close: gas-powered chainsaws are more powerful than electric chainsaws. Full stop.
Of course, that is not the end of it, though this premise informs the rest of the analysis and should be understood as a fairly common truism within the electric chainsaw vs gas chainsaw debate. The reason for this comes down to the difference in how a combustion engine generates power compared to an electric motor.
With an engine, the force of the combustion pushes the pistons that drive the crankshaft which ultimately turns the chain, but this process is not one easily resisted. Rather than the chain stopping due to inertia, a combustion engine is far more likely to break down at one of the weaker points and needs to be repaired.
This provides gas chainsaws significantly more cutting power for the given energy input than electric chainsaws, though both engine types are not equal. With a 2-stroke engine, the combustion and exhaustion processes complete a cycle every stroke while a 4-stroke engine completes a cycle every 4 strokes.
This makes 2-stroke engines more powerful and able to generate more torque, which translates to cutting power, than a 4-stroke engine. However, 4-stroke engines have different benefits that impact qualities outside of the raw cutting power generated by their combustion and are still more powerful than electric chainsaws.
For electric chainsaw motors, the difference between a corded and cordless motor is not nearly as big in terms of the design as the difference between a 2-stroke and 4-stroke engine. However, corded and cordless motors follow a similar principle as the different engines in that one generates more cutting torque than the other.
In this instance, corded electric chainsaws provide more consistent cutting power than cordless models, though this is not the same as the different power levels of gas chainsaw engines. Often, both types of electric chainsaws can achieve the same amount of cutting power, but a cordless electric chainsaw is more likely to lose cutting power under a heavy load.
This loss of power is based on how large of a push of electricity the battery pack can deliver compared to a power outlet. With a limited amount of power supply, the battery pack’s push can rise or fall with the load placed on it while a power outlet delivers a consistent electrical push regardless of the load.
This consideration can get a bit tricky as it is not always clear why a given chainsaw fails, though there are still some general trends we can identify. For example, gas chainsaws tend to be more durable than electric chainsaws if everything goes right, but that last bit is extremely important for determining which is more durable.
Part of this has to do with the fact that, as mentioned prior, gas chainsaws generate more cutting power than electric models and can handle cutting loads better. While electric chainsaws are not necessarily more fragile than gas models, the motors are more likely to burn out under heavy loads than an engine.
That said, gas chainsaws require significantly more maintenance than electric models do and can suffer catastrophic failure if you do not stay on top of it. Because of an electric chainsaw’s relatively low maintenance requirements, you generally do not need to worry about its functional durability as much– so long as you make sure not to regularly push it past its load.
On the other hand, not all electric motors are created equally with brushless motors being more durable than brushed motors– though it is neither expensive nor difficult to replace a motor’s brush. Of course, the motor or engine is not the only part of a chainsaw that you have to worry about, but there is no clear line between which type of chainsaw is ultimately better.
However, gas chainsaws tend to be larger and heavier than electric models, and this, combined with their increased cutting power, leads manufacturers to make them hardier than electric models. That said, an electric chainsaw does not usually need to be quite as hardy as a gas chainsaw to withstand regular use.
Still, electric chainsaws often use more plastic and weaker plastic for various components, but this is only really an issue if you are careless with the tool. Conversely, gas chainsaws are often hardier than electric models and can handle more general abuse, though that is still something to be avoided if you can.
This is one of the few categories where there is not necessarily a “winner,” regardless of which type or subtype of chainsaw you look at. Gas chainsaws with 2-stroke and 4-stroke engines as well as corded and cordless electric chainsaws come with a host of different safety features.
In this regard, the safety of a given chainsaw is determined more by the manufacturer and often the class of the chainsaw, whether consumer-grade, professional, or industrial. That said, most electric chainsaws fall into the commercial-grade category and are far more likely to lack some of the highest-end safety features.
On the other hand, gas chainsaws do not necessarily come with the most advanced safety features either, with those features generally reserved for professional or industrial-grade gas chainsaws. Whether gas or electric, more often than not, the safest chainsaws tend to be some of the more expensive with a big part of the cost paying for those advanced safety features.
Keep in mind, only lumberjacks and other highly specialized professionals are liable to own or even use an industrial chainsaw. As such, even owners of gas chainsaws may not own a model that comes with the highest end safety features.
It is worth noting that one of the most effective safety features, the inertia-activated chain brake, is far more commonly found on gas chainsaws than electric models.
Now begins the half of the article that changes gears and generally favors electric chainsaws over gas models with maintenance being one of the bigger discrepancies between the two. While there is still some routine maintenance you will need to conduct on an electric chainsaw to keep it in good, working order, there is no question that electric chainsaws require significantly less maintenance.
A great example of this is the fuel of 2-stroke chainsaws, the most common type of gas chainsaw on the market. Because of its engine design, 2-stroke engine gas chainsaws require a fuel and oil mixture of a specific ratio, and not getting this right can ruin the motor.
While that is not inherently the most difficult thing to do, you do not have much wiggle room in terms of getting right either. Thankfully, 4-stroke engines do not have any kind of fuel mixture requirements, but they still require oil to keep the engine parts lubricated like with any other engine.
Beyond just the fuel mixture, gas chainsaws also have to worry about intake and exhaust, both of which can cause engine failure if not maintained. With the intake, you need to make sure that the air filter is clean and clear while the exhaust simply needs to be replaced from time to time as it corrodes and can cause all kinds of issues.
Something else to consider with gas chainsaws is the spark plug which is how the engine combusts the fuel in the first place. Not only do you need to regularly replace spark plugs regardless of how well you maintain them, but they also need a specific placement to get the most efficient spark and combustion.
Outside of the engine maintenance, however, gas and electric chainsaws generally require the same kinds of maintenance tasks. For example, you will need to rotate the guide bar every so often to prevent it from wearing down and becoming off-balanced which could present a safety issue.
Likewise, you need to make sure that the chain stays lubricated on the bar, regardless of which type or subtype of chainsaw you use. All types of chainsaws also require proper chain tension not only to provide good cuts but to help prevent damage or injury.
Finally, make sure to keep any openings clear from debris or anything else that might try to work its way into the chainsaw’s body as this can damage the engine or motor.
Ease of Use
This is another aspect where electric chainsaws clearly outshine gas chainsaws– in part due to some things we already discussed. For example, while the fuel mixture is necessary to keep most gas chainsaws in good, working order, it is also another task that increases the complexity of using one.
However, one of the biggest, and most obvious, ways that electric chainsaws are easier to use is in how you start them. Gas chainsaws, regardless of the subtype, require you to manually start the engine with a primer and a pull-string– something that may not always be easy depending on the condition of the engine, pull-string, or how well you primed it.
Electric chainsaws, on the other hand, only require you to hold down the trigger with some models also requiring you to disengage a trigger lock beforehand. Either way, starting an electric chainsaw is much easier and more reliable than starting a gas chainsaw.
Electric chainsaws are also far more likely to include high-end general maintenance features as well, though gas chainsaws come with some of these often enough too. For instance, all types of chainsaws are liable to come with an automatic oiler to keep the chain lubricated, but electric chainsaws are far more likely to come with an automatic chain tensioning system as well.
Yet again, electric chainsaws take this category without question, though they do not necessarily come with the highest end features. Instead, electric chainsaws are inherently more ergonomic than gas chainsaws in several ways and simply do not require higher-end features to account for discomfort or inconvenience.
For example, both electric and gas chainsaws generate vibration while cutting, but the gas chainsaw vibrates even while idling while electric chainsaws do not. On top of that, electric chainsaws do not generate as much vibration as gas chainsaws while cutting due to lower cutting power.
Continuing this trend, electric chainsaws are naturally lighter than gas chainsaws as motors tend not to be as heavy as engines– something that is especially true when compared to 4-stroke engines. This means that the various bailing handles and internal suspension systems used for high-end gas chainsaws are largely unnecessary for electric models.
Finally, gas chainsaws generate far more and louder noise than electric models because of the combustion of their engines. Keep in mind, all types of chainsaws generate significantly loud noise while cutting, but electric chainsaws are relatively quiet otherwise.
The one area where gas chainsaws may have electric chainsaws technically beat in ergonomics is with sightlines, though this could arguably be a safety consideration as well. However, electric chainsaws do not need quite as good of a sightline since you should not be using them for heavier tasks or non-standard cuts.
To end the main categories, electric chainsaws tend to cost less than gas chainsaws, though that heavily depends on how many high-end features they have and their subtype. For example, cordless electric chainsaws can easily cost twice as much as a budget-friendly 2-stroke gas chainsaw.
On top of that, 4-stroke gas chainsaws will often cost more than any other type or subtype within its same class, though it is more fuel-efficient. Of the various types of chainsaws, the corded electric tends to be the least expensive with cordless and 2-stroke gas chainsaws sitting close together.
4-stroke gas chainsaws are the most expensive but may not cost as much as a 2-stroke over its lifetime due to lower fuel costs.
Who is Which for?
Whether you opt for a convenient, portable cordless model or a more powerful corded model, all electric chainsaws are best suited for homeowners and DIYers. They simply do not provide enough cutting power serious tasks nor is the cost of expensive gas chainsaws worth the investment for occasional users.
On the other hand, if you are a professional or live in a region where you would otherwise regularly use a chainsaw for heavy-duty tasks, gas-powered models are the only reliable option. You can try to use an electric chainsaw for cutting firewood and other simple tasks on a farm, but cutting fence posts, trees, and other heavy-duty tasks will wear the motor out.
As we can see, there is no clear cut answer as to which is better between a gas or electric chainsaw with the user and situation ultimately determining that answer. If you are a professional landscaper, arborist, or someone else who uses chainsaws for hard labor, you are likely better off opting for a gas chainsaw.
On the other hand, if you are a DIYer or homeowner, an electric chainsaw is often sufficient for the kinds of tasks you generally demand of it. Of course, there is a wide range of middle ground where you might occasionally need something that can handle heavy-duty tasks but usually just need to trim some branches.
In the end, an electric chainsaw will probably work better if you live in the city or suburbs while a gas chainsaw works better if you live in the country or rural areas. Unless you have serious cutting tasks lined up, you may want to split the difference and get a small engine gas chainsaw.