Electric Chain Saws

Reader Contribution by Steven Gregersen
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I got a bit of a shock the other day while talking to a neighbor about firewood cutting. I’d seen him suited up in chaps and helmet and packing a saw by the wood pile so the next time we were sitting on his front porch shooting the bull I casually asked how the wood cutting was going. He replied that it was going well. Then he somewhat timidly stated that he’d been using an electric chain saw to cut up his firewood. It was lighter and quieter than his gas saws, hence easier on aging hands and ears. Plus he didn’t spend hours swimming in the fumes and smoke left by the mix of gas and oil powering the saw.

A 16-inch Craftsman electric chain saw. At 3.5-horsepower, it’s capable of competing against most mini-saws.

It surprised him when I applauded his decision and stated that if we were on the grid I’d have one too. In the past I had displayed a very low opinion of electric chin saws.

Even for homesteaders (or especially for homesteaders?), new ways of doing things can be resisted. I had that problem for many years regarding electric chain saws. It didn’t help that early models were expensive and way underpowered and that, for the last decade or so, we’ve lived off-grid with limited electricity or that most of my wood cutting is done way out in the woods on trees averaging 18 inches in diameter or more.

All of these conspired to give me a distinctly negative opinion of electric chain saws. But even old dogs (and homesteaders!) can learn new tricks if they want to, and my opinion of electric chain saws has changed.

My transformation began while researching a book I wrote about choosing a chain saw and cutting firewood. I managed to borrow three electric saws from a distant (in miles) relative who loved them.

This is a 14-inch electric chain saw manufactured by McCulloch.

The smallest was battery operated and, in my opinion, wouldn’t have even made a good boat anchor. It was a disaster as a chain saw. The chain speed was incredibly slow, the motor was underpowered and the battery quickly ran out of juice. I could accomplish much more with a hand operated bow saw.

The other two saws used 110 volt power directly from the house. They performed great with the larger, 3 1/2 HP saw holding its own against any gasoline-powered mini-saw I’ve ever used. Even the smaller, 1 1/2 HP saw did a fine job cutting without the noise or fumes of gas-powered saws.

This is a 10-inch battery-powered Craftsman chain saw.

Electric saws have their limitations to be sure. You still need to have a reliable power source near your wood pile, and they aren’t going to plow their way through a large oak log the way a big, gas-powered saw will. But if you can drag the wood close to your power source and if the logs aren’t too large, these little saws will put out an amazing amount of work.

They are also great for pruning jobs around the yard and cutting up those limbs that litter the yard after a storm. In those areas with noise restrictions, an electric saw might be your only option for those times you just need more than a hand saw to get the work done.

Electric chain saws aren’t for everyone (they are still not a practical option for me), but if you’ve dismissed them in the past you might want to reconsider and give them another chance.

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