LSU AgCenter Engineer Offers Tips for Choosing Chain Saws

Richard L. Parish  |  8/21/2006 8:17:30 PM

News You Can Use For December 2003

Chain saws are popular homeowner tools – especially in the South where we have lots of trees and lots of storms. Homeowners have many options in chain saws, and the first decision is between an electric or gasoline model, according to Dr. Dick Parish, an engineer with the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station.

Parish says electric chain saws are generally less expensive but less powerful.

"With an electric saw, you have no engine to feed and maintain, but you do have an extension cord to manage," Parish says. Electric saws are quieter and cleaner and have less vibration.

Gasoline chain saws, on the other hand, can be used almost anywhere without worrying about a power supply, Parish says. They’re available in a wider range of engine and bar sizes. But they’re noisy and smoky.

"Gasoline saws can be hard to start if not properly maintained – especially since they may not be used for months at a time," he says.

Parish says safety is a primary consideration with chain saws and points to several safety features you should look for when selecting a chain saw.

• Front hand guard – This is a guard in front of the upper handle designed to protect your hand from the chain if your hand slips off the handle or if the chain comes loose.

• Chain brake (gasoline saws only) – This stops the chain immediately if a kickback occurs.

• Throttle lock – This requires squeezing a secondary release before the trigger throttle can be activated.

• Stop switch – This should be located so you can turn the saw off without removing your hand from the rear handle.

• Rear hand guard – The lower part of the rear handle should be wide enough to protect the hand from a loose chain.

• Chain catcher – This is a guard at the lower front of the saw that catches a loose chain.

• Vibration damping – Rubber bushings should isolate the handles from engine vibration.

• Spark arrester – This prevents sparks in the exhaust and reduces the risk of fire.

Parish says to be aware of both the bar and the chain when you choose a chain saw.

A low kickback chain is required on small chain saws less than 3.8 cubic inches, he says. Low-kickback chain will come with a blue label, and chain saws with yellow labels don’t offer kickback protection.

Bars are available in lengths from 8 inches to 10 inches on small electric saws and to more than 20 inches on professional saws.

"Most homeowner gasoline saws will be in the 14- to 20-inch range," Parish says. "You should buy a bar appropriate to the wood you’ll be cutting."

Some bars have sprockets on the end to reduce friction. Bars with a smaller radius on the end will have less tendency to kick back.

Parish says chain saw purchasers should always consider quality and service. He says most lawn and garden equipment can be found in a wide range of quality and prices, and you generally get what you pay for.

"Some very low-priced saws may be difficult to start and are not reliable," Parish says. "Also, chain saws tend to require more service than many other lawn and garden tools, so choosing a good servicing dealer can be important."

Parish says ultimately, you have to determine how much you’ll use your saw and how much you’re willing to invest in quality and service.

Additional yard and garden information is available by contacting an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office. Also, look for Gardening and Get It Growing links in the Feature section of the LSU AgCenter Web site:


On the Internet: LSU AgCenter:

On the Internet:

Source: Dick Parish at (985) 543-4125 or

Rate This Article:

Have a question or comment about the information on this page?

Innovate . Educate . Improve Lives

The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture