The Best Small Chainsaws in 2020
Chainsaws are a handy tool to have around, but many of them are too cumbersome for those who just need them for smaller household tasks like cutting down saplings or trimming smaller limbs. That’s why we set out to find the best small chainsaw around and we think that we did an admirable job.
Through a full day of testing, we put ten different small chainsaws through the paces to make sure that their real-world application fit with what was advertised. There really is something here for everyone, so let’s dive right in with our favorite and then we’ll get into the why’s and how’s of our curated selection.
Coming in with a surprising amount of power and a long-lasting battery, this small chainsaw from Makita was an absolute beast without being a bank breaker. If you’re looking for a saw to use around the home then you’ll be in good hands with this one.
In This Article:
- 1 Top Pick
- 2 The 5 Top-Rated Small Chainsaws
- 3 Who Needs a Small Chainsaw?
- 4 How We Selected the Chainsaws
- 5 How We Tested Our Small Chainsaws
- 6 The Five Best Small Chainsaws
- 7 Chainsaw Protective Gear
- 8 Small Chainsaw Safety Guidelines
- 9 Small Chainsaw FAQ
- 10 Pruning and Trimming in Style
The 5 Top-Rated Small Chainsaws
|Best Overall Small Chainsaw||Makita XCU03PT1|
|Upgraded Small Chainsaw||DEWALT DCCS690X1|
|Best Corded Small Chainsaw||Remington RM1425|
|Best Gasoline Powered Small Chainsaw||Tanaka TCS33EDTP|
|Best Miniature Chainsaw||Makita XCU01Z|
Who Needs a Small Chainsaw?
For our purposes we defined a small chainsaw as any saw with a bar of 16” or less, making these much more compact than the usual fare. The standard chainsaw sold to consumers, as opposed to professionals, will have a bar ranging from 16”-20”.
For most people, a small chainsaw is going to be used for trimming and pruning duty, although those with a considerable amount of property will likely find them useful for felling smaller trees as well.
They’re also great for cutting down long but thin pieces of wood into something manageable for firewood. That said unless you’re spending a bit of time each weekend throughout the year cutting down firewood, you may want to go with something larger if you’re planning on stockpiling for the cold season.
For the weekend warrior who just needs to do some pruning and maybe cut up the occasional narrow log for firewood a small chainsaw is perfect, those with more serious needs may want to skip out on them, however.
Small chainsaws are also great for those who find the larger models unwieldy due to their increased weight and stretched out balance point. Just be aware of their limitations if you’re picking one up because you find a standard 18” or so saw to be too unwieldy.
One thing to keep in mind: if pruning is your sole designated task for the chainsaw you purchase you may want to think about going with a powered pole saw instead since they have more reach and you’ll be able to avoid using a chainsaw from a ladder.
How We Selected the Chainsaws
While picking our saws out we interviewed a few arborists to see what they thought was required in a small chainsaw for home use. For the most part, you’ll find Husqvarna saws actually in use by professionals but we think they’re a bit expensive for a light-duty saw.
Afterwards we checked online reviews and forums to see what people were recommending to select our products. We also found that the following were important to keep in mind while choosing the saws.
For our purposes, we defined a small chainsaw as any saw with a bar of 14” at maximum. This left us with saws that were quite easy to use for all of our reviewers and a good variety of lengths during testing.
In practice, we found that those saws which fell between 10” and 12” were the easiest to handle while still maintaining full chainsaw capabilities. Those shorter are fine for taking care of small pieces of firewood and pruning but lack enough length to be of great use as a small chainsaw. In that case, a pole saw is probably what you’re looking for.
Chainsaws are notorious for causing serious damage to those using them. While they’re not quite as dangerous as many people seem to think, there are a number of safety features that can make all of the difference.
Of course, safety features can fail and that means you should still have the proper PPE when using your chainsaw, but the following are good things to look for even in a small chainsaw.
- Automatic Chain Brakes: An automatic brake will automatically halt the saw when sudden movement or a heavy impact is detected. They can usually be activated manually as well, so make sure you know where the button is.
- Low Kickback Bars: These are extra links on the chain. Kickback occurs when the saw takes in too much wood dust at a time and seizes, forcing the bar up and backwards. These are essential for larger chainsaws and really nice to have on smaller ones.
Chainsaws are most often powered by a small gasoline motor. They’re easy enough to figure out when it comes to power: more volume means more power. They’re awesome for cutting in the field since you don’t need electricity and even a five-gallon can of gasoline is enough to keep you going all day with a smaller chainsaw.
Plugin saws provide a considerable amount of power, but you’ll obviously be tied down by the power cord. Their power is rated in amperage. While they’re fine for back yards, they’re really not the best option for larger properties, even if they’re lightly wooded.
Lastly, battery-powered saws are a bit underpowered compared to the other types but you’ll find them to be extremely handy if you only need them for light duty. Those which are powered by batteries are lightweight compared to gas models, don’t have the limitations of plug-in models, and are generally the most convenient to use at the expense of power.
The voltage of the battery determines the power of the saw, but be aware that higher voltage also means a heavier battery in the end.
Overall Build Quality
Behind safety features, the construction of a chainsaw was the biggest determining factor for us.
Chainsaws have a tendency to get banged around, which means the exterior is more important than it is with most saws.
Unfortunately, better build quality usually means a heavier saw. For small chainsaws, this is largely mitigated by their diminutive size but it’s something to be aware of if you’re looking for a larger saw.
Chainsaws, even the little guys, are workhorse saws. They take a lot of punishment by design and even a bit of abuse can set most of them over the edge.
Make sure to check the warranty before committing to an expensive purchase. In many cases, saws can be found with excellent, multi-year warranties that will help you keep your saw working with many hassles.
How We Tested Our Small Chainsaws
Sometimes we find a tool that’s not only easy to test in real-world conditions… we can even find someone who is eager to let us use their property for it. That was the case with these small chainsaws, we gathered some of our reviewers and headed out to the 12-acre property with the saws in tow to get some pruning done.
During the testing process we checked all of the following:
- Run Test: We fired up the gas-powered saws to see how hard they were to start. chainsaws can be a pain when you go with a gas-powered model and we wanted to make sure we didn’t recommend anything which was overly difficult to get started up.
- Firewood Test: We used the chainsaws to cut down some smaller pieces of dried wood into firewood and noted the results. All of them were easier to use than an axe, of course, but some fared much better than others for the lengthy vertical cuts.
- Pruning Test: We then used the chainsaws to prune some of the extra foliage off of the trees. We tested them both cutting low branches and then on ladders to see how well they performed under a common task for small chainsaws.
- Sapling Cutting: Finally, we took down some saplings, the property owner wanted gone. Three of the ten saws had been eliminated by this point, and we were able to remove another two during this test. The saplings ranged from 3” to 8” around.
When all was said and done we had five great small chainsaws for home use. They broke down as follows:
- The Makita XCU03PT1 was powerful, well constructed, and the kit we ordered came with an astonishing four batteries. The moderate price belies an incredible amount of power and utility.
- For those looking for something with even more power, the DEWALT DCCS690X1 was a superbly constructed saw but quite a bit more expensive than our favorite. It’s almost a direct upgrade, but we’re not sure the extras are worth the higher price.
- Of the corded models we tested, the Remington RM1425 came out on top with a high amperage motor, a great balance, and excellent build quality.
- The gas-powered Tanaka TCS33EDTP was the only small gas-powered chainsaw we’d really recommend. It’s got a ton of power compared to the other options and it turned out to be well balanced despite the greater weight.
- Lastly, the absolutely tiny Makita XCU01Z was a fast favorite during the pruning test, being lightweight and easily wielded on a ladder but it’s absolutely miniature compared to the others we tested so it’s a bit of a niche saw.
The Five Best Small Chainsaws
Best Overall Small Chainsaw
At A Glance:
- Power Source: Battery
- Power: 18V
- Bar Length: 14”
- Weight: 21lbs
This lightweight, battery-operated saw packed a ton of power. Even better, it was available in a kit with four batteries that kept us going through the entire testing process without having to pause to allow any of them to charge.
The variable speed trigger was a nice touch, allowing the operator to match the speed to the material they were cutting through with ease. It also had an automatic shut off which kicks in after the saw has been powered on but not used for a few seconds, it’s just a nice little safety touch although some found it irritating.
Indeed, the automatic shut off was the biggest flaw on the saw. You can get around it by holding the safety switch down, but we found that in practice it can be hard to keep it on while adjusting logs for cutting.
Other than that flaw, however, it’s a solid tool and surprisingly powerful for an 18V model. It tore through all of our tests with ease and combined with the moderate cost we felt it deserved the top place on our list.
Upgraded Small Chainsaw
At A Glance:
- Power Source: Battery
- Power: 40V
- Bar Length: 16”
- Weight: 19lbs
A bit bigger than the others on our list but still in the “small” range, this battery-powered chainsaw from DeWalt was… well, it was amazing. It has all of the little safety features we recommended and also came in with superior build quality.Of course, you’ll end up spending quite a bit more than any of the other saws on our list and not everyone is willing to make the trade-off.
That said, if maximum power and great balance are what you’re looking for in your small chainsaw this is exactly what you’ve been looking for this whole time. It’s an amazing step up but it also sits right at the edge of what we’d consider to be a small chainsaw overall.
The chain may be a bit more fragile, it has a rather narrow kerf compared to the others on our list as well but it held up through our full day of testing without any issues.
Best Corded Small Chainsaw
At A Glance:
- Power Source: Plug-In
- Power: 8A
- Bar Length: 14”
- Weight: 6lbs
Lightweight and extremely versatile in the field, this Remington chainsaw is really only limited by the fact that it has to be plugged in. For smaller back yards the low price, light weight, and great construction makes it a complete beast.
The lightweight made it awesome for pruning overhead, the biggest problem with it was getting up the ladder. Be careful using a ladder and make sure the cord is run properly to the side and you’ll be fine, however.
The lightweight also didn’t lend itself well to laying into the saw for thicker cuts but it made it through our battery of tests without too much slowdown.
We did have some oil leaking when the saw was set down but we quickly found that putting it on its right side prevented that from happening. Just be aware of what you’re doing when you set it down and you won’t have to worry about it.
Best Gasoline Powered Small Chainsaw
At A Glance:
- Power Source: Gasoline
- Power: 32.2cc
- Bar Length: 14”
- Weight: 12.4lbs
Tanaka makes great chainsaws and this was our favorite of the small gasoline operated models we tested. The tiny engine barely uses any fuel while still supplying a shocking amount of power to the bar.
It was extremely easy to control in action as well. The light weight made it a fast favorite, although the gasoline-powered saw takes a bit more effort to start than you’ll put out with an electric saw of any stripe.
It also comes with an excellent 7-year warranty, far longer than any of the other saws on our list. That shows both faith in their product and protects you, the consumer from any mishaps that might occur.
As a gasoline saw, it requires more maintenance than electric saws and a bit more effort to get going but if you need a small workhorse this is exactly what you’ve been looking for.
Best Miniature Chainsaw
At A Glance:
- Power Source: Battery
- Power: 18V
- Bar Length: 4 ½”
- Weight: 6.1lbs
We fell in love with this miniature chainsaw almost immediately… at least for the tasks, it was capable of doing. We tested out one other extremely short bar model alongside it and found it to be disappointing but for pruning… this one is absolutely awesome.
Powered by an 18V battery, this small chainsaw has a tiny bar that makes short work of any pruning task. It’s too short to be of much use for taking down saplings over 6” or so and it’s not going to be the saw you want to rely on to chop firewood.
That said, for certain uses, this saw is absolutely perfect. The power going into the shorter bar makes it a surprisingly robust cutter for anything shorter than the bar and it’s well constructed and thought out.
Within those limitations, it’s absolutely perfect, however, and for those who need a really small chainsaw, we’d recommend snapping this one up at the first opportunity.
Chainsaw Protective Gear
Alright folks, right off the bat we’re going to recommend some gear for you to stay safe.
At the minimum, you want the following whenever using a chainsaw:
- Well gripping, cut resistant gloves. We used Mechanix during our testing process and found they worked quite well although they don’t offer as much protection as more specialized gloves.
- A good hard hat for overhead cutting
- ANSI-rated safety glasses with side shields
Those who are going to be cutting for long periods in rough terrain may also want to invest in protective chaps. These will help to protect your legs if the saw suddenly jumps through a limb and doesn’t have an automatic brake. Using them is a good idea even if you have a brake, however, since any kind of safety can fail.
If you’re not shopping for price comparison, you’ll find Husqvarna offers a complete kit which will get you everything you need right out of the gate. It’s not a bad idea to make the investment to keep yourself protected, using a chainsaw can be dicey for the inexperienced.
Small Chainsaw Safety Guidelines
Your chainsaw is a powerful, versatile tool but it can also be a dangerous one if you’re not careful. In addition to routinely checking all parts of the machine before firing it up and wearing proper PPE while using the saw the following are all good tips to keep you safe from harm:
- Never cut blindly, ensure the area is free of debris and any limb you’re not planning on cutting before you go in for the cut.
- Keep both hands on the saw at all times to provide more control.
- Don’t cut branches that are under tension, they can spring back and harm you.
- Never saw with the tip, as it increases the chances of potentially deadly kickback.
- Never wear loose clothing while operating a chainsaw, the chances of getting caught and subsequently mangled by the chain are far too high to risk.
The included manual should have more safety guidelines and we strongly recommend that you read the manual and pay attention to it.
Chainsaws are awesome tools, but they can make short work of your limbs if you’re not careful. Always be aware of what you’re doing.
Small Chainsaw FAQ
It’s that time again: time to answer any questions we think you might have and any that popped up with our reviewers. If you’ve got another one leave us a comment and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
What tasks would I need a full-size chainsaw for?
For the most part, you’ll want to use a blade that’s at least 16” for taking down trees. If you’re a proper lumberjack and know how to carve wedges you can probably get away with a 14” bar on most trees. It’s not really something we recommend attempting however, falling trees are absurdly hazardous.
How should I decide on a power source for my small chainsaw?
It largely depends on what you’re doing. An 80-foot extension cord and a plug-in chainsaw, for instance, offers a ton of power for a low cost and weight but you’ll be limited. Battery operated models can be used anywhere like gasoline models but you’ll need to plug them in to recharge the battery. In practice, most people using small chainsaws don’t need a gas model but they’re great for those with large properties where they’ll only be performing light duty.
Where can I learn to maintain a gas-powered small chain saw?
Your best bet is to follow the instructions in the manual to the letter. You’ll undoubtedly find your own methods over time but if you’re unfamiliar with how they run it’s a good idea to make sure you’ve got everything covered according to the manufacturer’s specifications. This video will give you a good rundown of what you should expect if you’re wondering how intensive it will be.
What is kickback?
Essentially, the blade gets pinched and all of the force has to go somewhere. It rebounds with surprising force, you can see it here if you’re interested. It’s the reason why you should never cut into a piece of wood with just the tip of your chainsaw. You’ll note that in the video the saw is being held horizontal, but most cuts are made in a vertical motion, meaning that the sudden movement of the saw is heading back towards your head. Good technique and a low kickback bar are pretty much essential for your safety.
How do I sharpen a chainsaw’s chain?
Chainsaws are complicated to sharpen but it’s generally done by hand with a file. It takes a little bit more know-how than you’d think and is best demonstrated visually. If you don’t have anyone around to teach you there are some good videos on the subject which should get your saw back in great shape in no time.
Pruning and Trimming in Style
While they’re not up to the bar with every task, finding the best small chainsaw you can afford is a great way to ensure that you’re able to keep even the gnarliest trees in shape. They can even cut down smaller trees if that’s your plan, just be sure to study techniques if you’re an amateur.
So, what are you waiting for? They’re quick and easy to use and can save a lot of time on your next foray into getting your trees trimmed and firewood cut.