A chainsaw is one of the most important tools in your arsenal. It makes tree trimming or cutting easy if you have the right size for the job. Too many people pick the wrong chainsaw size, making the work more difficult or even dangerous.
You need to know what size chainsaw you need for your purposes. Whether you are cutting branches or thick logs, this guide will help you pick the right size chainsaw for any project. Below, you’ll find the answer to “What size chainsaw do I need?” and many other important questions.
What To Think About When Determining the Sizes of Chainsaws You May Need
When most people talk about the size of their chain saw, they are talking about the cutting bar. This part of the tool holds the chain and allows it to spin correctly. It is the guide that keeps it in place and is a critical part of the saw. Cutting bars will often range in size from between six to 20 inches. The higher the number, the bigger the job in most situations. Smaller chainsaws may be designed for small branches, while larger bars can handle large tree trunks.
You need to know what to think about in preparation for your cutting job. Are you looking to trim some branches off your tree? Are you cutting large logs or a whole tree trunk? These and many other questions can help you pick the ideal chainsaws, especially if you have multiple projects.
The Project or Task At Hand
First, consider how you will use the chainsaw you are about to buy. Standard chainsaws come in various sizes for different types of jobs.
- Occasional and Light Use: Light use is for trimming shrubs, trees, and other types of general maintenance. This is often the choice for home use and small projects. This usually requires a short cutting bar under 14″ long. If this is the type of work you will do or usually do, a smaller chainsaw is likely the right fit for you. These models are novice-friendly and easy to use. These often include pole saws, which are light-use chainsaws for trimming branches.
- Moderate Use: Chainsaws that will see more use and on heavier-duty projects likely require a bigger chainsaw. You may want to consider a 16″ to an 18″ long cutting bar for your jobs. This tool can handle thicker tree limbs and most types of logs. Many are gas-powered, but there are many electric and battery-powered options as well. You should pick a moderate-use chainsaw when you regularly cut logs and tree branches but do not need a commercial-grade tool.
- Heavy-Duty Use: When you will use a chainsaw often and for bigger projects, you may need a much bigger cutting bar. A 20″ long cutting bar or larger may be necessary to perform commercial work and take down a big tree. These are more difficult to use and may be dangerous when used by an inexperienced person. When handled safely and correctly, this is a powerful tool that can tackle nearly any job. Know the work you need to do and whether you can safely handle a large chainsaw.
You will also want to consider other aspects of the chainsaw. The larger the size of the tool, the heavier it will be. It can be tiring to do small jobs with a large chainsaw and impossible to do large jobs with one that is too small. You will also want to consider the complexity of the chainsaw, as larger models often require more maintenance and understanding of how the technology works. These considerations often fall by the wayside when picking a chainsaw, but they are important to think about.
Know what you will use the chainsaw for before you make your purchase. When you are informed, you will make the right chainsaw chain choice and pick the size and measurement you need.
Heavy Duty Cutting
Heavy duty projects take a larger chain. Cutting down trees or very thick branches is a heavy-duty project that requires the right equipment for the job. Whether you are doing at-home work or doing a home renovation, you need a chainsaw that is built for the project. A little thinking ahead of time to pick the right size chainsaw can save you a big headache once you get into the project and realize you have the wrong chainsaw for the job. Don’t get caught in this common problem.
Some projects even require cutting other materials, such as concrete. In these cases, a heavy-duty chainsaw with a diamond cutting blade may be necessary. Diamond cutting blades can handle concrete, stone, and rock. These are primarily used by contractors and tradespeople as part of the work. Diamond saw blades are specialty tools that are only necessary for heavy-duty projects for materials other than wood. Know what you are cutting and if you are prepared for the unique safety hazards of cutting non-wood materials. As always β safety first.
If you are cutting wood, you can stick with a typical stainless steel chain. Don’t let marketing make you think you need a specialty chain. Wood is usually a malleable and relatively soft material you can easily cut through β when you have the right size chain. Now you just have to pick the right size for the job.
Tree cutting is hard work. Large trees can be over 40 ft. high and nearly as wide. The trunk can be anywhere between one to six feet in diameter for common trees. This means you need a large chainsaw that can handle such a big job.
To pick the right size chainsaw, answer “What are you doing to this tree?” Are you cutting it completely down? Are you shaping it? Are you removing large branches or limbs? The answer to this question is key to knowing what size chainsaw you will need to do the job right.
Typically, you want to pick a chainsaw cutting bar this is two inches longer than the diameter of the object you are cutting. So, if you are cutting multiple tree limbs that are 6″ in diameter, you ideally want an 8″ blade. For large tree trunks and limbs, you could need a bar that is 20″ and above.
Tree cutting is much easier when you have the right size chainsaw. Too many homeowners use a small chainsaw to cut large trees. This can be frustratingly slow but it may also be unsafe. Know what job you are doing or what type of work you typically use your chainsaw for.
Splitting Logs Into Firewood
Homeowners commonly use a chainsaw to help split logs into firewood. It is certainly less work than splitting them with an axe and cheaper than buying a log splitter. You don’t want to buy a chainsaw that is too small or too big for the job. When you use a small chainsaw such as a pole saw, you can spend what seems like forever splitting firewood. A chainsaw that is too large can be tiring and even risk your safety because it is not the appropriate tool for the job.
Most people are cutting their logs into halves or quarters. When doing this, you should follow a couple of tips that can be helpful:
- Cut logs no longer than 18″, but 16″ is ideal for indoor fireplaces and wood-burning stoves
- Cut your logs no thicker than 8″, but 3″ to 6″ is ideal for indoor wood-burning stoves and fireplaces
With that in mind, you need a tool to do it right. You need to pick the size based on the trees you are cutting for your firewood. If the tree is 16″ wide, you will want an 18″ chainsaw. Overall, an 18″ chainsaw is a great buy because it will cover most of the trees you are cutting. It is large enough to do the job but not so large it becomes unwieldy or unsafe. Many consumers choose this middle ground when they want one chainsaw for multiple uses.
Ultimately, you know what you are cutting. You may only need a small cutting bar to do your job. You might need a large cutting bar if you know how to use it. Pick what you need based on the advice in this guide.
The Basics of Chainsaw Sizing
We’ve talked about the types of jobs you might do, but let’s move into the basics of chainsaw sizing. The right size chainsaw will do the job well and make you feel comfortable while doing it. It saves you time, money, and a lot of frustration as well. Anyone who has ever used the wrong-sized chainsaw knows exactly what we’re talking about. A simple cut can take forever or you struggle to cut small branches with a large chainsaw.
With the tips below, you can pick the right chainsaw size for your job. If you are buying your chainsaw for a particular project, make sure it can handle it. Also, consider the type of work you generally use it for so that your chainsaw is the right size for most or all of your projects.
Knowing your chainsaw bar sizes can help you understand what to pick:
8 to 18-Inch Bar Length
On the smaller side are chainsaw chain sizes that range from 8″ to 18″. These are typically meant for at-home and residential use but can also be useful for contractors. Each type of chainsaw is meant to do a different job, as shown in this chainsaw chain sizes chart.
- 8″ Chainsaws: These are best for small limbs whose diameter is 6″ or less. This is typically for pruning or small branch work. Many of these are electric or battery-powered because they are small and do not require a great deal of power. An 8″ chainsaw is usually very easy to handle and is good for a novice chainsaw user.
- 10″ Chainsaws: A 10″ chainsaw is best for cuts that do not exceed 8″ in diameter. These are primarily smaller limbs and branches. Most of these saws are also battery-powered, but they may be fuel-powered as well. They are still well within the range for a new or novice user.
- 16″ Chainsaws: While there are sizes between 10″ and 16″, a 16″ blade is very common. This is great to cut down small trees or through larger branches. It can easily make cuts in wood with a diameter of 14″. This is a larger saw that is often gas-powered, but you can still find different options to fit your needs.
- 18″ Chainsaws: An 18″ chainsaw is at the top end of a “small” chainsaw. It is also one of the most commonly purchased sizes because of its versatility. It is big enough to handle up to 16″ diameter cuts while still manageable enough to do small cuts as well. Many DIYers and homeowners use this size saw for many types of cuts.
This range of bar lengths is great for most jobs you will do. While they cannot handle very large trees or branches, they can handle most of what you will do around your home. As always, take a look at what you cut the most often and pick your size accordingly.
20-Inch Long Cutting Bar
A 20″ long cutting bar steps into a larger category of jobs. You can use this chainsaw size to cut through an 18″ tree. It is also great to split very large logs into halves or quarters.
Chainsaws with a cutting bar length of 20″ or more are serious machines. They have powerful motors that are designed for heavy-duty use over a long time. Almost all of these saws are gas-powered because of the power requirements necessary to operate them, but other options still exist.
They require caution and experience to handle. A chainsaw can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. Make sure you use this large bar only if you really need it for your cuts. If you do, just make sure you are safe and use the appropriate safety equipment.
Why Do Chainsaw Sizes Matter?
Many people ask “Do chainsaw sizes really matter?” The answer is yes. In fact, the correct size matters a great deal. Choosing the wrong chainsaw size can make your work difficult and put you and others in danger. Chainsaws are powerful tools that are dangerous in inexperienced hands. However, by following the tips here you can choose the right size for the job every time.
What Happens If Your Chainsaw Bar Is Too Short?
A chainsaw bar that is too short will make your life very difficult. Short bars like those on 8″ or 10″ chainsaws are not meant to perform big cuts. They are designed primarily for pruning and cutting small branches of 8″ in diameter or less. Asking them to do more is a recipe for frustration and possible injury.
A chainsaw bar that is too short will not cut properly through the wood. It may not even cut all the way through in one cut. This can lead to blade pinching, which occurs when the wood collapses in on the bar and chain. This can lead to a stuck chainsaw that slows you down while cutting. It is also a very annoying problem to deal with when the right size would take care of the problem in a heartbeat.
If you cut wood that is too large for the chainsaw bar, you also risk a kickback injury. This occurs when you bury the tip of the guide bar into the wood. A kickback is an unexpected upward motion of the guide bar. This can happen when the chain strikes an object and is pinched or snagged. When it kicks back, the blade and blade tip can jump back towards you or even hit you. This may result in a devastating injury that you want to avoid.
The best way to avoid injury is to pick the right size in the first place based on the tips and chainsaw sizes chart we have here.
What Happens If Your Chainsaw Model Is Too Long?
A long chainsaw cutting bar lets you handle big jobs and high-diameter cuts. The problem is when you try to use a long chainsaw to do smaller projects. For example, you should avoid using a 20″ plus chainsaw to prune or cut small branches. Large chainsaws are very powerful but they are also more difficult to manage. They are heavier and can cause you to become fatigued.
Being tired while operating a chainsaw is a bad idea. You can lose concentration or the strength to manipulate the tool correctly. This can lead to slips or kickback injuries that may land you in the hospital.
It also makes it more difficult to make precise cuts. When you want to make small cuts, a large chainsaw may reduce your accuracy. You may cut away more than you want, which may be a big deal when pruning bushes or trees. It can ruin the aesthetic you are going for or even harm the health of your trees. It is important to pick the right size for the job. Don’t simply use a large chainsaw when a smaller cutting bar is better for the job.
When To Use a Larger Chainsaw Bar
There are many jobs where you do want a larger chainsaw bar. This usually includes bars of 20″ or higher. These high-powered saws can handle big jobs and have the staying power to work all day. There are many situations that call for a big chainsaw, including:
- When you want to make cuts of 18″ in diameter or more
- If you need to cut down a larger tree or hardwood trees
- When cutting through whole trees with a wide diameter
- When using a saw for commercial purposes and on a daily basis
- When you have the experience to handle a larger chainsaw cutting blade
- If you have the proper safety equipment to handle a large chainsaw bar
- If you have the physical strength to lift and effectively control the chainsaw
The key is to use the tips above to determine if you really need such a large chainsaw bar. If you don’t, choose something that is a more appropriate size. You want to reduce how hard you have to work but you also want to protect your health. Use a larger chainsaw bar for big projects that call for it but switch to a smaller model when you need to.
When To Use Chainsaws With Bar Lengths That Are Shorter
You want to use a shorter chainsaw bar length when you are doing smaller jobs. A smaller chainsaw length is usually anything 18″ and below. Blades of approximately 16″ to 18″ are considered medium-length tools that are versatile and good for cutting many types of limbs, branches, and even smaller trees. They are often useful for most projects.
Blades of 12″ or less are considered smaller chainsaws or may even be pole saws. These are designed primarily for pruning small branches and should not be used on bigger jobs.
Smaller chainsaw bar lengths should be used:
- On cuts of 16″ or less in length
- To prune trees, bushes, or other wood plants
- For splitting logs for firewood
- For home renovation projects and yard clean-up
- For less experienced chainsaw users
- When you need a lighter-weight chainsaw to handle it safely
- When you want to use an electric or battery-powered tool
A shorter bar length is often the right tool for the job. Don’t assume a small chainsaw is less powerful. In fact, when it is used properly it can do a better job that a large chainsaw. Many wrongfully assume a large chainsaw will do a great job on smaller projects when it will not. Use these tips to pick the right chainsaw size for your project.
Look for the Ideal All-In-One Tool for You
By picking the right chainsaw size for you, you can pick the right tool for the job. The ideal all-in-one tool gives you the power and cutting size you need for whatever project you take on. Whether you are a homeowner looking for a smaller chainsaw or a contractor taking down large trees, you can be prepared to do the job correctly. ChainsawSelector can help you find the right chainsaw for you. We look at the latest chainsaws and accessories from top brands on the market to give you the reviews and deals you’re looking for.