Stihl chainsaw trial: battery-electric vs petrol

Do battery chainsaws rival their old-school petrol counterparts when it comes to chopping up wood?

Stihl chainsaw

Battery-electric motors have overtaken their petrol counterparts in some of our garden tool tests. Does this dominance transfer to chainsaws? We trialled a battery model against a petrol one to see which one came up trumps.

Stihl MS170 & Stihl MSA 200 C-B Cordless Chainsaw

Stihl MS 170: $295

We purchased two chainsaws: the two-stroke Stihl MS170 ($295) and the battery-electric Stihl MSA 200 C-B Cordless Chainsaw (kit price $1005). There’s an obvious gulf in price, but almost half the battery-electric’s kit price is the battery and charger – the chainsaw itself is $545.

When viewed from afar, aside from the battery model having a thinner guide bar, there’s no distinct difference between the two. However, on closer inspection, the cordless beast has tool-less chain adjustment (which isn’t the case for the petrol motor), a gaping hole for the battery to slot into and no fuel tank.

When testing the chain brake (the plastic doo-dacky in front of the handle), it was clear the battery model’s was slightly more sensitive, which is better for safety.

The trial

Stihl MSA 200 C-B PRO Cordless Chainsaw: chainsaw only - $545, kit price - $1005

Our trial took place in a neglected Lower Hutt garden with plenty of trees that needed attention. The biggest challenge was an old magnolia tree that needed to be cut down to the stump. At more than 40cm in diameter, it was at the top end of what either saw was capable of tackling. The battery saw noticeably slowed at times when chopping through the big tree, while the petrol kept chugging along with no discernible slow-down moments.

A uniform 160mm thick branch was selected for a back-to-back comparison. We timed how long it took to make five identical cuts. The petrol model got it done in 55 seconds, while the battery took 65 seconds. Over the course of a big job, you’d be spending a lot more time cutting if you went down the battery route.

Chainsaws compared

Positives of the battery-electric model:

  • felt better balanced when in use
  • no noise in-between cuts
  • less vibration through the handle.

Positives of the petrol model:

  • more powerful
  • cuts faster
  • considerably quicker to refuel.

Top tip: A battery model doesn’t have the noise or vibration of a petrol model at idle, but starting it is only a squeeze of the trigger away. It’s best practice to engage the chain brake, or remove the battery entirely, whenever you leave it unattended.

The verdict

I was very happy with the performance of the two-stroke and wouldn’t be disappointed to unwrap one at Christmas. It was fiddly to start from cold, but it was nice knowing I could tackle bigger jobs. Topping up the tank was quick and easy, rather than having to wait for recharging batteries. If I lived on a lifestyle block or regularly cut my own firewood, it’d be my choice. However, the jobs around my place usually only require a bit of light pruning, so if I were going to buy one, I’d go with the battery chainsaw. It’s better for the environment, was incredibly easy to start and use, and doesn’t require as much maintenance as a petrol engine. While considerably more expensive, like many battery garden tool systems, the battery is swappable with some other Stihl garden equipment, making the extra cost more palatable.

How to use a chainsaw safely

How to use a chainsaw safely

How to use a chainsaw safely

Our guide on how you should use your chainsaw and what you can, and can’t, do in your garden.

Read the report

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Graeme W.
04 Aug 2019
De Walt battery chainsaw

I bought the de walt as I can't (as a light female) manage a petrol chainsaw - partly weight and partly starting the damn pull cord (same with the lawnmower). Its brilliant as i don't have to wait on my partner to do anything and as we have quite a few dewalt tools we can just keep swapping out the batteries which last about 20-30min. I also think its much safer as you turn if off when not in use (rather than holding it, still on). It was much cheaper than the one you mention here too, about $500 all up - the battery was supplied as a "free cashback" type offer after purchase.

Nick d.
03 Aug 2019
Horses for Courses

I recently bought the electric Stihl as we have the electric mower that shares a battery and charger. It is light and easy to use although it seems to be very generous with the amount of chain oil it pumps out. Excellent for clearing tracks quietly and efficiently with a very low carbon footprint.
I also have a 16" Stihl and a 28" Husquvana which are a much more suited to firewood cutting as they are far more powerful and easier to sharpen the chain. However they are much noisier, heavier and not as safe as the small electric saw.
I can highly recommend EZE Lap diamond chainsaw sharpeners which are vastly better than files as they make the teeth much sharper without removing as much metal. Unfortunately there is no 9/64" diamond sharpener available for the electric saw.

Hamish W.
10 Aug 2019
Horses for courses - yep, right!

I have 14" and 24" petrol Stihl saws but I've found a Ryobi battery powered 8" pole-saw to be a very handy tool. We have a row of macrocarpa that are quite prone to wind damage. The pole saw will easily trim off partially snapped branches up to 6" thick which then get cut up for fire wood with the smaller Stihl. Based on that experience, my next small saw is likely to be battery powered though I don't expect the Stihl will wear out any time soon.

John S.
03 Aug 2019

In an urban environment the electric option is preferred. But when cutting firewood, particularly hardwood; needed for winter then the more powerful fuel oil saw is by far preferred.

Paul W
03 Aug 2019
Electric Chainsaw

I would go for the electric except when you mention electric anything the price about doubles. I bought an EGO electric lawn mower two years ago. I like it but it did cost twice as much as the 4 stroke version the upside is that the battery can be used in other EGO products if you can find them.

Paul W
28 Aug 2019

I also bought an EGO mower. Great item though too expensive. I looked at the chainsaw attachment but just that by it's self was way dearer than a lot of 2stroke chainsaws.

David W.
03 Aug 2019
Chainsaw safety

The chap in the picture for the chainsaw safety piece isn't wearing earmuffs or eye protection. He might have earplugs in (hopefully), but could be good to use another pic on such an article. D.

Peter I.
04 Aug 2019
That picture is quite hilarious.

I wonder if it's a classic "don't do" example. Fairly apparent he has no ear plugs; He also appears not to be wearing gloves; The single undercut he's made on that diameter trunk is also not the safest or best way to section that.