Do battery chainsaws rival their old-school petrol counterparts when it comes to chopping up wood?
By James le Page
Product test writer
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
Our guide on how you should use your chainsaw and what you can, and can’t, do in your garden.