Review - Chainsaws

With such a wide choice on offer everyone should be able to find a model that meets their professional needs, says Sally Drury

Husqvarna 450 chainsaw - image: HW
Husqvarna 450 chainsaw - image: HW

Tested This Issue
- Husqvarna 536Li XP
- Husqvarna 545
- Stihl MS 261 C-M
- Husqvarna 560 XP
- Husqvarna 450
- Husqvarna T540 XP II
- Stihl MSA 160 C-BQ & MSA 200 C-BQ

Review Panel

Darren Chambers, arboriculture teacher and apprenticeship assessor, Bridgwater College; Claire Prangley, gardener, Cannington Campus and Walled Gardens; Jim Doble, Sedgemoor Tree Services; Joe Taylor, Mendip Trees & Landscapes; Mike Cullen, head of arboriculture, Bridgwater College.

Perhaps more than any other power tool, the chainsaw is a matter of personal preference. Depending on the task, different users may want a compact, powerful, top-handled or even battery saw. But with so much choice available, there should be something for everybody.

We put a wide range to test at Bridgwater College's arboriculture department. We look at the Stihl 261 C-M, a popular machine recently improved. Four petrol models from Husqvarna include updated units and the Mark II top handle. Then we consider rear-handled battery chainsaws from Husqvarna and Stihl.

Conditions on the day were warm and sunny. Note: the Mark II T540 XP is for use by professional arborists only and should not be used on the ground. Lacking time to rig up, we gave it a thorough inspection but hope to run it on another occasion.

Husqvarna 545

Targeting contractors and landowners, the robust design of the 545 makes it suitable for a multitude of jobs. Husqvarna's X-Torq engine delivers high torque while cutting fuel consumption by up to 20 per cent and exhaust emissions by up to 75 per cent compared to a conventional two-stroke unit by using pure air instead of a mix of air and fuel, so giving a cleaner burn.

Full of good ideas, the saw has Smart Start to reduce the effort of starting. The centrifugal air-cleaning system contributes to reduced wear and longer filter cleaning intervals. Side-mounted chain tensioning is quick and easy.

Then there is the computer, which Husqvarna calls AutoTune. This provides optimal running by taking account of the throttle position along with factors such as humidity, temperature, altitude, fuel quality and air filter clogging. It tests all conditions every two seconds and automatically adjusts the tuning for smooth running.

Other features include felling marks, captive nuts on the flip-up tank cap and a snap-lock cylinder cover for easy access for cleaning and changing the plug. It is a tough saw but just check out the balance - it sits level and straight.

Engine displacement: 50.1cc
Power output: 2.5kW
Max power speed: 9,600rpm
Idling speed: 2,800rpm
Max torque: 2.69Nm
Fuel tank capacity: 0.52 litres
Oil tank capacity: 0.27 litres
Recommended bar max/min: 20in/13in
Chain pitch: 0.325in
Sound pressure level at operator's ears: 106dB(A)
Sound power level, guaranteed (LWA): 116dB(A)
Vibration levels: 3.8m/s2 front, 3.7m/s2 rear
Weight excluding cutting equipment: 4.9kg
Price: £618 including VAT
Tel: Husqvarna UK - 0844 243 5263

Stihl MS 261 C-M

Last time we looked at the Stihl 261 it had just gone M-Tronic. We are looking at it again because further upgrading has made it lighter and just a bit more powerful. The new saw also has the long-life air system with HD2 filter, so it requires only occasional cleaning.

Making it M-Tronic meant the saw became self-tuning so no matter what the conditions, altitude or timber, it always works at its best with no need to adjust the carburettor and the engine is less vulnerable to fuel grade. Because the saw can distinguish between cold and warm starts, it only needs one start position on the combi-lever. The exact level of fuel for each type of start is provided automatically.

Now the 261 has lost weight - 300g, in fact - and power is increased by 0.1kW, giving the unit a much better power-to-weight ratio. The improvements have been achieved by redesigning the cylinder head, sprocket cover and bumper spikes. It is the sprocket cover we notice first. "Looks like the cover has shrunk," Cullen observes.

The 261 is Prangley's favourite on the day. "It's simple to use and feels so dependable," she explains. Thanks to its cutting precision and powerful torque, the older version of the 261 became a legend among users. The upgraded model will no doubt remain just as popular for those undertaking forestry work and harvesting small-to-medium stands.

Engine displacement: 50.2cc
Power output: 3kW
Chain speed at max power: 25.6m/s
Idling speed: 2,800rpm
Fuel tank capacity: 0.5 litres
Oil tank capacity: 0.27 litres
Recommended bar max/min: 45cm/32cm
Chain pitch: 0.325in
Sound pressure level at operator's ears: 104dB(A)
Sound power level, guaranteed (LWA): 116dB(A)
Vibration levels: 3.5m/s2 front, 3.5m/s2 rear
Weight excluding cutting equipment: 4.9kg
Price: From £696 including VAT
Tel: Stihl - 01276 20202

Husqvarna 560 XP

If you tried the old 560XP and were disappointed, you should give the new model a test. Everything is closer together and lower, the fulcrum of the flywheel has been changed and there is a pull-out/push-up choke. It also has half-throttle, Auto-return stop switch, Smart Start, AutoTune and an advanced X-Torq engine to give it high power and improved torque.

Then there is RevBoost, which should appeal to arborists. This provides the rapid acceleration and higher chain speed for best limbing performance. Of course, all that technology, plus the 59.8cc engine, does add heft. It weighs in at 5.7kg.

Taylor notices. "It is quite a bit heavier than the 261, but then it is bigger. It's very powerful," he says. Cullen finds the rear-handle profile uncomfortable. "It's not circular enough for my hands," he explains

The bar has also changed. Additional bearings in the roller dissipate heat and pressure while the cut-out centre helps reduce weight. Heated handles are an option.

Put on a big bar for logging or a small one for snedding - this is a saw that likes to be worked. It is not one for idling. It needs to be run to keep the air flowing through. Having heard some people have had starting issues with the old 560, we set it aside awhile and test the other machines. When we pick it up again, the 560 takes three pulls to fire it up. We kill it and start it again first pull.

Engine displacement: 59.8cc
Power output: 3.5kW
Chain speed at max power: 21.3m/s
Max power speed: 9,600rpm
Idling speed: 2,800rpm
Max torque: 3.65Nm
Fuel tank capacity: 0.65 litres
Oil tank capacity: 0.33 litres
Recommended bar max/min: 20in/13in
Chain pitch: 0.325in
Chain gauge: 0.058in
Sound pressure level at operators ears: 106dB(A)
Sound power level, guaranteed (LWA): 118dB(A)
Vibration levels: 4.4m/s2 front, 5.3m/s2 rear
Weight excluding cutting equipment: 5.7kg
Price: £819 including VAT
Tel: Husqvarna UK - 0844 243 5263

Husqvarna T540 XP II

The Mark II T540 XP comes with three different sizes of top handle - simply fit the one that matches the size of your hand. That might sound like a gimmick, but the balance of a saw can be severely affected by the operator's grip and anything that improves comfort and safety while working in the tree has to be a bonus.

This saw has lots of features we like. The Auto-return stop switch should mean no flooding. There is a window to keep a check on the fuel level. For climbing efficiency, a secondary eyelet has been added for easy connection to a harness-mounted hook. Importantly, the front guard/chain brake has two supports to give stability and cut-out sections so you can see the tip of the saw while working.

The TechLite bar, also of interest, is 18 per cent lighter than that of a traditional chainsaw, so aiding balance and manoeuvrability, but it has increased rigidity.

Husqvarna's X-Torq engine technology is harnessed by this chainsaw to reduce emissions in the tree canopy, while the AutoTune feature adjusts the engine settings based on conditions.

We are told that warm-starting issues have been rectified. We need to put it to work in the trees and report back.

Engine displacement: 37.7cc
Power output: 1.8kW
Chain speed at max power: 19.4m/s
Max power speed: 10,200rpm
Idling speed: 3,000rpm
Max torque: 1.79Nm
Fuel tank capacity: 0.34 litres
Oil tank capacity: 0.2 litres
Recommended bar max/min: 16in/12in
Chain pitch: 3/8in
Chain gauge: 0.05in
Sound pressure level at operator's ears: 104dB(A)
Sound power level, guaranteed: (LWA) 116dB(A)
Vibration levels: 3.1m/s2 front, 3.2m/s2 top
Weight excluding cutting equipment: 3.9kg
Price: £625 with 12in bar, including VAT
Tel: Husqvarna UK - 0844 243 5263

Husqvarna 450

Husqvarna model numbers starting with "2" or "3" are consumer or entry-level models, "4" is for landowners and professionals such as landscapers and "5" is for arborists and foresters. The other two digits signify engine displacement. So the 450 typically falls into the "farmer" class and is approximately 50cc.

It is a powerful all-rounder but a professional saw. It still has the X-Torq engine, air injection, felling marks, snap-lock cover and flip-up tank cap, but it does not need a magnesium crankcase. This is a great saw and a happy idler, making it useful if your work involves picking up the saw to cut and then putting it down while you move the timbers.

In the event of it stopping, you will find the 450 has Smart Start and an Auto return stop switch that automatically resets to the "on" position for trouble-free starting.

Engine displacement: 50.2cc
Power output: 2.4kW
Chain speed at max power: 17.3m/s
Max power speed: 9,000rpm
Idling speed: 2,700rpm
Max torque: 2.6Nm
Fuel tank capacity: 0.45 litres
Oil tank capacity: 0.26 litres
Recommended bar max/min: 20in/13in
Chain pitch: 0.325in
Sound pressure level at operator's ears: 104dB(A)
Sound power level, guaranteed (LWA): 115dB(A)
Vibration levels: 3.1m/s2 front, 4.9m/s2 rear
Weight excluding cutting equipment: 4.9kg
Price: £600 including VAT
Tel: Husqvarna UK - 0844 243 5263

Stihl MSA 160 C-BQ and MSA 200 C-BQ

All the advantages of cordless saws, as mentioned above, apply to these two recently improved models. Upgrading sees both the power and torque increased - cutting capacity is up by 17 per cent on the 160 and by 30 per cent on the 200. Chain speed is increased by 18 and 30 per cent respectively. Runtimes are 35 minutes with the AP200 battery on the 160 and 45 minutes on the 200. Charging takes 55 minutes and 75 minutes using the active-cooling AL300 quick charger.

Stihl says these machines can be used in wet conditions, though we wonder about water ingress into the battery's bucket-style receiver. We found small amounts of sawdust in the buckets after using the saws for testing purposes. But Prangley appears to enjoy using the Stihls and finds the 200 lightweight, well-balanced and nice to use.

The battery saws generate much discussion. The Stihl has no equivalent to the light that indicates the Husky saw is "live". Simply drop the battery in the top and the Stihls are ready to roll. That worries Taylor and Doble. You can check the battery charge by pushing a button to illuminate the LEDs, but they go off automatically after five seconds.

"There's nothing to say it's on and even though there is a trigger lock-out separate to the trigger you can squeeze them together," says Cullen. "Most children couldn't pull a recoil starter. What I would like to see on battery saws is a child lock, like on washing machines."

So what are the plus points of the 160 and 200? We love the positive chain brakes and the tool-free oil caps. These saws are excellent for situations where you frequently need to stop and start the saw.

There are no cold start issues. They are quiet. They should appeal to landscapers, gardeners, those working in noise-sensitive sites and anyone undertaking carving work.

Models: MSA 160 C-BQ (12in)/MSA 200 C-BQ (14in)
Battery: Li-ion integrated (backpack also offered)
Motor: EC (brushless)
Recommended bar: 30cm/35cm
Chain pitch: 1.5in Picco chain
Oil tank capacity: 0.21 litres
Oil pump type: Automatic
Sound pressure: 84dB(A)
Sound power level: 99dB(A)/98dB(A)
Vibration: 2.7m/s2 front, 2.9m/s2 rear/4.6m/s2 front, 3.9m/s2 rear
Weight excluding battery and cutting equipment: 2.7kg/2.9kg
Price: MSA 160: £285; AP200 battery: £118.50; AL300 quick
charger: £67/MSA 200: £295; AP300 battery: £180; AL300
quick charger: £67 (all including VAT)
Tel: Stihl - 01276 20202

Husqvarna 536Li XP

Cordless chainsaws have their benefits. Ear protection is not needed with some, so the user can hear what is going on around the site of work. There is no fuss fuelling up, no spills and no fumes. They are quiet, so users can get an early start in urban areas. They are easy to run - no more pulling the engine over with what might be ever-increasing frustration on cold starts or as the saw ages. They have low vibrations and they are lightweight. But come on, they're toys aren't they?

Aside from the fact that no chainsaw should ever be viewed as a toy - even the smallest can seriously damage your health - the 536Li XP is in truth a high-performance saw. It feels equivalent to a 35cc machine and should appeal to those working in the commercial world, agriculture and utility applications. It is a heavy-duty saw and it is water resistant.

Powered by a 36V Li-ion integrated battery (backpack option available), this saw gives an impressive performance. It is a professional saw and it has a chain speed of 20m/s - more than some petrol machines and more than most other cordless chainsaws.

Husqvarna has really concentrated on the detail. The battery has active cooling to keep it going, battery management to ensure that it turns off before it deep discharges and a light on top indicates when the saw is "live". If left untouched, with the chain brake off, the saw switches off. If the chain brake is on, the light flashes and the saw switches off after five minutes.

Potential purchasers should also note that this saw has two speeds - a "savE" mode offers greater runtime. The motor is brushless and the loom, keypad and throttle are sealed. Maintenance is minimal. An oil window enables a check to be kept on the oil level and the chain oil tank has a flip-up cover for easy opening when wearing gloves.

Taylor is impressed. "It's got plenty of grunt," he says. Cullen adds: "And you are not constantly using the recoil. That must save a huge amount of time."

The recommended battery is the BLi150, which should give 60 minutes pruning or 30 minutes logging. Recharging to 100 per cent takes 50 minutes using the quick charger. A backpack battery could see as much as three hours of logging work, but expect recharging to take between two and four hours.

The manufacturer guarantees 1,000 recharges and it could save considerable money over petrol. With an inverter fitted to the idling woodchipper, a spare battery could always be ready for use. A top-handle version is available for use in trees. It features a second clip to ensure that the battery cannot slide out while the arborist is climbing.

Battery: Li-ion integrated (backpack also offered)
Motor: BLDC (brushless)
Recommended bar max/min: 14in/10in
Chain speed at max power: 20m/s
Chain pitch: 3/8in, in
Oil tank capacity: 0.2 litres
Oil pump type: Automatic
Sound pressure level at operator's ears: 93dB(A)
Guaranteed sound power level: 106dB(A)
Vibration levels: 2.5m/s2 front, 2.8m/s2 rear
Weight excluding battery and cutting equipment: 2.6kg
Price: Chainsaw: £350; BLi150 battery: £195; quick charger:
£110 (all including VAT)
Tel: Husqvarna UK - 0844 243 5263

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