Review - Chainsaws

Sally Drury leads the testing of a wide range of the latest models aimed at different sectors.

Makita EA3601 chainsaw - image: HW
Makita EA3601 chainsaw - image: HW

If you are a gardener or landscaper you will probably want different chainsaws to those preferred by the tree surgeon or the choice of the forester. That is why in this test we look at a broad range of models.

Included are rear-handled, ground working saws suitable for each sector. We also try out two top-handled saws for use by trained tree professionals and we test the new battery powered saw from Hyundai.

The test was carried out in two parts — the strip down and inspection was conducted in the workshop followed by testing in the wood yard and grounds of Cannington Campus, the land-based studies centre of Bridgwater College. Conditions on test day were hot and sunny, but only after a wet start.


Makita EA3601F/EA3500F/EA4300F
Echo CS-390ESX
Hyundai HYC3816/HYC4618/HYC5620
Hyundai HYC36Li 36V
Hyundai HYC2610 Top-handled

The Review Panel
Jason Buckton, level 3 student, arboriculture, Bridgwater College

Darren Chambers, lecturer, arboriculture, Bridgwater College

Mike Cullen, head of arboriculture, Bridgwater College

Andre Gardner, manager, Cannington Centre for Land-based Studies, Bridgwater College
Gareth Martin, level 2 student, arboriculture, Bridgwater College

Simon Northard, level 3 student, arboriculture, Bridgwater College

Makita EA3601F, EA3500F & EA4300F

They know Makita drills and angle grinders, but our testers are not familiar with Makita chainsaws. Yet after a morning of using these three saws, all members of the review panel are impressed.

Northard’s favourite is the 3500. "Makita certainly has the power at full revs. For a ground saw, this is top notch," he says. Plus, Makita chainsaw are now backed by a three-year warranty, providing the unit is serviced by a recognised dealer in the first year.

The "F" at the end of each model number stands for "Farmer" class. These are mid-range saws designed for semi-professionals. Never having used any Makita branded models before, the testers first spend some time taking them apart. Cullen notes the attention to detail. "I like the angled slots on the fuel cap," he says. "They allow you to undo the cap with a spanner but not tighten it with a spanner. I’m pleased with that — it means you can’t over-tighten it."

He finds the hand nut on the air filter covers somewhat fiddly on the 3500 and 4300. "I’d prefer something a bit quicker to undo, perhaps with a slot for a combi spanner," he suggests.

He also notes that on these two models the primer bulb sticks out and has little protection. But on the 3601F, things are slightly different.

"It would seem a more domestic model but the air filter cover has clips that can be sprung open with a spanner and inside the wing nut on the filter is captive. That’s good — you shouldn’t lose it — and the primer bulb is more protected," says Cullen. The 3601 also has a fuel level window and tool-less blade tensioning.

Next the Oregon guide bars are dismantled. "The oiler system feeds out of two ports so you could fit a different guide bar if you wanted," says Cullen. "But the biggest advantage is that it doesn’t have a small oil hole that could block."

All the testers find these saws, aided by spring-assisted recoil starters, only take a light pull to fire into life. There is plenty of grunt when cutting and the saws as easy to manoeuvre. The chain brakes are responsive and vibrations are low. The only feature that takes some getting used to is the dab switch.

Model EA3500F/EA3601F/EA4300F
Engine 35cc/35.2cc/43cc
Output 2.3hp/2.4hp/3hp
Weight 4.9kg/4.2kg/4.8kg
Bar sizes 35cm or 40cm/35cm/38cm or 45cm
List price EA3500F: £427 + VAT (35cm) and £436 + VAT (40cm)/EA3601F: £320 + VAT/EA4300F: £510 + VAT (38cm) and £518 + VAT (45cm)
Tel Makita — 01908 211678


Aimed at ground workers, the rear-handled 201 has a gizmo that does everything for you. This one features electronics in the form of an engine management system that adjusts ignition timing and fuel metering in all operating modes.

This model takes into account a range of conditions such as altitude, temperature and fuel quality, along with timber and workload, to give a constant maximum speed as well as rapid acceleration.

All very good but, to be honest, the first thing we notice is the appearance of the 201. "It looks quirky," says Cullen. That is because the chassis is the same as that designed for the top-handled 201.

The second thing we notice is the weight — or lack of it. At just 3.9kg, this 35.2cc chainsaw is light, and with an output of 1.8kW it has a power-to-weight ratio of 2.2. It is also highly manoeuvrable. This is an agile all-rounder of a saw but we reckon it would be ideal for those situations where precision is essential.

There are a lot features we like — the slots on the air filter nut that provide leverage for a spanner, the pop-out flip grips on the fuel cap and the captive nuts on the sprocket. But Northard does not like lifting the Combi-lever switch to turn off the saw — it feels unnatural. At least it means you cannot accidentally leave the choke on.

In use we find it does everything expected of this brand. Typically Stihl, it is quick to accelerate and provides high cutting and plunging performance. Gardeners and landscapers should find it attractive. But typically arborists, the testers are showing more interest in the 150T top-handled model.

Engine 35.2cc
Output 1.8kW
Weight 3.9kg
Bar sizes 30cm or 35cm
List price £630 + VAT (30cm)/£640 + VAT (35cm)
Tel Stihl — 01276 20202


It is not intended to take over from the respected 201, but this lightweight arborist saw may be something you want to add to your kit for those lighter pruning jobs.

Initially it is the size and weight of the 150T that gets the testers talking. "It’s so lightweight.

It’s dinky and should appeal to anyone working in a tree," says Gardner. "You might think it is a bit Mickey Mouse — a bit of toy — but once you start using it you see the value."

Northard agrees: "It is highly manoeuvrable." But Chambers airs a word of caution. "Too lightweight can sometimes be bad," he suggests. "You have to remember it is still a chainsaw and as such should be respected," he points out.

The lack of weight certainly makes it easy to clip directly to the harness when needing to reposition within the tree. The metal loop at the base can easily be clipped to a karabiner.

Stihl ErgoStart means it is a doddle to fire up the machine. Cutting power is good and the quality of the cut is first rate. We used the new ¼in Picco cutting attachment.

If we have a problem with this saw it is with the front hand guard. Gardner clicks the chain brake on and off. "You see, the chain brake does seem to flop on and off a bit too easily," says Northard. Gardner adds: "You need to release the chain brake slowly or it comes back on again."

Engine 23.6cc
Output 1.0kW
Weight 2.6kg
Bar sizes 25cm or 30cm
List price £440 + VAT (25cm)/£450 + VAT (30cm)
Tel Stihl — 01276 20202

Echo CS-390ESX

The minute I handled this chainsaw at the Arb Fair last month, I knew our testers would love it — and they do. This is one powerful and lightweight saw and it has a few nifty features that should appeal to those working away from base.

Having revamped its brushcutters, Echo has turned to its chainsaws, and the 390 is the first in the series to get the makeover. Aimed at ground workers, this rear-handled model has a 38.4cc engine, but with an output of 1.9kW it feels more like a 45cc saw. But the weight is just 4.5kg.

"I really like it," says Chambers. "It’s a really good power-to-weight ratio." Buckton agrees: "For the size of the saw this is really powerful. It’s good, although it has a few ergonomic issues for me. I find the rear handle a bit uncomfortable when I turn the saw on its side."
Believing that arborists and regular chainsaw professionals should know how to adjust the carburettor, Echo has left this well alone. Electronics are only going onto domestic models in the range.

The tensioner is easy to access and the saw is easy to start, but look at this clever trick — the pull handle on the starter cord can be used to unlock the fuel cap. It is ingenious and, although we are not sure we will use it in preference to other tools, we think it may be useful as a last resort.

Engine 38.4cc
Output 1.9kW
Weight 4.5kg
Bar sizes 33cm or 38cm
List price £374.17 + VAT (33cm)/
£399.17 + VAT (38cm)
Tel Echo Tools — 0800 597 7777

Hyundai HYC3816/HYC4618/HYC5620

Hyundai has only been in the UK outdoor power tool market for a couple of years but already the company has a broad offering, including three chainsaws that are aimed at ground workers.

HYC3816 is the entry-level model and intended for domestic, estate and light commercial duties - whether logging, fencing or tree and hedge work. Moving through the series, model 4618 is a general-purpose saw, again suited to domestic and light professional users, while the 5620 is the power punching 56cc flagship model.

Inspection reveals some rough seams. "They made it but didn't finish it," says Martin. As with the Makitas, we would like spanner slots to help loosen the nut holding the air filter cover in place. We would also appreciate felling sight lines.

Some flex in the front hand-guard is noted, along with a somewhat eager chain brake on the 5620, but whatever is missing in the features department is more than made up for in performance - and these chainsaws have Oregon bars.

"The Hyundais are really easy to start, especially the biggest one," notes Buckton. "They feel nice, well balanced, and they cut nicely too."

Hyundai may be the new kid on the block in terms of chainsaws but we are impressed with these models. We are even more impressed when we learn the prices. These are ideal saws for use on the farm or estate.

Model: HYC3816/HYC4618/HYC5620
Engine: 38cc/46cc/43cc
Output: n/a/2.4hp/3.2hp
Weight: 5.3kg/8kg/8.5kg
Bar sizes: 40cm/46cm/50cm
Suggested retail price (SRP): £156.25/£193.75/£208.75
- all + VAT
Tel: Genpower - 01646 687880

Hyundai HYC2610 Top-handled

We have to be honest. Hyundai's professional top-handled saw has some issues. Firstly, we cannot fit a normal sized karabiner through the small hole. Neither will a lanyard thread through. In addition, the choke is not protected and potentially could snap off as the saw is hauled into the tree.

In use we find the front hand guard is far too close to the hand grip and it has some flex in it, reducing our confidence in the responsiveness of the chain brake. The hand guard is also solid - there are no viewing holes or slits so, depending on the cut you are trying to achieve, visibility of the blade can be impaired.

We have talked to Hyundai about these issues and are hopeful that they will be addressed because, in all other respects, this is a nice top-handled chainsaw. It is lightweight, well balanced, manoeuvrable, has a world-renowned Oregon bar and it cuts well.

Engine: 25.4cc
Weight: 3.2kg
Bar size: 25.5cm
SRP: £178.75 + VAT
Tel: Genpower - 01646 687880

Hyundai HYC36Li 36V

Battery power has come to the fore over the past few years so we are not surprised to see that Hyundai has developed the HYC36Li. It uses the same 36V battery as fits in the company's line trimmer, hedge trimmer and rotary mower.

Mention batteries and everyone wants to know the runtime and charge time. Hyundai does not disappoint. Runtime is 30-90 minutes depending on the timber and it takes 90 minutes to recharge. Expect 1,000 charges. Should you have a lot of work to do, a second battery will only cost an extra £48.

The quick tool-less tensioning on this saw suggests it is suitable for domestic use. There is also an oil fill indicator. What we would like to see is a light to indicate "live". In all other respects this is great little saw and should appeal to anyone trying to keep the noise down.

Chambers tests it against the college's Husqvarna battery saw. "It is heavier than the Husky but quieter," he notes. "This is ideal for those work places where you don't want noise pollution." The battery is well sealed. We reckon this saw is a good, clean alternative to petrol engines.

Battery: 36V Samsung 2.6Ah lithium-ion
Weight: 5.7kg (including battery)
Bar sizes: 30.5cm Oregon bar
No load rpm: 4,400
Chain speed: 8m/s
SRP: £255.36 + VAT (including battery and charger)
Tel: Genpower - 01646 687880

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