Appropriate chain saw size

joecool85September 20, 2007

I was wondering what size chain saw I will need when I start cutting my own wood for firewood. I am 5'10" 140lbs, I'll be cutting trees mostly about 12-14" across but some as large as 18" or so. My dad gave me his Poulan 2375 (WildThing) and I'm putting a chainbrake on it, it was an older model without one. So for now thats what I have. It is 42cc w/18" bar and it seems to cut well. There was a 17" pine that, when the bar was all the way in the tree, it bogged down on.

I'm thinking of upgrading next year when I get a house. I'm expecting I'll be cutting between 4-6 cords a year. This includes felling and bucking. I'm thinking something around 45-50cc and an 18" bar would do it for me and then I could put a 14" bar on the Poulan and use it for light work.

A couple saws come to mind but I'm not sure if I want a "mid grade" saw or a high end consumer saw. Would the latter make it through 10 years of cutting or so?

The saws I've been looking at mostly are the Echo CS-520 and the Stihl MS-270. They both cost about $360 and look like sweet saws. But I wonder if a MS-250 or CS-440 would do it, both of which are about $300. Maybe I'm looking at the wrong saws altogether, let me know.

For now the little Poulan is working well, even though the carb needs tweeking every few hours of use. And since this year I'm just cutting down trees and stuff around my parent's place it's no big deal. I just like to have all my ducks in a row ahead of time so I know how much I will be spending next year. This year I'm going to be sinking a little over $100 in PPE so I can have a helmet, ear protection, screen and chaps. I've got some gloves and I'll get steel toed boots before I start felling a lot of trees.

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I bought a used Stihl 028 Wood Boss with an 18" bar years ago and I wouldn't have any other brand of saw now. If your planning on doing a lot of cutting in the future, don't buy a wanna-be saw.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2007 at 2:58PM
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canguy(British Columbia)

Most saws under 50cc are underpowered with an 18" bar. The CS520 or MS270 should serve you well. The really important thing is finding a knowledgeable dealer who will look after you.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2007 at 4:27PM
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Is there some sort of chart for how much engine you should have for what size bar?

IE - 40cc engine - 14" bar, 45cc engine - 16" bar, 50cc engine - 18" bar etc ?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2007 at 6:27PM
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canguy(British Columbia)

No. I get customers wanting a long bar on a small saw. I tell them it is like hooking a 35' fifth wheel to a 4 cylinder pickup. It will work, just don't ask it to go far. This is where an experienced dealer is valuable.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2007 at 9:11PM
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I haven't really gone in to talk to any dealers since the purchase is about a year away and I'm just fact finding now. But I think I've done enough research to have figured out good bar sizes / engine combos.

Homeowner/Firewood Saw -- Professional/Power saw
30cc - 10" ------------------------- 40cc - 12"
35cc - 12" ------------------------- 45cc - 14"
40cc - 14" ------------------------- 50cc - 16"
45cc - 16" ------------------------- 55cc - 18"
50cc - 18" ------------------------- 60cc - 20"

Obviously those are just guidelines, but it seems to be that those are the sizes people like running.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2007 at 7:02AM
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I have some strong opinions about saws and there use, some may agree or disagree. Remember this is only my opinion and what I have experienced over several years of using different types of saws.

IMO your wild thing will have a hard time cutting larger trees. IMO the chain bar is too thin and the teeth are too small. Unless you keep the chain adjusted, oiling system free, and the teeth sharp it will never cut straight through large logs without smoking the chain.

Once you smoke the chain from too much pressure, too high RPM with no oiling, or the poor oiling system, you basiclly have to spend 30 mins sharpen the chain, cleaning out the bar to get it to get any oil. For this reason if you plan on cutting everyday 18 or 20 inch Stihl or Husv. would be a wise investment providing you do the required maintenance on the bar and chain IMO.

Buy you a oregon 14" bar and chain for your wild thing and it would make a good trim saw IMO.

Keeping the chain sharp and the oiling system oiling on any saw it the key IMO. Loose either and a thousand dollar saw won't cut apple worth a darn.

I can usually tell when hearing someone using a chain saw by saw RPM and length of a cut wheather a person knows how to cut or the saw chain is dull and not oiling, especially if they are using the back and forth movement like using a hand saw.

IMO most homeowners don't clean, adjust, and sharpen the chain near enough, not to mention keeping the automatic oiling system working to give the chain a chance to cut like it is susposed too.

Polan makes durable saw for occassional use, if you keep the oiling system working and the chain sharp and adjusted properly. I have one that I worn out three chains and bars cutting out stumps will IMO will test the limits of any brand saw due to the hardness of the wood and the conditions your cutting in.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2007 at 7:46AM
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Please budget for safety gear, if you don't have any. Get a helmet with face shield and earmuffs, and a pair of chaps. That's what I see the pros using.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2007 at 8:07AM
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You got it flgargoyle, as I mentioned in my first post, I'm going to be dropping around $100 this year in PPE. $70 for a pair of stihl chaps and $35 or so for a helmet with ear protection and a face screen. I'm not decided on what helmet yet, but I'll be getting one.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2007 at 8:55AM
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If there's any Dolmar dealers in your area, be sure to check out the 510 or PS-5100 (the latter is a little more money).

As far as bar size + engine size, any chainsaw that is truly good quality will have no problems running a 18" bar. One of the most popular chainsaw models we sell is a 47cc, we sell them with mostly 18" bars, once a 20" bar. Never under 18". Never had a complaint. The brand we sell is top-of-the line as far as quality, very high torque, they are slightly heavier than brands such as Husqvarna & Stihl, and cut slower, but if treated right they'll last like no other.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2007 at 7:53PM
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masiman(z7 VA)

Dolmar does make some very nice saws. They can be hard to find dealer wise, but they are a fantastic value.

Since you are going to be cutting firewood, you could also consider something with a longer bar, maybe 20". You won't have to stoop over as much and the larger saw will cut quicker. The saw will be heavier but that should not be a problem given how much cutting you have. If you have a Home Depot near you, next time you need to rent one, try their saw. They rent the Makita 6401. This saw is just a rebadged Dolmar 6400. If you try that 6401 next your Poulan, you might not be able to go with the smaller displacements.

It seems that the max bar size recommended is pretty good. They are the max, but the sweet spot seems to be in the next bar size down.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2007 at 2:18PM
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I like my Shindaiwa 488. Compared to my previous Husqvarna 55 it is lighter, more powerful, easier starting and more fuss free. As far as bar length, one rule of thumb is that whatever bar length is standard for any particular saw is 2" too long. My brother has my dad's Stihl 028 and it is still running after more than 25 years.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2007 at 9:28AM
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I guess what it boils down to is that I need to get more chain saw experience before I know what I will want for a new one. I'll be cutting a handfull more trees this weekend with the wild thing after installing the chainbrake. I gotta test out my new gear (chaps, new hearing protection and eye protection, gloves). By test I just mean wear my new gear, hopefully I don't really get to test them as that would be dangerous lol.

Anyway, I cut a lot of pine. The wild thing almost went through an 18" pine no problem, it slowed down in the middle a bit. But, I know now that the chain was a little dull, and I was running 5w 20 motor oil in the bar (temp fix, ran out of bar oil and needed to get this tree gone). I bought more bar oil and will be sharpening the chain before I cut, we'll see how it goes. I think since the 42cc Poulan seems to be almost enough power to push an 18" bar that a 45cc Stihl/Echo would be just fine with an 18" bar.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2007 at 7:47AM
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masiman(z7 VA)

Pine is pretty easy to cut. The worst part about it is the sap. If you put the Poulan into hardwood it will perform very different.

My Stihl 026 is a 50cc engine. Stihl recommends 16-20". I don't anyone disagrees that a 16" bar on that saw is what works best. There are some that run an 18" but they seem to be few, and I don't hear them say that the 18" runs as well or better than the 16". Point is, you could probably run an 18" but it won't be optimum. If you are only cutting pine, you should have no problems other than tar.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2007 at 1:59PM
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Sounds good. Most of the stuff I cut is 12" or less in diameter, but I do enough 16-18" wood to want the extra length.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2007 at 3:41PM
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vangellis(NE PA)

Hi JC85.
Another one to put in the mix is the Husqvarna 350. 52 cc w/18" bar. Good consumer chain saw for heavier work. I preferred this one because it was light weight for the power. I'm not a big guy, so that was a main consideration for me. Just another factor to consider. Narrow your selection then go and handle some of the saws your interested in. That should narrow it some more.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2007 at 9:37PM
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For the money I'd spend on a 350 I'd rather go out and buy a MS270, real nice saw. With all the research I've done it seems I need:

Semi-pro/Medium grade saw
$300-360 depending on what model I choose

Thats actually what I was originally thinking, but I didn't know if I could save some money and get a consumer saw from Stihl and have it be good enough. Apparently that'd be a waste of money. For now, since I'm not cutting to make a living or to heat my house yet, I'll keep using that 2375 and get more experience. Then I'll probably move up in the world with a used Stihl/Husqvarna/Echo or whatever I can find for a good deal. I didn't realize, but a lot of good used saws are out there.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2007 at 3:46AM
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masiman(z7 VA)

There are alot of used saws out there, but alot of times you get what you paid for. I have 3 used saws. They have cost me from 60-90% the cost of a new saw after the repairs. If it costs you 2/3 the cost of new after fixing, you are probably better off getting new. You'll have the warranty and no wondering about how the saw was run and treated before you. Plus you can get exactly what you want at the time of purchase.

If you like tinkering with 2 strokes, the economics change a little. I did some of my own tinkering but I have had to learn. It's fun but time consuming. I'll learn to do what I need to but fixing won't become a hobby of mine.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2007 at 8:57AM
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The ms250 has 3hp vs 3.4hp for the ms 270. In addition to the hp, the 270 has better anti vibration system and the intellicarb which adjust the fuel mixture for dirty air filters. I have a stihl ms 250 with 18 inch bar. I've cut down a few tree's around 12-14 inches in diameter and had no problems. The extra hp and features of the 270 are nice, but you have to decide it you want to pay the extra $$ for them. For the price the ms 250 is a good saw plus you can save some $$ for wedges, hearing protection etc.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2007 at 9:55AM
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The problem with the MS250 is that it is an "occasional use" saw and I want to cut 5-6 cords/yr with it. I've found a handful of use 026's for a little under $300 in good condition and thats a PRO saw.

And masiman you have good advice, however I do all of my own work on my equipment and am well versed in 2 cycle engines. Specifically snowmobiles and mopeds, but I have done a lot of work on weedwackers as well. I am new to chainsaws, but not 2 strokes.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2007 at 10:12AM
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masiman(z7 VA)

The 250 is a decent saw. Where I am coming from is that I had a 250 for a little over a year as my only saw. I have since sold that to a neighbor and now have have the 026 for my general use saw, a Stihl 200T for climbing and the Makita 6401/Dolmar 6400 for larger diameter.

The 250 does well. You can run that saw pretty hard for what it is. You can climb with although it is a little bit heavy for extended climbing. You can put an 18" on it but it will definitely perform better with a 16".

I'd strongly vote for you getting a saw larger than the 40-50cc you are looing at. Something in the 60-70cc range. I say this because you have your Wild Thing that is not the greatest saw but it is running and cutting well. Why pay money to buy something the same size but better built and stronger unless you have to get rid of the other one? Keep that Wild Thang and get a saw that will compliment it. And I will guarantee that if you get a 60-70cc Pro or at least mid-range Husky, Stihl or Dolmar, you may find yourself barely ever picking up the Wild Thang except when you need the lighter weight, when your bigger one is down or if a buddy is over helping you cut.

I am not well versed in the Husky's but I know the 1xx series are not Husky made, I think they are Poulan made. The 3xx series I think is there pro grade, especially XP models. I also think the 4xx series is there mid range. The 346 I think is equivalent to the Stihl 260. By many accounts the 346 is a better saw. On the other hand, the 260 design has been around for 20 years and is tried and true. You can get Husky parts mailorder. I assume shop manuals are available.

The mid-range Stihl's are very reliable. They are also heavy and harder to work on. Shop manuals are not easily available for Stihl. You can find them though if you know where to look. Although I don't know if it would be harder to get a manual for a mid-range saw, I just don't see the calls for them and therefore don't know if they are as readily available. Parts are only through Stihl dealers, but they are plentiful enough for most. That 360 is a very, very nice saw. The 440 is a great saw too.

The Dolmar/Makita line is not a widely known brand but they really rock. Their biggest downfall is dealer support. Their pro models are xx00/xx01. You can get parts mail order. There are a couple dealers that are great to work with for them.

With your engine experience, you're a great candidate for a used saw. In person is better than over the net for these purchases as you know. But if your model is harder to find, you may have to do the net thing. There are some specific tools you will have to either make or buy if you want to be able to do full engine breakdowns. As far as I know, some of the tools are chainsaw and even manufacturer specific.

If you get a chance, rent a chainsaw from your HD. I have not heard of there being anything but Makita 6401s, but make sure you get one of those. Try that sucker out and see if you can live without a saw that size :).

Post a way I can send you a note offline.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2007 at 1:29PM
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I appreciate all the advice masiman. I'm a little worried about the weight of some of the saws. I'm not wimpy, but I am a small guy. 140lbs. The weight of the wild thing is fine at about 11lbs (powerhead only), so I'm shooting for around that if possible. The idea of a used 260/026 really gets me going because it seems perfect powerwise, its a pro saw and it only weighs 10.6 lbs!

And yeah, I am planning on keeping the wild thing. I'm thinking of getting a 14" bar for it so that it can really rip instead of just barely cut.

You can email me - joe at

    Bookmark   September 28, 2007 at 3:00PM
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That's what I'd do.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2007 at 9:44PM
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masiman(z7 VA)

Which would you do giventake9? Get the larger saw or get the 026?

joecool, I'm a small guy too, 143lbs. That 026 is a great saw for its weight and size, but its function will only overlap your Wild Thing. A guy that posts on here sometimes, "computeruser", has what he calls a three saw plan. There can be some variation on what the exact size ranges are but the basic duties are a quick lightweight saw for trimming and small cutting. Something probably in the 30-40cc range. A midweight do everything saw that gets used most of the time. In the 50cc range, probably 11 lbs. and under. A large saw +65cc. For felling, bucking and firewood.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2007 at 9:15AM
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So, since I'm thinking about the "two saw rule," being the 2375 and another saw, what would you recommend? Think a 290 would be too much saw? It's 13lbs just for the powerhead, but its $20 cheaper than the 50cc 270 !

btw, I installed the chain brake on the 2375, sharpend the chain and cut a couple pines with it. One was 20" through and that poor saw had no chance, it bogged down and the chain stopped 3 times. I wasn't even forcing the saw, it just couldn't take it. It did do it, but it took a while longer than I wanted it to. It does great with anything less than 12" or so, even 14" maybe. It'll definetly get a 14" bar whenever I get a bigger saw that can cut the larger wood.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2007 at 10:33PM
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