Sunday, November 6, 2011

How I Learned to Love My Chainsaw

This morning I was reading how tragedy struck at Misty Meadows, and her comment on getting her own firewood made me think, I should write a little post on chainsaws.

I grew up on a farm, with a wood stove.  Dad cut the firewood while mom, big brother and I loaded it up.  It was just another part of our country life.  I never expected to use a chainsaw.

Fast forward a few years.  Husband and I move to a big old farm house with an itty bitty wood stove.  The Bigs were little- 9 & 8.  The Littles were very little- 4 & 2.  Husband cut some firewood.  The boys and I loaded it.  We nearly froze that first winter, with gas bills through the roof. 

The following summer we took the firewood a bit more seriously.  But with Husband on the road, it was a losing battle.  The chainsaw scared me.

Until one day, we were out and about and got sucked into this infomercial playing at Canadian Tire.  I bought a Lopper.  A miniature electric tree trimmer chainsaw with a little 6" blade, and guards over both sides of the blade.  It worked like a great big pair of scissors.

Oh, how I loved my lopper.  I started out with branches and dead wood that I could drag up to the house on my own.  Then I'd cut it into firewood and pile it.  After a while I had Husband cutting wood into manageable sizes when he was home, and then I'd cut it into firewood size at home when he wasn't around.  Sometime after that we bought a generator, and Husband built a trailer for it, and I could take my lopper out into the woods.

It survived three years of hard work- much more than it was ever designed to handle- and my only complaint was that it does have enough power to saw right through it's extension cord.  Crap!  Eventually, after our move up north, the scissor action failed, but the motor was still good.  Dad took it apart for me and turned it into a mini chainsaw.  It worked, but it was awkward to use that way.  I bought a second lopper, but as with most things these days, the new version just wasn't as good as the original, and the scissor action failed within a few months.

I got more comfortable with chainsaws through this process, and used Husband's 18" Poulon on occasion, out in the woods.  I could handle it, but it was big and heavy and awkward.  It was older, and a pull until your arm feels like it's going to fall off model.  By this point I was cutting the majority of the firewood for the house.  We had bought 11 chords of wood our first winter here- $750- and it didn't last three months.  We also went through over $1200 of oil.  A new chain saw seemed pretty cheap, all things considered.  I bought a 14" poulon.  It got the job done.  It was still pretty heavy, and it vibrated a lot.  The one I bought had a 'no tools needed' plastic screw cap over the chain.  I'm not sure if that was the cause or not, but I seemed to spend almost as much time putting the chain back on that saw as I spent cutting with it.

My next saw was a spur of the moment, that looks so cool, gotta have it purchase.  We were at home depot in the spring, and they were having a clearance sale.  Amongst a pile of assorted crap, sat this tiny little 14" Echo.  It was very light, had very little vibration, worked like a charm.  I loved my Echo.  Something happened to it this spring.  It started vibrating a lot.  To the point that I would be in tears after a couple of hours.  Husband kicked my ass and took me shopping.

We bought a 16" Husqavarna from Canadian Tire.  It was too cheap, and I should have known better.  Dad had a Husqavarna.  They used to be the top of the line, and incredibly expensive.  But you get what you pay for.  And now they sell them cheap at Canadian Tire.  But you get what you pay for.  Apparently Husqavarna has undergone some changes in recent years, so, if you go out and buy yourself one of these cheap saws, you are really just buying a poulon inside the shell of the Husqavarna.  You are paying for the name.  Not good. 

Besides that, the eco engine laws made all the manufacturers redesign their engines so they are more environmentally friendly.  I checked out a new Echo, and I swear it's twice the size and weight of my old one.  I was not a happy lumberjack this year.

The Husqavarna/Poulon works ok, but it's heavy and awkward.  It can be a pain to start.  It wears me out.  Mostly I kept using my Echo, after Husband ripped it apart, cleaned it out, tightened up some loose screws.  It was better, but still not like it should be.

So, mid summer, on another shopping trip, we went into this little shop in the city looking for quad parts.  They also happened to be a Stihl dealer.  So I browsed a bit.  They had a 12 inch tree trimmer saw that was just over 6 pounds.  I played with it for a bit.  The weight was nice, but the balance seemed off.  They had a 14" on sale.  I played with it too.  To be honest, I didn't really like it.  I was still pretty sour about not being able to buy a new Echo.  I wasn't happy with the Husqavarna.  I'd never used a Stihl or seen one in action.  It was only 8.3 pounds.

We left, did some other shopping.  I kept tossing it around in my head.  We went back.  I played with them some more.  I bought the 14".

I have to say a few things about the experience.  Nobody bugged me while I was playing with the saws.  Most places send someone over right away.  Like they're afraid I'm going to mess up their display or something.  This place just let me fiddle around with one saw after another until I made up my mind.  I like that. 

When I decided which one I wanted, they were very helpful, and chatty.  We discussed my echo, the eco changes, even the Husqavarnas.  They used to sell them, but stopped a year or so earlier, when the company changes stopped them from being able to back up their products.  They do repairs on site.  They sold me an additional 2 year warranty (which I normally always refuse on PITA principle).  Any issues for the next three years, I walk in and hand them my saw, they fix it.  No sending it off somewhere, no wondering what's going to happen.  Right there.  On site.

The extended warranty cost $20, and came with a six pack of premium chain saw oil.  And they took the time to explain to me why I shouldn't be buying cheap 2 cycle oil from Canadian Tire for my chainsaws.  Specialty oil has a different burn rate.  That change alone has got the rest of our saws working much better, and starting much easier.

I got it home and put it to work.  It's a bit heavier than my Echo- maybe a pound or two.  It has a small gas tank, so I am refilling it constantly.  It vibrates a bit, but it's up my left arm, where I can handle it.  I mangled my right wrist as a child, so that's where I usually have issues.  It slices like butter.  I thought it was just the 'new chain effect' at first.  But even after a few months of me sharpening it, it slices like butter.  I have to attribute that to the way it's balanced.  It's a good sturdy saw, and I'm very happy with it. 

It's also made in the US.  My Echo was assembled in Canada with parts made in the US and Italy.  I couldn't tell you where the others were made- or if they're still made there now.

  I can't say I love it (yet), because I'm still heart broken over my Echo.  This winter I'll be taking both saws into the shop for tune ups and repairs.  Next spring I'll see which one I love best.

There is such a thing as the right tool for the job.  If you're cutting huge trees, you might need a huge saw.  There aren't too many trees in our woods that are too big for my saw, although some times I have to plan my cuts a bit differently.  If you only cut a little bit of wood occasionally, a bigger all purpose saw might be the way to go.  If you're spending a lot of days in the bush cutting a lot of wood, believe me, the lightest saw that will do the job with the least vibration is what you need.


  1. Thanks for the Husqvarna warning. I have been wanting a Husqvarna sewing machine for a long time. Maybe I don't anymore.

  2. Wendy:

    awesome post - really good story!

    MAN - you cut a lot of wood! i took the Husqvarna plunge at a local dealer (who fixes them too) an opted for a 353 E-TECH which is a pretty high level machine. that was on a recommendation from a seasoned woodcutter friend of ours. it works really well. very little vibration. it weighs 11 pounds.

    i have seen the husky @ CT and you can tell the difference right away. mine is a proper saw - you do get what you pay for.

    i am glad you finally got a saw you are somewhat happy with - hope it grows on you!


  3. Thanks Jambaloney! I hope yours works out for you too. Your model looks more like my dads old one. I'm sure the Stihl will grow on me, I'm just not a big fan of change, lol.