Best Budget Chainsaws in 2020
So, you’ve got trees but you’re not a lumberjack? Maybe it’s time to find the best budget chainsaw you can so that you can keep on moving forward without having to break the bank. We tested out various full-size chainsaws that were relatively light on the wallet to bring you the best.
You’re not out of luck if you’re looking for a little guy, a small chain saw, but we tested out fourteen different cheap chainsaws to see which was the best for home use. In the end, five of them made the cut, being well functioning, powerful saws that weren’t wallet-scaring while maintaining the right qualities for medium-duty or less.
Oregon is a big name in the world of chainsaws, and we were surprised to find this one fit well inside our budget. It’s powerful, robust, and you won’t have to worry about the maintenance that goes into a gasoline saw… as long as you have enough extension cord.
In This Article:
- 1 Top Pick
- 2 The 5 Top-Rated Budget Chainsaws
- 3 How We Defined a Budget Chainsaw
- 4 How We Picked Out Our Budget Chainsaws
- 5 How We Tested
- 6 5 Top Budget Chainsaws
- 7 Managing Larger Limbs
- 8 Don’t Forget Personal Protective Equipment
- 9 Budget Chain Saw FAQ
- 10 Get Choppin’!
The 5 Top-Rated Budget Chainsaws
|Best Overall||Oregon CS1500|
|Best Battery Powered Budget Chain Saw||EGO Power+ CS1600|
|Best Gasoline Operated||Craftsman CMXGSAMA426S|
|Runner Up for Best Gasoline Operated||Poulan Pro PR4218|
|Cheapest Awesome Budget Chain Saw||WORX WG304.1|
How We Defined a Budget Chainsaw
When we began looking into reviewing chainsaws we were surprised at some of the prices of the really high-end brands like Husqvarna and Oregon. We decided that, for the most part, these tools were massively overkill for the average property owner.
The chainsaws we tested this time around were all full-sized without being too large, with bars measuring from 16”-22”. Even 22” felt a bit overkill in the end, so the maximum size for any of our finalists ended up being 20”. There are cheap, larger chainsaws but we weren’t comfortable recommending them for home use since at that length they tend to get pretty unwieldy as we found in testing.
We also made sure that each was under $200 at the time of our purchase so that we could confidently recommend them as budget saws. Prices vary online, of course, but all of these should be on the lighter end of things even if the price jumps over our initial limit with time.
So, in this case, we’re talking about a specific subset of chainsaws: we’re only talking about chainsaws with 16”-20” bars which ran under $200.
How We Picked Out Our Budget Chainsaws
In this case, we skipped the professionals, heading straight to online reviews of the chainsaws and homesteading forums where such tools are often not only in high demand but have been tested on some pretty heavy-duty over a good period of time.
We relaxed our standards a bit from normal here, frankly there’s really no way to get a heavy-duty, professional-grade chainsaw while remaining on a tight budget. It just doesn’t work out in the end, since those who make their living with a chainsaw will often spend upwards of $500 on a saw that’s considered “middle-of-the-line” by professionals.
That meant a lot of carefully examining reviews. Something which a professional arborist found to be worthless might be just the thing for someone who just needs to cut down some branches for firewood and chunk them out.
For the most part, we paid attention to the following:
At lower price ranges we found that gas options tended to… well, they were mostly hard to start and had some issues. We did find one good model which we’d recommend, but it’s not going to compare to more expensive saws in the slightest.
Battery operated saws tended to skirt the edges at this price point, some being quite worthy of making our list and others being underpowered or going through the battery too quickly to be of a lot of use over time.
Plugin saws? Now we’re talking. At our established price point we found that you could get a pretty amazing budget chainsaw but you’re still going to be limited by the length of the extension cord so pick up one along with it that will reach across your backyard.
We always look at build quality, but in this case, we knew that it was going to suffer. We didn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel but with some of the saws that made it into our testing, it certainly felt that way.
So, in this case, our baseline was “good enough.” Don’t expect any of these saws to make it through more than a year of heavy-duty cutting on a daily basis, but they all hold together well enough they aren’t wrist breakers or any more dangerous than a regularly sized chainsaw.
Budget items are bound to break more frequently than those you buy which are high priced and geared towards professionals. They’re also harder to get comprehensive warranties on.
We recommend opting for an extra protection plan if it fits in your budget for the chainsaw, especially if you’re planning on using your low-priced chainsaw for more than light duty.
Make sure to check whether the warranty currently offered is limited or not and what the specifications are. Otherwise, you may end up with a lemon and not be able to do anything about it at all.
How We Tested
When it comes down to it, the real-world performance of the chainsaws meant a lot more to us than the manufacturer’s claims. In this case, we brought in a ton of different models, found someone who needed some logs cut, and got to work.
We checked all of the chainsaws functions before we got to chopping with them. Anything the manufacturer claimed needed to be checked, we’ve seen lemons before and quite often they’re deep down in the lower price range of a tool. Many of them don’t make our lists, but in this case, everything seemed above board on most of the saws.
In this price range, for instance, we definitely didn’t have to test too many electric brakes. While these safety features are nice, they can still fail in the field and if you’re careful and want to look at it optimistically you can argue it teaches good habits if you’re not familiar with using a chain saw.
We took careful notes of how hard the gas models were to start. Afterwards we ran them with no load for a considerable period of time, allowing us to try and gauge how well the throttles worked and whether they maintained a constant rate of speed or had spurts of energy. Only a few of the really cheap gas saws had any problems during this phase.
Our favorites broke down as follows:
- The Oregon CS1500 was a corded model with a surprising amount of power. It also had an 18” bar, which we felt put it in a class of its own when it came to plug-in chainsaws and for use around the home, it’s as easy as picking up a large extension cord.
- Meanwhile, the EGO Power+ CS1600 was about as powerful and worked on a battery. However, the 56V battery is a bit odd and it came pretty close to the price cutoff when we bought it on sale and has since breached the mark.
- For a big saw, the Craftsman CMXGSAMA426S comes in three variations ranging up to 20” which is just under the cutoff at the time of this writing. The 16” and 18” variants are powered by a 42cc motor while the larger 20” bar is run by a 46cc motor.
- The Poulan Pro PR4218 was another option for a budget gasoline-powered model. We were surprised to find it performs up to the brand’s name but we have some questions about the long term durability after reading other user reports.
- Finally, the 15A WORX WG304.1 was a budget… budget chainsaw. It performed well, but we’d primarily recommend it for light duty. It’s about the best chainsaw under $100 you’ll ever find though.
They’re all great saws for the price, but we’re still pretty sure that a professional isn’t likely to be satisfied with any of them for long. If you’re just managing your own backyard and maybe helping out a friend here and there then you’re going to end up loving any one of these saws but some are definitely better for certain uses than others.
5 Top Budget Chainsaws
Without further ado, let’s jump right into a bit more depth with our favorite saws. Only five made the cut this time, but we fell that each is a worthy recommendation so pay attention and see which one will make your weekend tree pruning and firewood chopping easier.
At A Glance:
- Bar Size: 18”
- Power: 15 Amp
- Weight: 12.6lbs
The first thing we noticed about the CS1500 was that it was quite heavy for a corded chainsaw, especially one which is available so cheaply. It feels like it can really lay into logs and the 15 amp motor and 18” bar are sure to make short work of anything in your path.
There was one thing: for the “self-sharpening” effect to take place, you’ll have to keep the saw well lubricated. From what we gathered on other user reports it seems that it mostly just makes the chain last quite a bit longer between sharpenings.
That aside, we found the saw to be one of the beastliest electric chain saws we’d ever seen. The other corded model, which can be found below, also boasts of a 15 Amp motor but the cutting power isn’t even close.
Perhaps most significantly this thing came in well under our proposed $200 limit. It’s an excellent deal for a large and powerful saw, just make sure you have enough extension cord for it. Keep in mind the usual fare may not do it, 15 Amps is a lot of current.
Best Battery Powered Budget Chain Saw
EGO Power+ CS1600
At A Glance:
- Bar Size: 16”
- Power: 56V Battery
- Weight: 8.7lbs
We checked before we sat down to compile our data and we think this one crept a bit over the mark by the time this will be posted. That said, we recommend spending the extra few bucks if you want a battery-operated chainsaw, because this thing is fantastic.
Keep in mind that even though this one costs a bit more, it’s still not a professional saw. Still, it gives you a ton of power while letting you avoid the pain of carrying a cord or having to deal with the maintenance that comes alongside a gasoline-operated saw.
It’s particularly taken hold with preppers, who find that it’s one of the best around to have when the power is out and a tree is blocking the road. The battery seems to be quite long-lasting, if not super-fast charging.
Is it comparable to a DeWalt battery-operated saw? Probably not, but it comes in at about half of the price of a similar-sized chainsaw from the big name brand while still doing a great job.
Best Gasoline Operated
At A Glance:
- Bar Size: 16”-20”
- Power: 42cc, 46cc for 20” bar
- Weight: 24lbs
If a gas-operated saw on a budget is what you’re looking for, then Craftsman have you covered. We used both the 16” and 20” models in our testing to make sure that we had the full run of utility. It’s also one of the few chainsaws under our budget that came with a 20” bar.
It’s heavy, so keep that in mind. 25lbs isn’t something to take lightly if you have an all-day job ahead of you. However, we found the weight helped quite a bit once the tree was felled and the low kickback bar did its job when we made cuts through logs nearing the capacity of the bar.
It’s a two-stroke motor, so make sure you pick up the requisite oil and pay careful attention to the manual on how to mix the oil in. While a pain due to the extra maintenance required, there’s a lot to be recommended in performance.
Is it going to beat a Husqvarna head-to-head? Probably not, but we’re talking budget saws here and this was the most powerful of the ones we tested by a long shot.
Runner Up for Best Gasoline Operated
Poulan Pro PR4218
At A Glance:
- Bar Size: 18”
- Power: 42cc
- Weight: 13.25lbs
For those looking for an alternative, and we understand with the current situation Craftsman tools often find themselves in, this was the second-best of the gasoline-powered chainsaws that we ran through the battery.
While it performed well during testing we noticed that a lot of people in forums complained the saw required extensive maintenance beyond the basics really quickly. We didn’t see it in our testing, so you might be taking a gamble with quality control.
That said, in our tests, it performed as well as we’d expect a Poulan chainsaw to run. That is to say dead in the middle, average to good. It was powerful but not quite comparable to the Craftsman. It ran smoothly and was lighter however so we’re sure it’s a good idea for certain people.
So, the bad parts are largely theoretical as far as we’re concerned. The one thing we do know is that ours went fine and the vast majority of people were quite happy with the saw. Chainsaws are easy to abuse, so we also have to assume that some failures occurred through ignorance.
Cheapest Awesome Budget Chain Saw
At A Glance:
- Bar Size: 18”
- Power: 15A
- Weight: 11.3lbs
It’s cheap, lightweight, and powerful. The WORX WG304.1 was the cheapest saw that we tried and as the brand often does it surprised us. This saw cuts quite well for the amperage, although nothing like the Oregon, and is lightweight enough to be wielded by almost anyone.
It’s easy to work on, allowing you to even change the chain entirely without needing to use any tools. It was also a surprisingly stable saw despite the light weight and overall… well, it feels cheaper than most chainsaws.
That said, it seems to be durable enough for regular light-to-medium duty. We didn’t encounter any issues during our testing and it was a favorite among reviewers for the lower weight and the excellent ergonomic handle.
Most surprisingly, for a chainsaw under $100, it even has a great electric brake. All of this together made it win out over saws that cost quite a bit more and we’d recommend it to anyone who has a small backyard and needs to get some sawing done.
Managing Larger Limbs
If you’ve decided to get serious about sawing and you’re here, then chances are you’re looking to handle a real workload and not just something you probably could have handled with a good set of trimmers.
Felling larger limbs can be quite dangerous, especially with a chainsaw. You may be best served with a pole saw to handle smaller limbs.
Don’t use a chainsaw on a ladder if you can avoid it. People get killed every year attempting it and you really don’t want to end up as a statistic do you?
Instead, it may be best to hire a professional to cut down any limbs that a standard pole saw can’t bring down. If you have experience then you can rope off to the tree, but we don’t recommend trying this as an amateur.
For the best results, any limb which you can safely cut and want to remove should be removed in 12”-24” chunks, starting at the end of the limb. In doing so you can avoid dropping hundreds of pounds to the ground all at once.
If you’re felling a tree then things are a bit trickier.
The first thing you’ll need to do is clear the ground around the tree and decide what the safest direction to allow the tree to fall. The tree shouldn’t be too much wider than your bar and narrower is much better.
Clearing the ground is important. It’s not to save the forest, it’s to allow you to calmly walk away in whichever direction you might need to. If something happens and the tree falls unexpectedly, you need to be able to flee so clearing only one escape route is a terrible idea.
Afterward, clear any roots which are sitting above the soil surrounding the tree.
Cutting a directional notch is tricky, and we recommend watching some videos on it before attempting it at the very least. Even better, you should see if you know anyone who knows how to fell trees first.
You’ll then cut a notch out of the tree at about a 60-degree angle with two cuts. This notch should go about a quarter of the way into the trunk.
Afterwards, you’ll bring in a horizontal cut from the back, aiming at the top of the upwards cut which removed the notch. A felling wedge is then used to tip the tree over in the direction of the notch.
As tempting as it may seem do not walk away directly behind the tree once it begins to fall. Instead, take a 90-degree angle off from the felling direction, keeping your eyes on the tree the whole time. If you go directly in the other direction you risk getting hit with a splintered trunk as the tree breaks.
Consult a professional if you’re looking at anything you’re not sure of. Tree felling and cutting large limbs is much more difficult and dangerous than it appears to most laymen.
Don’t Forget Personal Protective Equipment
Personal Protective Equipment is essential with a chainsaw, especially with those that are getting into the full range size.
You may see professionals skip some of this stuff when OSHA isn’t looking in their direction but we strongly recommend all of the following:
- Good safety glasses or steel mesh mask
- A hard hat
- Cut-resistant gloves
- Chainsaw chaps
- Steel-toed boots
- Earplugs or muffs
We’d consider all of those except maybe the chaps essential for an amateur.
Fortunately, if you don’t want to hunt down each piece of gear Husqvarna has a ready-to-go set.
Budget Chain Saw FAQ
Here we go again, anticipating questions and answering those that our reviewers came up with during the testing process. If you’ve got a question for us, ask in the comments below and we’ll get back to you soon!
What’s the right ratio of two-stroke oil to gasoline?
Unfortunately, different saws will use different ratios. Of those we looked at all of them were either 50:1 or 40:1 so you should expect that to be about standard. For instance, all Husqvarna chain saws run on 50:1. If in doubt… consult the manual.
When should I call an arborist instead of grabbing a budget chainsaw and doing it myself?
Any time you don’t feel comfortable with a chainsaw in your hands… well, you’re not going to have a good time and being nervous or unsteady is a fantastic way to get hurt. For high branches you can’t reach or cut with a pole saw, get someone to fell it. You can always save yourself some money on labor costs by chunking down the large limbs yourself.
What bar size do you recommend?
For the average person? 18” is a great size for a full-size chainsaw. If you’re over 6’2” or so you may still feel comfortable with a 20” bar but anything bigger than that is getting into professional territory. 16” bars are great for those with less physical strength and are usually sufficient for anything which needs to be done around the home.
Can anyone learn to use a chainsaw?
We didn’t have any trouble teaching our reviewers, but we did have someone experienced on hand and we weren’t exactly felling trees during testing. We recommend learning as much as you can before attempting anything serious, YouTube videos are great and Husqvarna runs an educational blog that focuses on teaching people how to use chainsaws safely.
What if I have a high limb but don’t want to call an arborist?
Don’t use a ladder. Do use a safety harness. Be extremely careful. Using a chainsaw while in a tree is a totally different ball game and we really recommend you don’t do anything risky yourself. Chainsaw injuries, even the survivable ones, are a life-changing event.
Are any of these budget chain saws suitable for milling?
No. Seriously, don’t attempt it. You’ll either lock the saw in the log or suffer from some massive kickback. Even if you purchase a special ripper chain for cutting against the grain of the wood… these budget saws simply aren’t going to do it.
So, you convinced that you can get a great chainsaw for under $200? We must say that we were honestly surprised at just how awesome many of these saws are although admittedly none are professional grade.
Still, if you need a chainsaw and don’t plan on taking out a loan… well, we think your back yard deserves it.