While we've tackled our thoughts on the best professional chainsaw and the best battery chainsaw, we know some people have their favorites. Stihl remains one of the most popular brands and many of our professional reviewers have experience with this brand. Even though we recommend the best Stihl chainsaws, it's clear we have to balance our reviews and opinions with specific applications. What you intend to do with your Stihl chainsaw guides our recommendations as much as the saw itself.
Best STIHL Chainsaw Overall
Stihl MS 261 CM Chainsaw (best value Stihl chainsaw)
The Stihl MS 261 CM Chainsaw is proudly made in the USA. It mirrored the fuel efficiency and low emissions characteristics of the MS 261, but with the addition of Steele's M-Tronic engine management system. The system uses a small computer to monitor and automatically adjust the fuel mix to account for things like altitude, temperature, fuel quality and (our favorite) dirty air filters.
We have tested the MS 261 CM and it is amazing at maintaining chain speed even when the air filter is nearly clogged. We don't recommend running the saw like that on purpose, but it gives a good demonstration of the efficiency of the system. This saw is simply a workhorse. With guide bar options ranging from 16" to 20", you can use it for almost any type of wood cutting.
You can find this saw for under $600. Based on the performance and value it offers, we really think it's the best STIHL chainsaw for the money.
STIHL MS 271 Farmkeeper Chainsaw
Some people see the words "Farm Boss" and immediately ignore the "Pro" status. We think this is a notable exception. Steele has done some amazing things with this line over the past few years. The original MS 271 came out in 2011. But it wasn't until Stihl granted the coveted "BOSS" status to the Stihl MS 271 Farm Boss chainsaw in 2015 that it officially replaced the much-loved MS 270 chainsaw.
The new MS 271 cuts emissions in half while adding a pre-separation air filtration system. That sounds like a lot of marketing material, except that it increases the life of the air filter by 5 times.
Stihl continues to improve their air filtration systems, creating saws that can run longer with less impact on performance – even if the air filter becomes severely clogged from work. Get this workhorse saw for around $420.
The best STIHL chainsaws for homeowners
Steele MS 250
For homeowners, we can't think of a better saw than the Stihl MS 250 Chainsaw. This $350 saw offers plenty of power, comes with an 18-inch chain, and combines some Pro features with an affordable saw for homeowners who want a reliable, powerful saw. For example, the MS 251 CB-E has a tool-less chain tensioner, but we actually prefer the side-entry wrench adjustment. Likewise, the MS 251 seems to prioritize fuel efficiency—we prioritize a more powerful cut with better features.
The best STIHL battery-powered chainsaw
STIHL MSA 220 CB
Stihl is one of the few companies that makes more than a few battery-operated chainsaws. The company currently has six different models. Of these, we really like the Stihl MSA 220 CB for its excellent power and runtime (over 40 minutes on the AP 300 S battery). It is also capable of holding 14" or 16" bars.
The saw retails for approximately $409 bare metal and comes with a 2-year commercial or 3-year residential warranty.
Best STIHL Top Handle Chainsaws
Steele MS 201 TC-M
Released in 2015, the 35.2cc engine on the Stihl MS201 TC-M is small, light and packs a lot of power. how light is it Just over 8 lbs before adding the crossbar and chain. Stihl added the M-Tronic engine management system, which automatically adjusts the fuel mix when needed.
The saw operates efficiently and with low emissions. You'll also benefit from a low-vibration design and great balance, which helps when you're climbing. Everything about this saw feels professional—from the easily accessible (and tool-free) fuel cap to the translucent tank so you can see when it's time to fill up.
Retail prices for this saw vary, but expect prices to be around $729, depending on bar size.
The Best STIHL Chainsaws for Tree Cutting or Farm Use
Stihl MS 500i Chainsaw with EFI
The Stihl MS 500i Chainsaw provides a lot of power for felling trees. Its 79cc (4.83 cubic inches) engine includes the use of electronic fuel injectors. Stihl uses the same technology on its TS 500i 14-inch brushless chop saw.
The MS 500i provides quick acceleration when performing various tasks related to felling trees. How fast is it going up? 0-62mph is achieved in a quarter of a second. That's fast.
Pushes 6.7 hp and weighs 13.9 lbs. The Stihl MS 500i saw also has an excellent power-to-weight ratio without fuel. A chainsaw without a choke? We will accept it. This saw costs around $1,350, and if you love it, you can plan on using it for over a decade.
The best STIHL chainsaw for cutting firewood
Women's 261 cm
For the best Stihl chainsaw for cutting firewood, we turn to our recommendation for the Stihl MS 261 CM. Besides the fact that this saw is our top recommendation overall, its M-Tronic engine management system automatically adjusts the fuel mix to keep the saw running no matter what (or where) you're cutting. It doesn't hurt that this saw is made in the USA.
We tested the MS 261 CM with an intentionally clogged air filter and there was very little that could stop this saw. You can usually pick it up for less than $600.
The best STIHL milling chainsaw
MS 881 Magnum Chainsaw (up to 41″ pole)
Can you find a chainsaw with a bigger shaft and more power? Sure, but the Stihl MS 881 Magnum chainsaw is the biggest Stihl has to offer right now. It directly replaces the acclaimed MS 880 and reduces emissions. This saw boasts a 121.6cc motor and a 41" bar for support. While the MS 880 supports rods up to 59 inches in length, Stihl no longer appears to offer it as a stock or build-to-order option.
From forestry to logging or milling, this saw brings power and control. You can buy it for around $2020.
The best STIHL carving chainsaw
Stihl Carving E bar on MS 194 CE
Ask a variety of professional and amateur carvers, and you'll quickly find out that they carve with a variety of saws. A saw that is often seen is the rear handle Stihl MS 194 CE saw. Pop a 10 or 12 inch Carving E bar on this lightweight saw and you'll get the perfect combination of power and control.
At around $460, this saw won't break the bank, and it offers solid reliability.
Best STIHL Chainsaw Chains
Steele is the only chainsaw manufacturer to produce its own guide bars and chains. They have a guide rod factory in Waiblingen, Germany, and an 83-acre Virginia Beach campus in Virginia (where they also manufacture other products). They also manufacture saw chains in Switzerland. The longer Stihl Rollomatic E Super Guide Bars have angled oil transfer holes for improved oil flow to the saw chain. All Stihl chains are pre-stretched at the factory.
We really can't recommend one chain for everyone. Depending on your goals, you have too many variables. Stihl has over a dozen different chain types, if that's any indication of how many options you have. If you know nothing, we love the Stihl Rapid Micro Comfort 3 chain. It combines low chatter and reduced kickback with smooth cutting and low vibration. Their Pico Duro chains are sharper with carbide tip technology.
Lastly, if you want more speed and fewer sharp teeth, you can opt for one of their Rapid Micro blades. This is our go-to chain for basic tree felling.
STIHL chainsaw evaluation method
After years of testing, we've made thousands of cuts on pine, cedar, oak and more. These include pruning small branches by felling trees up to 3 feet in diameter, and digging after the storm. We prefer to test chainsaws by crosscutting green (wet) lumber, as their chains are designed for them, rather than in dry construction lumber.
chainsaw cutting power
The size of the motor determines the huge power potential of the saw, but hands-on testing is really important. Our recommendations come from either our professionals' personal use of these saws, or a careful study of professionals giving us feedback on specific uses and experiences.
We've also seen power provided by smart systems that monitor fuel/oxygen levels and keep the saw running strong even when the filter becomes clogged with use. For this reason, some 55cc saws may outperform other brands with larger motors once the work begins.
The combination of the real world and controlled scene cuts really puts the sawtooth through its paces.
Match chains to reduce bias
When testing chainsaws head-to-head, we match the chains of all the saws to ensure we are not biased by comparing saws that use different types of chains. Depending on the type of chain you choose, you'll find the same differences in your own use. Chain type affects cutting speed (perceived power) and potential for chip removal, vibration and kickback.
The Best STIHL Chainsaw Features We Look For
easy to start
Stihl chainsaws — except for their battery-operated models — run on dual-cycle fuel. This means we have to activate them. If a Stihl chainsaw is slow to start or takes a long time to start, we'll take it to the dealer. In most cases, professionals have no problem with the quick start of these saws. However, for those who need to accelerate and decelerate without missing a beat, the Stihl EFI option offers a good solution — albeit at a cost.
The chainsaw blade needs to be adjusted almost every time the chainsaw is used. A new chain stretched out soon. When it breaks in, you need to snuggle it up at least a few times.
If your chain suddenly becomes tight, it usually means the handlebars are not fueled. Don't let go of the saw until you've made sure it's properly oiled.
Pro tip: Make it a habit to loosen your chain at the end of the day. Cold weather can cause it to tighten as it cools and damage parts.
Professional chainsaw poles require a screwdriver-wrench combination tool called a screncch. None of our Pro recommendations have tool-less tensioners — pros don't like them, and we don't like this use. They tend to be less effective or enduring in the long run.
Don't lose your nuts!
During normal use in the field, it is not uncommon for stick nuts to be lost. To prevent this from happening, some saws have the added feature of attaching (retaining) nuts so that they don't fall off the saw when you loosen them. Some Stihl and Husqvarna chainsaws have these features, and the Echo tends to skip this handy feature. We always leave some marks on the truck and/or trailer.
Pro tip: Keep a spare nut on hand, as it's not uncommon to lose one in the wild.
bars and chains
Most chainsaw brands don't try to reinvent the wheel by making their own saw blades and chains. Except for Stihl, that's what they make themselves. Other brands often use Oregon Bars and Chains. Most chainsaws we tested use 3/8-inch pitch, 0.050-inch gauge chains. Some other saws may opt for a "faster" 0.325" pitch chain.
Bar and chain oil are the lifeblood of a professional chainsaw. Without it, your saw won't last very long. Throughout our testing, most saws were easily oiled, and we appreciate any saw with features that prevent or limit leaks.
We also checked the visibility of the oil. For the most part, the pros just keep oiling on a regular basis. Even the best translucent oil windows get dirty quickly, making it difficult to use them for their intended purpose. That goes double for something that seems like an afterthought—too small to be practical.
Easy to fill in
Since we add a lot of oil to our Stihl chainsaws, the size of the oil tank and how easy it is to add new oil is important. It makes routine tasks much easier. We don't like greasy fingers, so we prefer to fill up the tank without wearing work gloves. Look for oil caps with lugs that turn easily with gloves on and/or flap tabs that provide a better grip.
overflow and more overflow
Another cause of professional chainsaw spillage is that the fuel tank's filler opening is too narrow. Bar and chain oil is thick. It can be poured in the cold like molasses, so it's easy to "pile up" and overflow a narrow neck.
While stuffing most chainsaws is proven passable, some designs have a narrow neck or are placed at an angle that makes the target smaller.
Another challenge is the reduced diameter of the plastic filter at the tank inlet. Finally, caps that are prone to misfits can also make the refueling process more cumbersome.
Tips for Avoiding Oil Spills or Spills
Here's a tip – just poke a small hole in the foil that seals the quart or gallon oil bottle so you can pour a thin stream. Or dispense oil from a syrup bottle with tapered pull-open tip. It works like a charm, and while your other hand stabilizes the saw, you can push the tip to the inside of the filler neck to stop the flow for one-handed control.
Just make sure to clean out the bottle first (you'll probably have to eat a lot of pancakes).
Chainsaws often leak oil while sitting because the daily heating and cooling causes the plastic tank to shrink and expand like the primary pump. Some saws are messier than others.
Chain gates and other safety features
We wanted a chain brake that was easy to use and worked well. Most manufacturers have it down to a science at this point, so we've had very few issues here. Most extensions are high enough to provide easy activation during kickback events.
We wanted a safety trigger lock that was easy to use and out of the way. Stihl, Husqvarna and Echo put them on the back of the handlebars. These work fine – until they don't. For the most part, we're just looking for position and feel – making sure we don't have to move our hands from their natural position when holding the saw. It's worth noting that the Echo offers the easiest trigger locks to replace…we're not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
We also check the chain lock pins and placement of the handguards – but most manufacturers boil this down to a science.
To propel the saw through wood more efficiently, chainsaws are equipped with bent spikes (aka bumper spikes, felling spikes, or dogs). These spikes rest against the saw body next to the blade and hold the saw in place as the blade pivots through the cut.
The spikes allow you to use the lifting motion of the back hand instead of pushing down. With the saw firmly attached to the wood, the motor can do its best pulling power. This avoids some cutting vibration, especially the jerking that is common when holding the saw away from your work.
Applying leverage to the spikes adds control, but take it easy and listen to the tune of the motor. Applying too much pressure can even stall a gas chain saw.
While tool comfort and feel are largely subjective, some designs do work better than others. Most professionals and experienced homeowners can tell the difference right away. I believe that thoughtful design intent and execution do help most users.
The best Stihl chainsaws feel balanced in your hand. They should cut straight without introducing twisting motion, and you shouldn't feel undue strain on the backhand or front grip when cutting. When cutting larger trunks, you want to be able to easily rock the saw back and forth over curved spikes.
Holding the saw on the front handle in front of you with your left hand should balance the saw fairly evenly. A little front weight is okay, but a rear weight saw will lift the cutting end of the saw towards you, requiring more effort and vigilance to use and carry safely.
Determining a good felling feel when holding a chainsaw sideways is more about comfort with applying force to the front and rear handles when grasping them from the side, and how easy it is to operate the trigger sideways. We try and test all orientations when using both top handle and rear handle saws.
In general, chainsaws with thicker handles are more comfortable to hold in use, as their wider rounded edges help soften contact with the hand. Of course, the rubber handle surfaces help too, not just for padding, but to increase the grip they provide.
In fact, the grip of the Stihl, Husqvarna and Echo pro chainsaws is very similar. Husqvarna offers almost no rubber overmolding. The Echo gives you some texture on the side of the plastic handle. Steele has provided some overmolding on the back, which we like.
They (and Husqvarna) provide a stop to keep you from sliding up the detached part of the handle where the vibration control happens.
Most professional chainsaw triggers are large enough for two fingers to rest on. Some have extra long triggers with more room to vary your grip for comfort. The best feel is when the trigger retracts flush with the handle, rather than leaving a raised bump against which your finger has to rest.
The dry weight of the best professional chainsaws can range from as little as 6 pounds to over 16 pounds. Experience has shown that the weight of the saw is not as important as proper balance of the whole as you will only feel the full weight when you are not cutting.
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