As framers, we often rely on specialty tools that help us save time, without sacrificing quality. Chain saws are one such tool. You may not think of a chain saw as a typical framing tool, but ever since I was a teenager, we have had a gas-powered chain saw onsite. We used it to cut large beams or gang cut materials like joists and rafters. To this day, we continue to use chain saws in the same manner. This year, DeWalt and Makita introduced battery-powered brushless chain saws, so I asked Tools of the Trade to have samples sent to us to review. I liked the idea of a cordless chain saw because the potential trade-off of possible power loss for a lighter-weight tool that meant not dealing with fuel mix and the stink of gas made these saws very attractive. Plus, cordless tools tend to be quieter and, for safety reasons, I liked the idea of being able to set down a saw between cuts that wasn’t running continuously.
Powerful enough? The big question for me is whether these saws would have enough power for what we do, and if the runtime would be good enough to maintain our productivity. I knew there was no way they’d compare with our big Stihl gas-powered saws, but we don’t usually need a lot of power from a chain saw on a framing site.
Makita 18v X2 (36v) 14” Chainsaw. I reviewed - and fell in love with - the Makita inline cordless saw last spring. This chain saw from Makita has a similar design approach to that of a circular saw in that it uses two of the 5-Ah batteries to provide 36 volts to power the chain. Too, it has a brushless motor which is said to improve runtime, efficiency, and longevity of the tool.
The trigger is variable speed, just like on every chain saw I’ve ever used, and the saw has a tool-less chain adjustment that works well. On top of the tool is a large LED on/off switch that you must press before you squeeze the trigger and start the saw, which is a safety feature. As with any chain saw, this saw has a front hand guard that locks the blade, or if the saw is in use and it kicks back, the guard will protect your hand and act as a chain brake.
Right off the bat, I could tell as I put this saw together that it doesn’t feel cheap, and it is compact and lightweight. In use, it is easy to control, and since it is battery operated, it never floods or takes multiple pulls to start. As long as the batteries are charged and seated properly, it starts right up.
Though the chain doesn’t stop immediately after use, it does decelerate to a full stop quickly. This is a great safety feature because with a gas-powered saw, I have to leave the motor running with the chain locked between cuts, which is noisy, wastes fuel, and is potentially dangerous.
It is easy to check the level of bar oil using the “view window.” Under the top handle is a battery meter showing the battery charge.
The batteries take about 45 minutes to charge on the dual charger. The kit sells for $389 and includes the charger, two batteries, the chain saw, and, as a promotion, a grinder as well.
DeWalt Flexvolt 60v MAX Brushless Chainsaw. The DeWalt saw is longer tip-to-tail than the Makita, in part because it uses a 16-inch Oregon bar. The chain tensioner is also tool-free and seems to be working well. The hand guard functions like that on the Makita and other chain saws.
This saw functions just like a regular chain saw; there is no safety switch like the Makita has before you can turn the saw on, which I prefer. A great safety feature on this saw is that nearly as soon as you let go of the trigger, the chain stops; I love saw brakes and chain brakes for the safety they provide.
I received the review model as a tool-only, and then received a 6-Ah and a 9-Ah battery separately; both had enough runtime for what we use these saws for. I mention this only because the current kits sell with a 3-Ah battery, which I was not able to test. (As an aside, we did use them for cutting firewood and it didn’t last very long. That’s fine with me because I don’t really want to cut wood for too long anyway.)
There is a level indicator on the front of the saw for the bar oil, which makes it easy to see. The kit comes with the saw, one 3-Ah battery, and charger and costs about $329.
Which to buy? This is always a tough call. If I was making this decision solely on the chain saws themselves, I would buy the DeWalt as long as I could purchase it with a 9-Ah battery. Three of us used this saw separately and compared it with the Makita, and we found it cut faster (just a little) and straighter. One of the reviewers grew up in a logging town and worked in a chain-saw repair shop. He found the DeWalt easier to control, but loved both saws.
Chain saw makers like Husqvarna and Stihl make a cordless chain saw and our local saw shop sells both. What is interesting is that in their product info, they show someone using the saw to cut lumber. Our local shop mechanic told me he uses the saw now to cut lumber and has put away his old Skil worm drive.
While I feel the DeWalt slightly edges out the Makita, what we found is that we didn’t really care which saw we grabbed. Being able to go out to the lumber stack and cut glulams without dragging a cord around is just so convenient. We don’t use our beam saws as often now; we basically reserve them for exposed beam work that requires a cleaner finish cut. We cut all our headers, timbers, and beams with a chain saw. With a sharp chain and good technique, the cuts are square and clean - completely acceptable for framing work.
Both saws do their jobs well and have plenty of power and runtime for what we do on a framing site.
This article originally appeared in TOOLS OF THE TRADE.