LARAMIE — If things keep going the way they are in chainsaw design, the scream of finely-tuned small engines and glorious scent of two-cycle exhaust in Wyoming’s woods could be replaced by quiet whirring and fresh air.
Over the past few years, electric chainsaws have improved vastly and have evolved beyond the glorified hedge trimmers they once were.
And it’s probably only a matter of time before some battery-powered models have the beef to challenge even top-of-the line, pro-grade gas chainsaws, some Wyoming outdoor power equipment dealers told Cowboy State Daily.
“I think it’s coming anytime now,” said Cameron Smith, when asked how long it might be before electric saws attain pro-grade levels of might.
He’s the assistant store manager at Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply in Laramie, which carries a full line of Stihl and Husqvarna chainsaws.
Waylon Satake, a floor manager and Stihl equipment tech at TrueValue hardware in Laramie, agreed that the competition between the heavy-hitters over the electric chainsaw market is heating up.
“Stihl wants to retain their label as ‘the best-selling chainsaw brand,’ and be ‘the best-selling electric chainsaw brand,’” he said.
For Light Duty, Electric Rules
Chainsaws come in three grades: homeowner, farm/ranch and professional.
Homeowner-grade saws are pretty much what the title suggests — lighter-duty equipment good for things such as trimming a few branches on the trees in the yard or cutting up a small amount of firewood.
Farm/ranch chainsaws take things a bit farther. They’re good for tasks such as felling small to mid-sized trees, or cutting enough firewood to keep a homestead’s wood-burning stove going through the winter.
Pro-grade saws are for serious business, made to rip through big timber for hours on end. They’re typically used by the likes of loggers and arborists (tree service professionals).
Lately, electric chainsaws have all but taken over the homeowner grade market, Smith and Satake said.
Folks who just need a light-duty saw around the house or out camping appreciate that battery-powered models are quiet and don’t have the sometimes-fickle quirks of gas-powered saws, Smith said.
“You don’t have to worry about adjusting a carburetor for the altitude up in the mountains. And if you’re needing the pack the saw around anywhere, you don’t have to worry about taking a gas can with you,” he said.
Electric chainsaws also tend to use less bar and chain oil, Smith added. That’s oil that goes into a small reservoir on the saw’s main casing. It keeps the chain lubricated, preventing it from overheating as it whirls around the guide bar mounted on the front of the saw.
Satake said when it comes to light outdoor equipment in general — not just chainsaws — the sun is setting on the gas-powered age.
“I sell a butt-ton of electric equipment to local homeowners — chainsaws, trimmers, lawnmowers — everything,” he said.
Electric Saws Getting Bigger
Stihl and Husqvarna also are marketing some farm/ranch grade electric saws roughly equivalent to a 50cc gas saw pulling chain on a 20-inch guide bar.
Husqvarna offers an electric model that can run neck-and-neck with its beloved 450 Rancher gas model, Smith said.
Sthil now markets the MSA 300, which matches its hugely popular MS 271 gas model, Satake said.
But it doesn’t come cheap. A package deal for the MSA 300, one battery and a charger runs about $1,300 he said.
Extra batteries for larger electric chainsaws cost about $80 each, Smith said.
Other brands make less-expensive large electric chainsaws, but they typically don’t come with the warranties and readily-available service that big-name companies like Stihl offer, Satake said.
Satake said he’s field-tested some of the larger Stihl electric models, and “their cutting power is impressive,” but the batteries don’t last long enough for a full-day’s work.
California Gas-Power Bans Drive Market
California recently started implementing bans on gas-powered outdoor equipment. So, Stihl and other major manufacturers are scrambling with pro-grade electric chainsaw research and development, Satake said.
“They’ve really been trying to come up with something that they can offer the professional arborists and loggers out there in California,” he said. “The challenge has been finding a way to give the motor enough power without making it too heavy. To maintain a good power-to-weight ratio.”
Power-to-weight ratio, or how much umph a chainsaw produces relative to its overall heft, is important to pros. The lighter a saw can be, while still producing the needed power, the less likely it is to wear the operator out during long hours in the field.
Satake said when he presented one of Stihl’s larger electric models to some local arborists recently, the response was lackluster.
However, one of the arborist bought a smaller Stihl top-handle saw. That’s a model designed to pack while climbing trees to trim off branches or cut smaller sections of a tree’s trunk.
“He loves it. That niche (top-handle climbing saws) is where I really see electric taking off in the pro-grade market,” he said. “When you’re up there in the tree, you don’t have to worry about setting your chain brake after every few seconds of cutting, or shutting the saw off and then having to restart it.
“As soon as you let off the trigger, the saw stops running, and it can hang safely from the lanyard.”
While electric chainsaws are catching up to gas-powered models, only gas will work for a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner on an E-flat chainsaw.
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.