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Chainsaw Top Handle vs. Rear Handle. Tips from a Professional

There are two primary chainsaw types based on handle placement. i.e., top handle and rear handle chainsaws. I get asked a lot by homeowners and arborists about whether they should invest in a top handle or a rear handle chainsaw. Each type has its features and demerits. In this blog post, I will address most questions regarding each of the above types.

Chainsaw top handle vs. rear handle:

In general, top handle chainsaws are more suited for off-the-ground applications. These saws are compact, light, durable, and have a better reach. However, they are not beginner-friendly and can only be dealt with by professionals. Rear handle chainsaws are better choices for sawing fallen logs on the ground. These machines provide better handling and are easy to master. But they can tire the users due to their weight.

Please read further about the differences between these main chainsaw types in more detail and some tips from my personal experience.

What is a Climbing Chainsaw?

Top handle chainsaws are also referred to as climbing chainsaws since trained arborists commonly use them while climbing a tree.

In such chainsaws, the throttle control is mounted near the top handle; hence they can be grabbed single-handedly while the other hand could be used for support while climbing. I have seen several users tempted to use them off the ground as well, and that too with a single hand. Let me tell you that not only will this be uncomfortable for you, but this is also a safety hazard. Chainsaws are dangerous machines in any condition and can result in grave injuries if not dealt with respect. I recommend to use a rear handle chainsaw for off-the-ground applications as this would be much more comfortable and safer.

What is a Top Handle Chainsaw for?

Top handle chainsaws are designed to be operated off the ground, even with a single hand. They are more suited for professional arborists for pruning down branches while climbing a tree.

In a top handle chainsaw, all the necessary controls are mounted near the top handle. Hence, it is possible to operate the chainsaw even with a single hand. These chainsaws are lighter in comparison to the rear handle chainsaws. This makes them ideal to be used for a pruning job by an arborist who cannot engage both his hands simultaneously while sawing. Although, I would say that it’s not a good practice to use a chainsaw with a single hand for safety reasons.

Top Handle Chainsaw vs. Rear Handle Chainsaw: A Comparison

I have often seen people not being clear about the choice they want to make while buying a chainsaw. Therefore, I consider it necessary to clear any confusion regarding this matter. So that, whenever you want to invest in a chainsaw, you are equipped with the right knowledge to make the best decision. In this section, I will compare the merits and demerits of each chainsaw type.

● Top Handle Chainsaw Merits:

1. Compactness:

In comparison to their rear handle counterparts, top handle chainsaws are designed to be small in size and relatively compact. This feature enables them to be carried while climbing a tree. Hence, if you are a professional arborist who frequently needs a chainsaw to saw down branches, a top handle chainsaw should be your go-to option.

2. Light Weight:

Apart from the compactness in design, these chainsaws are pretty light in weight as well. Hence, carrying them around becomes comparatively easy. Most variants available in the market are as light as 6.5 pounds.

3. Maneuverability:

Owing to their weight and small size, top handle chainsaws are far more maneuverable and offer the user a relatively greater reach. You can use these chainsaws in narrow and cramped places where it may not be suitable to go with a heavier model.

4. Durability:

Not only do top-handle chainsaws offer a smooth cutting operation, but they’re also quite durable and can withstand harsh impacts during operation. From my experience and talking with others, I have found them to be quite reliable and robust in performance.

● Top Handle Chainsaw Demerits:

Despite the advantages, there are certain domains wherein using a top-handle chainsaw may not be ideal.

1. Level of Expertise:

Because of its high level of sophistication, the saws demand more skill to wield and operate. As a result, beginners or those lacking experience and skill will find these saws challenging to grasp and eventually master. Many regions additionally need some level of certification before use. This raises the cost of use even further.

2. Power Consumption:

This type of saw uses a higher amount of power to operate. It will, without a doubt, produce fantastic results. However, this will come at a purchasing price that is often higher. As a result, be ready to delve deep into your pocket to manage and handle these chainsaws.

3. Professional Use:

Lastly, these chainsaws are designed for highly sophisticated and professional applications. If you’re a professional arborist, then using such a chainsaw would suit you. But for small, day-to-day pruning and limbing applications, using these chainsaws won’t be an optimal choice.

● Rear Handle Chainsaw Merits

As evident from the name, these chainsaws have a handle mounted on the back. Hence, it takes two hands to grip this chainsaw properly. Such configuration has its ups and downs. I will discuss them in this section.

1. Better Handling:

Rear handle chainsaws provide better handling than their top handle counterparts in two main respects. The first being that they offer better leverage due to their rear handle. In this arrangement, the hand which holds the top handle acts as a fulcrum about which the chainsaw can be turned while cutting. This makes it relatively easy to operate.

Secondly, these chainsaws come with a much better grip. They are easy on the hands and prevent blisters and bruises that may arise while cutting strenuously. Since these saws require you to use both hands simultaneously, they are also safer to use.

2. Convenience:

Certain chainsaw controls can be readily accessed, such as the start/stop button, gears, and leverage. As a result, you won’t have to worry or try too much to get to them. The advantage of this arrangement is that you will benefit from faster and more streamlined operation than others.

3. Beginner Friendly:

Unlike top handle chainsaws, these do not take a high level of experience. Even a newcomer can quickly become comfortable with and utilize the saws. Furthermore, many states place no additional restrictions on their purchase and usage.

Because it is simple to use, it is ideal for the everyday use of chainsaws. Trimming hedges, chopping down overgrown bushes, and tending to your garden are examples of their use. As a result, it is more practical and helpful than its top handle equivalent. Its operating costs are likewise cheaper overall.

● Rear Handle Chainsaw Demerits

In some areas, these chainsaws may not be suitable, as discussed below:

1. Using Both Hands:

To use this type of saw, you will need to use both hands. It is hard to operate them with just one hand. This means it is almost impossible to do something else with the other hand simultaneously. Like pushing something away or lifting something.

2. Taxing:

The saw can be more exhausting than a top handle saw since you must use both hands simultaneously. If you have a lot of responsibilities, you’ll find this saw rather inconvenient to use.

3. Limited Scope:

You can only handle on-the-ground applications with this type of saw; nothing else. This is due to the saw’s reduced reach and lower overall height. But as a result, it is more inconvenient to use overall.

Are Top Handle Chainsaws Dangerous?

In my opinion, top handle chainsaws aren’t dangerous fundamentally. It’s just the way most users operate them. Leading to a considerably higher share of accidents compared with rear handle chainsaws.

I have observed most chainsaws users get intrigued to use these saws with one hand only and neglect the safety aspect. However, they don’t realize that they have the risk of serious injuries in any kickback situation. I think people use these saws with less care. They believe that these saws would be easy to handle due to their small size, but that’s not true.

The majority of chainsaw-related accidents are due to the top-handle chainsaws being poorly handled. That is why most states require the user to have some certification before using a top-handled chainsaw. To sum it up, I’d say it entirely depends on whether you are following the safety protocols and treating the chainsaw with respect. If not, experienced you may be, you have a high chance of harming yourself.

Can you use a top handle chainsaw on the ground?

According to AFAG guidelines, operators aren’t allowed to use top-handle chainsaws on the ground. They should only use these saws while climbing off the ground. For ground applications, rear handle saws should be used.

I have observed that some users feel uncomfortable while using a top handle saw on the ground. In my opinion, the reason that they aren’t fit for ground use is more comfort-based than safety-based. These saws are easy to operate from shoulder height when the user is pruning from the treetop. For ground application, the user would need to bend down to cut properly. On the contrary, the rear handle chainsaws would have better comfort when working on the ground.

When should you use a Top Handle on a Chainsaw?

You should use a top handle chainsaw for off-the-ground applications. These may include light pruning or felling some branches while climbing a tree.

While climbing a tree, it is difficult to grab the chainsaw with both handles. Hence, what trained arborists would do is that they would grab their saw by the top handle and use the other hand to support themselves while climbing. Certain tree companies bind their arborists to use top handle chainsaws when they are climbing. These saws are better designed for such applications.

However, I would advise you not to get fooled by these saws’ small size and lightweight. They are as potent as some of the bigger saws in power, and their kickbacks aren’t less either. If you are an experienced professional with proper certification, a top handle chainsaw could be the ideal choice for you. But if you aren’t a professional arborist, consider investing in a rear handle saw instead.