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Chainsaw vs. Circular Saw: Tips from a Professional

There are many types of saws out there, each with its pros and cons. They differ not only in their working mechanisms but also in their uses. Depending on the job, professional woodcutters and loggers prefer one saw over another. Chainsaws and circular saws are two of the most popular saw types, and in this blog post, I will be comparing the two side by side. This will help you make the right choice if you are choosing between the two.

Chainsaw vs. Circular Saw:

In general, chainsaws are used to cut down trees, saw, or mill logs. Circular saws are used for straight cuts on smaller or thinner materials. Chainsaws are usually bigger and heavier, are gas or battery-powered. Circular saws are usually mains powered or use a battery.

Apart from these differences, there are some other differences that I will discuss later. I will also look at the pros and cons of chainsaw and circular saw firewood processors in this blog post.

Chainsaws and Circular Saws: What Defines Them

Before looking at the differences between chainsaws and circular saws, let’s first see what these machines are. How are they built, and how do they function.

● Chainsaw:

A chainsaw is one of the most popular saw types and is widely used by professional tree fellers and loggers. A chainsaw has a long arm, with a chain that moves in one direction only on that arm. The chain is equipped with sharp teeth that quickly rip and cut wood.

A chainsaw’s major application usually is to fell trees and to cut apart bigger logs into smaller sections. With the right attachments, a chainsaw can also be used to mill lumber.

Chainsaws with their gas-powered engines can be quite heavy, powerful, and loud. You may opt for a smaller chainsaw for home use, such as firewood preparation, but you’ll need a bigger chainsaw to bring down whole trees.

● Circular Saw:

A circular saw, while no less popular and handy than a chainsaw, is quite different. For one, it is a much smaller saw type. Unlike a chainsaw with its long arm and chain, a circular saw features a circular metal blade with sharp teeth for cutting. Instead of the cutting blades moving in a single direction along the arm, the circular saw’s sharp teeth spin in a circle.

Circular saws are usually much smaller and lighter than chainsaws and are used for different jobs that need a straight cut. You cannot use a circular saw to cut trees and logs, but it is the best tool for cutting wooden boards or planks for carpentry.

Chainsaws vs. Circular Saws: How They Differ

Chainsaws and circular saws have multiple differences, but the principal differences are their power sources and applications. Let’s discuss the two major differences in detail:

● Chainsaws vs. Circular Saws: How they are powered

One of the main differences between the two saw types is that they use different power sources. Circular saws are usually electric, plugged into a power outlet. More and more commercially available circular saws are battery-powered, but the majority require an AC connection. Gas-powered circular saws are not common because they are meant to be light-duty, indoor-use machines. A gas-powered engine doesn’t suit this application.

On the other hand, chainsaws are much more powerful and intended for heavy-duty and outdoor applications. The majority are gas-powered. You can also find electric chainsaws that may be battery-powered or even corded ones. But these usually have limited power, working range, or a limited run time.

For bigger jobs, chainsaws are usually gas-powered, and circular saws are AC-powered.

● Chainsaws vs. Circular Saws: Where they are used

The other difference between a chainsaw and a circular saw is that they are made for different applications. Since chainsaws have a long arm, they can cut through big trees or logs. For example, a chainsaw with a 2-foot long arm can be used to cut down some really wide trees. And the same chainsaw can easily be used to cut logs into smaller lengths. The same chainsaw with the appropriate milling attachments can then be used to mill logs into boards. Once you have the boards, the chainsaw’s job is done. To cut the boards, you’ll need a smaller saw that cuts straight.

On the other hand, a circular saw’s cutting disk has a much smaller diameter and cannot be used to cut trees or logs. Circular saws can only cut through a depth of few inches. They can only be used to make straight cuts in thinner materials. Typically, circular saws are used to cut thinner boards, both length, and width-wise. For example, a circular saw would be the most appropriate tool to cut a 2×4 plank of plywood into smaller pieces.

● Other Differences:

Besides the two main differences, there are some other differences between chainsaws and circular saws:

  • A chainsaw is generally intended for making bigger and rougher cuts, whereas a circular saw is intended for much smaller and finer cuts and a cleaner finish.
  • Chainsaws are not only heavier, bigger, and louder. They also require more skill to operate compared to circular saws. Handling a chainsaw is more complicated and risky because of kickbacks, etc.
  • A chainsaw can be considered a lumber-working tool, whereas a circular saw is a carpentry tool. Lumberjacks use chainsaws, whereas carpenters use circular saws.
  • A good-quality chainsaw is generally costlier compared to a good-quality circular saw.

Chainsaw vs. Circular Saw Firewood Processors:

A firewood processor is a machine used to cut and split firewood with as little manual handling of logs as possible. These processors make firewood preparation quick and easy. They reduce the required physical labor. Firewood processors feature both chainsaws and circular saws, and professional loggers opt for one of the two based on their pros and cons and their suitability for the job at hand.

Let’s discuss the key benefits of firewood processors with chainsaws and circular saws. Then I will compare the two saw types side by side.

● Key Benefits of a Chainsaw Firewood Processor:

The chainsaw offers the processor a larger cutting diameter than the hard-metal blade saws within the same size category. They are most suitable when the thickness of the logs varies a lot.

● Key Benefits of a Circular Saw Firewood Processor:

The key benefits of a circular saw are that its blades are very fast, generate a minimal amount of sawdust and require almost no maintenance. The circular blade is very easy to use, quick and reliable. Circular saws are the most suitable when high speed and high productivity are required. The longer intervals between sharpenings increase the effective working time.

● A Side by Side Comparison of Chainsaw and Circular Saw Processors:

Circular Saw
Higher operating cost. Require frequent maintenance and sharpening. The chain has to be renewed 3-5 times a season (Con)
Lower operating cost. The hard metal blade lasts longer and needs almost no sharpening. A single blade can easily last the entire season and even more with sharpening (Pro)
Constantly needs lubrication; oil adding further to the operating cost (Con)
Does not need lubrication oil (Pro)
A significant loss of speed and productivity when the chain becomes dull (Con)
An extremely fast hard-metal blade that seldom gets dull, guaranteeing very high productivity (Pro)
Maintenance requires time, leading to time-wasting (Con)
An almost maintenance-free operation guarantees round-the-clock availability, and hence almost no time is wasted (Pro)
Produces a great amount of sawdust, and with a great amount of lubricating oil involved, chainsaw processor sawdust is not suitable for animal bedding materials  (Con)
Produces a minimal amount of sawdust, and since there is a minimal amount of lubricating oil involved, circular saw processors can be used for animal bedding material (Pro)
Although the operating cost is higher, the investment cost is lower compared to a circular saw processor (Pro)
Higher investment cost compared to a chainsaw processor (Con)
Features a much larger cutting diameter compared to a circular saw of the same size category (Pro)
Much smaller cutting diameter compared to a chainsaw of the same size category (Con)
The most suitable saw choice for a firewood processor when the log thickness varies a lot
The most suitable saw choice for a firewood processor when a high working speed and productivity are needed; to put this in perspective, a circular saw processor is 25-30% faster than a chainsaw processor

The Best Chainsaws

Here are some of the best chainsaws:

  • Overall Best, Gas: Echo 18-inch Gas 2-stroke Cycle Chainsaw has more than 500 five-star ratings. It is lightweight yet quite powerful, featuring a 40.2 cc gas engine. You can buy it for $300.
  • Overall Best, Electric: Makita UC4051A 16-inch Electric Chainsaw has more than 520 five-star ratings. It is easy to start, is quite powerful, and requires very little maintenance. You can buy it for $250.
  • Best Heavy Duty Chainsaw: Husqvarna 455 Rancher Gas Chainsaw has more than 920 five-star ratings. It features a 55.5 cc engine and a 20-inch bar and can rev up to 9000 RPM. You can buy it for $500.

The Best Circular Saws:

Here are some of the best circular saws:

  • Overall Best: SKILSAW SPT67WL-01 Circular Saw has more than 170 five-star ratings. It has an amp rating of 15 amps and can rev up to 5300 RPM. It also features a 10-foot cord and weighs only 8.6 pounds. You can buy it for $100.
  • Best Cordless: Makita SH02R1 has more than 790 five-star ratings. It has a voltage rating of 12 volts and can rev up to 1500 RPM. The cutting depth is 1-inch. You can buy it for $93 bare tools or $130 with the kit.
  • Best Budget: Skil 5180-01 Circular Saw has more than 220 five-star ratings, featuring a 14 amp motor, and can rev up to 5300 RPM. You can buy it for $57.