Purchasing and Using Electric Chain Saws

They have benefits and detriments compared with gas-powered saws

Longtime users of gas-operated chain saws might want to try out an electric "tethered" saw to learn the differences in feel and performance. Online reviews of commonly sold electric chain saws are all over the Internet. Some reviewers love them and some hate them, but electric saws have strong capabilities and realistic limitations.

To understand how to purchase and operate electric chain saws, consider the Remington LM as an example:

Pros and Cons

New unboxed electric chainsaw. Photo by Steve Nix

Mobility is the largest limitation of electric saws, which are always tethered to an electricity source. That's fine if the source is within 150 feet of your sawing project or you have a generator. Otherwise, you'll need a cordless electric.

There's a considerable loss in cutting power compared with gas-operated chain saws. This deficit in power limits users to cutting smaller trees and limbs instead of felling large trees and "bucking" logs, or sawing trunks into sections. You can't ask an electric saw to do a power job just as you can't ask a large power saw to perform a finesse job.

It takes some prep time to crank and operate gas-powered saws, while electrics are operable in seconds, with reliable starts and stops at the flick of switch and trigger. Electrics are often cheaper than gas versions, and operation and maintenance costs are lower. Electrics also are often lighter, comfortable for pruning smaller limbs in urban landscapes.

Unboxing the Remington Electric Chain Saw

The Remington Log Master 3.5 16-inch EL-8, like most electrics, comes in one piece and is immediately usable. The RLM is heavy for a plastic electric, which is good for sawyer control during the cut. The cost is reasonable, with prices ranging from $60 to $95 depending on options. The chain saw body appears sturdy and well made compared with a Husqvarna gas burner, which can cost nearly four times as much. The blade and chain might look thin but they perform well.

Operating Features

Electric Chainsaw Operating Parts. Photo by Steve Nix

Although electric chain saws have fewer operating parts than gas saws, they are just as important to understand. Always read your owner's manual before using any chain saw.

The standard features on most electric chain saws are shown in the photo. To start sawing, the white switch lock on the handle top must be pressed forward in combination with pulling the trigger, located under the lock on the handle grip. That immediately starts the chain moving around the bar, which continues until the trigger is released. The orange cap to the lock's right opens the reservoir where bar and chain oil is added. Just below is a plastic window indicating oil level.

The orange body housing protects the operator from the moving chain and channels away the sawdust. Two tensioning screws on the housing mount the bar and chain in place and provide the proper tension for chain movement on the black blade rim track.

Two optional features on this Remington LM are an automatic oiler and chain tensioning knob. The optional chain tensioning screw (the silver knob on the sprocket and chain bar housing) adjusts the tension on the chain to allow the necessary 1/8th-inch play between bar and chain. This option allows quick tension adjustments, but the chain can be adjusted by hand if necessary. This model automatically oils the chain with every trigger pull, eliminating the need for manually squirting oil on the chain.

Bar and Chain Attachment

Remington Chainsaw Bar and Chain Attachment. Photo by Steve Nix

To open the orange bar and sprocket cover, remove the two nuts on the guide bar bolts and pull up on the right side of the housing. You'll see the chain tensioning knob and screw underneath as it disconnects from the bar's adjustment hole.

Note in the photo the spark plug chain saw wrench and screwdriver tool. These are included with the purchase of most gas-operated saws but not always with electrics. The smallest bit of the wrench is used to take off the guide bar bolt nuts on most electric saws.

A frequent online complaint about the Remington Chain Saw model is how "frail" the chain tensioning knob and screw are and how often they break. The bar and the chain can be tensioned by manually adjusting the bar on the guide bar bolts. Always loosen the guide bar nuts before using the tensioning knob. Don't overtighten the knob and be sure to tighten the nuts after setting the tension.

The chain, driven by the toothed sprocket (mounted over the white plastic disc), travels in the guide bar groove around the blade tip . The sprocket generates movement to the chain. Always maintain the sprocket and chain area by removing trash periodically and checking the sprocket, blade, and chain for wear.

To adjust the chain saw tension:

  1. Let the chain cool.
  2. Locate and loosen both guide bar nuts.
  3. Turn the tension screw to loosen or tighten the chain.
  4. Allow the chain a 1/8th-inch gap off the groove edge.
  5. Make sure the chain moves freely.

Use and Maintenance

Remington Electric Chainsaw 3.5 EL-8. Photo by Steve Nix

Extension Cord

Always use the appropriate extension cord when operating an electric chain saw. The cord should be approved for outdoor use and marked with the W or W-A suffix. Proper cord size is necessary to prevent voltage drop at the saw's motor, which will cause overheating and, possibly, damage.

Follow these specifications:

  • 16AWG cord size for a 50-foot length
  • 14AWG cord size for a 100-foot length
  • 12AWG cord size for a 150-foot length

Chain Oil

Always operate an electric chain saw using oil to lubricate the chain to prevent wear and assist in smoother cutting. This Remington saw has an automatic oiler; all you must do is frequently check the tank level to keep it full. The Remington manual indicates that any motor oil will do, but many users prefer to use bar oil. If you operate the saw in cold weather, use an oil with lower viscosity, according to the manual.

Maintaining the Bar

To make sure the bar is performing as it's supposed to:

  1. Remove bar groove dust and trash periodically using a knife or wire.
  2. File off any burred edges outside groove.
  3. Change the bar when it's bent or cracked or the inside bar groove is badly worn.

Storage

Replace the saw chain when the cutters are too worn to sharpen or if the chain breaks. Use only the replacement chain size noted in the product manual. Storing your saw is very important, especially if it won't be used for long periods of time. Drain the oil, remove the bar and chain for a soap-and-water soak, and dry, followed by a light application of lubricant.