Purchasing and Using an Electric Chainsaw

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Purchasing an Electric Chainsaw

New unboxed electric chainsaw. Photo by Steve Nix

Long users of gas operated chainsaws may want to try out an electric "tethered" saw to find out the difference in feel and performance. The online reviews of commonly sold electric chain saws are all over the net and wall. Some reviewers love them and some hate them, but based on general reviews, it can be assumed that there are much greater capabilities and realistic limitations for the electric saw.

Unboxing the Remington Electric Chainsaw

Removing the saw from the box can be an interesting experience. The Remington Log Master 3.5 16" EL-8, as most electrics, comes in one piece, box ready and immediately useable. The RLM is hefty in weight for a plastic electric, which is good for sawyer control during the cut, but not overly so. The saw is reasonable in cost at prices ranging between $60 U.S. and $95 depending on options. The chainsaw body typically appears sturdy and well made when comparing it to a Husqvarna gas burner which can cost nearly four times as much. The blade and chain may look a little thin but can perform well.

There are reasons why one should consider the purchase of an electric chainsaw. There are many good ones on the market. For the sake of understanding how to purchase and use an electric chainsaw, we will choose the Remington LM as an example.

Purchasing an Electric Chainsaw: Pros and Cons

Mobility is the largest limitation. An electric saw is always tethered to an available source of electricity. This is fine if that source is within 150' of your sawing project, you have a cordless electric chainsaw, or if you have a bulky generator around.

There is a considerable compromise in cutting power when compared to gas operated chainsaws. This loss in power limits the user to cutting smaller trees and limbs and is not appropriate for bucking logs and felling large trees. You cannot ask an electric saw to do a power job just as you cannot ask a large power saw to perform well during a job needing finesse. Electric saws work just fine here.

When purchasing an electric version, you do have some nice benefits to consider. As most gas operators well know, it takes some prep time to crank and operate a gas powered saw. The little electric is operable in just seconds with reliable starts and stops at the flick of switch and trigger.

The cost of purchasing an electric is much less than the cost of a gas burner as well as the costs of operation and maintenance. Electrics are often considerably less heavy and comfortably operable when pruning smaller limbs in urban landscapes.

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Operating Features of an Electric Chainsaw

Electric Chainsaw Operating Parts. Photo by Steve Nix

Although there are fewer operating parts on an electric chainsaw than parts on a gas saw, they are just as important to understand. This introductory review along with your owners manual will have you sawing quickly and easily. However, it is important to remember to always read your owners manual before using any chainsaw.

Important Features for Successful Sawing

An out-of-the-box electric chainsaw has all the important features recommended for safe and successful sawing. There are two optional designs on the Remington LM: the automatic oiler and the chain tensioning knob.

The optional chain tensioning screw (the silver knob on the sprocket and chain bar housing) adjusts the amount of tension on the chain to allow the necessary play of 1/8th inch between bar and chain. This option allows quick tension adjustments but the chain can also be adjusted by hand if necessary. This saw model also automatically oils the chain with every trigger pull eliminating the need for manually squirting oil on the chain.

Standard Electric Chainsaw Features

The standard features on most electric chainsaws are shown in the photo provided (view from left to right.)

The white switch lock on the handle top has to be forward pressed in combination with a trigger pull, located under the lock on the handle grip, to start sawing. Immediately, that finger-triggered start tracks the chain around the bar until the finger releases the trigger. The orange chain oil cap to the lock's right opens the chain oil reservoir or tank where the bar and chain oil is added and applied during saw use. Note the opaque plastic oil level sight with some added oil.

The orange chain mount, cover and body housing protects the operator from the moving chain and channels the sawdust away from the saw and sawyer. Trash and sawdust can build up underneath and should be properly cleaned after every use by removing the housing (see the illustration). On that housing are two chain tensioning screws that mount the bar and chain and holds the correct tension for chain movement on the black blade rim track. Nuts on these screws can be removed to detach the housing for maintenance and servicing the chain and bar.

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Electric Chainsaw Bar and Chain Attachment

Remington Chainsaw Bar and Chain Attachment. Photo by Steve Nix

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

Note the spark plug chainsaw wrench and screwdriver tool. These are issued with the purchase of most gas operated saws but not with the electrics. The smallest bit of the wrench can be used to take off guide bar bolt nuts on most electric saws.

One of the most numerous online complaints about the Remington Chain Saw model is how "frail" the chain tensioning knob and screw seems to be and often breaks. The chain saw looks sturdy enough and may work just fine, as the bar and the chain can be tensioned by manually adjusting the bar on the guide bar bolts. lt is important, however, to remember to always loosen the guide bar nuts before using the tensioning knob. Don't over-tighten the knob and make sure to tighten nuts after setting tension.

Tensioning a Saw Chain

The chain travels in the guide bar groove around the blade tip driven by the toothed sprocket (see it mounted over the white plastic disc). This sprocket generates movement and power to the chain and is a key chainsaw component. Always maintain the sprocket and chain area by removing trash periodically and checking the sprocket, blade and chain wear.

To adjust the chainsaw 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.
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Maintaining Your Electric Chainsaw

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

Using an extension cord comes with operating an electric chainsaw. Always use the appropriate cord, which means using a cord approved for outdoor use, marked with the W or W-A suffix. The proper cord size is necessary to prevent voltage drop at the saw's motor which will cause damaging over-heating.

Use these specifications:

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

The Chain Oil

You must always operate your electric chainsaw using oil to lubricate the chain to prevent wear and assist in smoother cutting. This Remington saw has an automatic oiler so all you have to do is remember to keep the oil tank full and frequently check the oil tank level. The Remington manual indicates any clean motor oil will do for this purpose, but many saw users insist on using special bar oil. If you are using the saw in cold weather, use an oil with lower viscosity, as according to the manual.

Maintaining the Bar

Make sure the bar is performing as it is supposed to:

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


Replace your electric saw chain when cutters are too worn to sharpen or if the chain breaks. It is important to use only the replacement chain size noted in the product manual. Storing your saw is very important, especially if it will not be used for long periods of time. Drain the oil, remove the bar and chain and give a soap and water soak and dry with new light application of lubricant.