Letter Re: Advice on Chainsaws

Dear Mr. Rawles,
We are in the market a new chainsaw. We currently have an old Homelite Super XL which has served us well for the past 25 years, but it is getting tired. We have looked at the Stihls and Husqvarnas, both of which are mostly plastic. I guess I am spoiled by the old heavy duty all metal Homelite. Do you have any suggestions regarding a saw, how many chains, and how much lubricant to keep on hand? – Mark G.

JWR Replies: I also miss the sturdy, all-metal brutes of the 1970s, but I certainly don’t miss their weight. Here at the Rawles Ranch, we mainly use a Stihl 029 with a 20″ bar that we’ve had since 1998. It is big enough for most felling, yet light enough for limbing and utility work. (We mainly have second growth, with few trees over 18″ in diameter.) We’ve found the Stihl to be very reliable. Yes, it has a plastic shroud, so of course I am careful to treat it more gently than I could an old Homelite.

I’m a big believer in spares, so we keep six spare chains on hand. Three of these are brand new, and three have been re-sharpened many times, but even that has its limits. The other limitation is eventual chain stretching. After a point you will find that the chain length will exceed the range of travel on your chain bar adjustment. (At which point the only practical remedy is removing a link from the chain.) We keep at least three gallons of bar lube oil on hand, but of course standard 10W30 or 10W40 motor oil can be substituted for chain lubrication in a pinch.

The chainsaw item that we have most enthusiastically stocked up on is two cycle gasoline mixing oil. We bought two large cases (of 48 bottles per case), back when the Shindaiwa brand was on sale at a local store. I anticipate that this will be a crucial barter item WTSHTF, because unlike bar lube oil, there is no satisfactory substitute for fuel mixing oil. There may come a day when two cycle oil is worth a fortune. For ease of divisibility (anticipating barter and charity), stocking up on a lot of small bottles rather than the typical one gallon jugs is best.