Husqvarna 550XP Mk 2 vs Stihl MS 261 C-M Review

Timber MacFallen

Timber MacFallen

ArboristSite Operative
Joined
Nov 22, 2020
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162
Location
Massachusetts
Hi All,

I recently picked up a brand new Husky 550XP Mark 2 with a 20" bar and narrow kerf chain (.325/.050) and had an opportunity to compare it with the Stihl MS 261 c-m for a day, so I thought I'd share my thoughts as an initial post. I know these saws have been discussed countless times, but I noticed people tend to focus on power and cutting speed, so I thought I'd share some impressions beyond that.

First the background on the two saws:

  • The Husqvarna was brand new with no tanks through it. 20" factory bar with narrow kerf chain. Fuel used was Husqvarna ethanol free XP+ 50:1 mix.
  • The Stihl had about 7 tanks of fuel through it. 18" factory bar with new Stihl .325/.063 standard chain. Fuel used was Stihl ethanol free 50:1 mix.

I used the saws to fell, limb and buck a couple of dying Oak trees in the 18-19" diameter range. Here's what I thought about the two saws:

Comfort/Handles:

The Husqvarna definitely had a larger circumference rear handle grip than the Stihl. As someone with large hands the contour and size of the Husqvarna handle was a better fit. The Stihl owner who tried my saw who also had large hands noted the Husky grip suited them a bit better. If I had small or medium sized hands I probably would prefer the Stihl.

The throttle safety on the Husky seemed to be less sensitive than the Stihl and hung up less when you rushed the motion. If the Stihl safety wasn't 100% depressed the throttle would hang up a bit whereas the Husky wasn't as touchy about that.

Winner: Stihl for smaller hands and Husky for larger hands.

Vibration:

I didn't see any clear winners here. At different rpm's and depending on how you held the front handle (and depending on the diameter of the wood) you may find one better than the other. I seemed to notice a bit more high frequency in the rear handle of the Stihl and more vibration in the front handle of the Husky occasionally. Overall, a similar feel.

Winner: Draw

Ease of Use:

Both saws were cold and had been sitting for hours. The primer bulb on the Husky proved effective and resulted in a pop on the first choke pull and startup on the second pull off choke. The Stihl required 2 pulls for a pop on choke and then 2 pulls for startup off choke. I call it a draw as both are easy to fire up.

Pull cord effort was similar on both saws though the Stihl offered a compression release to make things a bit easier. However, I did not find myself using that feature during the day as both saws were easy to start (as you would expect with a modern 50cc saw).

Both saws used flip caps for oil and fuel and I found them both acceptable and easy to deal with though I did find the Husky flip caps to feel more robust.

Removing and replacing the engine top cover proved slightly easier and faster on the Husky which uses simple retention clips that pop off with your scrench tool and pop back on with your thumb. The Stihl has release screws that prove bit slower in a rush.

Adjusting the bar oil flow screw proved a little easier on the Husky which provides a slightly larger opening and screw on the saw bottom.

The one area where I felt there was a clear winner was the kill switch and choke arrangement. The Husky has you depress the kill switch in a natural downward motion with your thumb whereas the Stihl is a reverse motion where you press upward. The way I see it Stihl has given priority to choking the saw and Husky killing the ignition. Given that I'm only likely to choke once or twice in the day, but frequently stop the saw for discussions, moving limbs, water breaks, etc-I prefer the Husky arrangement.

Winner: Husqvarna

Usable Bar Length:

There's no contest here. The Stihl 18" bar has nearly as much usable length as the 20" Husky bar. The front engine case protrudes more on the Husky than the Stihl thus cutting into usable bar length. If you normally prefer an 18" bar on your Stihl and decide to go Husky-get the 20" bar.

Winner: Stihl

Perceived Build Quality

The Stihl felt a bit more plasticky the the Husqvarna. The Stihl owner and myself admired the attention to detail on the Husky exhaust and mounting screws, the silver engine case and the appearance of various bits. No doubt the internals are top notch in both-but from a perception point of view the Husky seemed to appear a bit more refined. This is subjective of course, but we both felt the Stihl just didn't seem as "expensive looking."

Winner: Husqvarna

Sound:

Yes, they sound different and nope that sound difference doesn't seem to be captured on Youtube videos. All I can say is at idle the Husky has a bit more bass to it and they both sound different at full throttle. Both are equally loud. I think you'd need special microphones setup to handle loud volume to show the difference, as it doesn't come through on iPhone and standard recorders. Personal preference here.

Winner: Draw.

Weight and Balance:

Yes, the Stihl feels lighter when it's dry. However, when both are filled with gas and oil they're pretty close. Some may struggle blindfolded. The Stihl visually looks a bit smaller, so that may create the perception of being lighter as well. I don't feel the difference is as big as it looks on paper in use but it's certainly there.

The balance of the two saws is different and I feel the fore/aft balance of the Husky is quite good and superior to the Stihl. The 20" narrow kerf bar and chain on the Husky balances as well as the 18" Stihl. However, I had an opportunity to handle an MS261 c-m with the 20" factory bar and found the balance to be quite poor and very nose heavy. I wouldn't recommend a 20" factory bar on the Stihl nor do I think it needs it.

I recommend handling them both side by side in a showroom if you can. They are both taking a different approach.

Winner: Stihl on weight feel and Husky on balance

Power and Performance:

OK, this is what a lot of you care about. I ran them both side by side in the same wood and made hundreds of cuts and the Husky was slightly quicker, but in fairness that is likely down to the narrow kerf chain. However, the power delivery seems a bit different. The Husky has a bit more torque than the Stihl at low RPM. The Husky also sounded like it was spinning at a slightly higher RPM at full throttle in wood as well. However, sound and reality aren't always the same thing.

Honestly, at full throttle you get the sense they have an equal amount of power. The difference is how they deliver that power. That said, the Husky is now the quickest 50cc production saw I've ever experienced and pulled the 20" bar through deep wood with ease. If you are a taller person and prefer longer bars forget the 18" and just get the 20" with the Husky.

Throttle response seemed a hair quicker on the Husky, but it was close. If I had to enter a race and money was on the line I feel like I might takes my chances with the Husky. Again, it's VERY close though and not especially meaningful in the real world.

Winner: A draw, but just barely.

Overall Feel

If I had to try and explain the character of the two saws I'd say the Husky is a little more expressive and emotional in feel and execution whereas the Stihl is a bit more functional and sterile. The Stihl seems to be engineered to hit certain numbers, but the Husky seems like it was going for a certain feel. This is a subjective area again and some will no doubt prefer the feel fo the Stihl approach just like some people love a Lexus and some people loathe a BMW.

Warranty

The Stihl standard chainsaw warranty is one year that can be doubled to two years with the purchase of Stihl pre-mix or mixed fuel at time of purchase.

The Husqvarna standard chainsaw warranty is two years which can be extended to five years with the purchase of 96oz or more of Husqvarna XP+ fuel.

Overall Winner

The consumer. These are two great saws and should provide years of service with careful maintenance.

If I had to pick one I'd focus on two things:

1) Hand comfort and saw fit.
2) Who has the best local dealer support.

If both have great dealers near you and you like the feel of both- I'd probably give the nod to Husqvarna in case you ever need to cash in the long warranty.

Hope this helps someone out there.

-Timber
 
FordF550

FordF550

New Member
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Messages
4
Location
Maine
I have a 550 mark 2. All of my friends that have ran it go out and buy one. Run a Sugi 18 bar with a. 325 chain and it balances great. Husqvarna and Stihl in the mention above are outstanding saws.
 

Red97

Addicted to ArboristSite
Joined
Jul 3, 2014
Messages
1,006
Location
mi
Very nice writeup. Thank you for taking the time.

Here are the dyno power numbers for those 2 along with a few other 50cc saws.

 

Franny K

xyz
Joined
Jan 16, 2013
Messages
3,113
Location
North eastern Ct USA
Usable Bar Length:

There's no contest here. The Stihl 18" bar has nearly as much usable length as the 20" Husky bar. The front engine case protrudes more on the Husky than the Stihl thus cutting into usable bar length. If you normally prefer an 18" bar on your Stihl and decide to go Husky-get the 20" bar.

Winner: Stihl
Do you still have access to both of them? What is the distance from the center of the drive shaft or clutch to either the front of the oil tank or the tip of the spikes? In the 3003 Stihl mount 18" is 74 drive links. An 18 inch bar in Husqvarna small mount is 72 . There are both 78 and 80 dl in laminated Husky small mount called length 20" and the replaceable nose ones in Oregon are 81 dl I believe. The hard nose small mount bar seems to be 81.

Another thing to note is one is inboard clutch and the other outboard.

The bars for the Husqvarna model will generally interchange with smaller chainsaws where the Stihl bars will essentially exchange with only larger displacement models.
 

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