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Husqvarna vs Stihl and buying a chainsaw advice

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Derf

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So you want (or need) a chainsaw. The two companies that lead the market are Husqvarna and Stihl. Both companies have tremendous brand loyalty among their customers, so it seems unfortunate that most people upon buying a saw from one of them feel compelled to continue buying saws from only that company. Debating which of these two companies makes a better saw is as timeless a discussion as Coke vs Pepsi, Marvel or DC, Fender vs Gibson, or whether Ford is better than Chevy. In many regards, you are buying into a product family with non-compatible hardware (the bars and chains are often not interchangeable) much like when you buy a camera you might find yourself choosing between Nikon and Canon (the lenses are not interchangeable), or for the younger generation, contemplating between Apple and Android (the apps are not compatible). The truth is that both of these chainsaw companies make (many) great products, and within their product lines both companies have saws that have good features. There is no “one saw is best” or “one company is best”. Compare two similar sized saws from both companies and you might find one saw excels in one area with a tradeoff in another; such as one cuts quicker, but weighs more and is less fuel efficient. In reality you really can’t go wrong if buying from either of these two companies in terms of durability, quality, and repairability, but if you want to get into the nitty-gritty of choosing the right saw for you, read on.

Husqvarna is a Swedish company while Stihl is a German company. [NB: Both companies have begun integrating more Chinese parts (like carburetors and bars) into their saws, which is unfortunate] but normal in today's world of trying to offer competitive pricing. Both companies make quality products and have been making chainsaws for a long time and both companies make saws in various sizes geared to different users. The first thing to understand in a comparison between these companies are that they both cater two two different markets: homeowners and professionals.
Homeowner saws are generally cheaper, have smaller displacement engines, shorter bars, and plastic crank cases which result in lighter weight, vs the pro saws which are for loggers, forestry and lawn care workers, and other professionals. The homeowner saws are generally under 55cc and run up to a 18” or 20” bar. The Professional saws generally pick up at 50cc and run up to over 100cc for more power to run longer bars for cutting bigger trees, have aluminum or magnesium crank cases for greater durability, as well as other features (such as rim sprockets instead of spur sprockets) that make them more useful for full-time use. There are also some middle class, “pro-sumer” saws, sometimes called “farm owner”, which are generally for more than just the “weekend warrior” cutters, and feature slightly larger displacement engines than the homeowner saws in the 50-60cc range, slightly more power, and slightly longer bars.
As most things in life, you get what you pay for, and the cheaper homeowner saws often lack power and wear out faster and for this reason you may have heard someone bashing one brand or another because of their experience that they are always having to “rebuild” a particular saw from one company. But the more expensive saws from both companies are more powerful and last much longer, and generally you won’t find one brand wearing out any faster than the other brand in the pro-saw category.

The second thing to realize is that different saws are designed to meet different needs. There are little top-handled 35cc pro saws that run 12-16 inch bars that are great for climbing arborists; they weigh next to nothing and are good for taking off limbs on trees. This is what they were designed to do, and they are not by any means worse than another saw unless the task is different than their intended design. There are larger saws that are designed to run bars over 36” and are specifically made for felling large trees. Bar length is matched to saw displacement and generally larger bars should only be run by larger sized saws. Saying that your XX brand saw can or can’t run a longer bar than it came with is not a measure of how “good” a saw is. As a rule of thumb, in the pro-level saws, the bar length should be no greater than one third the engine displacement. Consider the following matching suggestion when using full comp (non-skip) chain:
40cc - 14” for hardwood, 16” for softwood A good saw for pruning or limbing trees
50cc - 18” for hardwood, 20” for softwood Good for small trees
60cc - 20” for hardwood, 24” for softwood Good for small to medium trees
70cc - 24” for hardwood, 28” for softwood Good for medium to large trees
80cc - 28” for hardwood, 32” for softwood Good for large trees
90cc - 32” for hardwood, 36” for softwood Good for very large trees
100cc - 36"+ and for use with chainsaw milling Good for the biggest trees

These numbers are somewhat loose, but they give you an idea of what kind of bar length you can match to for a saw of given engine displacement. These numbers are based off the maximum comfortable bar length you can run if the saw is buried in wood. There are two considerations when matching bar length to saw. The first and most obvious is the power of the saw to pull the chain around a longer bar, since a longer bar with more teeth will create more resistance and require more power. The second consideration is that smaller saws cannot oil longer bars as well, and so even if you put a longer bar on a smaller saw and aren’t leaning on it in the cut, while it may be able to pull the chain, it may not be oiling it very effectively.
Another point to consider when choosing a bar length is that often the saw is not buried in wood (on smaller trees or when limbing), which would imply you could choose a slightly longer bar than suggested, but also that a bar can cut twice the diameter wood as it is long (for example, if cutting a tree from both sides), which would suggest you could get by with a shorter bar if it were all you had. When choosing a saw and a bar length it is important to gauge the typical type of wood you will be using it on. Sometimes there is no typical variety, and the saw will be used for a variety of tasks: hardwood and softwood, bigger trees and smaller branches. Some people might be tempted to over-buy a bigger saw for their needs, which may be fine until they realize that larger saws weigh a lot more, and those extra pounds can add up to early fatigue at the end of a day of use. Of course you can always run a larger saw with a shorter bar to carry less weight and use higher tooth sprockets to provide more power to the cut. We’ll talk more about sprocket tooth count later.

You can also get by with a smaller saw and run a slightly larger bar than recommended if you switch to skip-tooth chain - it may not cut as quickly, but for the occasional "large job" it can suffice. We’ll talk more about chain types (round, square, chisel vs semi chisel and skip-tooth) later. Some people buy only one saw for all their cutting needs, but they may buy multiple bars to accomplish different tasks: a “longer” bar for felling and bucking, and a shorter bar for pruning and limbing. For those with deeper pockets or greater needs they may want to consider building a “fleet” of saws for different jobs, so it would be beneficial to purchase saws that have non-overlapping task abilities. You may sometimes hear reference to this as a “three saw plan.” Depending on the type of cutting you do, that may be a 40cc / 50cc / 70cc group of saws, or a 50cc / 75cc / 90cc group of saws.
 

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Buying a saw:
Buying a new saw usually comes down to three options: option 1 is to buy online, option 2 is to buy at a big box store, such as HomeDepot, Lowes, Tractor Supply, etc., and option 3 is to buy from a licensed dealer.
Option 1 generally gives the best price at the trade-off that there is no service after the sale. If anything goes wrong, you’re on your own. Most saw operators are not also mechanics, so this may seem intimidating. However, if you know how to work on saws, or small 2-cycle engines, you may not care, you may in fact prefer to be able to order your replacement parts online instead of having to go through a dealer network. Husqvarna does sell saws online, although they are trying to change their policy to only sell saws through dealers, but many websites can take phone orders and still sell saws mail order. Also, Husqvarna sells all of its parts online through various websites, again allowing you to browse for the cheapest price (with shipping costs) to your door.
Option 2 gives a slightly higher price without much after-sale service except to return the item if it is defective or within warranty for a replacement. It does allow you to pick up and handle a few models and you will be able to walk home with a saw that day, which may be important for some. However, there are no provisions for ordering replacement parts or help with fixing a problematic saw though. In those cases you’ll have to find a mechanic that can service your saw and order replacement parts through the necessary channels. I generally consider buying a saw from big box stores a poor choice with few of the positives of a dealer and all of the negatives of buying online, and in fact neither Stihl nor Husqvarna sell saws through big box stores.
Option 3 is the dealer route, and usually costs the most but there is someone that can help guide you to buy the best saw for your needs, or give safety advice on using a saw properly, and there can be all kinds perks thrown in with the sale, such as bar scabbards, bottles of bar and chain oil or spare air filters, as well as after-sale service; from tune-ups and maintenance, ordering parts to fix a broken saw, and servicing the broken saw for you. You can also go home with a new saw that day (along with several other “accessories”). For total newbies to buying a saw, this option provides a lot of hand holding to help guide them, and for people that just want to “use” the saw and don’t also work on (read : maintain/repair) their own saws, this option provides a knowledgable service department for fixing their saw when something invariably (as all motors do) needs fixing. In terms of dealer support, Stihl has Husqvarna beat by a landslide.

So, if you’re the kind of person who likes shopping online and to fix your own car, you might be a Husqvarna guy. If you’re the kind of person who wants to walk into a “store” to buy things and have someone else fix your car, you might be a Stihl guy.

Of course there are people who take their Husqvarna saw to the dealer for service. And there are also people who work on their Stihl saws themselves, but in their case they still have to get their Stihl parts from a dealer, who gets them from a distributor, who gets them from the Stihl factory. Sometimes that supply chain works without a hiccup, and sometimes the process is not without headache.

Now this has all been presupposed that you are buying a new saw. If you are confident in your wrenching skills, or just plain not rich enough to afford the saw(s) of your dreams and plan on buying a used saw, look no further than craigslist or ebay, but caveat emptor (buyer beware), not everything is as it seems, just like buying a used car. The good news is that quality used saws can usually always be repaired, however, they may require new parts (sometimes new pistons and/or cylinders). This can sometimes be more difficult to source on older model saws that have limited parts availability. Factoring in broken pull cords, smashed plastic covers, pinched or worn out bars and chain, and this can add several hundred dollars in expense to the purchase cost. The best advice is to be honest with yourself about your level of skill, and don’t get in over your head. The less confident you are, the less ratty of a saw you should buy as it will generally require more work. Also, look at many pictures of your saw online in various conditions from new to used (Google Image search), and look carefully at the saw you are buying for mis-matched color of plastic pieces, and other older vs newer tell-tale signs that well-intentioned sellers slapped together parts off other saws or some aftermarket (often cheap Chinese clones) pieces on the saw to “refresh” the look and get a better sale price. Also beware of “rebuilt” saws, not because a rebuilt engine is necessarily bad, but because a $40 Chinese aftermarket cast aluminum cylinder and piston is not of the same quality as the $150 OEM cylinder and piston. Without knowing what kind of work or money was put into the rebuild, you may be better off passing over the saw. Also consider that some dealers will not assist you if you get stuck fixing your saw and want to bring it in if you did not actually purchase the saw through them.
 

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The importance of horsepower and looking at the power to weight ratio:
You may have heard or read when comparing Husqvarna to Stihl that the Husqvarna saws rev faster but the Stihl saws have more torque. Firstly, consider that unless you are comparing specific saws of these two companies, making blanket statements like that generally do not hold true. Secondly, realize that a high RPM with little torque is as useless as a torque-monster that barely pulls the chain at a few RPM. Therefore both Torque and RPM are important.

At the risk of being banal, to understand RPM and Torque, which would you rather drive: a car that can only be in sixth gear or only be in first gear? Probably neither! A car stuck in first gear might go, but it will be so slow it would be painful to drive. Similarly a car that only runs in 6th gear, even at high RPM, would have a lot of trouble getting the vehicle moving and would lose speed on every big hill. This analogy should help you understand the interrelated importance of RPM and Torque. Since saws don’t have gears, it is important to balance both.

HP = torque * rpm

Both companies will list HP figures for their saws, but consider that HP is not a static value: it varies across the RPM band, also known as the power band. One saw might look better on paper because the HP rating might have been calculated at the peak RPM with the chain freely spinning around the bar, however when the saw is in wood and only spinning 75% as fast as its peak it will likely have a different HP rating. Unfortunately it is difficult to compare two saws even at an arbitrary value such as 75% of their peak RPM because in truth the RPM of the saw in a cut will vary depending on the type and hardness of wood, diameter of wood, length of bar, type of chain, sharpness and grind on the chain, temperature, humidity, elevation, type of gas, amount of oil in the gas, and many other factors. In other words, the HP across the entire power band is more important, but rarely (except in dynometer reports) is this information seen. So, do not just believe what the marketing department put down in the white papers for the saw to decide which saw is “better”. Many people like to watch comparison videos on youtube to get a sense of how two saws would compare cutting a similar log, but keep in mind that factors that might not be controlled for (such as age of a saw and compression, bar length, sharpness and type of chain, and variances in log diameter or the presence of knots) can affect those few second differences that determine the “winner”.
However, at the end of the day, a bigger saw will have more power, and will be able to pull a chain on a larger bar through thicker wood. It should seem simple then: buy the biggest saw you can afford! There are two downsides though; the first is that bigger saws are heavier, and the second is that bigger saws are generally not as high revving as smaller saws.
For anyone who has had to carry a saw around all day felling trees, or bucking wood, the weight consideration is an important one, since carrying around unnecessary weight is labor intensive and inefficient. This can even be especially evident for homeowners and “firewood” cutters, who have to bend over holding the saw to cut up most of the wood on the ground. In such cases the heavier saw will be felt more at the end of few hours in your lower back.
Any manufacturer can make a saw more powerful by building a bigger saw. There is an old adage, “there is no replacement for displacement,” and that holds true here. However, bigger may not always be just “better” unless it is also efficient. One true measure of a saw’s efficiency is its power-to-weight ratio. This value can be a great equalizing measure of saws across different sizes and brands. Especially when considering two saws of similar displacement and power, consider the weight as well to see which one is more efficiently using its displacement.
The other point to consider is smaller saws rev faster than larger saws. If you look at the spec sheets for all the saws a company makes, you might see little 45cc saws revving to 14,000 RPM, while the larger saws only rev to 12,000 RPM. Those RPM differences can account for several thousand feet per minute of chain sliding through the wood, and therefore chips being cut by the cutters. So in many cases a smaller saw will out-cut a larger saw in smaller wood. The flip side is that a smaller saw will almost never out-cut a larger saw in larger wood.
Keep these points in mind when buying a saw by considering what type of wood you will likely cut the most regularly, and purchase a saw tailored to that task. If you have various tasks that a saw must perform, you might consider simply buying the biggest saw necessary for the tasks, such as felling 30” trees, but realize that it may not be as efficient or as fast as a saw built for the smaller tasks, such as cutting the branches off the tree and up into firewood logs.
 

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The EPA and cutting emissions : strato engines are here to stay - Husqvarna X-torq and Stihl “Reduced emission engine technology”
Lets first talk about how a two-stroke engine works. In contrast to a four-stroke engine, there is a small window of time overlapping where the spent exhaust gases are expunged out of the cylinder to the muffler and new air-fuel mixture is transferring (via the transfer ports) to the upper cylinder. Therefore, air-fuel mixture is chasing the exhaust gases out of the cylinder. This is by design, but the problem is that 15-30% of what is in the exhaust is unburned air-fuel mixture that is essentially wasted.
The EPA wanted to curtail these noxious emissions, for the environment as well as the operator’s health, and targeted removing them from the 2-cycle engine. So strato-engines were designed. A divided carburetor body and an additional hole into the cylinder were the genius to this design. Instead of chasing the exhaust gasses out of the cylinder with air/fuel mix, a burst of pure air through the carb into the combustion chamber allows the spent exhaust gasses to be chased out by pure air instead of air-fuel. The upshot to this for most users is that they see a 15-30% increase in fuel efficiency. A saw that used to run for 45 minutes will now run for 60 minutes just by this one change. Another noted positive of the strato engine, anecdotally, is that they seem to have a wider torque band, which makes it feel like the saw has more power across a larger RPM range.
The downside to these strato engines, as reported anecdotally by some, is that the cylinder runs hotter than before, since they aren’t being cooled and lubricated by as much wet fuel-oil but by 15-30% more dry air. Therefore some have claimed it can lead to being more prone to damage by scoring of the piston or cylinder. In other cases it seemed that the the power was not quite the same, perhaps due to decreased fuel and increased air ratios in the cylinder during combustion. Lastly, some people who were used to simple modifications to squeeze more power from their saw found that this new strato cylinder was more difficult to exact additional gains from.
For most users, they won’t notice much difference between strato and non-strato saws, except for extra fuel efficiency, and unless you’re buying a used saw or live in a country that receives non-EPA compliant saws, it probably won’t even be an option for you. Since about 2008/2009, both Stihl and Husqvarna, as well as most other manufacturers make strato saws (and other small-engine tools) exclusively now. They work well, they are better for the planet (and your lungs) and they save you money in gas. They aren’t going away, so learn to appreciate them.
 

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The new generation computer-controlled carbureted saws: AutoTune vs M-tronic.
Designed by Husqvarna, licensed to Stihl, the next generation carburetors are now computer controlled. While it isn’t fuel injection, it is a step in similar direction. Fuel injection requires a fuel pump to pump fuel in high pressure to a manifold where it is sprayed into the cylinder. Excess fuel exceeding the max manifold pressure is returned to the tank. What this allows is a computer to control a tiny valve between the manifold and the fuel injector that affects when the fuel sprays and for how long the fuel is sprayed into the cylinder. Coupled with external sensors, this allows the computer to make compensations for all kinds of things, including the amount of air passing into the cylinder, which is affected by the quality of the air filter, changes in elevation and weather, barometric pressure, temperature, quality of fuel, and load on the engine. This system is highly dynamic but very complex, requiring pumps and sensors and high pressure lines, and would be quite heavy to incorporate into a small tool like a saw.
Zenoah research, backed by Husqvarna, came up with a novel solution. Instead of controlling the dosing of the fuel while the volume and density of air changed (as in fuel injection), they retained the carburetor, and used an actively controlled butterfly valve in the carburetor using a PID controller to vary the amount of air entering the cylinder. Husqvarna named this AutoTune. The system relies on a single sensor monitoring the RPM speed of the flywheel, and is a “game changer” for small engine efficiency. It makes adjustments to the carburetor dynamically while the engine is running based off of feedback from the flywheel. If the saw starts to bog down in a cut and RPMs drop, the system can open the butterfly valve to give more air & increase RPM. As the RPMs pick back up, the butterfly valve closes slightly to enrichen the fuel-air mixture and provide proper lubrication.
It is very compact and light-weight, just a small computer sitting on top of the carburetor and a solenoid butterfly valve. It has a battery backup for the RAM memory and receives power from the saw by electromagnetic induction - a stator on the flywheel acts as a generator to make electricity the same way it does to run the heated grips on the handles. The system will record all kinds of information including number of starts, hours run, max RPM, average RPM, and will allow you to see all of this on a computer.
Stihl tried to squire Zenoah so Zenoah spun off its US R&D arm which Husqvarna bought to acquire and protect their IP. However, a EU court ruled that Husqvarna had to license the technology to Stihl because they feared a monopoly. Husqvarna licensed the gen1 technology to Stihl, and Stihl called it M-tronic. Husqvarna called their integration Autotune, but they originally had problems with their carburetor solenoid valves and AutoTune in general developed a bad connotation, at least less favorable than M-tronic. However, problems with new technology are always expected, and as they are ironed out, eventually these systems will proliferate and we’ll wonder how we survived without them before.
The whole impetus for this system was actually not to make using the saw easier - men had been cutting wood with chainsaws for decades just fine. It was actually the EPA pushing for stricter emissions that brought about AutoTune and M-tronic.
For years engine designers have known that there is no single optimal setting for running an engine; running conditions change from one tank of gas to another, or because of changes in location and altitude, and from day to day, sometimes from morning to evening, and carb adjustments have been a fact of life. To meet the EPA’s restrictions on emissions, saws were typically set very “lean” from the factory. This caused problems as it reduced the fuel and thereby the lubrication to the cylinder. Under certain conditions, such as improper fuel/oil mix, altitude changes, or other conditions, it was more likely to cause scoring of the piston and result in costly repairs, and shortening lifespan. Operators have found various ways to defeat the EPA “limiters” on carb adjustment screws to enrichen the fuel mixture. However, with AutoTune and Mtronic, saws will no longer need to be set “lean” or be able to run extra “rich”. In theory the EPA and the end user should be happy.

Stihl Intellicarb compensating carburetor: Intellicarb is different from AutoTune or M-Tronic. The Intellicarb is a carb that compensates for a dirty air filter. It adjusts the impulse location of air flowing into the carb to attempt to compensate for a dirty air filter as you use the saw.
 

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Modifying saws:
Modifying saws isn’t new, its just trying to squeeze power out of what the saw came with as stock. An engine is like a big air filter, and to help it breathe better people do all kinds of modifications, some simple and cheap, some complex and expensive. Simple mods are removing the spark arrestor screen on the muffler, or gutting the muffler of restrictive baffles or putting an extra exit hole on a muffler. Big Bore kits exist to increase the displacement of the cylinder, although many of these kits often have varying degrees of quality. Removing the base gasket between the crankcase and the cylinder and replacing it with a liquid gasket can increase compression for extra power.
Porting a saw is also possible, although it can be very labor intensive, and so it is not possible for the manufacturer to put in that kind of effort on each saw while keeping costs down. Porting refers to grinding, sanding and polishing the intake and exhaust ports of the cylinder to smooth and increase the airflow through them. In addition, other modifications accompanying a port-job may include changing the intake, exhaust or transfer port shape, size or height. While widening the port openings will increase flow without affecting port timing, this last modification is often the most technical, requiring a firm understanding of the operation of the engine, as adjusting the height and location of the ports does affect the port timing, which has considerable impact on the characteristics of the engine. For example, raising the exhaust port timing will yield more RPM but less torque. For these reasons, knowing the intended use for the saw is important in tuning the saw’s performance. Anyone can port a saw, but work done by an experienced mechanic often has better results.
“Go too high with the transfers, and you start pushing exhaust down them and hindering flow and RPMs. Raise the exhaust too high, and you lose compression and torque. Lower the intake too far and you start losing base compression. It's all a balancing act. And some saws like what another saw doesn't.” -- Brad Snelling
Other gains may be made by machining away the cylinder base in conjunction with cutting a new squish band to increase compression, adding bridge or finger ports to the cylinder walls to increase transfer, or changing the angle of the opening in the transfer ports.
 

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Features (work in progress)

Pre-filter air injection vs non air-injection.
Husqvarna saws use a mechanical prefilter based off the flywheel which they call Air-injection technology. Larger particles are accelerated by centrifugal force to the outside of the flywheel and away from it. An air scoop closer to the edge of the flywheel sits in a cleaner airstream path and funnels that air toward the air filter on the carburetor. This works especially well in most conditions aside from areas where it is very dusty, as the small dust particles aren't sufficiently accelerated by the flywheel. But in general use Husqvarna saws have less dirty air filters during use, and are praised for this point, which is directly attributable to their air-injection technology. As the patent expired for air-injection, expect to see more Stihl saws use it. Newer Stihl saws that already have the “pre separation filtration technology” include Stihl models (441 & 361), and do have a better system (similar to Husky) than older design saws (460 & 660) which require more frequent cleanings.

Inboard vs outboard clutches. One of the greatest polarizing features of a chainsaw turns out to be the difference between inboard and outboard clutches. The clutch sits on the side of the chainsaw, connected to the power take off (PTO) and allows the chain to stop spinning at low engine RPM, but at higher RPM engages the clutch drum to spin the chain. An inboard clutch has the clutch mounted close to the body of the chainsaw, with the sprocket and chain on the outside of the clutch drum, while an outboard clutch has the sprocket and chain between the clutch drum and the body of the chainsaw. There are upsides to both designs, as well as drawbacks. An inboard clutch would allow the user to easily replace the sprocket, often a rim sprocket, by removing the side clutch cover and simply prying off a C-clip. This is necessary not only when the sprocket wears out, but also to change the characteristic of the saw from higher revving (higher tooth sprocket) to more torque (lower tooth sprocket), which could be a consideration if using significantly different length bars to cut variable diameter wood. It can also be useful in the case of a pinched bar for easily removing the bar from the saw without first removing the chain from the bar.
By contrast, outboard clutches require removing the clutch drum to change the sprocket, sometimes with a special tool, as well as requiring blocking off the piston (and therefore removing the spark plug), which may be slightly more time consuming. And while it may not be difficult when the saw is on a workbench, it can be nearly impossible when you’ve pinched the bar in a cut.
Therefore changing sprockets is often regarded as a more time-consuming process, and rescuing a saw with a pinched bar is not possible at all with an outboard clutch. The upside to outboard clutches is that they clear chips from behind the clutch cover much more rapidly and easily, and they put the bar closer to the center of the saw. By moving the bar closer to the center of the saw they create a narrower body and therefore balance the saw better, or make it feel more nimble and maneuverable.
Many people often favor one particular type of clutch, but both manufacturers offer different model saws with different clutch options, although Stihl seems to favor inboard clutches, whereas Husky seems to favor outboard clutches.

Anti-Vib: Springs vs rubber mounts. Perhaps one of the second largest differentiators between Stihl and Husqvarna comes down to the implementation of anti-vibration to reduce fatigue. Husqvarna uses springs to isolate the vibrations of the saw from the handle, whereas Stihl uses rubber mounts to dampen the vibrations of the saw. Generally springs work better to reduce the vibration to your hands but they can make a large saw on springs feel floppy. Rubber mounts never completely fail, but can harden, tear or slowly wear out, and in general don’t work as well as springs to isolate vibrations but they can give a saw more "feel" as they are stiffer than springs. Stihl has switched some models over to spring anti-vib, and most other saw manufacturers use springs.

Chain tension adjuster. Perhaps the third greatest point to differentiate Stihl vs Husqvarna comes down to the preferred chain tension adjustment method. As you use a chain, it stretches, so to compensate you turn a little screw to push the bar further away from the sprocket and tighten the chain on the bar. The original tensioning mechanisms on the first chainsaws were all built into the front of the saw, and had a screw facing forward next to the felling dogs/spikes. Many of Husqvarna’s saws have a big, robust screw on the front of the saw to do this. However, the complaint arose that they could get mucked up with bar oil/saw chips and you had to dig a little to find them, or could gnash your knuckles against the chain when tightening the screw if your screw driver slipped. A refinement to the design came in putting the tensioning mechanism in the side cover which made finding and adjusting it easier. Stihl implements this method on many of their saws, and Husqvarna uses it on a few saws. While it solves the problem of easier access, some people feel that the mechanism uses a small screw and doesn’t feel as robust as a front-tensioner. Personally I like the side tensioner. Lastly, the latest designs that you’ll see on the consumer/prosumer saws are “tool-less” tensioning on the side of the saw. This is essentially a plastic cap on a screw that you can twist with your hand instead of taking out a scrench to loosen the bar, and a plastic wheel you can turn with your fingers to adjust tension. Some people like it a lot, since it saves having to keep a spare tool (scrench) on or nearby. They have little-to-no mentioned failure rate, but note that they replace two bar nuts with a single tightening screw and are not on the professional saws.

Fuel caps. We would all like our gas and oil caps to seal tightly but not be too tight that we can’t open them by hand. Sometimes, no matter how carefully we tighten them after filling, either by vibration or by vacuum suction after sawing they are too tight to twist open by hand. Manufacturers solved this problem with a solution - instead of trying to grasp a small tab to twist open the cap, use the scrench tool! Caps were designed to either take the flat-blade of a screwdriver, or the hexagon socket of the scrench. But not everyone carries a scrench with them. So after a recent redesign we have “flippy caps”. The idea is that half the cap flips up to create a large tab surface to grasp and tighten or loosen the cap. Stihl was the original innovator of these tool-less caps, similar to the tool-less chain tensioner mechanism, but unfortunately their first design for positive lock-engagement didn’t work very well; they designed them to be half-turn-to-open and this required lining up tabs in slots, which proved to be too complicated, and so they leaked due to misuse. They got a bad reputation, but their redesigned newer ones work much better. And now Husqvarna has flippy caps too. Husqvarna’s are backwards compatible to all their older saw fuel/oil ports since they match the threads of the old caps. They work pretty well.

Elasto start vs smart start:

Sprockets : more vs less teeth for higher speed vs more torque. Rim vs spur.

Chain : Round vs square (easier to sharpen vs higher performance cutting). Sharper chains dull faster. Semi chisel vs full chisel (for dirty vs “clean” cutting). Full comp vs semi/full skip tooth (for running oversize bars).

Chains and bars : Pitch vs Gauge. (0.325, 0.375, .404) / (0.050, 0.058, 0.063). Consider if you shop locally for chain what is available, if you buy saws without bars which bars will be compatible.

Husqvarna prefers a 0.050 or 0.058 gauge while Stihl prefers a 0.050 or 0.063 gauge. Stihl chain is regarded very highly since it has built in grooves to help move oil and lubricate the chain and bar. Also, Stihl chain is thought to stay sharp a little longer. Germany has always produced good quality steel, since the turn of the 20th century the highest quality straight razors were forged in Solingen Germany. Keep in mind that harder steel is harder to sharpen. (Also mention bars designed to mount to Stihl saws are not compatible with Husqvaran saws and vice versa - for those that have multiple saws.)


Besides Husqvarna and Stihl is there anything else out there worth considering? Yes!

Other quality brands you may have not considered but should : Jonsered (Swedish, owned by Husqvarna), Solo (German), Sachs Dolmar (now just Dolmar, German), Makita (rebadged), Shindaiwa (Japanese), Redmax.

Dolmar: Dolmar has made chainsaws in northern Germany for as long as Stihl has in the south. Some think that some Dolmar models are preferable to comparable Stihls. Price is part of that.
Makita: Some call them "Dolkitas." Makita bought Dolmar some years back, so now you will see Makita chainsaws with their classic blue colors, which are really produced by Dolmar.


Other brands you may be considering (especially if older saws) : Poulan, McCulloch, Homelite, Partner, Pioneer, Remington, Olympic, Lombard, Disston,
 

CR888

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This is all good, but the latest AS brand enthusiests prefer echo due to their unparalled awsomeness, pro build quality, and better looks. Can you tell us some stuff about echo's and how awesome the 590 is?
 
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