What Is a Chainsaw? Design Features and Uses

Updated on December 20, 2022 by

Chainsaws are power tools that use a rotating chain with sharp teeth to cut through thick trees and branches.

Due to the popularity of DIY home renovations, landscaping projects, and bushcrafting, people of all skill levels are exploring the use of different saws for different projects. Before getting a chainsaw, you should understand its intended purpose, main features, and what to look for when choosing one. 


So, let’s answer the question – what is a chainsaw? The main purpose of a chainsaw is to cut through thick logs and tree branches. Some of the techniques used with a chainsaw include:

  • Felling
  • Bucking
  • Limbing
  • Brushing

Felling is the process of cutting a 45-degree wedge near the base of a tree to cause it to fall. After a tree has fallen, a chainsaw may be used to cut it into smaller sections (bucking) or cut off the branches (limbing). Brushing involves using a chainsaw to clear small trees or branches.

Chainsaws can also be used for landscaping and sculpting foliage. One of my favorite garden tools is a light-duty corded chainsaw designed specifically for cutting branches and foliage instead of thick logs.

I’ve also used chainsaws built for cutting through concrete, stone, brick, and asphalt. Concrete chainsaws include teeth with diamond grit to cut through tougher surfaces. 

what is a chainsaw. felling a tree with a chainsaw

Features and Design

A chainsaw is designed with a chain wrapped around a long steel guide bar. The chain includes sharp teeth for cutting through wood and other materials. The chain continuously rotates around the guide bar. 

Here are the main features and components of the typical chainsaw:

  • Guide bar
  • Nose
  • Chain
  • Front handle
  • Chain brake
  • Bumper spikes
  • Start handle
  • Throttle
  • Throttle lock

Chainsaws are typically gas-powered, but some options are electric. Gas-powered chainsaws include a starter cord and a throttle on the main handle. Most designs also include a front handle that you hold with your non-dominant hand. 

Your dominant hand holds the handle. You then pull the starter cord to start the engine and adjust the throttle to control the speed.

The bumper spikes rest against the cutting surface to help reduce the risk of kickback. Kickback occurs when the guide bar suddenly jolts upward, which can lead to injury and even death. 

When looking for a chainsaw, I always pay attention to safety features. For example, with a gas-powered chainsaw, I only use options with a chain brake, as the chain brake stops the chain in the event of kickback. 

Parts of a Chainsaw

Types of Chainsaw

You can categorize chainsaws based on their power source and the type of chain used. The power sources include:

  • Gas powered
  • Electric portable
  • Electric corded

The most powerful chainsaws with the longest blades are gas-powered. If you need to cut down a large tree, you may need a gas-powered chainsaw. Remember that gas-powered chainsaws also produce more noise and weigh more than electric chainsaws. 

Electric chainsaws are often used for cutting small trees or branches and general landscaping. Corded and battery-powered chainsaws tend to offer less power compared to gas-powered chainsaws. Between the two electric options, battery-powered chainsaws often provide less power. 

Corded options tend to cost less compared to battery-powered electric chainsaws. You can also avoid worrying about charging another battery. Selecting a model with high durability that will last for decades is the only way to pick the best value for money chainsaw.

chainsaw in use cutting through a log

Modern Brands of Chainsaws

You can find chainsaws from dozens of manufacturers. However, only a handful stand out as trusted brands with decades of experience in the power tools industry. These brands produce reliable products designed to handle specific tasks, whether you need a gas-powered or electric chainsaw. 

The top brands for chainsaws include:

  • Stihl
  • Husqvarna
  • Black & Decker
  • DeWalt
  • Makita
  • Greenworks

Husqvarna and Stihl are the go-to choices for gas-powered chainsaws for felling large trees. The remaining brands offer various options for dealing with everything from large trees to foliage.

How Does a Chainsaw Kickback?

Kickback is the leading cause of injuries and fatalities involving chainsaws. According to the CDC, over 36,000 people are injured by chainsaws yearly.

Kickback typically occurs when the tip of the chain strikes an object or hard spot that the teeth cannot cut through. It may also occur when the wood closes in on the chain during a cut. Both situations can cause the chain to kick back.

You can avoid kickback by looking for chainsaws with chain brakes or low kickback chains. Some options include safety tips or kickback guards that secure the guide bar’s tip or above the front handle. 


Chainsaws are among the most powerful power saws. If you need to cut down a tree or trim shrubs, a chainsaw can help you get the job done faster than most other types of saws. However, using a chainsaw also requires the strictest safety precautions. Always review the safety features and instruction manual before operating any chainsaw.

You will also have to sharpen the chain and maintenance your chainsaw regularly to ensure continual high performance.

Photo of author

Michael Culligan

I am a lumber worker who performed logging services for Oregan's forestry industry for over a decade. I have spent years honing my skills and experience to become a well-rounded axeman. I enjoy timbersports and have ranked in my local lumberjack competitions. I'm exited to share my knowledge of axes and lumber tools with everyone to help. I also have a large collection of restored vintage axes that I carefully maintain.