Cutting a cord of wood with a bow saw gets old fast. When my firewood business started taking off, it didn’t take me long to retire the bow saw and experience the joys of the chainsaw. After some fits and starts, I settled on a Homelite Super XL with a 20-inch bar. It was loud, had no anti-vibe or safety features, was unacceptable by today’s standards, but boy, did it run. That Homelite cut a lot of wood before it was stolen. (Let that be a lesson! Many a chainsaw has “grown legs” when left unattended in the back of a pickup.)

RELATED: Make Extra Money With Your Own Firewood Business

This was when I discovered the world of high-performance, professional saws. Husqvarna, Stihl, Jonsereds and Dolmar are top of the line, with Echo and Makita not far behind. Which saw to buy is more a function of how close a dealer is who can service your saw than the particular make. What is important is to buy enough saw. A bar length of 20 to 24 inches should handle just about anything that turns up. This length bar requires a power head of at least 3.5 to 4.5 cubic inches to do the job right. Most of my cutting is done with a 24-inch bar. Also, don’t forget to read the manual and learn to sharpen the chain.

Be prepared for sticker shock. New pro saws have gotten expensive, and the serious woodcutter needs a pro saw. The homeowner saw for sale on the shelf next to the birdseed isn’t going to do the job. The cure for sticker shock is buying a used saw. If all goes well, you may just have a rip-roaring saw that won’t empty your wallet. 

But, before buying a used saw, here are some things that you should definitely consider.

  1. General appearance. If it looks beat, it probably is.
  2. Does it start and run? Start it cold, let it sit and restart it hot.
  3. Cut with it. Bury the bar in a log and see what it does.
  4. Does it idle? Roll the saw from side to side. If it stalls you may have an air leak, a bad seal or a bad gasket.
  5. Check the sprocket. If it is badly worn, the saw probably was not well maintained.
  6. Check the air filter. A clogged air filter is a sign of poor maintenance history.
  7. Make sure the chain brake is installed and functioning properly.
  8. Check the condition of the bar, chain and engine mounts.

RELATED: Chainsaw Maintenance

This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Winter 2015 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here.