Selecting the right size chainsaw for the task at hand is crucial for working efficiently and safely. With so many options on the market, it can be challenging to determine which chainsaw is best suited to your needs. In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about chainsaw capacities to help you choose the optimal saw for the job.
How Big of a Tree Can a 20-Inch Chainsaw Cut?
A 20-inch chainsaw can effectively cut through tree trunks and limbs up to 18 inches in diameter. This maximum cutting capacity is based on the length of the saw bar and the engine power. Longer bars allow you to make deeper cuts, while more powerful engines provide the strength to cut through dense wood. A 20-inch bar paired with a 45cc or larger engine will give you the ability to fell trees and cut logs in the 14-18 inch range.
Chainsaw cutting power depends on more than just bar length, however. The engine displacement, measured in cubic centimeters (cc), determines how much torque and chain speed the saw can generate. More displacement equates to higher cutting force. For comparison, a 20-inch chainsaw with a lower-powered 35cc engine may only be recommended for trees up to 14 inches thick. Matching the bar and engine size to the intended use is key.
Chainsaw Cutting Power Comparison
When selecting a chainsaw, it’s important to take both bar length and engine displacement into account. Longer bars allow deeper cuts, but a larger engine provides more resistance when the saw chain hits dense wood. Here’s a general power comparison for different chainsaw sizes:
- 30-35cc engine – Best for pruning branches and cutting smaller logs up to 10 inches thick. Can work with bars from 14-18 inches.
- 40-45cc engine – Well-suited for felling medium trees and cutting firewood logs up to 14 inches. Works with 18-20 inch bars.
- 50cc and up – The most powerful professional-grade saws for taking down large trees over 16 inches thick. Use 20-24 inch bars.
Again, matching the correct bar and engine size combo for your purposes will lead to safer, more efficient use of your chainsaw. Don’t overwork a smaller saw, and avoid wasting money on more power than you need.
Chainsaw Sizes for Different Tasks
When shopping for a chainsaw, it helps to have an idea of what sizes work best for different cutting applications. Here’s an overview:
Small Chainsaws for Limbing and Pruning
For light-duty trimming of branches and smaller logs, compact chainsaws with 14-16 inch bars and 30cc-35cc engines have the best maneuverability and control. The smaller profile makes them easier to use while climbing a ladder or up in a tree. Stick to cutting limbs under 6 inches diameter.
Medium Chainsaws for Cutting Small to Medium Trees
Felling trees less than 14 inches thick is best handled by mid-sized chainsaws with 18-20 inch bars and 40cc-45cc engines. The moderate weight and power allow you to make fast cuts through hardwoods like oak or maple trees in this size range. Just take care not to over-stress the saw.
Large Chainsaws for Felling Large Trees
Professional tree cutters trust large chainsaws with 20 inch and greater bars paired with 50cc or larger engines when taking down big trees over 16 inches in diameter. The extra bar reach and high torque make it possible to efficiently fell and buck very large diameter trunks. Always assess the tree and use appropriate safety precautions.
Chainsaw Safety Tips
Operating a chainsaw can be very dangerous, so wearing protective equipment and following safety protocols is absolutely essential. Here are some key points to keep in mind:
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
At a minimum, you should wear sturdy boots, thick pants, gloves, eye protection, and hearing protection when running a chainsaw. For even more protection, chaps, a helmet, and a protective jacket are recommended. Work slowly and cautiously.
Safe Chainsaw Techniques
- Keep both hands firmly on the handles during operation
- Engage the chain brake when not cutting
- Maintain proper stance with secure footing
- Pay attention to kickback dangers
- Allow the saw to reach full speed before contacting wood
- Shut off the saw before setting it down
Following manufacturer guidelines and enrolling in chainsaw safety training are also highly encouraged for reducing risk. Never let your guard down when operating a chainsaw.
Taking good care of your chainsaw will help ensure safe, trouble-free service for years to come. Regular maintenance tasks include:
Cleaning Your Chainsaw
Over time, sawdust and wood chips can build up inside the body of a chainsaw. Routinely remove debris from the outer housing, chain cover, and bar groove after use. This prevents clogging and enables smooth operation.
Sharpening Your Chainsaw
A sharp chain is essential for fast, efficient cutting and longevity of your saw. Use a round file and file guide to periodically restore the edge on each tooth. Indicators the chain needs sharpening are slow cutting, smoke, and fine sawdust.
Don’t neglect small engine maintenance either. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for filter cleaning and replacement, spark plug upkeep, lubrication, and cold weather storage.
Choosing the Right Chainsaw for Your Needs
With all the options out there, choosing the best chainsaw for the job requires some consideration. Keep these factors in mind:
Gas vs. Electric Chainsaws
Gas chainsaws have high power output for heavy-duty use, while electric models provide quieter, cleaner operation for light work near the house. Gasoline saws can cut for hours without refueling, but you’ll need an extension cord for electrics.
Chainsaw Bar Length and Engine Power
Match the bar and engine size to the diameter of material you plan to cut. Long bars and high displacement improve cutting capacity, but add weight. Only use as much power as you realistically need to get the job done.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still have questions about using a 20-inch chainsaw? Here are answers to some common queries:
Can a smaller chainsaw cut a large tree?
Yes, but it will require more time and effort. Make a shallow bore cut, then finish felling the tree by cutting from the opposite side. For safety, only work within the reasonable capacity of your saw.
How often should I sharpen my chainsaw?
As a general rule, sharpen the chain after every two to three hours of use. More often in dirty or sandy conditions. Regular sharpening restores cutting performance.
What safety features should a chainsaw have?
All chainsaws should have chain brakes, anti-vibration handles, and front and rear hand guards. Look for kickback protection and an inertia-activated chain brake for even more safety.
How do I maintain proper chain tension?
Check tension frequently. The chain should feel snug but still pull freely. Tension is adjusted using the screw on the side cover. Refer to your owner’s manual for detailed guidance.
What is the best chainsaw for a beginner?
Look for an electric or gas chainsaw around 14-16 inches for the easiest control and safest operation. Low-kickback chains and built-in safety features are ideal for new users.
How do I know when my chainsaw chain needs to be replaced?
Replace chains that are badly worn or damaged. Indicators are a loose fit, difficulty sharpening, reduced cutting speed, and frequent loosening during use.
Can I use a chainsaw to cut firewood?
Absolutely. A medium-duty chainsaw in the 40-45cc range with an 18 inch bar is perfect for cutting logs to length for firewood. Maintain your safety gear and protocols.
Choosing the right chainsaw for cutting small or large trees requires balancing power, safety, and value for your needs. With proper use and maintenance, a 20-inch gas chainsaw can tackle trunks and limbs up to 18 inches thick efficiently. Pay close attention to matching the bar, engine, and features to your specific cutting applications for optimal performance. And never forget to wear protective gear and follow safe operating procedures. With this handy guide, you can cut years of service out of the perfect chainsaw.
Michael Boyle is the founder and main author of Chainsaws Finder, boasting over 20 years of experience in the chainsaw industry. Hailing from Texas, Michael combines his extensive knowledge and hands-on expertise to provide reliable advice and top-notch service. His vision is to empower chainsaw users to tackle any project with confidence, making Chainsaws Finder a trusted resource in the field.