Cordless Stihl Chainsaw May Be Just Enough

Stihl MSA 120C-BQ chainsawYou can’t beat a gas-powered chainsaw for a property full of trees, especially when many of them seem itching to cause trouble. If you’re like many suburban homeowners, though, you don’t need to break out the chainsaw often enough to maintain a gas model. Sometimes, too, cutting doesn’t require a tool with so much muscle. That’s the thinking behind the Stihl MSA 120C-BQ chainsaw, part of the manufacturer’s AK line of midrange cordless-electric tools.

We tested the Stihl MSA 120C-BQ, whose $240 price (all prices noted are rounded) includes a protective plastic scabbard but no way to power the saw. Pay another $100, and you’ll get the 36-volt, lithium-ion AK 20 battery and AL 101 quick charger, though you might already have this from another tool in the AK line. (Don’t, however, use the AK 10 battery for the MSA 120C-BQ; it doesn’t supply enough power.) If you have no other tools from this line, you can buy the chainsaw as a set with the AK 20 battery and AL 101 charger for $300.

Also your job to purchase and wear, if you value your health and safety, is hearing and eye protection, a secure helmet, boots, heavy-duty nonslip gloves and protective pants or chaps intended for chainsaw use.

An important plus in any chainsaw intended for DIY users is ample safety features. As with other, beefier chainsaws from Stihl—guide bars for professional tree-feller saws range up to almost 60 inches long—you get the Quickstop chain brake, tool-free chain tensioning, comfortable handles and low vibration. The saw weighs a mere 8.4 pounds with battery, which made for easy handling throughout our testing.

The MSA 120C-BQ we tested came with its chain mounted already on the saw’s 12-inch bar, and the rest was easy. The oil reservoir has a wide spout, so filling it was a snap. The ¼-inch chain remained well-lubricated throughout our cutting.

Testing the MSA 120C-BQ
Stihl claims its chainsaw will run up to 35 minutes on a charge, which the company says will get you 100 cuts if you’re cutting nothing wider than four inches, such as some firewood. Our test hardwood trees, ranging from three to eight inches (but five-plus on average), didn’t allow for a true test of 100 cuts per charge. What we achieved through two charges was roughly 50 cuts per run, still plenty for a homeowner saw.

One point to keep in perspective is that the MSA 120C-BQ isn’t meant for heavy-duty work. With any chainsaw, you have to position your body properly to avoid leaning into your cut—and apply just enough pressure to let the saw do the work at the speed its engine (or motor) allows. With a cordless saw like this one, you’ll be taking it slow through hardwood.

This isn’t a limitation, as long as you’re patient and keep the tool in perspective. Want a chainsaw that will tear through everything you’ve got? Consider a gas-powered model such as the $230 16-inch Stihl MS 180 C-BE, a 16-inch saw that, at $230, costs $10 less than the MSA 120C-BQ without battery and charger.

The verdict
The MSA 120C-BQ is more than a capable chainsaw. While no battery-powered chainsaw, even the $280 MSA 160 C-BQ from Stihl’s pro-level AP line, can rival the best of its gas-powered brethren, most of us don’t need all that oomph. This saw delivers just what most DIY tree work calls for, and it’s lightweight and maneuverable enough for years of confident use.

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Compact DeWalt Reciprocating Saw Fits Right In

DeWalt DCS367P1 Credit: DeWaltIf your property has trees, the need to chop branches into little pieces is frequent. For many such tasks, a chainsaw is more than you need—but with a bow saw, you’ll grunt through every stroke. In between is the sweet spot of the reciprocating saw, and these versatile tools are as handy indoors for studs, drywall, PVC and sheet metal as they are against tree limbs. The cordless DeWalt DCS367P1 20V Max XR Brushless Compact Reciprocating Saw, $250, has another plus: the four-position blade clamp DeWalt has been adding to its line.

Whether you call this tool a reciprocating or recip saw, a saber saw or a Sawzall (oops, that’s competitor Milwaukee Tools’ trademark), it’s the same beast, and the blade’s teeth usually face downward. You raise the keyless clamp, insert the blade’s shank and clamp back down. Then you’re set to go. But with the DeWalt DCS367P1, the vertical slot accepts a blade with teeth facing up or down. An adjacent horizontal slot, which forms the top of a letter T-shape, takes a left- (shown below) or right-facing blade. Why is this useful? Outdoors, you might never need the feature. Once you’re scrunched into a tight corner with scant room to work, a choice of blade orientation suddenly matters.

That versatility is part of the attraction, and the DeWalt’s compact size—just 13 inches from handle to shoe—helps in those awkward settings. The DCS367P1 is also fairly lightweight: just 6½ pounds counting its 20-volt, 5-Ah, lithium-ion battery.

Having a trim profile wouldn’t mean much if a saw couldn’t deliver. But from specs alone, the DeWalt seemed up to the task. Both its 1-1/8-inch stroke length and no-load 2,900 stroke-per-minute speed are above average for reciprocating saws, and the brushless motor is an improvement over older models that should mean more cuts per charge and longer product life.

Included with the saw is one DCB205 XR battery, a DCB115 charger and a kit bag.

Putting the DeWalt to work
We used the saw to slice through lumber, tree limbs and roots, PVC and sheet metal using wood- and metal-cutting blades from 5 to 8 inches. (You can use blades as short as 3½-inch.) As with any recip saw, the closest to pretty cuts you can get result when you can rest the pivoting shoe against what you’re cutting—a luxury you don’t necessarily have. Whatever the material, the DeWalt DCS367P1 made short work of it. A bright LED shines on your cut and stays lit for 20 seconds after you release the variable-speed trigger.

DeWalt DCS367P1 with blade Credit: DeWaltRun time isn’t especially relevant when the typical job for such saws requires just a handful of cuts at a time. So rather than measure the length of a charge in minutes, we made successive rough cuts of an untreated pine 4×4. The saw made it through 61 full cuts before fading out. The three-LED “fuel gauge” grants some idea of time remaining: When you’re down to one LED, you’re below 50 percent. Recharge when the last one goes out to avoid running the lithium-ion battery down too low—which would shorten its overall ability to take a charge.

With one particular job, removing a tree root that had worked its way out from beneath a wooden retaining wall, the choice of blade orientation came in handy. By installing the blade facing rightward, we were able to slice the root flush with the wall.

One knock against the saw is little vibration control. The main handle’s grip is anti-slip, but if you’ll be doing a lot of cutting with a hand on the rubberized handle, do yourself a favor and put on a pair of work gloves. (You should already be wearing goggles.) That rubber otherwise could cause blistering.

Should you need the saw for a lot of cutting at a time, the approximately 15-minute recharge time is very welcome. Want an extra battery all the same? A two-pack from Amazon, at the time of this posting, cost $149—a bargain compared to the $129 you’d pay for a single one at Home Depot.

The verdict
From its sheer power in a low-maintenance product, any reciprocating saw can quickly become your favorite tool. And whether you’re a contractor who needs a saw for tight places or a homeowner who wants muscle in a lightweight, compact product, the DeWalt DCS367P1 won’t disappoint you. The choices in cut direction, quick charging and breakneck speed are just part of this standout saw, and the brushless motor should help keep it among your arsenal for a long time.

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