You 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 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.