In the world of professional arborists and tree fellers there are only really two makes of chainsaw that you’ll find them using: Husqvarna or Stihl. You’ll note that I said Husqvarna OR Stihl because almost everyone prefers one make or the other and tend to use them pretty much exclusively. You can have hours of debate and discussion over who makes the best saw and everyone has their favorite.
Well I’m firmly in the Husqvarna camp. I’ve used various Husqvarnas felling, snedding (limbing) and crosscutting trees for more years than I care to remember. Every now and then Husky comes out with a real classic saw. The last one I fell in love with was the 357XP and I used that saw far longer than I should have before retiring it.
They’ve done it again with the 550 XP and the 560 XP saws. These are both medium capacity professional grade saws that are made to work – and work they do. The thing that makes them different from other saws is their combination of balance, low weight, power, and acceleration. In some saws you can have low weight, but pay for it in terms of balance. In others you might get a really torquey engine but pay for it with slower acceleration. Husqvarna seem to have gotten the mix just right with these two.
I originally bought the 550 XPG as a smaller saw for some clearance work I was doing (it has a 50cc engine) and I quickly fell in love with it. In fact I liked it so much that I almost immediately went out and bought its bigger brother, the 560XPG (60cc capacity) to replace my main felling saw. What do I like so much about them? Well the main thing on first picking them up is the balance, they just feel right. They sit nicely in the hand and the 550, with a 13 inch bar, fairly dances when you’re cutting small stuff. Now, no industrial saw is going to be truly lightweight but these weigh in at 5.1 and 5.7kg respectively – much lighter than older saws in this class.
However, what really sold me on them is their acceleration. You don’t think of chainsaws as having to have quick acceleration, but when you’re snedding conifers, the ability to get the saw up to cutting speed almost instantly is really important. It saves a lot of time, fuel, and effort, which might not important for the occasional user, but when you are processing twenty or thirty trees a day it really does make a difference, which you can feel at the end of the day. Both these saws have something that Husqvarna calls “rev boost” and I’m not sure how it works but it makes the saw accelerate noticeably faster than most other saws I’ve used. They also have an electronic engine management system that runs their “autotune” system that can compensate for altitude, fuel mix, air filter condition etc. It seems to work just fine and an interesting spin off is that I can have the dealer plug it in to a computer in their workshop and give me a readout of the number of hours it’s been working, maximum revs reached, hours worked since last service and a couple of other useful bits and pieces.
I decided with these saws to spend the extra bit of cash and buy the XPG model which has heated bars, it’s the first time I’ve used heated grips but especially in the wet cold they make a very pleasant difference, they do get a bit hot after a while but I just switch the heater off once I’ve warmed up.
Now there are a bunch of reviews on the web that criticize the early manufactured saws that came out around three years ago, but as I got my first one in 2013 they seem to have worked through the kinks and I’ve never had a problem with mine, except for one thing which does seem to be a common complaint from users. If you are working the saw hard in hot weather and you let it cool down past a critical level it can become an absolute bear to restart. This only seems to happen if I’ve stopped cutting for more than twenty minutes and less than an hour or so (we call it “half hot.”) It only seems to happen in hot weather and the problem goes away if you’ve stopped long enough for the saw to cool completely. If I’m stopping for a cup of coffee or a similar short break then I get round the issue now by popping the cover off and leaving the saw in the shade. It seems to let the saw cool more evenly and lets it restart straight away.
Anyway, minor niggle apart, I reckon these are the best mid-sized saws Husqvarna have made and when it’s time to retire these two I’ll be replacing them like for like.