Long ago, I saw a tree guy toss a small Stihl chainsaw 25 feet to the ground. His partner picked it up, refueled it, and started it on the first pull. While I certainly don’t plan to abuse any of my tools to that degree, the incident stuck in my memory.
I’ve used three or four other brands of chainsaws but when a 50-foot-tall, 34-inch-diameter walnut tree fell on my barn, I decided I needed a better chainsaw than I could get at Sears. A brand new Stihl model 280 with a 20-inch bar cost $420 USD at my local store and I don’t regret one penny. I’ve run my 280 continuously (well, with stops for refueling and lemonade) for eight or nine hours without problem. I pinched the blade at one point (user error) hard enough that I had to use a come-along and bow-saw to get it free, but afterwards it still worked fine! The balance is excellent, the weight is manageable (the less expensive model 290 “Farm Boss” is heavier) and there is noticeably less kickback than any other chainsaw I’ve ever used. All Stihl saws have a “recommended” or “stock” bar length but are capable of running shorter or longer. I wanted the lightest saw that could actually cut through a 36″ diameter tree… so I got the lighter 280 with an extra-long 20″ bar which fits perfectly and runs fine; it’s chewed through 34″ of black walnut, 24″ of maple, and 10″ of oak so far without complaint.
I’m less than happy about owning anything with a 2-stroke motor — after all, I’ve been using an electric lawnmower for decades and driving a Prius since 2001 — but Stihl has even addressed that concern. Their motors use a 50:1 gas/oil mix rather than the 40:1 ratio of cheaper saws, and they sell a (relatively) environmentally friendly bar oil. They also claim to use 50% less bar oil than other brands, and unlike every other saw I’ve ever used my Stihl 280 never leaks oil on the ground or into the carrying case.
Real pros — men who use chainsaws eight to ten hours a day for a living — will want to spend around $900 USD for the model 361, with weight somewhere between the 280 and 290 and *significantly* more horsepower. For the rest of us, a model 280 or 290 is a big, burly tool that will be more than sufficient.
When asked why the word’s best selling chainsaw (it’s pronounced STEEL, like the metal) is not carried by Walmart or Home Depot, Stihl representatives will proudly state “because we don’t have to!” To find the Stihl distributor nearest you, use their web site’s store locator.
[Note: Stihl has recently updated their line of saws and no longer produces the MS280, and has replaced it with the MS271 (a new model which splits the difference between the older MS270 and MS280) and costs around $430.--OH]