If you’re looking to cut small trees or branches in awkward places, a full-size chainsaw might be unwieldy. The solution could be a mini chainsaw, which is a less powerful but significantly more versatile option that’s perfect for small tasks.
Mini chainsaws are smaller power saws with guide bars and chains ranging from 4” to 10”, as opposed to the more heavy duty 18” to 24” models. They are usually powered with a lithium ion battery just like cordless drills, so you don’t have to worry about gas. Some look and are designed simply like miniature chainsaws, while others come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including loppers and models that can be fully operated with one hand.
Several reputable tool brands make mini chainsaws. However, their popularity has been limited, maybe due to the price to usability ratio (the 4.5” Makita XCU017, for example, has been discontinued). Some reviewers say that for the price of $150 to $250 they’d have to pay for a good mini chainsaw, they’d rather opt for a more portable and affordable hand tool like the Silky Gomboy, or perhaps just a regular full-size chainsaw.
But mini chainsaws can certainly be useful, by making gardening significantly easier or helping people with mobility issues, and the prices are reasonable if it’s a tool you’ll use a lot.
Mini chainsaw buying guide
Here are some of the things to consider while sorting through the many options you’ll find online.
• Safety concerns. There are hundreds of so-called mini chainsaws sold all across the internet. However, the vast majority aren’t made by reputable manufacturers such as Stihl or Milwaukee. They’re generic products with unknown names, and they’re sometimes accompanied by outrageous claims — for example, listings saying they feature 98V batteries, when the realistic range is 12V-20V in a single battery pack measuring around 5” x 3”.
There have also been reported scams. Many websites claim to sell the Stihl GTA 26, one of the first handheld chainsaws to hit the market, at a fraction of its actual price. Then the seller either ships a completely different product (similar to the generic ones found on retail websites by other names) or doesn’t ship anything at all.
Mini or not, chainsaws are dangerous power tools that when misused can result in severe injuries. Going the cheap route with a product like this is not the best idea. First, consider the reputation of the brand you’re considering. Second, look at the tool’s safety features, such as two-step activation (having to hit two different buttons or triggers for it to turn on), a blade guard covering a side of the chain, or a divider that separates your hand from the chain in case it slips. An automatic oiler isn’t a bad addition either, as it will prevent the chain from getting stuck or even pop off. Oiling manually can be tedious and easily forgotten in the middle of a job.
• Power. With chainsaws, power or cutting capability is measured in chain speed (meters per second) and torque. Unfortunately, these numbers aren’t always displayed, or sometimes just one of them is shown, most commonly chain speed. On chainsaws of this size, however, chain speed will have more of an impact since they’ll be used to cut small branches.
Torque refers to the strength with which the chain spins. It’s important when cutting hard woods like maple, and even more so when trying to cut large pieces of it and you encounter knots midway through.
High chain speed, on the other hand, makes cutting small branches a lot easier because even with hard wood, there is very little resistance overall in a 1” to 4” diameter branch. If you think you’ll be using your compact chainsaw for some tougher jobs every now and then, consider torque too. However, you should consider a full-size chainsaw (maybe even a gas-powered one) if you’ll be taking down trees or branches wider than 6” on a regular basis.
• Size and shape. Commercial-grade gas-powered chainsaws tend to have guide bars that range from 16” to more than 30” in length, and can weigh anywhere from 9 pounds to 25 pounds or more. For a mini chainsaw, you should be looking for lengths in the 4” to 10” range and a weight below 7 pounds for maximum portability and ease of use.
When it comes to the shape, there are many options, from traditional two-handed set-ups to lopper-like designs that tend to provide more safety. There’s also the now popular handheld pruning chainsaw.
To remove small 1” to 3” diameter branches, a lopper-style chainsaw can be more than enough. For more versatility, power and out-of-the-garden projects, you might want to get something closer to a traditional two-handed chainsaw with 8” to 12” guide bars.
• Warranty. The warranty is essential when it comes to not only an expensive tool, but a dangerous one. If any part of your chainsaw fails, the manufacturer should be able to help either by troubleshooting or by providing replacement parts quickly.
The standard for battery-powered chainsaws is two to three years of coverage. Anything below that — or worse, no available warranty information — should be considered a red flag.
Best mini chainsaws
1. Best overall: Milwaukee M12 FUEL HATCHET 6” Pruning Chainsaw
Chain speed: 5 mps︱Weight: 4.1 lbs ︱ Maximum cut diameter: 5.5”
If “mini” is part of your Google search, then bigger isn’t always better. The purpose here is to have a manageable tool for small pruning jobs and hard-to-reach places. With the HATCHET, Milwaukee has managed to put a lot of power and features into a small, almost handheld package of just 4 pounds. Most testers and professionals agree that it’s the best performing tool in its category.
Although lightweight, the HATCHET’s 6” guide bar is actually longer than many other mini chainsaws, which are, on average, 4”. This lets the HATCHET cut larger tree limbs or even trunks without having to move the tool around too much. With 5 meters per second of chain speed, this little guy is actually more powerful than some 8” and 10” chainsaws.
It uses an M12 battery, compatible with over 50 other Milwaukee tools. This means you can buy additional batteries easily, and you won’t need to stop working because you ran out of juice. It’s worth noting, however, that some reviewers have complaints about the M12 charger’s reliability. If you have more M12 tools, upgrading to the M12 RapidCharge would be a good option.
Safety-wise, it doesn’t have a blade guard, but it does have double button activation, so it won’t turn on if you accidentally press the trigger.
The HATCHET’s reigning feature, however, is its automatic oiler, which keeps the chain lubricated as you work to avoid any sticking or even slippage. Also, it saves you time as you don’t have to stop what you’re doing just to oil the chain over and over again. In comparison, all handheld competitors we checked out need manual oiling.
The M12 HATCHET’s biggest downside is its high price. It goes for around $240 (with battery included), which is more expensive than some regular-sized chainsaws. Nevertheless, it’s the undisputed champion in its category.
2. Best overall runner-up: Stihl GTA 26 Cordless Garden Pruner
Chain speed: 8 mps︱Weight: 3.1 lbs ︱ Maximum cut diameter: 5.5”
The GTA 26 by popular chainsaw brand Stihl was the first high-end handheld chainsaw to hit the market, and became very popular right away (hence the many scams associated with it, as mentioned in our buying guide). It almost looks and feels like a store price scanner and a cordless drill mashed into one.
With 8 mps of chain speed, it packs a bit more punch than the Milwaukee, powerful enough to easily cut 1” to 4” diameter branches around any garden. However, given its 4” length , you might have to maneuver it differently the thicker the branches get. If used correctly and with patience, it could cut through much thicker trunks.
There’s a protector on the upper side of the bar and chain, which some users have found annoying. However, the protector moves upward as you cut, so it doesn’t actually interrupt the cutting motion. Also, it can provide added safety since it can protect you from bouncing when hitting dirt or other materials. This is especially important since it only weighs 3 pounds, and so might not have the stability of a larger, heavier chainsaw.
Nevertheless, the ergonomics are well designed. The rubberized handle makes it easy to get a good grip, and Stihl’s efforts to reduce vibration seem to be successful.
But, as pioneering as it is, there are several downsides to this model. First is accessibility. You can only get Stihl products from authorized local dealers, so online shopping is a no go, and due to popularity, not many tend to be available. Second, Stihl’s battery tool inventory is very limited, as opposed to brands like Milwaukee and Ryobi, so you can’t mix and match batteries with other tools or easily purchase duplicates to extend your runtime (which at about 15 minutes isn’t great).
Although hard to find, the GTA 26 is a great value at about $150 for a reliable tool from a well-respected brand.
If you want something accessible and more budget-friendly that’s also handheld, check out the Kimo 4” Ultra-Lightweight Chainsaw. It’s not nearly as reliable and heavy duty, but it’s made and sold by a known brand and offers a two-year warranty.
3. Editor’s pick: Ryobi 18V One+ 8” Pruning Chainsaw
Chain speed: 5 mps︱Weight: 6 lbs ︱ Maximum cut diameter: 4”
Good handheld chainsaws are sometimes hard to find or can just cost too much to justify the expense. That doesn’t mean you need to chase your trees with a gas-powered murder weapon. The Ryobi 8” Pruning Chainsaw resembles a regular two-handed chainsaw, but it’s significantly smaller than most of its counterparts, only weighing 6 pounds.
It’s just as powerful as the Milwaukee at 5 mps of chain speed, so it will chew through 4” branches pretty fast. It’s not only powerful though. The Ryobi is designed with safety in mind. When handling such lightweight tools, accidents can happen before you even notice. This Ryobi has a guard right on the tip of the bar and chain to avoid bounce backs if you hit something hard. It also has a second handle on the top for more stability, and a chain break right in front of it in case your hand slips. Finally, while every other chainsaw needs constant oiling or has to feature an automatic oiler (which adds weight), the Ryobi works without needing oil at all.
For around $100, you get a three-year warranty and 5 mps chain speed in a small, easy to handle package. You can’t go wrong with this Ryobi to fulfill your pruning and gardening needs. However, if you need more precision, one of the handheld options above might be best, as they have better maneuverability.
4. Best for low prices: Sun Joe 8” Convertible Pole Chainsaw
Chain speed: Unknown︱Weight: 5.5 lbs (without pole) ︱ Maximum cut diameter: 7.5”
Many of the chainsaws you’ll find under 10” are pole saws, designed to be lightweight for easy lifting and cutting down tree limbs that are more than 8’ feet off the ground. The problem, for the most part, is that they have a long pole attached to them, and so are awkward for jobs closer to the ground. This Sun Joe convertible chainsaw takes care of that problem, allowing you to remove the pole and use the chainsaw by itself.
Though it’s longer than handheld mini chainsaws, it weighs only 5.5 pounds, and its slim profile is easy to handle and carry around to do any light cutting and pruning. And when it’s time to get rid of branches on a very tall tree, just attach the pole and get to work.
Unfortunately, it’s the only chainsaw in our selection without a battery. It uses a regular electric cord, for which you’ll possibly need a very long extension cord, so be ready to spend a little extra on that if you don’t have one.
Nevertheless, for under $80, this Sun Joe will cover most of the light work needed in a backyard, while being small and light enough not to be a burden. However, if you think you’ll need to cut down many old thick trunks, consider something heavier duty.
5. Safest mini chainsaw: Craftsman V20 Cordless Lopper
Chain speed: Unknown︱Weight: 9 lbs ︱ Maximum cut diameter: 4”
If convenience and safety are at the top of your wishlist, you can’t go wrong with the Craftsman V20 Cordless Lopper. While it’s fairly heavy at 9 pounds, its scissor-like design is meant to be handled with both hands so it’s not as unwieldy as a one-handed tool would be.
Just like other chainsaws in this list, the Lopper is meant to easily cut small to medium-sized branches from your backyard trees. Its peculiar design, however, is meant for safety. The bar and chain are covered on both sides by blade guards; the lower one moves with the handle, just like scissors, so the chainsaw itself is only exposed when you open it. That same blade guard functions as a jaw that pinches branches in place as you squeeze and the chain cuts them. Once it’s cut, the jaw closes down again, shielding the blade and reducing the chance of injury.
While many models have two-button activation precisely for safety purposes, the Lopper does it slightly differently. There’s a button on each of the separate handles, so it can’t randomly turn on when you’re just carrying it around in one hand.
This shape does make the Lopper less versatile than regular open models, however, and for $140, you want to be sure you buy the right tool for the job. But if you know exactly what you need it for, it’ll make your work a lot easier while also giving you peace of mind.
6. Safest mini chainsaw runner-up: Worx WG320 JawSaw Cordless Chainsaw
Chain speed: Unknown︱Weight: 8 lbs ︱ Maximum cut diameter: 4”
The fierce-looking JawSaw by Worx might initially seem too strange to be a serious tool, but it’s a fully operational chainsaw designed for safety and ease of use.
Retailing for under $120, the JawSaw has a very capable 6” bar and chain inside its front jaws. It’s tucked away in the lower one to prevent accidental exposure. Those jaws lock the tool onto a branch or thin trunk (up to 4” in diameter) and, once you push the handle forward, the chainsaw starts moving up and cutting through.
Although it could be a little less comfortable to hold than the Lopper, the JawSaw has the advantage of easily cutting branches and trunks laying on the floor. You can put it right over a branch, lift it up a little with the outermost tooth and press down. The chainsaw will chew right through it.
Just like the Lopper, the JawSaw’s shape and design can limit the spaces you can use it in. You can also get a corded version, the WG307, for almost $60 less.
7. Best small chainsaw: DeWalt 20V MAX XR 12” Chainsaw
Chain speed: 7.7 mps︱Weight: 9 lbs ︱ Maximum cut diameter: 10.5”
If you want something lightweight and portable, but still big, powerful and versatile, your best bet is a traditional style chainsaw with a guide bar under 14”. This 12” DeWalt MAX XR will tackle almost everything you throw at it around a backyard, garden or campsite. It can cut a significantly larger piece of wood than others on this list, yet it only weighs 9 pounds, just as much as the Lopper and the JawSaw.
It has all of the safety features you’d find on any large chainsaw. First, it has an automatic oiler for worry-free operation. Second, it has a chain break right in front of the handle, so if your hand slips, or if the chainsaw bounces too hard, it’ll stop instantly. It also has a two step trigger like most chainsaws to avoid accidental activation.
The brushless motor works with a lot less friction than regular motors. This will be particularly important if you use the tool for really tough jobs, since it increases durability. The battery is easily replaced and can even be exchanged for MAX batteries on other DeWalt tools.
At around $250, this powerful DeWalt chainsaw can do almost anything without taking up too much space or being a hassle to handle.
If you want something cheaper, check out the Worx WG322 10” Chainsaw. It’s only a bit smaller, but much lighter and less than half the price. There will be a downgrade in performance and durability, however.