Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Free firewood... but I think I need a bigger chain saw

So, while we were gone; there was a big wind storm up here, that took one of our trees down (and a fence slat or two, and some other minor damage).

I'm pretty sure that's a birch of some kind. Not sure which, since the thing is so mossy, and in pretty rough shape anyway (and it's been 20 years since my boy scout tree identification lessons).

There are a few more, similar, trees on the property that I really need to take down. A few shorties, some of which have been topped off by nature already; and couple MUCH taller than this little boy (in the forty foot range), and consequently much thicker through the main trunk and stump.

It took me a couple hours to reduce just that little one to logs, using my 18" Poulan Pro; and I had to make four cuts at the base, which was less than a solid foot thick, to avoid binding, or lugging and stalling.

This little saw has served me well for the last couple years in Arizona; but it just can't handle the trees out here. It's really a light duty saw, for limbing and the like. I picked it up on a massive sale for I think $119, and used it to clear overhangining limbs etc...
Note: Several people in comments have noted that I should be able to take that tree... or a 24" for that matter using my current saw; and I agree, I SHOULD be able to. It's a 42cc saw, it SHOULD be able to do so, providing I am using the right technique.

Thing is, I AM using the right technique. I'm not a novice at running a chain saw. I learned as a teenager PROPERLY, in the New Hampshire woods from experienced firewood cutters.

I AM out of practice however. Although I used the thing every month or two for maintenance; it's been... I guess 7 or 8 years since I've had to fell and buck any trees. I could certainly use a refresher, but I've been reading True Blue Sam (a pro) and some other resources on the web, and I'm not doing anything particularly wrong).

She cut fairly easily on shallow cuts, and not so bad on the short face cuts. It was whenever I had more than an inch or two of the blade bearing on the wood (on a relatively soft wood like Birch you SHOULD be able to get 4" of good bearing surface, even from a 40cc saw on an 18" bar without bogging in any way), had the blade buried much (of course, keeping the tip cleart) or when I had a knot I couldn't avoid that she bogged down badly.

I even stalled the chain a couple times, on cuts that really shouldn't have stalled the chain, though that's where if I had been more in practice I could have avoided it. I paid closer attention after the second time, and didnt stall again.

Also, she got a bit hotter than I like, even cutting that bitty tree... Though I suppose part of that poor performance is me running it with an anti-kickback chain. My current chain is reasonably sharp (I haven't sharpened it recently, but it's not bad. Could be better...) , but I'd certainly get better performance out of it with a new, non-safety chain.

Also, someone noted that saws are classified by displacement, not horsepower; which I was also aware of, but most people reading this post (like my wife) would have no idea what the difference between a 40cc, 50cc, or 60cc saw was, other than "is one bigger?".

Now, I'mna need a real felling and bucking saw; and you all know my philosophy about tools: Either buy the cheapest thing that will do the job, or buy something that will do everything you need for life (or twenty years, or however long a reasonable expectation for that tool might be).

I plan on using this to clear land later on, with trees up to 24" thick. I'm also going to use it to buck out said cleared trees for firewood.

Accordingly, I'm thinking about a 60cc or 70cc, 5+hp 28" or so Husky:

or Stihl:

I don't really NEED one of the big 7 or 8hp Husky XPs. My neighbor has a 93cc, 7hp 32" Husky 395XP, and it's a damn nice saw; but it streets for over a grand, and that's just too much for something I'm not making my living with. Besides which, it's a heavy bastard.

The problem is, there's a HUGE gap between say, the 390xp (87cc, 7hp, 18-28" bar, streets at just about $1k); and the top end of their "landowner" line, the 359 (59cc, 4hp, 13-20" bar, streets at just under $500). The 359 is a good saw, but it's only got a bit more capacity that my little Poulan (for a lot more money).

Frankly, I don't think anything MUCH smaller than the 390 is going to do the job I want.... or rather I'm pretty sure the landowner type models WONT do the job particularly well, or hold up to the duty for years; and if you're going to buy a pro model, the prices are all pretty close together.

There are other saws in between the two, like the 70cc, 5.5hp 372; but it streets for just $100 less than the 390, for considerably less capacity. I'm sure it could do the job I want to do, but for $100 more I could get the $390... Not sure if it's worth the difference or not, plus the 372 is 2lbs lighter.

Husky doesn't have any 60cc saws, and I'm not sure if the 50cc saws are enough. They jump from the 50cc class, to the 70cc class (and from 4.4hp to 5.3hp, and 20" max bar to 28" max bar).

Stihl gives you more options (they have a ridiculous number of models), but the prices are in about the same range.

I figure for what I want to do, the 441 (71cc 5.5hp, 16"-32") or 460 magnums ( 77cc, 6hp, 16"-32") are about the smallest that will have the capacity for what I want; though the MS362 (59cc, 4.6hp, 25" max bar) might do the job as well.

So, I know theres a bunch of experienced loggers, land clearers, firewood cutters and the like out there reading me; what do YOU recommend for clearing, bucking, and other use up here in the north woods?

Update: I THINK I have a decision about the saw