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A Real-life, Solar-Powered Chain Saw

Another step away from fossil fuel…

I took a risk, and I think it paid off. I have an electric car, and a cordless electric lawnmower, and fully-functional battery-powered construction tools. But a chain saw? I was pretty skeptical, but I was also intrigued by the potential advantages—push-button starting, light weight, not having to mess with gasoline mixes, no finicky carburetors to keep adjusted. So I spent some time watching YouTube videos of electric saws, and decided that one of the larger ones might indeed work as well as my Jonsered gas saws.

So I took bit of a gamble, and ordered one from Amazon. It’s an 80-volt, 18-inch Greenworks saw, and comes with a 2-amp-hour lithium-ion battery and a 30-minute quick charger. I also ordered a second battery. Three days ago the package showed up on the porch, and I have to say, I’m really impressed with it so far, so much so that I’ve already made arrangements to sell the gas saws.

Ok, before I go on, it’s obviously only indirectly “solar powered”, because I charge the batteries at home from my net-zero solar set-up. But that was one of my goals– to further reduce my fossil-fuel use. When I charge them at home, they are indeed solar powered. But back to the saw—

Without this being a full-on power tool review, let me give you some of my have-used-it-for-three-days thoughts—

— The saw is powerful, and cuts about as fast as my mid-size Jonsered 51cc gas saw. In fact, yesterday I used the new saw to fell two largish hardhack trees for my pergola project (for those of you not from Vermont—that’s what they call Eastern Hophornbeam here). Hardhacks are the hardest, most dense wood that grows here. In the words of old-timers, “hardhack’s so hard it will spark your chain”. Anyway, I thought this would end up being quite the test, but the saw went through these trees with ease, even when cutting off the stumps that were the full length of the 18-inch bar. I felled both of them using plunge cuts. On the plunge cuts, even with the bar buried in the trees, I could lean into the saw with no loss of power. Not what I expected from a “cordless chainsaw."

— It’s fairly light; noticeably lighter than my gas saws. I really noticed this when reaching above my head while limbing.

— It’s quiet. You can talk with someone, while cutting. But, I did decide to wear hearing protection—while only a fraction as loud as a gas saw, it’s probably right at that line where you should use hearing protection. God only gave me one set of ears.

— You don’t have to pull-start it. This is a big one, because it indirectly makes the saw safer in several ways. In the woods when limbing you’re often wading through hip-high branches as you move from spot to spot. Technically, you should turn off your saw when you move, so you’re not climbing over things and tripping with a running saw in your hand that’s catching on things. In real life, you end up not doing turning the saw off, because it’s way too much work to restart the saw twenty or thirty times while limbing a tree. But the Greenworks saw it turns itself fully off after just a few seconds after you take your hand off the trigger, so that even if you fell and somehow landed on the safety and the trigger, it wouldn’t start back up. That being said, starting it is a snap– you just push a button that you can reach with your right thumb while holding the saw, it beeps, the battery shows an LED indicator of charge state, and you’re ready to go. The safety is perfect, right under your thumb, not like some saws I’ve seen with the safety under your palm or in some other awkward place. Anyway, back to pull-starting—because it starts without pulling, you don’t get as tired while using it, which is also safer. The trigger is also variable, unlike most other cordless saws that are simply on/off.

— There’s no gas or oil to mess with. It does take bar oil, and has an automatic oiler (and a clear reservoir so that you can see how much is left). But you don’t need gasoline, and you don’t have to mix in 2-stroke oil. And, I can finally come home from cutting without my wife telling me to go take a shower because I smell like two-stroke exhaust. (Not to mention having your head right down next to the saw breathing in spewing exhaust for hours). So, “safer” in yet another way.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s some video…

My neighbor is a full-time landscaper, and he came over and used it, and he was impressed with it, too.

So, it seems to be a great saw, but the question on everyone’s mind—how long does the battery last? Well, yesterday I felled the two 10-inch hardhacks, cut out a 9-foot post from each one, cut off one of the stumps, and then limbed and cut up about half of one of the tops, with one battery. The amount you could cut with one battery might vary, it would depend on what type of wood you’re cutting, and what length chunks you’re cutting (for firewood I cut material only to lengths that I can carry, and do the rest of the cutting in the yard). My guess is, though, that with two batteries you could pretty much fill up a full-size pickup bed while cutting firewood. This is perfect for how I tend to cut, in shorter chunks of time after work. If you’re working near the house (or anywhere with electricity) then charging should be nearly a non-issue—if you have two batteries, one can quick-charge while you use the other. In fact, I like the saw so much that if battery life became a problem I would probably get a deep-cycle 12-volt lead-acid battery and a little inverter, and just bring the charger with me, and then recharge the lead-acid battery(s) at home at night (our PV panels are grid-tied, so this would be solar power…) . I could also run an inverter off of the truck battery, but then I’d be back to using fossil fuel, which I’d prefer to avoid.

In the end, this isn’t the saw for a full-time logger or someone regularly felling and bucking huge trees. But for virtually everything I use chainsaws for here, I think this is going to be just the ticket. On occasion, if I needed to and had access to the charger, I could fell a 45-inch tree with the 18-inch bar. So, a good purchase so far—one less thing to buy fossil fuel for, and one more step to our all-electric future.

This entry was originally posted in Lawn and Garden, Sustainable Lifestyles on May 27, 2016.

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