I have thought for some time that maybe I should buy a battery chainsaw. I’ve got battery grease guns, I’ve got battery drills and battery impact guns so why not a battery saw? It won’t stink the forwarder cab out and it won’t make the rubber matting go gooey where a little bit of fuel has leaked out.

I often need a saw for cutting off a stump or trimming a few branches that try to rip the wipers or lights off the cab. It is a pain having to put up with all the little inconveniences of carrying a saw in the cab just for those odd occasions when it might just be needed. Battery saws are the future, or so I’ve been told, and so, at the risk of adding pedant to the accusation that I’m a Luddite, I handed over my bank card to the nice man at our local Husqvarna dealer and took delivery of a shiny new battery-powered chainsaw.

Forestry Journal: Carrying out home improvements with the Husqvarna. It’s handy for a little carpentry.Carrying out home improvements with the Husqvarna. It’s handy for a little carpentry.

This is not a commercial felling saw, he pointed out to me, it’s for groundsmen, gardeners and homeowners. Apparently they have sold one to a Christmas tree specialist who spends much of his time pruning and shaping high-quality, high-value trees. He bought the saw with a spare battery and he can get a full day out of it although he pointed out he is only doing the bits he can’t do with secateurs.

It is a chainsaw; maybe that’s an obvious thing to say, but it’s a good place to start. It has a chain; it’s a bit skinny, but it is a chain. It has a bar; it’s a bit short, and so it goes on. It has everything a conventional saw has, except a fuel tank. The engine is replaced by the battery pack which is just about the most substantial part of the saw, and it’s quite heavy; the battery, not the saw. The chain tensioner is a flip-and-turn, toolless type and the oil tank filler is also an easy-to-use version. It is all designed for the casual user and as we all know there’s nothing casual about professional saws. Sitting this next to my 572 there’s quite a lot you can compare when simply considering the components, but really they are two completely different things.

The 572 is all about felling timber, the battery saw is all about pruning Christmas trees. It is a long, low unit without the battery pack fitted; with it in place it looks more familiar and it whizzes into life with a squeeze of the trigger. It has a push-button throttle lock out that I find a little annoying, I would much prefer a conventional throttle as fitted to petrol saws, but I guess that’s familiarity and it’s not what a battery saw-using homeowner would expect. The first thing I noticed when I used the saw to shorten some lengths of firewood was the noise from the chain. The motor is quiet as you would expect but the chain is remarkably noisy, although you wouldn’t normally hear it on a petrol engined saw. I quickly got used to not having to stop and restart the saw, it seems a daft thing to say but putting it down while throwing the logs to the back of the shed without it sitting chuntering away at tickover was something unusual to a near 40-year-long saw user. The second thing I noticed, and the thing that makes me think there is a future for battery saws, other than the demonisation of fossil fuels, is the instant and surprisingly strong torque the electric motor produces. The third thing is the lack of fumes. New chainsaws are the cleanest ever, no raw fuel being pushed through the cylinder and electronically controlled engines that have scavenging carburettors. I still get the tang of unburnt hydrocarbons from my conventional saws, especially when stretching them to the limits of their capabilities in the hardwoods we fell in the summer. I can see it being a long time before we can fell mature ash trees with electric chainsaws. The way things are going here in North Yorkshire I’d be surprised if there are any ash trees left when electric saws have moved on far enough to fell big hardwoods, although technological advances constantly surprise me.

Forestry Journal: Handy for ending off a few fencing boards in the sawmill.Handy for ending off a few fencing boards in the sawmill.

If you watch Formula One take a look at the E series racing where all the cars are purely battery powered and you’ll be shocked at how quick the cars are that were a bit of a joke just a few seasons ago. When I started writing for this magazine 20 years ago I hand-wrote copy onto lined paper and posted it off to the editor, and photographs had to be sent with my name on the back so they could be returned at some future date. Now I write on a laptop, include the pictures as attachments and email it off in an editable format. I get a PDF back for comment and suggested edits within a few hours and then I can see a page layout before the end of the day. In fact, I can do all of this, including taking pictures for the article, using a mobile phone that shares everything with my laptop at home via the cloud, whatever that is. If you’d told my father all this 40 years ago while we were sat watching a black-and-white television that had two channels in a house that didn’t have a phone he would have thought someone was away with the fairies.

I didn’t really choose the saw I bought, it was the only one they had in the shop. In fact, it was a display model. The 120i is the entry-level saw in the battery range. It is essentially a hobby saw, aimed at homeowners, gardeners and people who need a saw that won’t be making hundreds of cuts over a short time period. The one I bought came with a charger and was a bit less than the retail price of £295 including the dreaded VAT. Extra batteries are £95 for the 2.0 Ah or £160 for the larger-capacity 4Ah version. It has a 12” / 30 cm bar equipped with a 3/8” mini pixel chain that cuts a very narrow kerf. The battery included with the saw is a 2 Ah / 36 V unit that gives a run time of around 40 minutes, which is entirely dependent on how much cutting the saw does and what kind of wood you are cutting. Chain speed is around 12 m/s on full power or 8 m/s on the eco setting. The bigger 535i runs a chain speed of 20m/s although at almost £100 more than the 120i it really is in a different class in terms of both cost and performance.

I have watched various videos of the bigger 535i being used to fell very small thinnings in Scandinavia and it is pretty comparable to a petrol saw, albeit a very small one. I don’t speak much Swedish but I did get the impression the guy using the saw was trying his best to be enthusiastic and he was getting a good amount of timber on the floor although he would have to be on better rates than we are here in the UK for it to pay a decent wage. The main issue I had watching the videos was that although 20 m/s is respectable, most small conventional saws will be running much higher speeds than that and it did noticeably hold the operator back.

Forestry Journal: Green light for go. The one thing I did find annoying was that it switches off after a few moments of inactivity.Green light for go. The one thing I did find annoying was that it switches off after a few moments of inactivity.

Anyhow, just what can you do with a battery-powered chainsaw? I’ve already mentioned cutting firewood, which is one of the toughest tests of even a medium-sized petrol saw. I have logged up small amounts of roundwood and cut up the bits we call scabs left by a cone splitter that came off oversized beech. I think it did quite well but it is no match for a petrol saw except it is quiet, it doesn’t stink and it doesn’t need filling with fuel. It does need the battery swapping over periodically for a fully charged one, but that is a lot quicker than filling with fuel, although you do still have to top the oil up occasionally. It would be practical to have one battery on charge while the one fitted on the saw is utilised. I think it wouldn’t be possible to charge a spare battery in the time it takes to discharge the one in the saw. Using three batteries in rotation would be viable although that would make the investment in batteries more than the cost of the saw.

Much of the firewood we produce goes through a firewood processor for the estate’s firewood business. The staff that run the Posch 360 have a saw at the end of the log deck for splitting off rogue branches and for trimming toes and flares that make the butts exceed the 400 mm diameter the machine can cope with. I had a bash at running the machine with the battery Husky as my tidying-up saw and other than the biggest wood it coped fine. The guy who runs the machine most days thought it would have its advantages with just a good lump of extra power and a 15” bar fitted. I had to agree, the benefits of the battery power are, again, convenience, lack of noise and lack of fumes – especially in the processor shed – but to be truly competitive, the bigger version would be a better bet if it has power to turn a chain at 20 m/s. I had about half a week carrying the 120i on the forwarder and for nipping off tyre-stabbing re-gen it was excellent. It was also very effective at removing the branches of ride-side trees that always manage to get in among some wiring or prise a wiper off. What it wasn’t so good at was sawing of high stumps on main extraction routes. Anything less than the length of the bar, say 12 inches, wasn’t a problem if they were tackled quickly, but it was the chain that let it down. It is so fine that it only takes a smidgeon of mud and the edge is gone and the 120i is one saw that doesn’t cope well with a blunt chain.

Where this entry-level battery saw does make perfect sense is in the garden. At home I have a long hedge on one boundary, a number of conifers on another and a wooden fence on a third. The southern boundary is a drystone wall although that does have a substantial monkey puzzle tree at one end which needs its lower branches shortening periodically as they can remove the skin from unwary heads that stray beneath. The thorn hedge is kept tidy, as are the conifers, by yours truly. The 120i is ideal for this job; it is in its element. It’s the wooden fence at the front where I’ve found the most use for it though. Our neighbours keep ponies and, over the year since they bought the place we share a road with, they have put up lots of fencing that splits the fields into small pony paddocks. Included in this new multi-rail regimen is a two-rail boundary fence that splits their garden from our yard and so we decided to board the whole length to give us a little privacy and keep our animals separate from theirs. This fence runs to around 40 metres, which required several hundred 4” boards and a handful of extra rails. In the true spirit of progress, and the uneven ground, we used the battery saw to length all the boards and a couple of battery drill/drivers to fix them in place. It is definitely a step forward when you can pick a saw up and simply pull the trigger, make a cut and put it back down. It’s convenience, which is something we all crave in these modern times where instant gratification is not an aspiration but an expectation.

I’m not at all disappointed by my first experience with battery-powered sawing. In fact, I will be buying a bigger, more powerful battery saw. Whether that’s a bigger Husqvarna or something else, I don’t know yet.

I have a feeling that there is a place for electric chainsaws in forestry, once a substantial improvement in charging time and power output of the batteries has been sorted – maybe not in medium to large timber harvesting, but I’m sure I can feel something in the wind and it isn’t a future generation of clean petrol chainsaws.