Top handle chainsaws vs rear handle chainsaws

With two main types of chainsaws based on handle placement – top handle and rear handle – you’d be forgiven for being stuck on which one to invest in. We’ve created a list of pros and cons for each type to give you more information before you buy.

Top handle chainsaws

With a top handle chainsaw, all the necessary controls are located near the top handle, meaning it can be operated with one hand. This makes it easier for off-the-ground use when you need a free hand to climb, hang on etc. While on the face of it this may lead one to think they’re easier to use, it’s actually the opposite – top handle chainsaws are not beginner friendly and are meant to be used by professionals.

Designed to be used off the ground and single-handedly, top handle chainsaws are lighter than rear handle chainsaws. This makes them ideal for pruning jobs by arborists who cannot use both hands simultaneously while sawing.

Pros of top handle chainsaws

  • Lightweight: Due to being pretty light, carrying a top handle chainsaw around is comparatively easy. For instance, the Powerworks 40V Top Handle Chainsaw weighs 2.4kg (without battery), while the Powerworks 40V 40cm Chainsaw weighs 5.1kg (without battery).
  • Compact: Top handle chainsaws are comparatively small and compact. This means they can be carried while climbing a tree – perfect for arborists sawing down branches.
  • Maneuverable: Due to its size and weight, the top handle chainsaw generally offers greater maneuverability and reach.
  • Durable: Top handle chainsaws are known for their smooth cutting operation and durability, withstanding harsh impacts during operation.

Cons of top handle chainsaws

  • For professional use: The top handle chainsaw requires greater skill to operate. Designed for professional applications, these chainsaws are not made for amateur day-to-day pruning and limbing jobs.

Rear handle chainsaws

With better handling and easier operation, the classic rear handle chainsaw is generally deemed a better choice for sawing fallen logs on the ground. However, its heavier weight does mean you’ll need more stamina to operate it for longer periods of time.

Pros of rear handle chainsaws

  • Better handling: These offer better leverage than their top handle counterparts with the ability to turn the chainsaw while cutting. These chainsaws also come with a better grip and because they require two hands to operate, they’re safer to use.
  • Convenience: With certain chainsaw controls readily accessible – start/stop button, gears, leverage – you’ll benefit from working faster and in a more streamlined fashion.
  • Beginner friendly: Rear handle chainsaws are comparatively simple to use, meaning newbies can quickly become comfortable operating them.
  • Versatility: Because they’re easy to use, the rear handle chainsaw is more versatile in applications – hedge trimming, cutting logs on the ground, chopping down overgrown bushes in the garden etc. – making it more practical than its top handle chainsaw.

Cons of rear handle chainsaws

  • Requires both hands: It’s almost impossible to operate these with just one hand, which means lifting or pushing something out of the way during use is a no-go.
  • Increased stamina: These machines are heavier, sometimes significantly so. Combine this with double-hand operation and using a rear handle chainsaw becomes more taxing than the top handle.
  • Limited scope: Due to its reduced reach, lower overall height, and increased weight, it’s only suitable for on-the-ground applications.

Chainsaws can be dangerous machines and require competent and attentive operation. Before purchasing, make sure you’ve talked to the experts. Get in touch with the Solo NZ team on 07 847 3562 or

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