Best Top Handle (Arborist) Chainsaws of 2020 – Buyer’s Guide

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A top handle chainsaw is not a tool only reserved for professional wood cutters. It’s in fact a very useful, and more versatile tool than meets the eye.

The best top handle chainsaws can handle a variety of tasks, provided that you understand how to use them, and how to pick the most appropriate one for the work you’re about to do.

Comparison Chart of the ​Best Top Handle ​Chainsaws

Product

Our Rating

​Price

Husqvarna 966997203

Best Overall

Farmertec Holzfforma G111

Runner-up

Tanaka TCS33EDTP

Best for the Money

Echo 26.9cc Chain Saw

Best Echo Top Handle Chainsaw

Makita XCU09PT

Best Electric Top Handle Chainsaw

What is an Arborist Chainsaw? What Is a Top Handle Chainsaw? Are They the Same Thing?

An arborist chainsaw, also called a top handle chainsaw, has a unique design that allows it to make short work of very specific tasks. As the name implies, these tasks normally include cutting down diseased or dead branches while the user is high up on the tree. All jobs suited for an arborist, landscaper, etc.

Top handle chainsaws are very different from traditional chainsaws not just by design but also by how they’re operated. The most important aspect of any good arborist chainsaw is how well it’s balanced.

The top handle design is used in order to shift the center of gravity of the tool to the middle. This gives the user better balance and also makes the device easier to handle, as does the use of smaller engines.

Proper weight distribution and less vibration are important design features or arborist saws. These features make top handle chainsaws much easier on the wrists, all without sacrificing much power. Thus, they’re still better suited for cutting down big branches than, say, pole saws. And, easier to use while climbing a tree than traditional chainsaws.

Quick Take: Best ​Top Handle Chainsaws

Hoping to cut right to the chase? Below are the best top handle chainsaws:

  1. ​Best OverallHusqvarna 966997203​​​
  2. ​Runner-up Farmertec Holzfforma G111​​​
  3. ​Best for the Money Tanaka TCS33EDTP​​​

Top Handle Chainsaw Reviews

Now that you know the basics of top handle saws, it’s time to see a list of the best arborist chainsaws and what they can do. Although not all models are created equal, you’ll notice that some are better than others for specific tasks.

​Best Overall:
Husqvarna 966997203 T435

PROS

  • Lightweight yet powerful engine
  • On-the-spot side tension adjustment
  • High-quality X-Cut chain that’s very sharp and reliable
  • ​Low-exhaust emissions cater to environmentally-minded users
  • LowVib suspension system to improve control and reduce vibrations

CONS

  • The engine doesn’t handle heavy continuous use too well
  • Not suitable for cutting large branches in quick succession

Our Review

Ideal for light-duty workloads, the Husqvarna T435 is our pick for the overall best top handle chainsaw. It makes short work of small to medium-sized branches with its 12” bar, it’s lightweight, and can also be secured to a harness.

It also boasts a low-vibration design and a fairly powerful 35cc engine. One of its best features is the economic fuel consumption, a popular trademark of Husqvarna chainsaws. 

Furthermore, the chainsaw has numerous safety features, including a chain-break window. The innovative design helps provide better visibility on the tip of the guide bar so that the user can avoid mistakes.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

Its superior spring suspension is the main build-defining feature. Although the concept is used in all arborist chainsaws, Husqvarna’s LowVib suspension isolates the handles from any component prone to oscillation. This gives it a better balance, handling, and makes it considerably safer and easier to use on tough jobs.

​Runner-Up:
Farmertec Holzfforma G111

PROS

  • Reliable oiling system helps avoid loss of torque
  • Supports bars up to 16” that will cut heavier branches
  • High RPM rating engine helps achieve cleaner cuts
  • It can use Stihl 200t components for optimum performance

CONS

  • Pricier to get running since a guide bar and chain are not included
  • Not as suitable for users that don’t know how to put a chainsaw together

Our Review

A true powerhouse, the FarmerTec Holzfforma G111 chainsaw lands on the number two spot, mostly because it comes with only the head. Although it doesn’t include a guide bar or saw chain, it can’t be overlooked performance-wise.

The 35.2cc engine offers a top speed of 11,500rpm. The Holzfforma can support even longer bars, up to 16”, which makes it better suited for medium and some light heavy-duty cutting jobs. Thanks to the automatic oil pump, the saw is highly adaptable.

Note that it also offers great compatibility with certain Stihl components. This will make upgrading or finding replacements more convenient. It’s also important to keep in mind that the choke is a bit more difficult to work at first since it needs to be pushed down harder to get a clean start.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

Engine power and the ability to fit larger blades make this top handle chainsaw stand out. The 35.2cc engine is a bit more powerful than others in this category, and it provides great torque even to larger blades. Even though this also makes the chainsaw heavier, it does give it everything it needs for tough jobs.

​Best for the Money:
Tanaka TCS33EDTP

PROS

  • Fuel-efficient engine saves time and money
  • Compact build is easier to operate while climbing
  • Sharp quality chain that won’t require an upgrade
  • Reliable starting system to reduce fuel and time waste
  • Good anti-vibration features that improve user control

CONS

  • Non-adjustable oiling system doesn’t allow for optimal lubrication in very hot or very cold weather conditions

Our Review

The Tanaka TCS33EDTP offers very good value for the money. Its ease of use is impressive as it allows for easy monitoring of oil levels, brings high-end anti-vibration design features, as well as a more compact build and a smaller engine.

Apart from improved handling, the chainsaw comes with a high-quality bar and chain. The chain is sharp and has very smooth action. However, that’s largely thanks to the oiling system which constantly lubricates the chain.

Furthermore, the tool doesn’t overheat on light-duty cutting tasks, only when pushed to its limits. It also offers a half-throttle choke design which should speed up the starting process.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

Some would argue that the half-throttle choke is a stand out feature in its own right. However, we found that the engine’s compact size and fuel efficiency help set it apart from other models in its price range. And, the size and efficiency also help compensate for the faster oil consumption rate.

​Best Echo Top Handle Chainsaw:
Echo 26.9cc Chainsaw

PROS

  • Fuel efficient engine with lower emissions
  • Design optimized for both left- and right-handed users
  • Build offers good balance between engine and guide bar
  • Top-notch starting system reduces the risk of accidents during startup

CONS

  • Doesn’t have the best chain break which may present some issues when cutting challenging branches

Our Review

For one-handed operation and light-duty work, the Echo 26.9cc is one of the best arborist chainsaws you can get. Its I-30 starting system helps reduce fake starts, and the side tensioner allows for on-the-fly adjustments when you’re up in a tree.

The engine has low emissions and it’s compact at 26.9cc. While this does limit the overall runtime and cutting power, it also makes the unit lighter and easier to handle. It’s worth pointing out that the engine is energy efficient and the weight of the saw is well-balanced.

This chainsaw has an anti-vibration handle which will further improve user stability and precision. On top of that, everything is included to get you started right out of the box.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

As some users report, this Echo chainsaw design is comfortable to use by both left-handed and right-handed users. This is definitely a standout feature and something that both sets it apart from other similar models, as well as makes up for the higher cost.

​Best Electric Top Handle Chainsaw:
Makita XCU09PT

PROS

  • Dual-port charger included for reduced charging times
  • Torque boost option pushes the engine to its limits safely
  • Variable speed trigger which gives the user total control over torque
  • Featuring an electric motor, this a very environmentally-friendly chainsaw

CONS

  • Similar in weight to rear handle gas chainsaws and a bit tougher to operate with one hand at tall heights

Our Review

As an electric saw, the Makita XCU09PT is a bit heavier. That said, it’s nothing if not powerful as it is on par with most 30cc gas chainsaws. Its variable speed trigger allows better precision on cuts and makes the saw more versatile. It also helps save power on light-duty tasks.

The model is cordless and comes with two 18V rechargeable batteries. A dual-port charger is also included and offers good value for money as well as convenience. Note that it has optimal support for guide bars up to 16”. Also notable is the .043” chain, which is sharp and durable.

This could be a must-have direct-drive motor arborist chainsaw for those that don’t mind a trade-off in maneuverability for extra mobility and range. It also suits environmentally-conscious arborists and homeowners best.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

Unlike other saws, this also comes with a torque boost feature that pushes the engine at peak performance, all without overheating it or causing an over-discharge. This superior power management is a build-defining feature.

​Safety Question: Are There Specific Arborist Chainsaw Pants?

There aren’t arborist-specific chainsaw pants. All good chainsaw protective pants will do a fine job as long as you’re comfortable in them.

Keep in mind that some types of chainsaw pants can be more restrictive than others. And if you’re using a top handle chainsaw, chances are you’re going to climb a tree. You will benefit from added mobility and flexibility around the groin area and in your legs in general.

Based on the implications of cutting branches, pants are a better option than chaps. They’re not as restrictive as you might think and they offer the added benefit of protection from tree branches as well. That said, gloves and upper body protection is just as important if you’re a climber, if not even more so than proper pants.

Pros and Cons of Top Handle Chainsaws

Pro: Improved Precision and Safety

Top handle chainsaws are often used for trimming and pruning, much like pole saws. But, because you can use them while working in a tree, they are safer to use. They also sway less, since they’re better balanced, and improve your cutting precision.

Pro: Better Vibration Damping Features

The unique design of arborist chainsaws allows them to feature better vibration-damping. That’s because the handle is not directly connected to oscillating components.

Pro: Better Balance and Leverage at Tall Heights

The balance of an arborist chainsaw, with the center of gravity in the middle, is the main reason why both amateurs and professionals use them to cut when climbing a tree. The position of the top handle makes lower-powered engines more maneuverable.

Pro: More Fuel Efficient

Some will consider fuel efficiency a definite advantage. Having smaller engines and many economic consumption features as well as emission-reduction features, make arborist chainsaws environmentally-friendly.

Con: Higher Risk of Kickback

Just because an arborist chainsaw will vibrate less, it doesn’t mean that it’s kickback-free. In fact, top handle chainsaws are known to have a stronger kickback effect when not used properly or pushed over their limits.

​Conclusion

What makes the best arborist chainsaw? It’s finding the right mix of features for the job at hand. In some cases, an electric model may be better since it tends to provide more autonomy and range. But when mobility and ease of use are more important, small-engine, gas-powered saws still provide the most torque and the best balance.

People Also Ask

For further clarification on the subject, here are some more popular questions that first-time top handle chainsaw users ask before making a purchase. Although these aspects aren’t things that necessarily impact product reviews, it’s important to touch up on them in order to operate an arborist saw safely.

What Is a Top Handle Chainsaw Used for?

It can be used to small pieces of wood and branches on the ground too. But unlike rear handle chainsaws, this design has been optimized for climbers that need to cut trees, diseased branches, and other things at tall heights safely.

How to Hold a Top Handle Chainsaw When Starting?

The first steps in starting the saw are safety checks. Make sure that you’re in a stable position and that the saw is secured to your harness. It’s best to hold a top handle saw with your right hand if it’s a right-handed model, and vice-versa. It’s also safer to start it away from the body to minimize the amount of rotation towards yourself as you engage the throttle.

Are Top Handle Chainsaws Dangerous?

Arborist chainsaws are still dangerous due to their considerable cutting power. They’re not more dangerous than rear handle chainsaws because they do have shorter bars. However, you should still follow all the instructions when operating one, as well as wear the appropriate protective gear.