Electric chain saws need the right extension cord

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Published August 09, 2013

| Consumer Reports

Corded-electric chain saws are fine for minor storm cleanup and other small jobs and many homeowners prefer them to gas-powered models that need fueling, pull-starting, and maintaining. But you can't use an electric chain saw with just any extension cord. As Consumer Reports discovered in its latest chain saw tests, eight electric models varied in their tolerance to extensions cords of different weights and lengths.

Like other wires, extension cords are classified by gauge, which might be labeled as “AWG”; the lower the number, the more heavy-duty the cord. The length of the cord also matters—there's more consistent voltage across a 50-foot cord than a 100-foot. In other words, if you use a cord too thin, too long, or both for a demanding product like a chain saw, your saw will cut more slowly. You could even overheat the equipment, which happened during our tests.

The typical orange extension cord sold for outdoor use is 16-gauge (middle plug in photo), which was appropriate only for the Remington RM1635W, the slowest corded-electric saw we tested. With 50-foot cords, most of our tested models required at least a 14-gauge cord (lower plug)—except for two models, the Craftsman 34119 and GreenWorks 20032, which required a 12-gauge (top plug). They cost about $20 to $50.

At 100-foot lengths, the requirements get more demanding and more expensive. Craftsman and GreenWorks recommend that you not use a cord longer than 50 feet. With the Remington and the two top-scoring models, the Worx WG303.1 and Worx WG304.1, a 14-gauge is fine. The Makita UC4030A needs a 12-gauge. The manual for the Homelite UT43122 specifies a 10-gauge extension cord at 100 feet. Heavy-duty cords aren’t merely tough; they’re also much heavier—and more costly. A 100-foot, 14-gauge cord costs about $40; the same length in 12 gauge is closer to $75. And would anyone pay $130 for the 10-gauge cord needed to run the $75 Makita?

Where you’re plugging in the extension cord can also be an issue. If you’re using an outlet on the side of the house, you should be fine. But an outdoor receptacle situated away from the house could pose voltage issues, especially if it wasn't properly installed, even if the extension cord is the proper gauge and length. Not sure? Have the receptacle’s voltage tested; a meter costs about $20. And if you’re in doubt about the gauge of the cords you have (it’s not always printed or stamped on the cord), do yourself a favor and buy a new one. You can always use it for other outdoor power equipment such as a leaf blower.

In addition to the eight electric models, we have 14 gas and two battery-powered models in our chain saw Ratings. Before you start chopping, check our buying guide.

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