While on the ground, a traditional chainsaw with a rear handle is much more convenient. Still, a top handle model is a better option if you need to do some job above the ground. Lightweight and optimized for one-handed control, it leaves your other hand free to hold on to it or to assist yourself elsewhere.
It may be a paradox that the best top handle chainsaw is not strictly top-handle. Yet the model by Greenworks has the advantages you may need on top of trees, from its weight and compact size to a powerful battery. If not, though, there are others to satisfy your needs.
- 1 Top 7 Best Top Handle Chainsaws Reviewed
- 1.1 1. Greenworks 40V 16-Inch Cordless Chainsaw: Top Pick
- 1.2 2. Litheli Battery Chainsaw 12″: Runner Up
- 1.3 3. Makita XCU06T 18V LXT: Premium Pick
- 1.4 4. DEWALT 20V MAX* XR Chainsaw Kit
- 1.5 5. Husqvarna 130 Gas Chainsaw (16”): Swedish Quality
- 1.6 6. Echo 12” Gas Chainsaw: Compact Master
- 1.7 7. CRAFTSMAN V20* 12” Cordless Chainsaw
- 2 Buyer’s Guide
- 3 FAQ
- 4 The Two Meanings of “Top”
- 5 Best top handle chainsaw — comparison table
Top 7 Best Top Handle Chainsaws Reviewed
- Greenworks 40V Cordless Chainsaw (16”)— Our Top Pick
- Litheli Battery Chainsaw 12″, 40V…— Runner Up
- Makita XCU06T 18V LXT (10”) — Premium Pick
- DEWALT 20V MAX* XR Chainsaw Kit (12”)
- Husqvarna 16 Inch 130 Gas Chainsaw (16”)
- Echo 12” Gas Chainsaw
- CRAFTSMAN V20* 12” Cordless Chainsaw
1. Greenworks 40V 16-Inch Cordless Chainsaw: Top Pick
Greenworks is one of those Chinese brands that put some effort into their American representation, making quality tools and providing decent support. The tools by Greenworks are trendy, and their design is recognizable in the industry. The chainsaw we review is not strictly a top handle one, as it also has a rear handle.
On the other hand, it means versatility, so this chainsaw can be used (literally) on various levels. Why? First, its weight is just above 10 lbs. Second, it’s battery-powered, which is great for a 16″ chainsaw supposed to be used high above. Third, it’s convenient controls; the trigger is at the back handle, but it has redeeming qualities, like low vibration and kickback.
The battery provides up to 140 cuts per charge (though it depends on what you cut, of course). The brushless motor is powerful yet quiet. There is an auto-oiling system and built-in tools for chain tensioning.
Using it on the top of the tree requires being very cautious. But if you don’t want to have 2 different chainsaws, this one is a great compromise.
- Safety: 9.2
- Maneuverability: 9.2
- Ease of use: 8.8
- Autonomous work: 8.6
- A strong motor
- Features that make it versatile
- A capable battery
- Comes with a pro-class chain
- Comes in various kits
- The maintenance is a bit tricky
- Requires expertise
2. Litheli Battery Chainsaw 12″: Runner Up
Smaller than our top pick with its 12″ bar, this one shares most of its merits. Litheli is a Chinese manufacturer that doesn’t try to conceal its origins, and its products speak for themselves. This chainsaw is more versatile than a strictly top-handle, but it doesn’t prevent this usage.
It can be used to cut logs up to 20″ thick (if you don’t mind turning it around), and while high on the tree, it will easily cut most branches down. Its battery is not as powerful, but the 3.6 HP motor is. So an extra battery is a recommended purchase.
It has all the qualities like a tensioning knob, an auto-oiling system, fast brakes, and rubber-wrapped handles. It’s easier to handle when standing on a ladder or sitting on a branch. Again, it’s not for use at heights though it’s possible.
- Safety: 10.0
- Maneuverability: 9.0
- Ease of use: 10.0
- Autonomous work: 8.4
- More powerful than most expect
- Accessories available
- Low vibration
- The battery is weaker
- The manual is quite poor
3. Makita XCU06T 18V LXT: Premium Pick
One of the most famous Japanese tool manufacturers offers its option, and this time, it’s our best top handle chainsaw — senso stricta. If you have a lot of branches to trim up high and there isn’t a branch thick enough to sit on, this is your to-go chainsaw for it. The difference is seen at once: there isn’t a rear handle, and the top one has the trigger on it. The bar is only 10″, making the saw better optimized for cutting branches from the top of a tree.
It also boasts a powerful 5 HP motor and a pro-class bar and chain. This model has all the other features you might expect, like auto-oiling, a quick tensioning knob, bumper spikes, and a LED power indicator.
It is available with the extra 4.0Ah or 5.0Ah batteries; the latter is much better, though more expensive, almost reaching $500. The charger works 45 minutes, enough to keep the tool working with as few breaks as possible.
- Safety: 10.0
- Maneuverability: 9.6
- Ease of use: 9.8
- Autonomous work: 8.8
- Optimized for one-handed work
- Compact and lightweight
- Adjustable speeds and torque boost
- A quick charger
- Advanced safety features
4. DEWALT 20V MAX* XR Chainsaw Kit
If you need something bigger, there is a 12” chainsaw by DeWalt, one of the most prominent American tool makers. This battery-powered chainsaw is even lighter (8.8 lbs.) than that by Makita, despite its long bar. Again, it’s a professional arborist’s tool, with only the top handle and the trigger.
The motor is brushless and quiet, and the battery provides up to 90 cuts per charge. Extra batteries by DeWalt are widely available, and it’s more affordable than the one by Makita, at under $260. It lacks pro features like speed adjustment, but, given its price, it’s a good compromise.
- Safety: 9.4
- Maneuverability: 9.6
- Ease of use: 9.0
- Autonomous work: 9.0
- Compact size yet a 12” bar
- Decent battery
- Safety features
- Quick charge
- Rather affordable
- May consume much oil
- Lacks some extra features
5. Husqvarna 130 Gas Chainsaw (16”): Swedish Quality
And finally, something gas-powered. It’s comfortable because the tool’s weight is just under 6 lbs., and it’s for a 16″ bar! This chainsaw by Husqvarna, a prominent equipment maker since the XVII century, perfectly represents Swedish quality.
This one is a powerful beast, despite its just 2-cycle motor, with an x-torque system that reduces fuel consumption and emissions (though it doesn’t eliminate them). The models offer other habitual features, like auto-oiling and simple chain tensioning.
If you’re unsure about this saw, I recommend buying a real top-handle saw. Given its price (under $220) and versatility, it’s a great regular gas chainsaw that can be used in many ways (until banned, at least).
- Safety: 9.2
- Maneuverability: 8.8
- Ease of use: 7.8
- Autonomous work: 9.8
- All the pros of gas
- No fuel or oil leaks
- Low fuel consumption
- Reasonable price
- All the cons of gas
- Requires expertise
6. Echo 12” Gas Chainsaw: Compact Master
Another gas-powered model by a famous Japanese vendor is smaller (12″), yet it’s logical for a true top-handle chainsaw. It makes even more sense to trim not thick branches with one hand while using the other to hold on. With an anti-vibration handle and a 5.3 HP 2-stroke motor, it’s small but powerful.
The weight is just 6.6 lbs., well suited for one-hand handling. The tool is potent and quiet with a trigger on the handle.
The tank capacity is 8.1 oz., sufficient to cut for about 45 minutes. The price is about $350, but it’s a pro-grade tool, and we found it the best top handle gas chainsaw. So it requires a certain experience level, as it’s for professional climbers.
- Safety: 9.2
- Maneuverability: 9.4
- Ease of use: 9.2
- Autonomous work: 9.1
- Lightweight and small
- A powerful motor
- Safety measures
- Low vibration
- 5-year warranty
- High fuel consumption
- Experience required
7. CRAFTSMAN V20* 12” Cordless Chainsaw
This chainsaw by one of America’s leading manufacturers is a great alternative to the one by Echo if you prefer electric models. It’s also a 12″ true top-handle chainsaw, but it’s a bit heavier (9.9 lbs.) as it includes a battery. If you have a tool collection by Craftsman, it’s a great choice as it’s compatible with batteries and chargers for the entire V20 series and versatile bars and chains by Craftsman.
The 4.0Ah battery provides about an hour of work. It’s great, given its powerful 20V motor. The construction is ergonomic and usable on the ground as easily and comfortably as a regular rear handle chainsaw. It’s just short of $260 with a cordless starter kit and about $140 for only the tool.
- Safety: 9.6
- Maneuverability: 9.6
- Ease of use: 9.4
- Autonomous work: 9.0
- Compact size
- A powerful battery
- Ergonomic design
- A built-in level
- Affordable price
- Not meant for big jobs
- Lacks some pro features
After reading these reviews, you might have noticed that some are rear-handle models that are easier to operate. So can such a tool be used as a climbing chainsaw? How do you choose the best one for your needs?
What is a top handle chainsaw?
Unlike a regular chainsaw having a read and a top handle, this one has only the top one. The trigger is moved from the rear handle to the top one. That’s why they also call it an arborist chainsaw because pros mostly use it. Still, if you have some high trees on your property and want to take care of them, this tool may be salvation.
Does it make sense to use this type of saw on the ground? A two-handed tool with a rear handle is better suited in most situations. But you may find the one-handed manner more convenient wherever you need to apply the tool. It doesn’t always work the other way around: using a rear-handled chainsaw up high requires excellent skills.
Top handle chainsaw buying guide
So, what should a top handle chainsaw have to be good at its job? Given the tasks it’s usually given, here are the requirements specified for this type of tool.
Comfortable grips in varying sizes
As you have to operate it with one hand, comfort is much more important than in the case of a rear handle model. Often, it’s indeed a matter of survival.
Guide bar length
It’s one of the crucial parameters: the longer it is, the thicker branches and logs you can cut with it. But again, shorter models are easier to handle with one hand, as you’ll use them in a risky mode.
Strong safety features
The more dangerous the conditions, the more safety features are required. The protective screen, the saddle attachment, and even the vibration level are about safety. So are emergency stop features and spikes.
Of course, you don’t want to waste your time in the trees while a slow chainsaw lingers with its job. So the more power, the better. Yet the vibration, which is simply unpleasant when on the ground, is a risk factor up there.
As for the type of power, it depends on the work intensity. For smaller jobs, battery-powered tools will do. If you work harder and your sessions are longer, gas-powered models are the way to go. Corded ones are not the type to choose for treetop missions.
What are top handle chainsaws used for?
The idea of a top-handle chainsaw is that it’s easily controlled with one hand. It’s a great tool for an arborist who works at the treetop and removes the branches. So, a top-handle chainsaw, known as a climber chainsaw, is all about single-handed control. The trigger position is the most apparent illustration of that.
Is a poled chainsaw a decent alternative? In some situations, it is. If the branches you need to cut are not too high, you can do it from the ground if the pole is high enough. But there are natural height limitations, and, in addition, it’s harder to control the bar, which is so remote.
The main benefit is that you can operate the saw with one hand. The other, in the meantime, is used for climbing or holding on. Even if you use a saddle, having a free hand is crucial. It can also be used on the ground if you, say, have your other hand injured (if so, get well sooner). Some may just find it more convenient to use one-handed methods.
It also means a smaller size and higher price. But convenience is critical, whether you are a pro or beginner. In addition, in certain countries, there are noteworthy safety regulations for top-handled saws. This British instruction, for example, contains quite a lot of common sense.
Given how specific these tools are, there are always questions about them. Let’s address the most common of them.
How to hold a top handle chainsaw when starting?
Hold it as usual: it’s meant for one-hand handling. Yet you better start it on the ground where it’s safer, making sure it functions properly.
Why use a top handle chainsaw?
It’s a matter of comfort. Not only is your other hand required to be free, but also when you feel it’s easier with one hand. Even on the ground, you can keep the other hand on the log, preventing it from falling or moving. In the treetops, it’s the most crucial.
Why choose a top handle chainsaw?
Not only because it’s to be used at treetops. The work that requires such a tool is risky, and you don’t want added risks because of a poor tool. If you are confident, you may opt for a regular one that’s easier to operate there. Otherwise, a top handle saw gets many arising issues covered.
The Two Meanings of “Top”
So, which one should you use for the top work, whatever it means? While the one by Greenworks is what we find the best for occasional tasks high up in the trees, there are more professional models. The question is whether it makes sense to buy a separate top-handled chainsaw instead of one rather versatile. If it does, some options won’t make you rob banks.
Best top handle chainsaw — comparison table
|The Saw||Power source||Safety||Ease of use||Autonomous work|
|Greenworks 40V Cordless Chainsaw (16”)||Battery||9.2||8.8||8.6|
|Litheli Battery Chainsaw (12")||Battery||10.0||10.0||8.4|
|Makita XCU06T 18V LXT (10”)||Battery||10.0||9.8||8.8|
|DEWALT 20V MAX* XR Chainsaw Kit (12”)||Battery||9.4||9.0||9.0|
|Husqvarna 16 Inch 130 Gas Chainsaw (16”)||Gas||9.2||7.8||9.8|
|Echo 12” Gas Chainsaw||Gas||9.2||9.2||9.1|
|CRAFTSMAN V20* 12” Cordless Chainsaw||Battery||9.6||9.4||9.0|
American, Chinese, or Japanese? Gas or battery? 10″, 16″, or something in between? There are many options, so choose yours!
Got any questions about top-handled chainsaws? Then welcome to the comments to have a buzzy discussion!