You will want to weigh power and equilibrium. The larger the displacement, the more power produced by the explosion of the compacted fuel/air mix that pushes the piston. If you are working and picking up several cords of firewood annually, you will need a saw with between 45 and 55 cubic centimeters (cc) of displacement. If you’re only occasionally cutting up limbs rather than doing any felling or firewood, you can find a 10-pound, 40cc saw for about $250.
A logger who works in the woods each day has the back muscles to take a 15-pound saw for hours and hours. If you do not have these muscles a few hours of working with a hefty saw can leave you in pain. Buy a saw powered for the sort of work you’ll do, and your back and wallet will thank you.
A longer bar will let you cut a broader log or tree with a single cut, and it might mean less bending to cut wood on the floor. But more bars are more challenging to control and put more fat from the body, which will stress your spine. Longer bars also imply more sharpening time once you hit the inevitable stone. A 16- to 18-inch pub ought to be more than sufficient for most folks.
If you’re going to use a saw regularly, I suggest purchasing from one of those companies which mostly make saws, such as Jonsered, Husqvarna, and Stihl. Service and parts will be a lot easier to come by, and these are firms invested in making quality, secure chainsaws, and not elsewhere. They also manufacture a vast selection of saws that are ideal for anybody from the casual brush-cutter into the professional arborist and logger. Bear in mind that you can not take your saw into a big box store for support, and unless you are a mechanical whiz, sooner or later you are going to need support from a professional.
Finally, bear in mind that purchasing a saw is only a first step. No saw works with a boring chain, so you will need to learn how to correctly sharpen your string and place your depth gauges. (Editor’s Note: Watch Tricks of the Trade Spring 2006 for string sharpening tips.) You’ll also need to learn how to safely and efficiently use it, if you want good results. Have a training class or 2, or find a mentor. You might find your saw to be among the most productive and fulfilling tools you have bought in quite a long time.