A chain saw need not be integral to your emergency-preparedness plan, but one can sure come in handy to clear away branches buckled and...

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A chain saw need not be integral to your emergency-preparedness plan, but one can sure come in handy to clear away branches buckled and trees toppled by Mother Nature’s fury.

We recently rated the best gas and electric saws from our tests of 26 models. Many are safer than saws from previous tests, but some do less than others to protect you from mishaps and misuse.

One such mishap is kickback, which occurs when the tip of the engaged saw snaps up and back toward the user. It’s responsible for some of the 36,000 chain-saw injuries and 20 deaths each year. Models with a narrow-nosed chain bar and a chain that digs in less aggressively are less prone to kickback. And a brake, found on all our tested gasoline saws and many electrics, quickly stops the chain if kickback does happen.

While all saws are certified by their manufacturers to pass the voluntary industry kickback standard, two otherwise fine performers from our tests — the John Deere CS46 and the Stihl MS250 C-BE, both gas models — were judged to kick back more noticeably than others, though not enough for us to lose control.

In fact, the Deere did so only after we removed its bar-tip guard, which prevents cutting at the tip. (Deere’s instructions note that some cuts require removing the guard and simply warn inexperienced users not to attempt them.)

Gas chain saws cut more quickly than electrics and eliminate the power cord. Their faster chain speeds can also ease use by demanding less pressure from the operator. But they are heavier and noisier, require pull-starting and tune-ups, and emit exhaust fumes. We liked four gas models from our tests.

Gas models

The top-rated Stihl MS180 C-BE ($230) has a 32-cc engine and a 14-inch chain bar. It excelled in tests measuring cutting speed through a 10-inch-square oak beam. The Husqvarna 142 ($220) was also an excellent cutter, and rated almost as highly overall as the Stihl. It has a 40-cc engine and a 16-inch bar. Bigger yet is the Craftsman 35082 ($200, from Sears), with its 42-cc engine and 18-inch bar. A very good cutter in our tests, it is — at 14 pounds — heaviest of our recommended saws. At just 9 pounds, the Echo CS-305-14 ($200) is the lightest. With its 14-inch bar and 30-cc engine, it, too, did very well in our cutting test.

Electric models

We recommended two electrics from our tests. Although neither could match the rated gas models for their cutting speed, both include a chain brake. The Husqvarna 316 ($220) features a 16-inch bar and a 2-hp engine. It scored “very good” overall. The Poulan Pro 400E scored lower, but its longer bar (18 inches) and beefier motor (4 hp) may task it for bigger jobs. Priced at just $110, it qualifies as a CR Best Buy.

You should always wear eye and ear protection while using a chain saw. Gloves, snug-fitting clothing, chaps, boots and a hard hat with a protective face screen are also advisable.