Stihl MSA 160T Top Handled Chainsaw

Cordless chainsaws are now starting to be taken seriously by tree surgery professionals worldwide

by Steve Bullman of Arbtalk

If you haven’t yet made the switch to battery powered technology yet then the Stihl range is definitely a good place to start.

The Stihl Pro Cordless Power Tool System now has 11 different tool types covering everything from grass cutting to tree surgery.  For the purpose of this review though we will be focussing on the MSA 160T battery powered top handled arborist chainsaw


Battery chainsaws are not new by any means.  I remember seeing Craig Johnson demonstrating a Makita version probably about 20 years ago at an APF forestry show.  If i’m honest it did seem like a bit of a joke at the time as we walked past the demo, and whilst we did stop and have a quick look at the saw we were also quite quick(maybe too quick) to rubbish it.

Fast forward several years, with the technological advancements of Lithium batteries, and these cordless chainsaws are now starting to be taken seriously by tree surgery professionals worldwide.


I have personally been using Stihl’s MSA 160T for approximately 2 years now and it is a valued tool in my arsenal.  By no means can it be considered a tool for every job however.  Whilst it could be used for cutting larger timber up to bar guide size it would be considerably slower than using a petrol powered chainsaw and would certainly eat into the batteries.  Where this chainsaw comes into its own is on general pruning work.  I would add though that is only my opinion and I know several regular users of these saws that will think nothing of using them for takedowns.


How long do battery chainsaws last?


The stated times from Stihl’s website are as follows:


Run time with AP 200 min 1)             up to 35 minutes

Run time with AP 300 min 2)             up to 50 minutes

Run time with AR 2000 min 2)           up to 180 minutes

Run time with AR 3000 min 2)           up to 230 minutes

The recommended battery is the AP200 which I have, and the time they state is fairly accurate in my experience.  With 2 batteries and an electrical outlet on site, there is really no need to go higher than an AP200.


How is the cutting performance?


The MSA 160T has a very efficient and lightweight brushless electric motor which in edition to running quietly, generates far lower vibrations than a petrol chainsaw which makes it a lot more pleasurable to use.  What really makes it out perform some of its rivals though is down to Stihl’s exclusive Picco Micro 1/4” chain.  This does have one downside though.  Due to the tiny cutters the chain is quite finicky to sharpen freehand, even for an experienced sharpener.  Good eye sight is key here, which is probably whats letting me down if i’m honest!  This was discussed in length on Arbtalk and I am not the other user experiencing this, attention to detail is needed more than on any other chain.  The good news however is that the chain is very cheap to replace.



So what are the benefits of going cordless?


Reduced Noise – This is by far the quietest of the battery chainsaws I have used, and whilst hearing protection is still recommended I don’t believe you would suffer any ill effects from using without.  It is really a very quiet unit.  On a hot summers day it makes a lot of difference being able to work without a pair of sweaty ear defenders on!  Its also causes less disturbance to neighbours and the general public, which is ideal for tree surgery companies regularly working in noise sensitive areas.  In some circumstances this could mean being able to start work an extra hour or 2 earlier in those summer months without annoying people.  We all like an early finish in the summer right?


Easy start – Pull the chain break back and thats it, you’re good to go.  OK, so pull starting a small chainsaw isn’t the hardest thing in the world, but when you have managed to get yourself into the sort of position you would only see carried out at an advanced yoga class, being able to then start cutting without pull starting your saw makes a refreshing change.


Health benefits – It goes without saying you are not breathing in any petrol fumes with these saws.  You’ll still be using other petrol powered saws obviously, but every little helps, and these top handled saws are more likely to be used closer to your face than a ground saw.


Financial benefits – I forget the exact cost they state it costs to charge a battery, but it is certainly cheaper than the costs of running on petrol, even taking into account the overall battery life and replacement costs.

In addition the actual cost of purchasing the tools does work out cheaper than petrol products.  The initial tool purchase which will see you also buying a charger and probably 2 batteries will seem expensive, but as previously mentioned Stihl has 11 different tools in the range already, all of which use the same batteries.  Buying additional units from the range to use with the interchangeable batteries will offer further savings in the long term.


Zero maintenance – OK so not quite zero, you still have to clean the bar and chain here and there, make sure the safety features are all present and working correctly, but other than that there really is nothing left to do.


Are there any bad points to consider with battery chainsaws?


Not really, at least nothing major, but here’s a few small niggles:


Remember to top up the chain oil – This is so so easy to overlook with battery tools.  Its a given when refuelling a petrol chainsaw that you also top up the chain oil at the same time.  What happens when the need to refuelling disappears though?  Maybe its just me, but I constantly need to remind myself to do this simple thing!


You will need an electrical outlet – There are options available for charging batteries from your vehicle but these are typically slower and will require you to leave your vehicle engine running.  For  residential work we have always just asked the customer to use their electrical outlet.  In 2 years we have only ever been refused once.  That did cause some issues on the day as it was a hedge trimming job and the team had turned up with battery tools only.  In hindsight this could have been avoided in the quotation stage by requesting permissions to use the customers electricity outlet….mental note taken!


Everyone wants to use the battery tools – OK, so this perhaps applies more to the hedge cutters(review to follow) than the chainsaws, but as your staff come round to the idea that in some situations battery is better, you may find yourself short of batteries and tools to go round!


Safety for the ground staff – In addition to the ground crew being visually aware of what a climber is doing, the noise of a chainsaw also serves as an auditory warning.  This is all but lost with a battery saws, especially if the ground staff are wearing ear defenders.  Not the end of the world, but certainly something that the operator needs to be aware of and take into consideration.



In conclusion:


A valuable addition to the arsenal for all the reasons stated above.  Particularly if purchasing more from the range and utilising the batteries properly.  If you are in the market for your primary top handled chainsaw then I would strongly suggest purchasing a petrol chainsaw still.