Simon Bowes reviews Stihl’s most powerful cordless chainsaw, the new MSA 220 C-B.

I have quite a selection of battery-powered equipment in the back of my work van – a battery drill, a battery angle grinder, a battery screwdriver and a couple of battery impact guns.

The battery drill is pretty good, probably because it’s a Makita, as is the screwdriver, although it’s a bit more than a screwdriver. It has a set of bits with allen keys and small sockets up to 13 mm. I bought them as a set from B&Q a couple of years ago when they were on special offer. One of the impact guns is also a Makita and came with a 5 ah battery but no charger, which I had to buy separately. It’s also fairly low torque, as it’s for scaffolding. This is part of the vagaries of buying things off the internet. It didn’t say it was limited to about 180 Nm, because scaffolders don’t need power, they need speed.

The bigger impact gun, along with the angle grinder, is a Kielder, (that’s the brand, not the reservoir). It has a similar rating to a Milwaukee, but was about half the price. I tested it out at the shop where I bought it by sticking a 21 mm socket on it and trying to loosen the wheel nuts on my van. It did it, so I bought it, and I got the angle grinder as well because the impact gun came with a charger and two batteries. The bare angle grinder was another £85 after my discount for being cheeky and tight fisted, so for a little over £300 including VAT, I got myself what I consider to be a sweet deal and one you wouldn’t get if you were buying something from a website (you can’t try before you buy on eBay).

Forestry Journal: The MSA 220 C-B is the most powerful Stihl cordless chainsaw to date.The MSA 220 C-B is the most powerful Stihl cordless chainsaw to date.

All this battery equipment sort of set me up for testing my first battery chainsaw. I bought an ex-display Husqvarna and wrote a review on it last year. I was impressed with the little saw, though it had some wrinkles that I thought needed attending to, which I expect will be sorted given time.

I must point out at the outset that any comparisons between the power and battery life of the 120i Husqvarna and the MSA 220 Stihl I’ve been testing would be unfair as they are aimed at two different classes of users. The Husky is aimed at homeowners and casual users, whereas the Stihl is just about into the realms of real forestry. Yes, I have felled trees with the Stihl, and not just rustic poles or scrubby firewood. The Stihl will fell the sort of timber you would expect a petrol saw with a short bar to do, and it will dress out any small-to-medium trees.

Recently, we got new neighbours. We live on what was once a small farm and there are two properties on the site. Our neighbour of 20-odd years wanted to retire and move closer to her son and grandchildren, so she sold up and in the deal we managed to acquire a strip of her land that widened our yard. This involved moving our boundary and replacing an old fence.

In my infinite wisdom, I decided we would have a board fence on this new section and, along the adjoining bottom fence line, the other two sides are a wall and a hedge. These two new fences are around 60 metres long, so fencing the entire length – save for a 10-foot gate – with four-inch boards was going to be some task. I wanted four-foot fences and so I had the boards cut at 2.5 metres and trimmed them down as I needed them. I spent quite a few evenings cutting and nailing boards and I did all the cutting with the battery Stihl.

Honestly, I could hardly begin to measure how much time it saved. I made a jig using a piece of board clamped in a workmate table with some offcuts screwed on strategically so I could lay a board on and cut it to length without having to do any measuring. I cut hundreds of boards and I only charged the battery a couple of times.

Forestry Journal: Stihl says the run time with the AP 300 S battery is 48 minutes.Stihl says the run time with the AP 300 S battery is 48 minutes.

The battery Stihl has fitted into the 220 C-B is part of the AP system, with interchangeability across all its battery-powered range of small tools. It is substantial. Compared to the Husqvarna, it is about double the size and is available in a standard 300 and higher-performance 300S model, which is the one I’ve got in the test saw. Prices are £190 for the 300 and £250 for the S, although you can buy two with the second one at half price.

It charges from flat to full in a little over an hour, though officially charge time is 75 minutes, and it is easy to remove and refit. Like the battery used in the Makita power tools, it recharges a lot quicker than I could discharge it, although that might be different if you were to do something with high power requirements, like sawing firewood for instance. The published run times on the Stihl spec sheets are 45 minutes for the 300 and 48 minutes for the 300S, which really does beg the question: is the extra 60 quid worth it?

The Stihl doesn’t feel too unfamiliar to me. It’s lighter than a comparable petrol saw but not by so much. The large battery sits right where it needs to be to make the saw feel balanced (not hung out the back). It looks like a conventional saw to the uninitiated. I did have my next-door neighbour comment on how quiet it was. He has a little 30 cc petrol saw and he was quite surprised when I handed him the Stihl. It took him a second or two before he realised just what it was he was holding. I think the lack of a pull-start gave it away.

Forestry Journal: The ergonomically shaped handle and rear control handle with comfortable soft-grip component ensure safe working. The black soft component on the rear handle provides a secure and firm grip.The ergonomically shaped handle and rear control handle with comfortable soft-grip component ensure safe working. The black soft component on the rear handle provides a secure and firm grip.

The Stihl has no obvious automatic power-off function like the one on the Husqvarna, which needs switching back on every time you don’t trigger the motor for more than a few seconds. This gets quite annoying as the switch is small and quite fiddly. It also has no eco button that slows the chain speed to prolong battery life. The Stihl is ready to go so long as the battery has life in it. It has an interlock on the side of the rear handle that you press with your thumb, and a conventional trigger. I haven’t taken the saw apart, but I’m guessing the interlock also acts as the power switch. It certainly feels more like a conventional chainsaw to me.

The Stihl is equipped with a tool-less side cover. You can tension the chain and remove the sprocket cover without a saw spanner and the chain does stay tight. The chain itself is maybe less of an oddball than on the Husqvarna. It’s a 3/8” picco that you sharpen with a 4 mm file and it is quite aggressive, with a cutter that looks very much like a conventional .325 and is a full chisel pattern.

The bar is a small-radius-nose type and is 14 inches or 35 centimetres long. One thing I noticed was common on both the battery saws I have used is that they pinch in the cut easily and this jams the chain. I’d guess this is down to a lack of inertia as the saw doesn’t have a heavy crankshaft and piston assembly spinning around, storing up energy that helps maintain rotation. And both saws have the same instant ‘run out of fuel’ thing. There’s no sputtering, coughing or lack of performance you typically get when a petrol saw runs out of fuel. When the battery runs out of charge, the saw stops instantly.

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So what does it all cost ? I’ve already mentioned the prices for batteries. Two 300 batteries are £285 (£190 for one) and two 300S batteries are £375 (£250 for one). An AP 500 fast charger is £120 and the 220 C-B (saw only) is £380. You can buy a promotional set which consists of the saw, two 300S batteries and an AL 500 fast charger for £875 inc VAT. I’ve had a trawl around the internet and to be honest there aren’t any really big discounts to be had. The place I usually go to find the biggest discounts is only offering about 10 per cent off, which is possibly because the 220 C-B is a fairly new model.

Is the Stihl 220 C-B a saw you could use to fell timber? I don’t think so, at least not timber of medium size or bigger. It’s getting very close, though. You could use it on small jobs and I have no doubt that an arborist would find it very useful, especially with a couple of spare batteries. I could certainly see tree surgeons breaking limbs down with one, and, with a battery top-handled saw and a couple of these, the only petrol saw they would need would be one to make big felling cuts.

The Stihl 220 C-B isn’t the complete package yet, but I can see a big jump forward in the technology and we aren’t too far from seeing battery saws that are comparable to mid-sized petrol saws.

I was certainly more impressed with this saw and reading the technical spec I was surprised to see the chain speed quoted as 24m/second. Having used the saw for some time, I don’t dispute this. It does cut like a small petrol chainsaw and with the aggressive ‘proper’ chain I could quite happily use it for more than just a little light pruning.

This is a proper chainsaw. It isn’t a novelty and I can see it being used by a lot of arborists, but it isn’t quite there for forestry use (though, for sure, it’s not far away).

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