WARNING: IN NOVEMBER 2010 (and possibly earlier), EBAY HAS BEEN FLOODED WITH SUPPOSEDLY "NEW" Stihl 070s. These are probably Chinese knockoffs, NOT original Stihl saws. Do an internet search or contact me for details. No seller of any one of these "new" saws has responded adequately or forthrightly to my inquiries as to provenance (where they got it from), or country of manufacture. (Stihl 070s and 090s have not been imported to the USA for over 20 years.) I was provided with one serial number that did not check out when I contacted Stihl. As far as I'm concerned, these saws are counterfeit until proven otherwise. I also found a link to where you can buy a fake copy Stihl 070/090 made in China. See the thread on arboristsite.com or e-mail me for more information.
As everyone probably knows, you take certain risks when purchasing a used chainsaw sight unseen, especially when it may have been abused by a commercial outfit of some sort. How will you know if the saw you're considering buying on e-bay runs and cuts well, and how much life is left in it? Here are some things you can do/check to improve your chances of getting a good saw.
- Maybe the best thing you can do when buying a used saw is to ask for a compression reading on it (should be about 150 PSI), or ask for a guarantee of compression over a certain number, say 140-145 [you can test this easily with a $19 tester from your local auto parts store]. I'm amazed that some sellers tout themselves as mechanics and have photos of their saws in workshops or sell lots of saws on e-bay, but when you request a compression test, they say "sorry, I don't have one" - this always makes me leery. On the other hand, the average guy selling a saw he rarely uses probably doesn't have a compression tester on hand.
- If it is a high-end or vintage saw (Stihl 090), and you really want to be particular about things, ask if the piston or cylinder is scored (this can be determined by removing the muffler and inspecting them visually on many saw models).
- Ask for close-up photos of all sides of the saw, especially of the BOTTOM of the saw where wear is most likely to be evident (from repeatedly sitting it down on hard surfaces during multiple jobs or bouncing around on the back of a trailer, or just plain thrown around alot). A saw with most of the paint on the bottom is usually a pretty good bet - unless it's a repaint job. See photos at the end.
- If the saw has the original bar with most of the paint on it, it probably hasn't been used very much. If it's a replacement bar or a repainted bar, the saw has probably seen its share of wood. See photos at the end.
- Avoid saws that were used for high-abuse activities such as commercial logging and tree-service operations, or cutting stumps and railroad ties - those things are hard on saws.
- Ask if the seller is the original owner of the saw and why they're selling it. If you don't know where it came from, you have no idea how it's been treated.
- Ask yourself why a "lightly used" saw has ANY cracks in the plastic or broken parts - regardless if they are "only cosmetic and don't affect the function of the saw", you should wonder if such cracks are compatible with a well-cared -for saw. I have a Stihl MS460 that I got 5 years ago and took excellent care of it. Then I loaned it just ONCE to a friend who is known to be "hard on things" and it was returned with a hole broken into the air filter cover. How things are cared for and who's using them definately makes a difference.
- Ask the seller if the chain brake, choke (if applicable), and oiler work.
- Ask if the saw starts easily and idles without stalling
- If you're buying a vintage or used saw, and if it is commanding a pretty penny (like an 070 or 090), ask for a video of the saw starting, idling, and even cutting.
- Ask for photos of the serial number if there is any question about the authenticity of the saw.
One solution to this whole problem of buying a used saw may be to buy one of the "new", "in box" or "never fueled" Stihl chainsaws that can sometimes be found listed on e-bay. Just be aware that Stihl only allows their new saws to be sold by authorized dealers and the dealers, as a policy, almost always fuel and test fire the saw before it leaves the dealership. It's not exactly clear where these new/unfueled saws on e-bay come from - either from guys who bought them and changed their minds or never used them; from dealers clearing out inventory, going out of business, or surreptitiously listing their saws on e-bay (against Stihl policies) hoping to make more money through "bidding frenzies"; or rarely, they could be stolen saws. (A few years back, there was a spate of "new" Brazilian (made in Brazil) Stihl saws on e-bay. I have not seen any of these for a while, perhaps because formerly this guide had a huge discussion about the issue or because they're not importable anymore.) I would just be cautious about buying a "new" or "unfueled" saw on e-bay unless the seller is up front and reputable and there are no red flags.
I have been following the sales of Stihl professional saws on e-bay for 6 years now. My observation is that, for most saws, you save very little buying a new or like new saw on e-bay. Tax and shipping cancel themselves out, and most very nice saws on e-bay command very near the retail price. To get $20 or $40 in savings you lose your warranty, and don't have a relationship with your dealer to help you if something goes wrong. In my opinion, it's not worth it unless you're buying a large high-end saw where the savings will be higher. I bought my "like new" 660 and 880 on ebay, and I estimate that in the end I saved a net 15% on these saws after accounting for tax and shipping, etc. So that's a few hundred on the 880 and a couple hundred saved on the 660. For the smaller saws, you're probably better off just getting a new one from the dealer (which is where I got my MS 200T, 260, 029, 361, 460, and my brother's 361 and my dad's 290). But if you really need to save some money, you might want to buy a moderately used saw in good working condition on e-bay. Hopefully the tips above will help you determine the condition of the saw and will help you assure that you get a saw in good working order with lots of life left in it.
Good luck. And always remember, "Trust, but verify."
HOW BIG OF A SAW SHOULD I GET?
Many folks have been asking me lately how big of a saw/bar/chain combo to get. Here are the things you should consider in making that decision.
A bigger saw will be more powerful, will cut faster, and will accomodate a larger range of bar lengths, but will also be heavier and a good deal more expensive. If you buy too big of a saw for the jobs you're doing, you will waste money and will probably have a sore back and tired arms after the first 30 minutes of using it. Getting a 460 or a 660 for yard maintenance and cutting small branches and trees is surely overkill.
At the other extreme, some guys who are doing a lot of cutting will get a 250, 260 or even a 290 Farm Boss and put a 20-24" bar on it. These saws don't have enough power to pull all that chain with all that friction and the chain speeds will be too slow and cutting will suffer. They would be better off using a 16 "or 18" bar on those smaller saws and rolling the log to complete the cut - or by getting a bigger saw.
A good policy might be to realistically assess the largest tree you're ever going to be cutting with any regularity (excepting very rare occasions where the monster oak falls in the back yard - you can borrow a saw for that job) and consult the Stihl Chain Saw Comparison Chart (available on the Stihl website). Select a saw which has a maximum recommended bar length long enough for your biggest expected job, and buy that saw with the shortest bar that will accomodate the MAJORITY of your jobs. Thus, if you think your biggest typical tree is going to be 24", get a 390 (midrange saw) or a 361/362 (pro saw) and put a 16' or 18" bar on it, if those smaller bars will suffice for the majority of your cutting. That way, you have a slightly overpowered saw pulling a shorter chain and your cutting will be more efficient for the majority of your jobs. Then, if you run into the 24" job, you can get a new longer bar and chain and will still have enough reserve power to realistically pull the longer chain for the bigger job. Note also that longer bars add substantial weight, and worse, they push the center of gravity of the saw forward and thus really contribute to arm fatigue, especially if you're using it for small stuff where your arms rather than a large log are taking the weight of the saw a good part of the time. Also, an oversized bar will often cut brush, branches, and debris forward of the subject log you're cutting and will be easier to accidentally pivot into the ground/dirt. Short[er] bars on slightly overpowered/oversized saws are the way to go if you want to cut quickly and efficiently and with minimal fatigue.
The difference between the Stihl occasional use and midrange and pro saws is stuff like bushings versus bearings, plastic versus metal parts, slight differences in weight and power, where they were assembled (Germany versus USA) and oftentimes big differences in price. If money is no object or you're really going to use it a lot, go for the pro series. If money is tight or your jobs are smaller, midrange will probably suit you just fine. If you're an occasional user - yard work, small trees, branches and the like - the Stihl occasional use saws (MS170- MS250) will be just fine, unless you want to splurge to impress your wife or the neighbors.
Be aware also that it's usually more important for cutting efficiency to constantly run a sharp chain than to have a big saw or a long bar. You will be better off with a smaller saw and 2-3 sharp chains on hand than with a bigger saw and one [inevitably] dull chain. Once two chains are dull, you install the third and take the two dull ones to the dealer for professional sharpening. (It is my strong opinion that it is worth every penny to have your chains professionally sharpened rather than mess around yourself with a file. It's actually difficult to get the right angle and do it right. Get them sharpened locally [preferably by somebody with a saw chain grinder] or send them to Madsen's in Centralia, Washington.) You will know that they need sharpening because instead of large wood CHIPS being discharged from the saw, a finer saw DUST will be thrown. Also, you should not have to push down on the saw to get it to go through the wood - if you do, the chain is dull, and you will wear out your bar from the excess friction. Don't forget to turn over your bar (so that the STHIL logo is upside down every other time) each time you change your chain so that there is not excessive wear and mushrooming of the edges of the bar rails (you can gently file these down periodically) on one side of the bar (where the chain rides on the rails - this wear will be worse if you're pressing down on a dull chain which will increase friction and heat.)
If the saw model you have chosen gives you the option between running two different pitch/gauge chains (such as .325"/.063 and 3/8"/.050 - the venerable 290 and others allow this option), you may wish to go with the former - it makes a narrower "kerf" cut, so your saw has to eat through less wood to make the cut and hence will cut faster. If your dealer doesn't have it set up with a .325 sprocket, you can ask him/her to change it out so that it will run the smaller chain. The trade-off is that the smaller chain is slightly less "heavy duty" than the larger chain, but unless you're rough on it, it will be fine.
And finally: always remember - the chainsaw is the most dangerous power tool in terms of personal injury (interestingly, the axe is the most dangerous hand tool). There is a lot more to know about using a chainsaw than just starting it and laying it on wood - it is not a riding mower, it is a dangerous tool and safety comes through education, experience, and careful operation. Read the instruction and safety manual. Understand kickback, don't cut with the tip, beware of drop-through cut injury, don't cut overhead or from ladders, and wear eye and ear protection and chainsaw chaps, and preferably a helmet protection apparatus.
Good luck, be safe, and happy cutting!