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Stihl MS 250 Chain Saw

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This could well be the perfect chain saw. I’ll allow that there’s a degree of disconnect in the idea of perfection in a machine that’s so superbly destructive.

In its most rudimentary sense, a small chain saw is an elegantly simple device, and this being the case, you’d wonder how it is that most of them appear to have been designed by lesser primates to be used as rustic coffee-table decorations. Especially if you got one on sale, the majority of the world’s chain saws typically prove nearly impossible to start, genuinely impossible to maintain after their first year in this world and rabidly homicidal toward their owners.

The Stihl MS 250 is remarkable for its being none of the above. Superbly designed, flawlessly manufactured and a joy to use, it does things to wood that lesser saws can only dream of.

In operating the MS 250 after having suffered through a number of its drooling distant cousins, it became clear that someone had given serious thought to every component of it. It works just like any other saw… it just does so way better.

The only ostensible drawback to the MS 250 is its price – plan on beating up your credit card with about twice the damage inflicted by lesser saws. This having been said, it’s worth every dollar it costs.

Unlike lesser saws, operating the MS 250 entails a mere two steps, to wit:

  1. Pull the rope.
  2. Cut down trees.

The traditional hour of profanity involved in powering up the machine is notably absent.

Choke Hold

Within the Stihl MS 250 lurks a 45cc two-stroke engine that develops three horsepower, or 2.2 kilowatts. It weighs a bit over ten pounds, which is unexpectedly light for a saw with this level of grunt. The whole works is flawlessly balanced.

One of the sweetest design elements of the MS 250 is the control that sets its choke. The choke setting on a two-stroke engine is traditionally where most chain saws first attempt to drive their owners into a darkened pit of howling insanity. This one’s elegantly simple, as it interlocks with the throttle control. Push the control to the bottom of its travel to open the choke for starting and the throttle will also be open. Adjusting the choke control to its running position frees the throttle.

Where we liked to think of our previous saw, a John Deere CS40LE, as the Ferrari of chain saws because it had been made in Italy – a treat to use, but a bitch to start – the German-made Stihl is unquestionably analogous to a BMW. It very nearly starts by thought-control alone, and if it were any more robust it would come with its own tank to drive it out to the woods.

Once it’s running, the MS 250 is poetry with a blade. Its relatively light weight makes it easy to control, and its powerful engine gets through anything with bark on it. It’s largely unstoppable. It also seems to have an almost clairvoyant sense of when it’s about to get into trouble, and as such when to stop its chain. While its manual attends to the issue of the chain kicking back, I’ve yet to encounter the saw actually doing so.

Be sure to wear sufficient protective brain armour just the same.

The first task we put the MS 250 was cutting through oak logs. They could have been newspaper.

The MS 250 is somewhat easier to fuel and adjust than most comparable saws. Its fuel and bar-oil caps pop off with half a twist, and its chain tension can be adjusted with an easily-accessible screw head. The saw comes with a correctly-sized scrench tool that fits all the relevant nuts and the tension adjuster. It also fits the spark plug.

Also unlike our earlier saws, the MS 250 doesn’t appear disposed toward leaking all the unused oil from its chain lubrication tank into its case if it’s idle for more than a day.

Like most modern small engines, the one in the MS 250 doesn’t get along well with ethanol, and more to the point, with gasoline that’s been adulterated with it. It’s well worth finding a gas station that sells ethanol-free fuel to power it. Shell’s premium gasoline works for us. Alternately, you can buy Stihl’s pre-mixed ethanol-free gasoline to power the saw – it’s a bit expensive compared to pumped gasoline, and I suspect they’ll give you a weird look when you check out with a can of it.

The prevailing sentiment up here seems to be that people who can’t mix their own gas and oil should buy a chain saw with a battery.

Our MS 250 came with a bright orange plastic case, a spare chain and an unusually comfortable ball cap – the latter not actually being applicable to wearing while the saw is running, as a hardhat is largely essential. The case is reasonably robust, but it’s worth noting that it uses a flexible plastic hinge, rather than a hinge with a metal pin, and as such it might enjoy a somewhat shorter life than the saw it protects.

The MS 250 also came with a remarkably lucid, complete manual that had clearly been written by someone who spoke English, rather than having been run through Google Translate. Really good documentation is becoming something of a rarity – this one deserves framing.

Mind the Gap

The only less-than-stellar aspect of our MS 250 was something of a fib on the part of the dealer we bought it from. They assured us when we crushed the plastic for it that it had been set up and run before they handed us the keys, and thus it was something of a mystery when, upon arriving back at our woods, it exhibited all the destructive potential of a satisfying yawn. It refused to start, and no amount of fiddling with its choke control proved capable of changing its mind.

It took a while to appreciate that it was behaving a lot like an engine with no spark. Extracting its spark plug revealed its indisposition – the gap had been left at about 0.050 inches, which wouldn’t have generated enough spark to run the engine if it had been struck by lightening. Upon resetting the gap to the correct 0.020 inches – or 0.5 millimeters, the manual for this saw being enamored of metric – it roared to life.

Needless to say, it had never been started prior to our buying it.

In the event that you need a chain saw to do something more adventurous than pruning hedges, the Stihl MS 250 is excellent. It makes lesser saws resemble toys, and it works with a vengeance.

Trees will tremble at the mention of your name.