In previous articles I have covered saw sizing and tips for chainsaw milling in general. But if you’re looking to buy a new saw for chainsaw milling, you’re probably also interested in recommendations for specific chainsaw models.
In this article, I give my top picks for a new milling chainsaw. Chainsaw milling is a heavy application and best done with the most powerful chainsaw models available. The best milling chainsaws in the 2021 lineups of the major manufacturers, ranked by peak torque, are the Stihl MS 881, Husqvarna 3120 XP and 395 XP, and Stihl MS 661.
Given how rarely new chainsaw models are introduced to heavy end of the lineups, the MS 881, MS 661, 3120 XP and 395 XP are probably also going to be the best milling chainsaws of 2022, 2023 and 2024.
Note that these saws are the very best – they are big-dollar ($1000+) professional saws. I will post a list of more budget-friendly picks in the future.
In chainsaw milling, output torque is what matters. The best saws for chainsaw milling are therefore those with the highest torque.
Below, I list the best chainsaws for milling ordered by peak torque. The are few established manufacturers for high-power chainsaws, and all entries come come from Stihl and Husqvarna.
|Stihl MS 881||122cc||8.6 hp |
|119cc||8.3 hp |
|7.7 Nm||H Large,|
|5.9 Nm||H Large,|
|Stihl MS 661||91cc||7.2 hp |
1 Stihl MS 881
The MS 881 is the flagship of Stihl’s lineup and the most powerful chainsaw available from any of the big manufacturers. With 122cc of displacement, 8.6 hp (6.4 kW) of power and a 8.0 Nm peak torque, the MS 881 narrowly beats the Husqvarna 3120 XP.
The top power specs qualify the MS 881 as the best new saw for chainsaw milling. The high 8-Nm torque in particular makes milling smooth and easy and allows you to slab even the largest of logs.
The only downsides to this saw are the price point and the weight: 22 lb. (10 kg) and $1900 only for the powerhead.
The MS 881 comes in .404″ or 3/8″ pitch and uses the nowadays rare Stihl Large 3002 mount – remember these when shopping for bars. (See my bar guide here.)
Note that the MS 881 is a recent update of the MS 880, which has practically the same milling performance – the same notes apply.
2 Husqvarna 3120 XP
Another excellent choice for chainsaw milling is Husqvarna’s top model 3120 XP. With practically same the engine size, torque, weight and price as Stihl MS 881, picking between the two is a matter of personal preference.
Like the MS 881, the 3120 XP has been available both in .404″ and 3/8″ pitch – prefer 3/8″ for better bar and ripping chain availability.
Unlike its Stihl counterpart, the 3120 XP uses the Husqvarna Large mount. Original bar selection is worse than with the MS 881 (only up to 36″) but more are available from Sugihara, Cannon and Stihl (adapted). (See my Husky bar guide and Stihl–Husqvarna compatibility guide for more info.)
3 Husqvarna 395 XP
Husqvarna 395 XP is Husky’s runner-up and a fine milling saw. The 5.9 Nm torque offered is plenty for milling if somewhat less than in the flagship 3120 XP. You will get good slabbing performance at least to 36″.
The advantages of the 395 XP over the top-of-the-line saws are a more reasonable price (~$1300) and a lower weight of 17.4 lb., which is more manageable in general use.
The 395 XP comes in 3/8″ pitch and Husqvarna Large bar mount, giving you a decent selection of bars, if not quite as wide as you’d have with Stihl MS 661.
4 Stihl MS 661
The Stihl MS 661 is the counterpart of the 395 XP and a very good milling chainsaw. With 4.8 Nm of torque, the saw trails its Husqvarna competitor slightly in slabbing capacity, but 30″+ should be fine.
The MS 661 has the same advantages as the Husqvarna 395 XP: it is much cheaper (~$1300) and noticeably lighter (17 lb.) than the monster saws above.
The MS 661 has the added advantage of coming with 3/8″ chain pitch and Stihl medium 3003 bar mount. These give you a very wide selection of bars.
Torque is what matters in chainsaw milling, and the Top 4 list of milling saws is occupied by the four biggest saws out there.
As mentioned, each of the models has a stable position on the list. The only foreseeable change to the list is the upcoming Husqvarna 592 XP possibly unseating the 395 XP once the torque spec comes out (not yet in June 2021).
These saws are the very best – but also quite heavy and expensive. If you’re out for something more affordable and/or lighter, please check my upcoming budget-friendly milling saw lists!