Home Fixated’s roving reporter Michael Springer here, fresh from the latest Husqvarn-event. Not so fresh actually, I got stuck down south for a few extra days due to some crazy weather events, but I made it back to work eventually. Husqvarna held its special media event at the Biltmore estate in Ashville, North Carolina to launch five new gas chainsaws and some interesting cutting and climbing accessories that are new to the brand. The event location was chosen in honor of the fact that the property was the site of the first forestry school in the United States. The Biltmore Forest School was established in 1898 and used the Vanderbilt’s 125,000 acres of thickly wooded hills as its campus. And speaking of noteworthy dates, this year marks the 60th year Husqvarna had been manufacturing chainsaws, a fairly recent development however, considering that the company has been in business since 1689.
The new saws being introduced are part of three important trends within the outdoor power equipment (OPE) industry. Three trends that are fully intertwined: The EPA’s emissions requirements which are applied across a brand’s product line, the integration of advanced electronic fuel-delivery systems to provide optimum combustion, and smaller-displacement saws with more efficient engines replacing larger saws in a brand’s product line.
As two-stroke engine technology advances, manufacturers are making more efficient engines which put out more usable power per cc and produce cleaner exhaust emissions. As with automakers, the pollution created by OPE gas engines is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency so a manufacturer has to keep the overall emissions produced by the tools sold across their product line within a certain standard. This means that newer, cleaner burning OPE benefits the bottom line, while older, “dirtier” models can count against it.
So in the US, balancing product assets and liabilities based on exhaust can affect which chain saws are in the catalog at any given time. For example, the tried-and-true 372XP saw has been Husqvarna’s most relied-on saw among professional fellers for many years, yet at times it has become unavailable in the US in spite of demand. If too many of these saws sell too quickly, it can in effect “pollute” the manufacturer’s emissions numbers.
During my first visit to Husqvarna’s US headquarters over a dozen years ago, the 372XP was listed as discontinued, so my first question was “Why’d you get rid of one of your most popular and successful saws?”. The answer, “Because it sells so well”, provided an interesting lesson in environmental oversight that I had never encountered before in the electric and battery-powered tool world. A new high-tech model was poised to replace the 372XP at the time, but demand for the older model persevered and it made it back to the US market for many more years.
But this time, one of the new saws is replacing it for good, we’re being told, so if you want a legacy 372 for any reason, this is your last chance. The brand’s largest saws stay safe from such extinction despite their thirst for dead dinosaurs and resulting stinky breath because they are sold in fewer numbers which keeps them from tipping the balance when compared to more popular saws among the brand’s lineup.
The New Husqvarna Chainsaws
The new saws we saw (and then sawed) were the 70cc-class Husqvarna 572XP and 565, the 50cc-class 550XP Mark II and 545 Mark II (Mark II being the second generation redesigns for both of these saws), and the 27cc T525 top-handle arborist saw, which premiered worldwide as of the day of our event. The new saws follow the naming convention of grouping all professional saws as the 500 series. The four larger saws are outfitted with the latest version of Husqvarna’s electronic Auto Tune system, while the new top-handle saw omits it to stay as light as possible.
Husqvarna 572XP and 565
Saws in the 70cc class are full-size forestry saws typically fitted with bars from 20 inches up to 32 inches long. They are used for felling trees of moderate size and are considered the right-hand man of many loggers. The 572XP and 565 saws both have 70.6cc engines, but are rated at 5.8hp and 5.0 hp respectively. Like other XP models, the 572XP runs higher revs than the 565 to generate more power at the optimum chain speed. The saws are also available as “G” models with heated handles, and full wrap handles are sure to become available as they are required for loggers in parts of Canada.
As Husqvarna’s new flagship pro felling saw, the 572XP is replacing both the 70.7cc 372XP, and 73.5cc 576XP models in the US market. By the numbers, it has a tad more power than both of them, and more importantly, the saw has already been proven to Husqvarna’s satisfaction by its year on the market and at work in the woods of Europe already.
Husqvarna 550XP Mark II and 545 Mark II Chainsaws
Chainsaws in the 50cc class are medium-size saws used by pros for limbing and smaller diameter felling jobs, comfortably fitted with a 16- or 20-inch bar. Some loggers who fell, limb, and buck with the same saw prefer handling a lighter model like these, and employ advanced techniques like bore cutting and making vertical buttress cuts to narrow the bottom of a tree trunk to make it easier to fell with a shorter bar.
Husqvarna’s statistics say that 70-80% of a pro users trigger time with a saw can be spent limbing, so they focused on improvements to the 550XP Mark II and 545 Mark II saws to optimize for this application. Since limbing has a user twisting and turning a saw to different positions while the engine is revved up, lowering the saws’ center of gravity and reducing the gyroscopic forces the user fights were key objectives of the new designs. By angling the piston, the engine head could be made lower, and increasing the distance between the front and rear handles affords the user more leverage. Similarly, by mounting the clutch drum of these saws to the outside of the bar, the bar could be positioned more in-line with the center of the body of the saw for better balance.
Husqvarna T525 Chainsaw
The mighty mini of Husqvarna’s class of 2019 is the T525 top-handle chain saw. Top-handle saws are essentially reserved for arborist or line-clearing uses whether up in a tree or bucket truck. The saw’s configuration lacks leverage and would make a clumsy choice for bucking firewood or other general-purpose applications with your feet on the ground. A lot of chain saw newbies seem to be attracted to them for their small size and think they would be the easiest to handle, but don’t be tempted. A rear handle chain saw spaces your hands farther apart to provide much more leverage and control. My first chain saw was a top-handle model and I never felt truly comfortable running a saw until I added a rear-handle saw to my kit. It was a real “ah-ha” moment for me, or conversely, more like a real “duh” moment.
Husqvarna’s new T525 isn’t replacing another saw in their line like the previous four, instead it’s a new entry into the current trend of ultra-lightweight “climber” saws. The saw’s powerhead weight (minus the bar, chain, and fluids) is just under 6 pounds, which is pretty competitive in that market niche. Its 27cc engine produces 1.48hp, so with an 8- to 12-inch bar, it’s set up just right to be a great pruning saw.
Two features that are very handy in the tree are the captive bar nut that can’t fall off the clutch cover and get lost if you loosen it a little too far, and the start/stop switch that automatically springs back to the start position to make the saw easier to re-start with less fiddling. And a feature very handy for your ground worker is the clearly marked fuel vs. bar oil tank graphics to help avoid an expensive, smoky catastrophe.
Next Generation Auto Tune
Husqvarna’s Auto Tune system is an electronically-controlled fuel metering system with sensors that evaluate several factors and make adjustments to provide the most efficient combustion. Factors such as fuel octane and ethanol content, altitude, humidity, temperature, and available airflow through the filter. The new generation of Auto Tune samples and makes corrections 10 times per second, versus the original version at once per second, which would produce noticeable tuning steps. The Auto Tune module also logs event data that can be used by a servicing dealer to help troubleshoot performance problems.
Of course, the Auto Tune’s goal of more complete combustion produces more power and sweetens the exhaust emissions, and this is one way that Husqvarna is able to meet their anti-pollution requirements. Some users don’t like being locked out of the High and Low adjustment screws, claiming that the saws are set to run too lean just to please the EPA. But as someone who works high above sea level, I’m grateful for the option to not have to futz with engine adjustments if the saw can do a decent job of that itself. And besides adjusting for abrupt changes like fuel or elevation, the Auto Tune module also compensates for gradual changes like an air filter becoming dirtier over time – little things that wouldn’t necessarily have you grabbing the little screwdriver and trying to retune the saw yourself until it got noticeably worse.
To demonstrate the automatic tuning capabilities live at the event, two saws were run with tape covering most of the surface area of their filters. The non-Auto Tune saw would barely idle and stalled immediately under load, while the Auto Tune equipped saw readily revved and cut, though stinkier and smokier, indicating its distress to an alert user. And to quell any confusion, Husqvarna’s Auto Tune is essentially a “smart carburetor”, not to be mistaken for a fuel injection system. You’ll have to wait a little while longer for fuel injection to pop up in Husqvarna’s saws, but I predict that it will.
Husqvarna’s XP Factor
Okay, at this event, in person, I finally got a good answer to the question of what XP really means to the saw user. XP models have always been positioned as premium models, at the top of the power output and price point figures for any given engine size, but I could never articulate the real difference other than the notion of “they’re better”, which is about as ambiguous as “they go to 11”.
Well here’s the deal. XP saws are finely tuned to put out more power when kept within their optimum rpm range under load. Two-stroke engines are notorious for having a relatively narrow power band, and the XP saws are even more finicky than most. So for experienced sawyers, keeping these finely-tuned saws running at their peak output levels will provide higher performance, while non-XP models of the same engine displacement are more forgiving, with a lower optimum chain speed, but less of a tendency to bog down and stall if overloaded. In short, operators who ride the revs intuitively will likely have better results with XP saws, but casual users may be stymied by the demands of the XP’s fine tuning.
Husqvarna Bars and Chains
Instead of relying on an OEM supplier for all of its bars and chains, Husqvarna is manufacturing a limited number of their own X-Force bars and X-Cut chains at their production facility in Huskvarna, Sweden. The laminated bars are available in various lengths for 3/8” and .325” pitch chains, and are designed to be lighter than others. The homemade chains are positioned as a premium offering over their other stock chains with benefits like sharper teeth right out of the box, pre-stretched links that require less tightening when new, deep oil-channeling grooves in the drive links, and a gold-colored master link to help orient your starting point when sharpening.
The latest chains made for the current crop of full-size saws are the 3/8” pitch, full chisel tooth models C83 (.050” gauge), and C85 (.058” gauge). Both come on new saws as original equipment, but there is not enough stock on hand to make replacement chain loops available yet. Two smaller chains have already been manufactured for awhile and are available as stock chains provided with saws and as replacement loops. These are the SP33G .325” pitch, .050” gauge, semi-chisel chain, and the S93G 3/8” low-profile pitch, .050” gauge, semi-chisel chain.
Husqvarna Climbing Essentials Line
Husqvarna already carries a limited amount of forester and arborist gear like wedges and felling levers, forestry helmets, chaps, and other wearable protective gear, but their new climbing essentials line marks an entirely new direction for the brand. The initial product line of 13 sku’s (plus a handful of variations and add-ons) is designed to make the basic tree climbing equipment available through local Husqvarna dealers instead of losing the sales to online specialty retailers. This way, a tree care company can quickly outfit a new worker or keep a spare setup in each truck to make sure they don’t lose any time to equipment that has become worn beyond specs.
It’s not all of the top-end gadgets that advanced and competitive climbers gravitate to eventually (or should that be anti-gravitate to?), but rather, the basic moving rope (a.k.a. Ddrt) essentials that can get a tree worker safely and simply up a tree and back down again with a minimal learning curve. There are a few small gaps in the line like a friction saver, micro pulley, and perhaps a three-hole hitch climber pulley, but it’s certainly enough to get started. No climbing saddle is part of the line yet as that is a more personal bit of kit, but Husqvarna might want to include one to provide true one-stop-shopping at the local dealer, instead of pointing a customer word-wide-webward to fill out their climbing complement.
The climbing essentials include 16-strand, 1/2-inch climbing rope in three common lengths (120’, 150’, 200’), rope bag, 2-way positioning lanyard, eye-to-eye hitch cord for prusiks and other friction hitches, oval, D-shaped, and HMS-style auto-locking carabiners, throwline, 12 and 14 oz. throw bags, collapsible throwline cube, and two climbing helmets with chin straps. The helmets (made by Kask) are available in Class C and Class E models, C is vented, and E is unvented for use around electrical lines. Clear, mirrored, and smoke-colored visors are available for the helmets, as well as integrated hearing protection earmuffs.
Meet the “H-Team”
Well, three of the five members anyway. In attendance with the industry journalists, dealers, and Husqvarna employees were some of the manufacturer’s hired guns. Their job is to make all of this chain saw work look easy and like a lot of fun, which they do an excellent job of.
Chad Gainey is a chain saw sculptor that travels with Husqvarna to many of their events to put on live carving events that draws spectators like no other use of a chainsaw. His skilled use of a saw is very interesting to watch from a techniques standpoint, and of course it’s just plain cool to see a 3-D object emerge from a log. Out in the open air at this event, Chad was wielding the 550XP Mark II and the T525, but Husqvarna’s full line of pro saws lets him use their capable battery-powered saws for indoor demos like when I last saw him at the GIE trade show.
Krista Strating is an accomplished professional arborist as well as a champion competitive tree climber with multiple Ontario, North American, and International titles to her name. As part of the Husqvarna event, she ascended a fixed rope (a.k.a. SRT) like it was an elevator and scampered around in the canopy as naturally as a squirrel while showing off the compact portability of the new T525 saw. Krista classified it as a nice, light saw for pruning, but said she’d stick to a larger top-handle saw (like the T540XP) for removals.
Charlotte, NC area arborist Jeff Perry got to lead the main event of the day, felling a white pine in the woods of the Biltmore property. Hey, they have 8,000 acres, they won’t miss just one, right? Actually, the estate’s staff arborists were in attendance and agreed that we could slay as many white pines as we wanted. Apparently their prolific nature makes them a bit of a nuisance, (the pines, not the arborists).
Jeff demonstrated felling with a bore cut which provides a lot of control and lets you take your time during the process. This method is commonly used on “leaners” and other trees that have built-in stresses that can make the wood split vertically up the trunk, causing an out-of-control, dangerous drop. I prefer this method too, especially when a tree is backed up to a fence and you want to make the back cut as quickly as possible and then get out there in a hurry.
After making his notch cut, Jeff showed how to use the felling sight lines on the saw’s body to confirm the tree’s intended direction of fall. For the bore cut, Jeff plunged the tip of the saw straight through the tree, being careful to leave hinge wood of sufficient thickness behind the notch, and a strap – or trigger – a few inches thick at the back of the tree. Then it was just a matter of pounding in some plastic wedges to keep the tree from leaning back and pinching the saw, and cutting through the trigger when the danger zone was deemed all-clear of spectators.
Dozens of phones and cameras were held aloft while the tree fell with a satisfying thud no subwoofer could emulate. There’s definitely something special about cutting down a tree. Once squarely on the ground, product manager Christian Johnsson went to work on the tree with the 550XP Mark II, revving and limbing rapidly in a distinctively Scandinavian competitive style.
The Biltmore Estate
While at the Biltmore, I saw a few notable other sights. The acreage provided some nice hilly hiking with scenery that made every step feel historic. Legend has it that where daffodils pop up is the site of an old estate-worker’s family house that has since been demolished. Perhaps erased from human history, but nature is still keeping track.
Visiting Steve at the Antler Hill Farm blacksmith’s shop was a real highlight. Though demonstrations were orated to keep pace with the casual interest of the average tourist strolling through the shop, a lot could be learned by paying attention this accomplished craftsman at work. I spent an hour transfixed by the subtle mastery of craft I witnessed, and could have stayed longer if it wasn’t closing time. Steve still calls himself an apprentice, but he’s been creating inspiring works at the Biltmore for 9 years, and he wasn’t a beginner when he got there.
In the woodworking shop, I met Marlow who is a second-generation broom maker. Besides making implements for cleaning, he also makes specialty polissoirs for wax woodworking finishes.
The conservatory adjacent to the Vanderbilt mansion had a display of exotic orchids that was undoubtedly world-class.
And of course, there’s the Biltmore mansion, which is the largest house in the USA at over 175,000 square feet, and quite a busy tourist attraction.