Stihl Lightning Affordable Battery Powered Outdoor Power Tools and Some Timbersports Fun

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases (more).

man with battery powered chain saw

Stihl Inc. recently held their first media event at their U.S. facility in Virginia Beach, VA to show off their newest outdoor power equipment (OPE), Stihl Lightning. Even if you don’t follow the industry, you’re probably aware that battery powered tools for lawn and garden work are quickly gaining popularity as the hassle-free alternative to gasoline powered models. The rise in lithium-ion battery technology over the past decade has made larger cordless tools like lawn mowers and blowers possible. Besides obvious noise and air pollution benefits, battery powered OPE also bypasses the maintenance hassles that make small gas engine equipment troublesome for most part-time users. Read on for more details on some exciting new Stihl Lightning cordless tools and an inside look at the Stihl Timbersports phenomenon.

Stihl has been a player in battery powered OPE for years with capable, but pricey, tools marketed mainly to professionals. As an answer to the quickly growing non-professional market, Stihl is adding two new lines of more affordable battery OPE in early 2017. Their goal is to provide pro landscapers and homeowner users alike with a Stihl cordless system at an appropriate price point and performance level.

Stihl Lightning Systems Logo

Stihl Lightning Battery Systems

The overarching name for all of Stihl’s battery powered OPE will be “Stihl Lightning Battery Systems”. Within that, the existing pro line is known as the AP system, while the new mid-range and lighter duty tools will be released as the AK and AI systems respectively. The three systems basically translate as Pro battery, (K)ompact battery, and Integrated battery. Though both 36-volt systems, the AP and AK battery packs are not cross-compatible, but some of the chargers are. The Stihl Lightning AP system features faster chargers as well as battery packs with higher amp-hour ratings (up to 31.9Ah!) compared to the AK line. The AI system tools have batteries built into the tool that must be plugged in directly for charging. There’s no option to swap out battery packs when you run out of juice.

Stihl Lightning AI Series

The internal batteries in Stihl’s AI series allow for tools that are lower in weight, complexity, and cost. Since the battery cannot be disconnected to disable a tool, a removable key is used for added safety. As lighter duty tools with less battery runtime, these models are intended for small yards or shorter tasks. And with a suggested retail price of $130 each, all three tools in this line are priced well below the level we’re used to seeing the name Stihl attached to. The AI line will consist of a string trimmer, blower, and hedge trimmer.

FSA 45 string trimmer
FSA 45

BGA 45 blower
BGA 45

HSA 45 hedge trimmer
HSA 45

Stihl Lightning AK Series

Designed to hit a more accessible price point for the average user, Stihl’s AK tools do without a few of the refinements of the existing pro line such as brushless motors and variable speed operation. The only exception to this is the new chain saw, which features a brushless motor, but a single-speed trigger. Despite its designation as an occasional use saw, the AK model is full-featured where safety and convenience are concerned. It has a chain brake lever that operates via contact or merely inertia (like all Stihl chain saws), a fast coast-down brake that stops the chain when you let off the trigger, a tool-free chain tensioning mechanism, and a high performance thin-kerf bar and chain.

This new 36-volt system of tools can run on 1.6Ah compact or 3.2Ah full size battery packs, named respectively the AK 10 and AK 20 and priced at $70 and $100. The AL 101 charger for the system will go for $30. All of the tools will be sold in kit form with a single battery and charger with prices ranging from $200 to $300. Each tool will also be available separately for a price 50 to 70 dollars less than its kit price. The AK series will start out with a string trimmer, blower, hedge trimmer, and chainsaw, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a compact mower isn’t the next addition to the system.

FSA 56 string trimmer
FSA 56

BGA 56 blower
BGA 56


HSA 56 hedge trimmer
HSA 56


MSA 120 C-BQ chain saw
MSA 120 C-BQ


Stihl Lightning AP Series

With a full lineup of 15 battery powered tools in the U.S. already (and even more in other parts of the world), the sole addition to the AP Series for Spring will be the RMA 510 lawn mower. It will be the largest and strongest battery mower in Stihl’s lineup with a 21-inch cut width, and it features an onboard storage slot for a second battery pack so you are ready to swap out batteries on the go without delay. To maximize runtime, the mower has an Eco mode function which lowers the motor speed when the load is light, and only ramps back up to full speed when the motor is being taxed.

Stihl AP tools can be powered by various battery packs with amp-hour ratings from 2.1Ah to 6.3Ah, or connected by a cable to backpack batteries rated all the way up to 31.9Ah for longer lasting jobs. Battery packs also can be fitted into an optional belt which connects to the tool with a cable to take the weight out of the tool for easier handling. In fact, the largest blower in the pro battery line can only be powered through a backpack or belt cable as it has no onboard battery slot.

Other standout tools in the pro line include very capable chainsaws (in fact, my most used saws on tree jobs since 2011), telescopic and fixed length pole saws up to 12 feet long, and Stihl’s most powerful handheld blower of any gas, electric, or battery model they make. Similarly, the battery powered pole saws are considered the most effective of any model they make because the electric motor delivers more starting torque than gas models and therefore allows cuts to be started with the chain held against the branch for greater accuracy. A two-stroke model typically has to be revved up to speed before touching the tree and this can lead to accidental cuts to nearby branches when aiming an unwieldy saw head at the end of a long pole.

RMA 510 lawn mower
RMA 510
MSA 200 C-BQ chain saw
MSA 200 C-BQ
HTA 85 pole saw
HTA 85
BGA 100 blower
BGA 100

New Gas Powered Tools

Of course, some of the latest two-stroke engine products were shown off at the event too. These included an upgraded version of Stihl’s best-selling professional string trimmer, a combination (Kombi) tool powerhead with an easy starting system, and a few mid-size chain saws. Among the saws was the latest version of their popular Wood Boss saw—the MS 251. The Wood Boss has 45.6 cc engine and as one of Stihl’s mid-range saws (designated “farm and ranch saws”), an attractive price of $330.

As one of the newest saws to have Stihl’s electronic ignition control system added, the MS 362 C-M from the professional saw line has a heftier 59cc engine and a heftier price of $740. Stihl’s M-Tronic module attached to the carb replaces the traditional idle and high and low adjustment screws with a digital solenoid. In the words of Stihl: “This innovative microprocessor-controlled engine management system optimizes engine performance and compensates for changes in operating conditions, such as temperature, elevation, fuel quality, and dirty air filters.” The system even has a diagnostic cable connection so technicians can evaluate performance and troubleshoot problems via a computerized system much like that used for modern vehicles.

KM 56 RC-E power head
KM 56 RC-E Combination Tool Powerhead

MS 251 Wood Boss chain saw
MS 251 Wood Boss


MS 362 C-M chain saw
MS 362 C-M

Introducing Stihl Pressure Washers

Other big news from Stihl is the introduction of power washers to the U.S. product lineup. Four gas powered models from 2,500 to 4,200 psi are set to debut: the RB 200, 400, 600, and 800. The pressure washers feature Kohler engines and a welcome feature that makes them easier to pull-start. Most pressure washers pressurize their pump when you pull the starter cord and turn the motor over and this pressure prevents you from being able to take a subsequent pull until you vent the pressure by pulling the trigger on the wand. And you have to vent the pressure between every pull. The Stihl units allow for multiple pulls for hassle-free starting. Yes, a very welcome feature indeed.

The RB 400 alone will carry Stihl’s new Dirt Boss name along with a caricature of a macho workman, similar to the existing Farm Boss, Wood Boss, and Rock Boss naming conventions and trademarks. The machine’s 6.5 hp engine will spit out 2,700 psi at up to 2.7 gallons per minute. The top of the line RB 800 has a 14 hp engine and is capable of blasting away at 4,200 psi with a water delivery rate of 4 gallons per minute through a nice two-handed wand designed to better control the high output force.

RB 400 Dirt Boss pressure washer
RB 400 Dirt Boss
RB 800 pressure washer
RB 800

Stihl Timbersports, Chain Saw Carving, and Tree Climbing!

Speaking of macho workmen, part of the fun of this event was getting a private Stihl Timbersports exhibition where we were at once entertained and educated by two world class athletes, Mike Slingerland and Jason Lentz.

Athletes Jason Lentz (left) and  Mike Slingerland (right)
Jason Lentz (left) and Mike Slingerland (right)

The pair went head to head for us in stock saw, hot saw, and single buck events, and they demonstrated the standing block chop and underhand chop events solo. There was a lot to learn about the strategies employed, especially for the ax cutting events. Competitors may have a dozen axes with them at an event and they must expertly read the nuances of the wood presented to them that day to choose the axe with the ideal sharpening for the fastest cutting. Mike explained that wisdom gained through years of experience is what helps the older guys beat the younger guys who might have more brute force on their side.

toolbox full of competition axes
Competitive Chopper’s Arsenal

axe cut block of wood
The Results

After watching all the exertion, we were invited to try our hand at some of the sawing events. The single buck event requires you to manhandle a 6-foot long buck saw which looked like too much work for a hot muggy day so I opted to try my hand at the stock saw. This consists of running a factory-tuned Stihl MS 661 through a down and an up cut for the fastest time. I found that besides the necessity of having a quick transition from your down to up cuts, you also really have to be in tune with the saw’s cutting speed. My personal tuning might be in question (I’ve been out the factory for quite a while) because despite the saw’s 91cc’s of power, I tended to push too hard and stall out the chain in the cut which slowed me down. White pines won’t develop the same instinctive fear for me that they have for Mr. Slingerland and Mr. Lentz, but I think I did alright for a green competitor with no practice runs.

Another fun part of the event was taking a crash course in chainsaw carving with multi-media artist Griffon Ramsey. With a short section of log and a Stihl MS 93 saw fitted with a narrow nose carving bar, we were challenged with creating a masterpiece in 30 minutes, or until it started raining, whichever came first. It was a blast to dive in and work with a lightweight and responsive compact saw, and the carving bar and chain allowed for smooth plunge cuts and curved cuts that would invite kickback with a standard bar. I crafted a little end table of sorts that highlighted the natural form of an included knot at the bottom and left my masterwork at the Stihl headquarters in case they wanted to include it in a charity auction or something. But I suspect even its most ardent admirers agreed it was a very useful piece of firewood. Maybe because I forgot to sign it, oh well.

chain saw sculpture
“What’ll you give for this one of a kind, um, item? We’ll start the bidding at…”

The last thrill at the Stihl event and a real highlight for me was learning to climb trees arborist-style with three time world champion climber Mark Chisholm.

arborist and competitive tree climber Mark Chisholm
Mark Chisholm

I opted to skip the modern foot and knee ascenders and climbed old-school using the body thrust and footlock methods that rely on clambering up the rope by gripping it with hands and feet. It took a lot of gas out of my tank, but it was satisfying to know I could get into the tree tops with the minimum amount of hardware. My apologies to the nice squirrel family that dove headlong out of their nest and belly flopped on the ground below as I clumsily approached.

Author in tree climbing gear
Me and the Tree

More Info - via Stihl

More Info - via Stihl Timbersports

Photo of author

About Michael Springer

Craftsman and former tool magazine editor Michael Springer specializes in testing tools and covering the tool industry for construction and woodworking professionals. Based in Boulder County, Colorado, but going wherever the story takes him, Michael crisscrosses the country yearly visiting tool manufacturers and industry personalities and attending trade shows. He also treks to major manufacturers in Europe to stay apprised of the newest tool developments and track the design influences that shape many construction tool products long before they reach our shores. When not out sleuthing or at the shop or job site running the kilowatts through the latest power tools, Michael enjoys unplugging and getting his hands on his collection of antique and new wood shaping tools. He enjoys nothing more than a day of rustic woodworking, starting with a log and making the chips fly with chain saw, axe and adze.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get access to free prizes, product sneak-peeks, reviews, how-to's and much more!

More Info | Email Privacy

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.