Stihl Compact 017

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Stihl C-018 Chainsaw: inexpensive, handy, and recalled. Get the 021 instead.

Feb 18, 2003 (Updated May 24, 2003)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Lightweight, easy to crank

Cons:Guidebar too short, fuel tank leaks, replacement parts are proprietary.

The Bottom Line: If you're set on buying a light duty Stihl, get the 021 model instead of 017/018.


Needing a lightweight gas-powered chainsaw to maintain my own stocks of firewood for several years, I finally received a brand new Stihl C-018 chainsaw for Christmas.

The $200 price tag on such a reputable brand name item was the most appealing factor in this weight class of chainsaws, making it seem like the perfect gift.

Initial Pros:
Of course the weight of the saw (a little over 10 pounds with bar & chain) makes it perfect for someone as petite (115 pounds) as myself.

The 14" guidebar makes this saw extremely easy to control, compared to the weight distribution of saws with longer bars.

Pull start cranking is incredibly easy as compared to similar engines of other saws (Poulan is the most difficult for my size).

The engine revs independently on burning the last drops of fuel, warning the user that you're out of fuel rather than leading the user to wonder if the saw choked out under the strain of the current cutting task. (This revving may not be intentional as there is no mention of it in the manual, but I find it convenient nonetheless.)

However, after following the user's manual to the letter on proper use and maintenance, I discovered some things about this saw that seemed less than perfect, on the very first use of the saw.

First, the fuel and oil caps are female threaded to fit on the male tank openings. Most larger Stihl saws have male threaded caps that make an airtight seal in the female tank openings. The manual instructs the user to tighten the caps of the 018 using a screwdriver-type tool in the slots on the cap surfaces.

Second, the fuel tank leaks. It's not enough to dribble down your pants leg and risk a fire, but the area around the tank stays moist with fuel even in an upright position.

I thought the leak was the result of my not sealing the fuel cap tight enough, so I intentionally overtightened it with the slot. During use however, the caps seat tighter on the openings as the result of a vacuum in the tank as the fuel is used. This overtightening made the cap almost impossible to remove, with or without a screwdriver tool.

So, after only three weeks of use of my new chainsaw, I ended up breaking the fuel cap while trying to remove it to refuel.

Then I discover replacement caps for this model are not in stock at any retail or repair shop within 50 miles of this rather large city in middle Georgia. Several parts managers said this was a difficult item to keep in stock, which to me was a warning sign to expect more problems with these $4 caps down the road.

At this point I took my search for a replacement cap to the internet, and it was then that I discovered this model had been recalled ( http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml03/03037.html ) months earlier due to leaking fuel tank problems. Since my saw doesn't fall within the serial number range of this recall, I called the Stihl recall hotline to ask how to report mine as having the same problem so they could have it on file to broaden the serial number range.

The Stihl representative told me that the retail shop I purchased it from would have to service it first, then report it themselves. His explanation frustrated me because of the risks of other saws out there that are leaking just as mine was. But, I accepted his remarks as the typical corporate response and hit a deadend in my search for a cap on the internet.

The retailer refused to consider my saw as having the specific leak problem that prompted the recall, so I could only order the cap and wait a full week for it to arrive. He also advised me NOT to tighten the cap with a screwdriver, contrary to the manual's advice.

So, this week delay forced me to borrow a Stihl 021 model chainsaw from my brother in the meantime.

This 021 model weighs almost the same I discovered, but the bar is 18" instead of 14." It was amazing how much better this saw performed with that extra 4" of bar length, while not being any noticeably heavier nor harder to control than my 018 model.

I've since returned the 021 to my brother (reluctantly) and resigned myself to this "toy" 018 model (that still leaks with the new cap) until I can afford the higher $350 pricetag of the 021.

Overall, I'd recommend plunking down the full $350 for the Stihl 021 model if you're going to buy a light duty chainsaw. The traditional fuel tank and cap always seal perfectly after each refueling, the weight difference between the 018 and 021 is negligible, and the extra 4" of bar length makes the 021 a truly perfect choice as compared to the performance and poorly-manufactured fuel tank on the 018.

Comment added 5-23-03: The replacement chain for the 018 must be Stihl. Generic 14" chains from the local hardware store will not fit the bar groove. However, the cost of the Stihl chain are comparable to the generic prices; having to drive to a Stihl dealer for a new chain is a bit of an inconvenience. The generic chains DO fit the 021 bar, which makes replacements on the 021 more convenient.


Recommend this product? Yes

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