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June 16, 2021

Professional Tool Reviews for Pros


Stihl MS 441 C-M Magnum Chain Saw Review

Stihl MS 441 C-M Magnum
PTR Review
  • Cutting Power 9.0
  • Cutting Speed 9.0
  • Ergonomics 9.0
  • Build Quality 10.0
  • Value 9.0

There is much to like and not much to forgive in this saw so I give it my unqualified recommendation—if you need this much power. If not, or if you are a beginner, look at something of smaller displacement that has the M-Tronic and IntelliCarb features of the 441. One of Stihl's farm duty saws may better fit your needs. The saw pandered for the Wagnarian references I have puckishly sneaked into this narrative. I was exposed to Wagner's operas while stationed in Germany in another lifetime. Das Rhingegold is an opera about the Rhinemaidens' gold which was stolen by Alberich, one of the Nibelung, a race of dwarfs that live under the Rhine River. Gold speaks of the 441 itself and the engine management works so well that one can well imagine a dwarf under the hood tirelessly tweaking all the parameters for perfect operation.

Overall Score 9.2 (out of 10)

For about a week now I have had the privilege of using the Stihl MS 441 C-M Magnum. I must say it is a big step up from my classic  Jonsered 670  which has the same 25″ bar length but slightly less displacement. Now, as in antiquity, bowls are most often turned from green wood ripped from freshly felled logs. This is because 6″ to 12″ thick dry wood is ruinously expensive, if even available. For my bowl turning classes I typically rip enough logs to produce six to ten bowl blanks per student.


With eight in a class this adds up to a prodigious amount of sawing.

Editor’s Note: Please read our review of the Echo Timber Wolf CS-590 chainsaw and Stihl FS 56 RC-E trimmer.

I need a powerful and reliable chain saw. I figured the Stihl MS 441 C-M Magnum would fill the bill nicely.

Stihl MS 441 C-M Magnum  Stihl MS 441 C-M Magnum
To teach bowl turning I routinely rip a gaggle of logs into thick planks for bowl blanks.

Impressions of the Stihl MS 441 C-M Magnum

A good place to start relating my impressions of the MS 441 is with the very act of starting itself. Quite simply, the MS 441 is the easiest to start saw of any displacement I have ever cranked. I first encountered a decompression valve on a Sears moped I bought when I was 14, so there is nothing new about this idea. They definitely make starting easier because you are not coming up against TDC at the beginning of the recoil rope pull. You get the cylinder moving and have inertia working for you before you hit resistance. The decompression valve on the Magnum is a dandy. It is easy to get to, but is not hit accidentally and does its job handily. You push it, and it does its job, closing at the first cough of the engine.

Master Control Lever is to left of throttle handle and decompression button is at top right just behind handlbar.
Master Control Lever is to left of throttle handle and decompression button is at top right just behind handlbar.

Before you push the decompression valve and pull the recoil handle, the Master Control Lever needs to be set. This takes a bit of getting used to. In everyday use it has two positions, up being ‘off’ and down being ‘on’. With a warm engine you simply push the lever down, put the throttle handle between your knees, push the decompression valve and pull the recoil handle—you don’t want to bet against it starting right off. For a cold start you must first set the choke, and this involves pushing the throttle lock with your right thumb and then triggering the throttle with your index finger while pushing the Master Control further down. It will only move to this starting position with the throttle advanced. The throttle trigger must be released before releasing the Master Control Lever for everything to stay set correctly. It sounds a lot more complex than it really is. I employ a ground start for a cold engine, but after pushing the decompression valve, it generally takes no more than two pulls for a good start. I theorize that the combination of the M-Tronic ignition system and IntelliCarb compensating carburetor have much to do with 441’s good-natured starting. Not needing a small screwdriver to tweak carburetor idle and richness is a bit unnerving at first, but you soon revel in being unburdened. M-Tronic even stores your starting parameters for a variety of situations and rolls them out as needed. You grow to love the Wagnerian Nibelung under the hood constantly tweaking better than you could do it yourself.

Stihl MS 441 C-M Magnum  Stihl MS 441 C-M Magnum
The large paper air filter ensures great aspiration by the engine, but most of the wood dust and savings never reach it because of pre-separation.

A third leg of the starting tripod is the Pre-Separation Air Filtration System which keeps the paper air filter noticeably cleaner. It works much the same as a two stage dust blower by creating a vortex.  The heavy dust and chips end up in the center of this cyclone and drop out because of the lower pressure there. This means that the paper filter has to do much less work and need less cleaning.  Pre-separation is not a new idea, Jonsered introduced the feature the year after I bought mine. The dust goes directly to my Jonsered 670’s air filter clogging it quickly with noticeable loss of performance. I have to clean it a couple of times a day. The 441 has a robust paper unit with much more surface area to ensure good engine aspiration. The photo above shows its pristine condition after a couple of days of sawing for this article.

Once running the Anti-Vibration System really makes for nice handling of this snarling beast. Again my classic Jonsered has rubber bushings to achieve the same end but the 441 uses metal springs which are not as susceptible to hardening from age as the rubber.
The Anti-Vibration System really makes for nice handling of this snarling beast. Also note hefty chain catcher to grab broken chains before they fly off.

In many years of chain sawing with a cavalcade of saws I have never had the pleasure of tripping a safety brake due to an accident . However, I have demonstrated the feature to my students a multitude of times. In a kickback the handlebar rotates in your left hand as the bar nose rises. The back of your hand/wrist trips the brake paddle, stopping the saw instantly. No saw is sold without a chain brake today, and that is very good. Statistics show that they work. The best chain brakes, such as Stihl’s Quickstop, are  inertial as well as mechanical. They trip because of violent movement alone, as in a kickback. My Jonsered has this feature, and the manual prescribes testing it by dropping the nose of the bar 30″ while holding the back handle. No such test is mentioned in the Stihl instruction manual; however, I tried this same experiment with the 441 and I am happy to report it tripped just fine. The manual suggest setting the brake for starting, and this brings further safety to start ups.

Stihl MS 441 C-M Magnum  Stihl MS 441 C-M Magnum
I really appreciated the adjusting screw being between the bar nuts!

A feature I really appreciated is having the chain tension adjustment screw located on the right side of the saw between the bar nuts. This really beats digging oil soaked shavings from the area between the bucking spike and the bar to find the adjusting nut (which is the scheme on every other saw I have operated). The outside flats of the nuts are oversized from the typical 1/2 in./13mm nuts. Some engineer had the good thought to make them the same size as the spark plug so the same tool removes the plug or adjusts the bar. Simply loosen the two nuts and turn the screw in the recess between the two nuts clockwise with the straight screwdriver end of the tool (while lifting the nose of the bar) to tighten the chain. The tool rides nicely in the pocket of my chaps.

STHIL's new Rollomatic ES Guide Gar which is 30% lighter than their standard bars.
STHIL’s new Rollomatic ES Guide Gar which is 30% lighter than their standard bars. Yellow tie strap at top denotes pro chisel chain. Safety chain has a green tie strap.

The bar supplied with our test saw is Stihl’s new Rollomatic ES Light Guide Bar. By milling out the center steel section and filling it with aluminum, a 30% reduction in weight is achieved over their Standard Rollomatic E Bars. Like the ES series it has a narrow nose to reduce kickbacks. The most frequent cause of a kickback is the upper quadrant of the bar nose touching a limb or another log adjacent to what is being cut. By reducing the nose radius a kickback has less leverage and distance to kick the saw up and back. For bars up to 25″ (65 cm) the replaceable nose sprocket has 10 teeth but the 28″ (70 cm) and 30″ (75cm) bars have 11 teeth. The saw was only supplied with one bumper spike/bucking spike/dog (the name given to this appendage is regional). I find this very chincy for a saw of this price and quality. Because of all the ripping I do, having bucking spikes on both sides of the bar is almost a necessity. If nothing else, one spike makes it much harder to keep the cut square whether you are bucking or ripping! However, it also gives a lack of support and leverage for rips on the left side of a log. I ordered an outboard comrade to keep the inboard spike company straightaway.

Stihl MS 441 C-M Magnum
The gas tank and oil reservoir have a bayonet locking system that is both handy and functional.

The gas tank and oil reservoir have a bayonet locking system that is both handy and functional. To open, you flip the semicircular handle on the outer premiter up 90°, twist 1/4 turn counterclockwise and pull. Reverse the process to close and, as with a camera lens, there are alignment marks to get it right. There is an upper and lower half to the caps. The upper part has the locking lugs and rotates over the bottom half once a pair of alignment tabs are seated in the tank. It is possible to get the two out of sync and, should this happen, the instruction manual tells you how to bring the two right again. I have had absolutely no problem with them. They are quick to open or close, even with gloved hands. I have had great trouble opening the typical O-ring sealed quick cap and have also had them leak gas all over my chaps. The 441 requires medium test gas of 89 octane or better at a 50:1 ratio.

The saw came equipped with Stihl’s 3/8″ x .050 Rapid Super Chisel Chain—often called pro chain. It cuts lickety-split and bore cuts handily but can produce an angry kick in unskilled hands. New owners of this saw would be wise to switch to a safety chain, at least for awhile. The attack of a chain saw tooth is controlled by the depth gauge which rides just ahead of the cutter. Many still call the depth gauge a raker from handsaw days because its other function is to remove the swarf of cutting from the kerf. The depth gauge limits the attack of the RS chisel chain to .026,  but at the upper 90° of the nose this can be much greater due to the arc. A tangent to this arc effectively lowers the depth gauge, allowing the cutter more attack. The cutter digs in and causes the bar to kick back and up with sometimes unfortunate consequences. Because of the very narrow profile of the raker in pro chain, it readily digs into the wood making the cut still deeper and the kickback even worse.

Safety chain
Pro chain at left, safety chain using bumpered tie straps and drive links middle and Vanguard safety chain at the right.

[pullquote]The black line running through the red circle on the side of the chain saw is for sighting during felling. By lining it up in the direction you want to drop a tree, the felling notch will be so cut.[/pullquote]


A safety chain increases the width and length of the depth gauge to ameliorate kickbacks. This can be done in a variety of ways. My drawing of better than a decade ago shows two links of chisel chain. The most common way to increase the area of the depth gauge is to build up the drive links and tie straps (called bumpering) to the height of the depth gauge as shown in the middle. The disadvantage of bumpering is that it does not cut as fast and it will not bore cut. A second way create a safety cain is to bend the depth gauge at right angles as shown at the right. This is Oregon’s Vanguard chain which cuts reasonably quick and will bore cut well. I have worn out a lot of Vanguard chain and recommend it highly. However, third party chain does not realize the full utility of  Stihl’s Oilomatic lubrication system. The Stihl chain has dimples in the drive links that trap oil and they make a wide selection of safety chain with this feature. For winter operation (the manual says 50° F or lower) a shutter should  moved allowing heat for the carburetor. The saw can also be fitted with electrically heated grips for pampered winter operation. There is also an additional cover that can be fitted to keep snow particles out of the carburetor. And as a side note: The instruction manual for the 441 is excellent. Sure it has the usual list of proscriptions by lawyers, but this preamble is followed by lots of useful information to use and maintain the saw. Even simple felling instructions are included. I give it a 9 out of 10 possible.

Specifications

  • Displacement: 4.31 cu. in. (70.7 cm³)
  • Bore: 1.97″ (50mm)
  • Stroke: 1.41″ (36mm)
  • Power: 5.6 HP ( 4.2 kW) at 9,500 rpm
  • Max permissible speed with bar and chain 13,500 rpm
  • Ignition: Electron Magneto Brakerless
  • Fuel Capacity: .77 quart (.73 l)
  • Oil Capacity: .38 quart (.36 l)
  • Weight (less bar/chain): 14.6 lb (6.6 kg)
  • Bar Lengths: 16″(40 cm), 18″ (45 cm), 20″ (50 cm) 25″ (65 cm), 28″ (70 cm) and 30″ (75 cm)
  • Chain Pitch: 3/8″
  • Sprocket Nose: 10 tooth up to 25″ (65 cm) with longer bars being 11 tooth
  • Supplied Chain: Stihl  3/8″ RS Chisel (Pro) Chain
  • Chain Sprocket: 7 tooth

Manufacturer-stated Features

  • Reduced-Emission Engine Technology which Stihl defines as producing lower emissions than EPA and/or CARB (California Air Resource Board) exhaust emission standards.
  • Stihl M-Tronic™ is a new generation of Intelligent Engine Management that eliminates the low and high speed carburetor adjustment screws, compensates for a dirty air filter, changes in elevation and fuel quality so as to always deliver optimum engine power.
  • IntelliCarb™ Compensating Carburetor is designed to automatically adjust the air/fuel ratio when the air filter becomes restricted or partially clogged and maintains the engine’s correct RPM. IntelliCarb™ uses air from the clean side of the air filter to control the diaphragm and flow of fuel. As the air filter becomes dirty and less air is available for the carburetor, the IntelliCarb™ system adjusts the fuel flow to compensate for the decrease in air flow. This is in contrast to typical carburetors that utilize this air from the “dirty” side of the air box.
  • Pre-Separation Air Filtration System boosts the efficiency of the engine’s filter system, doubling the time between air filter cleanings. Air drawn into the engine is first separated via centrifugal force, ejecting the heavier dirt particles before being routed to the air filter. This pre-separation means less dirt to be captured by the air filter, resulting in less frequent cleaning and maintenance.
  • Master Control Lever™ is an easy to use single lever, operating the choke, starting throttle lock and on-off switch. The operator must pull the throttle trigger before moving the Master Control Lever™ to the choke position.
  • Stihl Quickstop® is both a mechanical chain brake tripped by your left hand during kickback and an inertial chain brake tripped by violent kickback alone.
  • Anti-Vibration System to reduce operator fatigue.
  • ElastoStart™ is a shock adsorbed system built into the recoil handle that buffers the shock of compression during starting.
  • Decompression Valve vents cylinder compression during starting making the effort needed to pull the recoil rope easier.
  • Winter/Summer Shutter allows the carburetor to operate at optimum temperature year-round and helps to prevent carburetor icing when working below 50°F (10°C).
  • Ematic™ guide bar if used with Stihl Oilomatic® saw chain will provide proper lubrication and less oil consumption than conventional methods. The system works because two ramps, strategically placed in the guide bar rail, help contain the flow of oil and direct all lubrication to the sliding faces of the bar and chain links as well as the rivets and driver holes, which in turn can reduce bar oil consumption up to 50%.
  • Adjustable Automatic Oiler allows the user to adjust the lubricant of the guide bar and saw chain for different bar lengths and cutting conditions.
  • Side-Access Chain Tensioner makes it much more convenient for the user to adjust the saw chain with a bar wrench as opposed to the typical location of the guide bar adjustment screw.

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