Stihl ms290 Review and Guide

Stihl MS290 Review and Guide On How To Use It

Latest posts by Mike Lillyman (see all)

I must tell you at the outset that of all the Stihl chainsaws I have owned, this model ranks as the true champion. It is light, powerful, versatile, and totally reliable.

Is this Stihl chainsaw the best chainsaw? No, there isn’t one best chainsaw. Chainsaws are divided up into sections ranging from the light ones to the heavyweight true professional saws with giant bars and a herd of horses to power them.

My old-time tree-felling partner always asks prospective chainsaw owners whether they are in the manicure or massacre section. It is the ability of the Stihl MS290 to effortlessly glide from one section to another that makes it such a sort after chainsaw.

This model has been around for over fifteen years and has now been replaced by the MS291 model. So why should we review a model that is no longer made? Well, just have a glance through the websites that advertise chainsaws, and you will find a pile of Stihl MS290 chainsaws on sale.

It was one of the most popular models for over a decade, so spares are still freely available. If you can find one that has spent more time silently sitting on a workshop shelf, it may just be the bargain to go for. We will also go through what the MS 291 has on offer compared to the MS 290, so you will be able to make a considered decision.

Key Features

MS290 Key Features

The MS290 was the central model for the mid-range chainsaws, intended for the average landowner who would be cutting timber up to around twenty inches in diameter.

The saw can do more than twenty inches, but it will be a little slow. Light enough to do some lopping work but powerful enough to get through trunks, the saw became the go-to model. It was the best-selling chainsaw for many years.

Powered by a fifty-six cc two-stroke engine, it develops a little under four bhp (2,8 kW). The model was usually supplied with a sixteen-inch bar. A twenty-inch bar was also available, but Stihl recommended the sixteen-inch bar.

The saw weighs just under thirteen pounds when the tanks are empty, and there is no bar attached. A great feature of this model is the Stihl ‘Ematic’ chain lubrication system along with a variable displacement oil pump. These two features make a significant impact on oil consumption, reducing it by some fifty percent.

Stihl also introduced a great fuel-saving trick by regulating the amount of fuel that is delivered to the carburetor as the air filter is affected by contamination. Consequently, the air filter can go for longer without being cleaned.

With the inclusion of the anti-vibration system, the MS290 made operating the saw considerably more comfortable. This resulted in the removal of the harmful vibration effects such as “Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome’

There is one little trick that is sometimes ignored, and then the comments fly about how difficult the MS90 is to start. If there is one failing of this machine, I think it is that Stihl did not make it clearer how to start the chainsaw. So here are the steps to take to get the machine running.

If the engine is cold as in the first start of the day, then you need to engage the choke. To do this, you need to depress the throttle and flick the switch all the way down to engage the choke. Giving a couple of tugs on the starter should get the engine firing but not running.

Once the engine has fired, move the switch to the ‘On’ position and give another tug on the starter, and the engine will run perfectly.  If the engine is warm, you can happily ignore the choke stage in getting the engine running.

The Differences Between the MS290 and the MS291

The Differences Between the MS290 and the MS291

The MS290 and MS291 look very similar to each other. The MS291 is one pound lighter. The power output is almost the same, but the MS291 has a smaller engine. Fuel consumption and emissions are reduced because of the smaller motor.

The MS291 has a Winter/Summer shutter that prevents the Carburettor from icing up when the saw is used in low temperatures.

The side-access chain tensioner allows for far easier chain tensioning. Both saws are sold with a sixteen-inch bar, and they both have the option of moving up to an eighteen-inch bar.

Tips for Decision Making

The critical issue that is going to guide you in getting the best saw is the type of work you are anticipating carrying out. That is what has made MS290 the top seller. It is so versatile. 

Be clear about what type of trees you are going to cut. Are you going to use the saw to harvest firewood? It is ideal for this type of work. Light enough to carry out lopping work and strong enough to get through trunks of up to twenty inches.

Also, do some thinking about how often you are going to use the chainsaw. Will it be every week or once a month? Perhaps only once a year when harvesting firewood

Along with this, you need to consider where you are going to be using the chainsaw. Are neighbors close by?  Chainsaws are noisy, and if you intend to use the saw over the weekend, the neighbors may not take too kindly to having their Sunday afternoon snooze interrupted by your lumberjack activities.


When the MS90 was first introduced to the market, battery-powered chainsaws were in their infancy. Today they can do more than hold their own against the smaller gas-powered competitors.

Battery-powered chainsaws have several advantages that go some way in justifying the additional cost. Ease of operation is the first big plus of the electric machine. There is no starter cord to tug on. Simply flick the switch, and the saw is ready for action, with an impressive immediate chain speed. 

Maintenance is also a big drawcard. Apart from topping up the bar oil tank, which on the Stihl MSA 200 C-B model is transparent (so you can check the level without opening the cap), there is not too much else to do. Battery life is around the half-hour mark, cutting time and, depending on the battery, a little beyond. Spare batteries or even a backpack battery system can transform the saw into an all-day affair.

So if you are in the market for a saw on the lighter side of serious felling, consider the battery option. Your neighbors will love you.

Let’s have a look at some comparative specifications:

MS290 Stihl

MS290 Stihl

This model is now almost twenty years old but continues to be considered one of the most reliable and versatile models in the home/ rancher range. For years it was a top seller and was referred to as the ‘Farm Boss.’It was replaced by the MS 271 model. 

  • Weight 13 lbs (5,9 kgs)
  • Engine Power 3,8bhp (2,8kW)
  • Displacement 56 cc                                                                          
  • Fuel capacity 560 cm                            
  • Bar length 16,18 or 20 inch


Bargains are available because the model is discontinued.


Spares may become a problem in future years.

Husqvarna 455 Rancher Mark 2

Husqvarna 455 Rancher Mark 2

This model has almost identical specifications to both the MS 290 and MS 271.One of the best sellers in the homeowners and farmers category. Priced at around $ 590 the upper end of the range for this type of market.

  • Weight 13,2 lbs (5,98 kgs)
  • Engine Power 3,39bhp (2,6kW)
  • Displacement 55 cc
  • Fuel capacity 555 cm
  • Bar length 13 to 20 inches


Great anti-vibration features.


A little heavy but sufficient power for most tasks.

Best Gas Powered
Husqvarna 20 Inch 455 Rancher Gas Chainsaw | Amazon

This gas powered chainsaw is ready to cut trees, whether you need to prune, limb or cut firewood. The ergonomic design of The Husqvarna 20" 455 Rancher gas chainsaw allows the homeowner to handle the power of the saw with ease. 

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03/07/2024 09:50 pm GMT

Stihl MS 271

Stihl MS 271

The successor to the Farm Boss with slightly smaller engine capacity but also lower emission levels. Priced around $ 430 which is around $70 more than the  MS290.

  • Weight 12,3 lbs (5,58 kgs)
  • Engine Power 3,49bhp (2,7kW)
  • Displacement 50.14 cc
  • Fuel capacity 500 cc
  • Bar length 16 to 20 inch


Improved anti-vibration system and advance Combustion control.


More expensive than the MS 290.           

Stihl MS 271 Farm BOSS Chainsaw | Amazon

The MS 271 FARM BOSS replaces the mighty MS 270 with a saw that’s loaded with features and technology. It starts with a highly efficient engine that delivers 20% longer run times between refuelings – while cutting exhaust emissions in half compared to the MS 270.

Buy at Amazon
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Stihl MSA 220C-B Battery Powered

Stihl MSA 220C-B

The first Stihl 16 inch bar battery-powered saw. Prices start at around $ 400 but additional batteries and power packs may add additional charges.

  • Weight 6.4 lbs (2.9 kgs) no battery
  • Bar length 14and 16 inch
  • Run time 48 minutes
  • Chain speed 78 ft/sec


Your neighbors will love you and very low maintenance. Easy starting.


May be underpowered for heavy work.


Question: Apart from the Saw, is There Any Other Equipment Necsesary to Harvest Firewood?

Answer: Personal safety equipment is essential, and I would not recommend you start your chainsaw without the correct safety equipment. A Hardhat with earmuffs and visor are pretty much standard equipment when buying a new saw. Some people prefer safety goggles as opposed to the visor, but that is a personal preference. 

Gloves and boots will protect you from scratches, and more and shinpads are a good addition.
Chainsaws are dangerous by themselves, and when coupled with falling trees, the situation demands careful attention. Be cautious and attentive.

Question: Is it an Advantage to Carry a Spare Sharpened Chain?

Answer: The short answer is that I don’t think you will gain any advantage. The time it takes to dress the chain is probably about the same as what it will take to remove the guard and replace the chain.
Using the correct sharpening file makes the sharpening process quick and efficient. You only need a couple of strokes with the file to restore a sharp edge. 
Err on the side of sharpening the chain more often than less. You will save time sharpening the chain frequently. I sharpen my chain every other time I fill the gas tank. 
The best indicator of the condition of the chain is the shape and size of the chips removed when cutting. Nice large and well-defined chips indicate a good sharp chain.

Question: Is There Any Benefit in Turning the Bar Over?

Answer: If you have a look at a professional tree fellars chainsaw, the chances are that the print on the bar will be upside down. Turning the bar over at regular intervals ensures an even wear on the bar. So when should the bar be turned?
I always make a note of the bar position when I clean my machine and turn the bar over when reassembling the saw. Generally, this is about every other time I fill the gas tank.
When you do turn the bar, have a good look at the links on the chain. If the rivets show any wear, it is probably a good time to replace the chain. 
A broken chain can cause some serious injury. Better to err on the side of caution.

Stihl MS290 Review: Conclusion

I confessed at the outset that the MS290 was my favorite Stihl saw. I think I bought my MS290 some fifteen years ago, and it has worked a fair bit. I’m considering getting a new bar for it, but when I look at the wear on the bar, I delay the decision and tell myself it will be alright for another season. 

What has gone wrong with the saw over the years? The only thing that has failed has been the little line that stops the chain oil cap from falling off when the cap is opened. 

I have maintained the saw myself over the years, and that maintenance is basic. New air filter at the start of the season, a couple of new sparkplugs, and chains when required. I remember replacing the little fuel filter once. I am strict on cleaning the saw every second time I fill the gas tank, and I also sharpen and tension the chain at the same time.

The saw has pruned and cut over three hundred macadamia trees apart from general maintenance around the farm, and it has done so without one moment’s hesitation.  If I had to buy a new saw, I would be very sad to have to choose a different model. I really can’t fault this saw.

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