Husqvarna 281 XP Chainsaw Review: Green British Army Version

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The Husqvarna 281 XP chainsaw was made between 1986 and 2001.

It is an 80.7 cm3 / 4.9 cu. inch, 4.2 kW / 5.7 hp chainsaw recommended for use with an 18 – 28 inch bar. It’s a professional chainsaw suitable for felling, clearing land, bucking, and any other heavy-duty use. At 7.5 kgs/16.5 lbs, it’s not a light limbing or pruning saw!

The 281 XP pictured in this article is a green ex-British military/army chainsaw that was made in Sweden and Norway in 1989. It was listed on eBay for sale by user Greenwells Salvage in June 2023 where it attracted 24 bids and ultimately sold for GB £399.00 (approx. US$520). This saw had a seized engine so it went cheaper than a working model.

We got in touch with the account to ask if we could share their images here, to which they replied, “Yeah of course please feel free. I knew the saw was unusual but never thought I’d have this much interest!” – many thanks to Greenwells Salvage!

At the time of writing, there is another ex-army 281 XP on eBay UK that is listed as “Like mint” for £800 (approx. US$1,025). You can see that these military saws are very valuable and sold primarily as collector’s items rather than as saws for regular use – though this is not the case for regular orange 281s. They are very useful saws.

Here are the pics!

Husqvarna 281 XP Military Version

husqvarna 281 xp
This 281 XP is in very good condition

It is a very tidy example of a military 281 XP. Most of these saws no longer have complete original casings like this one. They will often have orange side covers instead of green due to being replaced.

original husqvarna 281 XP
Many of these saws are no longer all original casings like this one

If you have or are looking at a green 281 XP with some orange parts, you can paint or dye the orange chainsaw pieces to a matching green color. 

281 xp parts
They had an early chain brake

The 281 XP manual says it can be run with an 18 – 28″ bar, though elsewhere it’s stated that up to a 36″ bar is fine. This saw was sold on eBay without a bar or chain.

husky 281 XP
The XP in blue stands out nicely on the green

Green army saws are interesting – while no one’s going to see them in the woods, they will most certainly hear them!

bottom of the 281 XP
A very tidy saw

No signs of magnesium rot on this saw which is something to look for when buying an old chainsaw.

husqvarna 281 serial number
The serial number tag has made in Sweden

We can read the model tag to determine that this saw was made in the 45th week of 1989. It was the 36th saw off the line that week.

It doesn’t say XP on the tag, but all 281s are XPs. Once the 288XP came out, the 281 was no longer designated XP. Some of them have Husqvarna 281 MI or 281 XP MI on the tag indicating that they are military chainsaws (if the green didn’t give it away). So if you wanted to know what MI means on Husky saws, that’s it!

281 made in norway or sweden
The top cover has Made in Norway

While the bulk of the 281 XP would have been made in and assembled in Sweden, some parts, like the top cover, were made in Norway.

Where are husqvarna 281 made
Made in Sweden

The clutch cover was made in Sweden.

husqvarna 281 dogs
Decent sized spikes

It’s surprising to see this saw still has stickers like ‘Professional’ on it.

husqvarna 281 clutch
This saw came green from the factory

Some army saws were originally regular orange 281 XPs and were then painted army green. This saw, however, looks to be green from the factory as there is no orange showing through the scratches.

cylinder for 281 xp
Under the hood

The 281 has a nylon mesh cartridge air filter.

husqvarna 281 xp cylinder
It’s a nice saw

Overall, this is a great example of a 281 XP army edition chainsaw. As already mentioned, the engine was seized and will need some work, but it’s certainly worth doing.

Some of these saws sell for thousands of dollars in the US, especially if they come with their army storage boxes and documentation. They are highly sought after. Being ex-Britsh army chainsaws, there are always more of them in the UK than in the US, making them harder to find and worth more in North America than in Europe and the UK.

Specs And Features

Years Made 1986 – 2001
Engine Displacement 81 ccm (4.9 cu. in.)
Engine Power 5.7 (4.2 kW)
Cylinder Bore 52 mm (2.05 in.)
Piston Stroke 38 mm (1.49 in.)
Cylinder Type Aluminum with Chrome plated bore
Intake Method Piston ported
Powerhead Weight 6.8 kg (15 lbs.)
Handlebar System Anti-vibration
Chain Brake Inertia activated
Clutch Centrifugal
Drive Type Direct
Construction Die-cast Magnesium, injection molded Polymer
Magneto Type Electronic SEM AM7
Carburetor Tillotson HS-228A, B, C series
Major Repair Kit RK-23HS
Minor Repair Kit DG-5HS/T
Air Filter System Nylon mesh cartridge
Starter Type Automatic rewind
Oil Pump Automatic
Maximum Engine RPM 12,500 max
Idle RPM 2,500
Ignition Timing fixed
Flywheel/Coil Air Gap 0.30 mm (0.012 in.)
Spark Plug Type Bosch WSR7F/WS7F, NGK BPMR 7A, Champion RCJ 7Y
Spark Plug Gap 0.50 mm (0.020 in.)
Crankshaft Main Bearings Ball
Fuel Tank Capacity 900 ml (30.4 fl. oz.)
Fuel Oil Ratio 50:1
Recommended Fuel Octane Regular grade
Mix Oil Specification Electrolux-approved oil, Husqvarna mix oil
Chain Pitch 3/8 in.
Bar Mount Pattern 17 link
Bar Size 40 cm (16 in.) – 91 cm (36 in.)

Download the 281/288 XP manual here.

Husqvarna said in their 2003 product listing:

Husqvarna 281XP is among the largest class of professional saws. Like all Husqvarna saws, the 281XP has an optimum power/weight ratio. High power in combination with rugged power and effective anti-vibration features are even more important when long, demanding work shifts and big dimensions are everyday fare.

281 xp specs diagram
From the 2001 Husqvarna International website

Other Husqvarna army saws include the 154 SE, 161 SE, 254, 444 SE, 266 SE, 268, and 272 XP, among others.

281 XP Review

rare husqvarna chainsaws
From the Husqvarna Chainsaw FB Group

Both the 281 XP and the ex-army 281 XP are very good saws that are reviewed well by users.

The army edition is a popular saw for collectors (as you can see in the FB post example above) and many guys are just waiting for their chance to own one.

The fellow who owns the saw in the FB post above shared the following in response to someone else who bought one with a scored piston:

I’m lucky enough to now own 3 army issue 281xp my pride and joy being one with only 30 hours on it box tools helmet and government paperwork.

I’ve been offered legitimately over £2500 for it and many saws the Americans love them . I rebuild vintage saws when I get little time.

You still got a bargain for what you paid for it but you must have known there were issues at that price other wise no normal person would part with it. Do bother cleaning up the cylinder or piston invest in a new one.

I’ll see if I can locate an OEM at a good price for you I may have one. I have nine 281 XPs in total. It’s nice to see another one. Don’t skimp on it now you have it.

He loves the 281 so much that he has 9 of them!

Other comments in threads about the Army 281:

  • Fancy a swap? I don’t need two kidneys.
  • The holy grail of Husqvarna in my book
  • Man I’d love that saw!
  • Ugh I need to find one of these.
  • Absolutely beautiful, what a dream. Nice saw!
  • The army 281 is a mighty saw.
  • Great saws, but working in woods they be hard to spot being green, I’d be losing saw all the time.

The regular, non-army 281 XP doesn’t get quite the reaction as the green version, but it’s still a good saw.

Comments on the regular 281 XP:

  • Got a 281 and a 288. The 281 walks all over the 288. Both stock just a muffler port. Both are great saws.
  • Have both a 181 and a 281xp great saws but wouldn’t go as big as a 36 on them. Save that for the 3120.
  • People disagree with me but I swear the 181/281 has better torque than the 288. But all three 181/281/288 are some of my faves!
    • I agree, I prefer the 281/281, they actually make peak power 1000rpm higher than the 288.
  • I ran a 281 when I worked in the woods. One Hell of a Saw. Keep the rackers filed a bit low so it would CUT!
  • I reckon I’ll use my 288 and 281 till I can’t find parts anymore, I really like how simple they are to work on…


Nick said:

I just love them old 281 and the 288 XP. I really think that’s my favorite saw to work with. Not to heavy for the power size of the saw. With a 24 to a 28 inch bar. Just an amazing saw. The only real problems I’ve ever had with these saws is the damn oil pump and the stupid O rings on the pump. Otherwise just an easy saw to work with.

Dan said:

Mine comes out pretty often I love it but not the most reliable anymore so I’m looking for something bigger and faster. But I probably won’t sell the old girl as she puts a smile on my face when it’s ripping through it.

And Tom said:

Cracking old saw – I just love to hear the pop pop pop that it and the 61 make while idling. Tough strong saw and reliable. Got mine ex army years ago – even had the instructions on how to destroy it to stop it falling into the hands of the enemy.

That last point is pretty awesome – the army saws originally came with “instructions on how to destroy it to stop it falling into the hands of the enemy”!

Husqvarna 281 Chainsaw

Overall, the Husqvarna 281 is a very popular chainsaw, whether you’re looking at the Army version or the standard version. For the right price, it’s definitely a saw worth buying.

Check out what’s available on eBay here – at the time of writing, there are many good working chainsaws and others that are being parted out. The Army saws are rare and much more valuable than the regular saw, but they are up for sale semi-regularly. They’re not impossible to find.

Let us know your experiences with the 281 in the comment section below, especially if you have a green one!


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3 thoughts on “Husqvarna 281 XP Chainsaw Review: Green British Army Version”

  1. Hi, I own a 281XP chain saw, at the time in mint condition. I have bought it on 13 November 1992 in Kuwait; I have the invoice at that period: cost me 275KD (approximately 907 $US)
    Works fine as its idle nice. I have displayed on in Romania; Along I have a husqvarna catalog of that time:1992-93. I want to get about 1200€ for. I will keep it on that site 30 days, then I’ll put it on
    Or maybe you can help me out a bit selling it 🙂
    Kind Regards

  2. I know of one bought from an army surplus store in Scotland, me and my friend bought them at the same time, I sold mine, he still has his, when we got them they came with an ammunition looking box and a record of every time they wet used and by what solider.
    If anyone wants to make him an offer email me.


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