The 50cc MS261 is often cited as being one of the best all-round Stihl chainsaws.
It’s a favorite of arborists, tree care workers, firewood businesses, and other heavy users of chainsaws.
The 261 is one of Stihl’s best-selling chainsaws and you will find a lot of chatter about it in the chainsaw forums and Facebook groups. There are a few versions of the saw, and, on the whole, all of them have been well received.
Why is it so popular and is it really as good as its reputation?
Stihl 261 Chainsaw Review
The Stihl 261 is a pro-level chainsaw, as opposed to a ‘Farm and Ranch’ or homeowner chainsaw.
This means it will cost a couple of hundred dollars more than a similarly powered model in those other series, but it is much better.
One of the best things about the MS261 is that it has an excellent power-to-weight ratio of 1.6.
To explain this further, let’s compare it with the cheaper Stihl MS271 which is in the Farm Boss series:
- The MS261 weighs 10.8 pounds, has a 50.2 cc, 4hp, 2.9 kW, engine
- The MS271 weighs 12.3 pounds, has a 50.2 cc, 3.5hp, 2.6 kW engine
It’s a bit of a difference, right?
But we’ll compare these two models further shortly.
As for different versions of the 261, there are at least 5:
- Stihl MS261 – the base model
- Stihl MS261 C (sometimes listed C-BE) – tool-free quick chain tensioning and the STIHL Easy2Start system
- Stihl MS261 VW – Artic System with heated handles and carb
- Stihl MS261 C-M – MTronic engine management system
- Stihl MS261 C-MQ – MTronic with Quickstop Plus (additional chain brake feature)
You can still choose to buy a 261 with or without the M-Tronic system.
Some people love it and others hate it. We’ll share the pros and cons below.
MS 261 Specs And Features
The 261 is a 50.2cc gas chainsaw with a 4hp engine.
Bar size is another important factor when buying a chainsaw with the 261 commonly sold with a 20-inch bar.
You can find it for sale with anywhere from a 14 – 20-inch bar, and 16″ and 18″ bars are other commonly used sizes.
It’s happy to be run with any of these bar lengths, though, according to users, 18″ seems to be about the optimal length. And yes, you will hear of those running a 25″ inch bar on it, but this isn’t recommended.
- 50.2 cc, 3.06 cu in
- 3.9 hp, 2.9 kW
- 11.5 lbs/5.2 kg dry weight
- 2,800 rpm idle, 14,000 rpm max
- 1.76″/44.7 mm bore
- 1.26″/32 mm stroke
- 16″ – 20″ bars
- .325″ pitch, 0.063 gauge chain
- Decompression valve
- Metal construction
- Captive bar nuts
- Adjustable oiler
- Reduced-emission engine technology
- Pre-separation air filter
- Anti-vibration system
- Toolless fuel and oil cap
- Easy access chain tensioner
It’s a pro-saw so it will have all of the great features you’d expect on such a saw from Stihl.
MTronic Vs Non-Mtronic
Not everyone likes the M-Tronic saws, but there isn’t anything to be afraid of… if you learn how to use them you’ll likely learn to love them.
The video above shows how to reset the MTronic system if you are having trouble. There are different versions of the system and each has different reset methods.
It will need reset if you do any work on or replace any parts if the fuel system. Also, it may need reset if there are drastic temperature changes through the day, or if you change from low to high altitude.
Here are some comments from users, for and against Stihl Mtronic.
- I got my M-tronic 261 a few months ago and I love it!! Wasn’t sure about it because of the m-tronic but I haven’t had any issues so far and I have been using it almost everyday.
- Get the m tronic for sure. As a tech, I have seen how it performs as well as how it can save itself from blowing up by adding more fuel instead of running lean and causing a seizure.
- I love my 462 M-tronic. Just reset the computer once in a while and it will rip.
- You will like the 261. Just regular up keep and learn the carb reset, and you shouldn’t have a problem with the m-tronic system.
- Have 4 mtronic models no issues with any of them. Never had to do any resets. Running non-e mix @45:1.
- MTronic has a carburetor but you don’t have to tune them. They set themselves to the conditions. The 500i is the only STIHL saw that has fuel injection.
- I have a 30 year old 026 that runs fine and was scared to go to m-tronic. But am I glad I did.
- I like my 261mtronic. Bought it new in August and cut quite a bit of ash with it. After reading some great posts in this group I went out and did the reset since the weather cooled off. It cuts a lot better after the reset. Couple minutes to reset and go, how do you beat that?
- I avoided mtronic honestly. I finally broke down and got a 462 which is mtronic and loved it! I now updated all my saws to mtronic V3.0! 201T, 261, 400, 462, and 661 all do awesome!
- I have both, the Mtronic saw absolutely rips when it runs right… it’s hit or miss though. If you accidentally open the decompression valve sure it pulls easier but you will rip on that cord forever getting it to start… The standard carb saw starts the exact same way every time and runs perfect. I’m getting a 462 next and it’s gonna be a standard carb.
- If you are going to be using them daily for a couple hours a day you would want to be able to manually adjust your carburetor in my mind so that they can be tuned rich and you are saving or greatly extending your engine’s life! I’ve seen new 261cm’s smoked in 3 years because they were run on 50:1 and were blasted everyday… mine and my buddies are still like new internally and they have been run a lot… 12k 12,5 tops and 40:1…
- To me, the question isn’t if the m-tronic is working well now, or 5 years from now. It obviously works and works well. It’s 10-15 years down the line. Will Stihl discontinue the current m-tronic parts? With the standard carb model, you don’t really have to worry about that. I don’t have to worry about finding the electric carb for my older 026 and 036. I deal with a ton of older 2-stroke and 4-stroke machines (dirt bikes, ATVs, saws, etc…) and the hardest part to find for the older stuff is the electronics.
- Mtronic was a bad move on Stihl’s end. A computer in a chainsaw just doesn’t make sense. Another way to get you back into the place of purchase to get it calibrated via a computer. There is a way to reset it by running the choke but it is just a pain in the a**.
- Bought the 261c to replace an 026. Not impressed. Won’t idle very well, always having to restart it. Sometimes it just WONT start. Pull and pull and pull when it’s plum warm and won’t start. Eventually have to pin the throttle and drop start it which I hate cause it’s sketchy. After cutting for 7 hours this weekend i truly could not start it, put it down and used my old saw for the last 30 min of the day.
- A much better alternative to the similarly powered MS 291
Most users are very positive about the M-Tronic 261 and prefer it to the non-MTronic.
To find out if your (or another) 261 is MTronic, check the off on choke lever. If it’s MTronic it will be off, on, and a triangle. If it’s Non-MTronic it will be off, on, half choke, and full choke like a regular saw.
Also, there will be no carb adjustment holes.
Stihl MS261 Review
Check out this video review of the Stihl 261 chainsaw from Old School Millennial.
Here are some of the points he makes about this 50cc saw:
- Power to weight ratio very good
- Weighs about 10.8 pounds with a 4 hp engine
- Use it for felling and limbing trees, and bucking wood
- Use a 16 – 20 inch bar on it
- The case is made of magnesium (as opposed to a plastic or polymer case)
- Has an M-Tronic system – autotunes your chainsaw to optimal levels
- Captive bar nuts keep you from losing them
- Decompression valve – not necessary, but nice
- An F&R chainsaw has an all one case, whereas the 261 has multiple parts for easier access
- It’s a great middle of the road chainsaw – ‘grab and go’ for all tasks
- Great for firewood or felling small to medium trees
The weight to power ratio comes up again in this video, and it’s important to keep in mind how often you’ll be using your saw.
If you are using it often, the weight-to-power ratio matters and makes a difference. For infrequent and light use, it isn’t so important.
- Robust, well-built, durable design
- Use it year-round in all temps
- Great power output for the weight
- Trustworthy, reliable saw that will go all day
- Fuel effiecient and not too hungry compared to other saws
- Takes well to modifications
- Costs more than the non-pro saws
- Stihl fuel and oil caps can be finicky
I’ve yet to hear or read a negative review on the MS 261 – it is one of those saws that is universally loved and praised. Many guys say it’s their favorite saw.
Check out this review from someone who owns 7 Stihl chainsaws.
A FB group comment from James said:
261 has to be the number one recommended saw – I got one and its awesome. I run a 16 on mine and I grab it over my other saws just because of the weight and it rips.
It’s easy to use and maintain, light, and reliable. 95% of the reviews are 5 stars.
If you can get your hands on one (because they are often sold-out), you are not likely to go wrong!
Stihl 261 Vs Stihl 271
What’s the difference between the 261 and the Stihl 271? Watch this video for a great overview.
These 2 saws are often compared because they are both Stihl (obviously) and both 50.2ccs. However, they are quite different. In a nutshell, the 261 is a professional saw, and the 271 is a homeowner’s saw.
Here are some more of the differences.
- 10.8 lbs
- Magnesium case
- 4 horsepower
- Captive nuts
- Slimmer and lighter
- Decompression button
- Better pull cord
- 12.3 lbs
- Polymer case
- 3.5 horsepower
- Loose nuts
- Thicker and heavier
- No decompression button
- Standard pull cord
If you watched the video above, you’ll have heard that the different casing, magnesium vs polymer, is the most significant difference (in his opinion). This casing is harder wearing, longer-lasting, and when using the saw it’s a far nicer experience.
Ultimately, the Stihl 261 is the better chainsaw over the 271, which is what you’d expect for the extra $150 – $200. If you can afford the better model, then this is the route you should take.
On the other hand, if you are only going to be using the saw for a bit of firewood, then there’s nothing wrong with going for the 271. It’s still a good saw.
The Stihl 026 is the similarly powered chainsaw that came before the 260/261. It can be picked up for a decent price second-hand.
Stihl MS261 Price
How much is a new Stihl MS261?
In the US, you can expect to pay about $700 now (thanks Govt.)!
However, this varies from state to state depending on taxes and things like that. The MS271 is priced around $450, so it’s a good chunck cheaper, but there’s really no comparison.
Can you buy the MS261 online?
I haven’t been able to find it for sale online. It’s listed in various places, but you have to go in-store to buy and pick it up.
You can find used and second-hand Stihl MS261 chainsaws on eBay here – always try to find out an accurate history of the saw before parting with your cash though.
Second-hand 261s are selling for almost as much as a new one due to the shortage of chainsaws at the moment. Sometimes, if you can get your hands on one, it’s best not to hesitate.
Also, here are the best places to buy Stihl parts if that’s what you need.
Stihl MS 261 Reviews
If you own a 261, give us a review in the comment section below. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Also, if you discover a good supply of them out there, let us know about it.
Otherwise, I hope this has helped you to determine whether or not this is the perfect chainsaw for you (or not). It’s can be used for anything and is a great all-rounder.