The Stihl MS261 Chainsaw Review: M-Tronic Vs Non-M-Tronic

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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

ms261c chainsaw

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:

  1. Stihl MS261 – the base model
  2. Stihl MS261 C (sometimes listed C-BE) – tool-free quick chain tensioning and the STIHL Easy2Start system
  3. Stihl MS261 VW – Artic System with heated handles and carb
  4. Stihl MS261 C-M – MTronic engine management system
  5. 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

261 chainsaw specs

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.

MS261c Specs:

  • 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

MS261 Features:

  • 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.

Pros/positive comments:

  • 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!

Cons/negative comments:

  • 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.

MS261 Pros:
  • 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
MS 261 Cons:
  • 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.

stihl ms 261 review

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.

The Stihl MS 261:
  • 10.8 lbs
  • Magnesium case
  • 4 horsepower
  • Captive nuts
  • Slimmer and lighter
  • Decompression button
  • Better pull cord
The Stihl MS 271:
  • 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.

stihl 261 vs stihl 271

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

stihl MS 261 chainsaw 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.

A lower-powered alternative is the homeowner level Stihl MS251c chainsaw or for something bigger and better, check out the MS461.


Stihl MS461 Chainsaw Review: Specs, Price, Versions, Recall

Stihl MS192T Chainsaw Review: Specs, Prices, Versions (192TC Differences)


23 thoughts on “The Stihl MS261 Chainsaw Review: M-Tronic Vs Non-M-Tronic”

  1. “Without fuel and oil, the 261 weighs 10.8 pounds and has a 4hp engine. The 271 weighs 18.6 pounds and has a 3.5hp engine. It’s a huge difference, right? But we’ll compare these two models further shortly.”

    The MS271 is not 18.6 lbs, if you think that you need to go to the gym.

  2. I am in Ireland. I bought a new Stihl 261 with an 18” bar for €780 in 2017.
    I had it two years when a Stihl agent told me they are not a good saw, I wouldn’t agree with him, by the following year the engine was worn out. The dealer I bought it off said it was because I wasn’t always using Stihl two-stroke oil (any excuse).
    I have been using chainsaws for almost 50 years and in my opinion Stihl chainsaws haven’t got the quality anymore, you are just buying a name.

  3. I have a 261 up here in Canada. Great saw, put the performance package on it making it 20% faster. Have 3 acres of lakefront trees at the cottage and it cuts down anything with a 16 inch bar. Also bought a new Stihl 500i but have never used it yet.
    Stihl is quality, endurance and performance to me.

  4. I own a MS 261. This is the lowest commercial saw they sell. I”ve owned almost everything besides Stihl. This saw makes them look worthless. Sharp chain and this thing goes through 2′ diameter oak in a minute or less. Need to be aware of over reving! At 14,000 max rpm’s i had to get used to how powerful this saw was vs others. I’ve cut roughly 20 cords so far w/ some of the trees 3’5″ diameter. It comes w/ a 16″ bar. I put an 18″ on it. I wouldn’t buy anything but another Stihl! I paid around $575 for mine.

  5. I bought an ms261 in 2015 and it’ the best saws I’ve ever run. M-tronic is amazing. It is always running at optimal performance. 4-5 pulls cold, and½ pull when its warm. And it NEVER stalls or acts up. It will outperform most 60cc saws with the weight of a 40cc. This will probably be the last saw I will need to buy.

  6. Of my 6 Stihl saws the 261 CM replaced my 026 as I wanted a lighter more powerful saw, there is an amazing difference. It was so good I retired my 046 saw for a 461 CM also a better saw in comparison, great power! These new electronic saws are lighter, start, run, and are all around better in every way than the saws they replaced.

  7. Just bought a ms261 cm after retiring my old 041 farm boss that was over 30 years old. I’m looking forward to using this saw, should last me a good long time. It’s an amazing improvement over my old farm boss. Some things do get better with time.

  8. This thing rips for casual use. Get the extra set of dogteeth to keep your bar wear even, the cap is magnesium and designed for it. Starts first or second pull for me every season, but I only use ethanol free and Stihl brand synthetic 2 cycle oil. Runs through fuel and bar oil fairly quickly but it doesn’t bother me. I get a lot of work done quickly with this one.

  9. As a gentleman forester (weekend warrior) on my 25 acre (~10 Ha) woodlot, I love my MS261. If I’m sloppy, I flood its Carburetter easily. User error, not the saw. Short supply here in Ontario.

  10. Have a 261 cm, had to replace the fuel solenoid twice, beware the solenoid is extremely sensitive to and kind of dirt in the fuel. That being said the thing runs like a raped ape.

  11. After only having husqvarnas I decided to get a still. My local dealer had a display 261 for $600, so kind of pricey. This thing cuts great. My only complaint is fuel tank size/ fuel efficiency. I don’t think I have been able to cut for 45 minutes without running out of fuel. If this were how I made a living I would not want to spend so much time refueling, but on the other hand you get a lot of rest brakes. All in all a very good saw.

  12. Have been running a 261C for about 5 years.
    Hands down the best saw I have used in 50 years of running saw.
    When I first started using it I thought they had reinvented the chainsaw, it was that good.
    Only trouble I have had is vapour lock if left sitting in the hot sun. Since I dont work in the hot sun this is not a problem.
    I am running a 20″ bar with full chisel. It out-performs my venerable old 038. No contest.


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