STIHL MS290 Farm Boss Chainsaw Review

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I’ve been the proud owner of this legendary chainsaw STIHL MS290, commonly known as the “Farm Boss,” for over a decade now. This saw has been an indispensable tool for maintaining my property, and despite its discontinuation, it remains a standout in the realm of chainsaws for its reliability, power, and ease of maintenance. Here’s a detailed review based on my extensive experience with the MS290.

STIHL MS290 Farm Boss

Specifications of STIHL MS290 Farm Boss

  • Engine Type: Single-cylinder two-stroke
  • Engine Capacity: 56.5 cc (3.45 cu. in.)
  • Engine Power: 2.8 kW (3.8 bhp)
  • Cylinder Bore: 46 mm (1.81 in)
  • Piston Stroke: 34 mm (1.34 in)
  • Ignition Type: Electronic (Breakerless) magneto
  • Spark Plug Type: Bosch WSR6F OR NGK BPMR7A
  • Spark Plug Gap: 0.5 mm (0.02 in)
  • Weight (Dry, No Bar, No Chain): 5.9 kg (13.0 lbs.)

First introduced around 2004, the STIHL MS290 quickly became a favorite among landowners, fitting perfectly into STIHL’s “Farm and Ranch” category. Known for its robustness and efficiency, the “Farm Boss” was once the best-selling chainsaw in the United States before being replaced by the Stihl MS271.

STIHL MS290 Engine Performance

STIHL MS290 Engine Performance cutting log

With a 56cc engine delivering 2.8 kW of power, the MS290 is no slouch when it comes to performance. It’s the ideal mid-range chainsaw, weighing in at 5.9 kg (dry, no bar, no chain), suitable for various sawing tasks in gardens, farms, plantations, and even for light local authority maintenance work. The MS290 includes a single-cylinder two-stroke engine with a fuel mixture of 50:1, ensuring a potent yet efficient operation.

STIHL MS290 Features

STIHL MS290 Features cutting large log
  1. Variable-Displacement Oil Pump & Stihl Ematic System: These features together significantly reduce oil consumption by up to 50% by precisely controlling the lubrication delivery to the chain, focusing particularly on the chain links and guide bar rails.
  2. IntelliCarb Compensating Carburetor: This feature maintains a consistent air/fuel ratio, adjusting the quantity of fuel delivered based on the air filter’s cleanliness, thereby extending the life of the air filter.
  3. Anti-Vibration System: This reduces the mechanical vibration felt by the operator, minimizing the risk of developing Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), a crucial factor for those spending long hours with the saw.
  4. Ease of Maintenance: With tool-less fuel and oil caps, an adjustable automatic bar and chain oiler, and a side-access chain tensioner, maintaining the MS290 is straightforward.
  5. Robust Build Quality: The forged connecting rod with caged needle bearings, akin to professional saws, ensures durability and longevity.

Personal Experience and Maintenance Tips

In my 11 years with the MS290, it has proven to be an excellent mid-range saw, perfectly balancing power and reliability. I’ve used it extensively for cutting firewood and maintaining my property. Here are some personal maintenance tips that have helped me keep my MS290 in top condition:

  1. Regularly clean the sawdust from the cover and air filter after use.
  2. Sharpen the chain regularly with a hand file, ensuring a precise angle for optimal cutting efficiency.
  3. Rotate between multiple chains to maintain sharpness and prolong the chain life.
  4. Adjust the carburetor preheat shutter for summer/winter operation to ensure optimal performance in different temperatures.

STIHL MS290 Pros and Cons

Pros

  • As an owner for 11 years, I’ve experienced firsthand the MS290’s robustness. It’s been a steadfast partner in cutting approximately 11 or 12 cords of wood every fall and winter.
  • Regular maintenance like cleaning the sawdust, taking care of the air cleaner, and sharpening the chain has kept it in excellent condition without the need for major repairs.
  • With a 2.8 kW output from its 56cc engine, the MS290 has consistently delivered the power needed for a variety of tasks, from limbing to bucking large trees into firewood.
  • Its performance is reliable, and it handles the workload of gardens, farms, plantations, and orchards with ease.
  • The tool-less fuel and oil caps, adjustable automatic bar and chain oiler, and side-access chain tensioner make maintenance straightforward.
  • The anti-vibration system significantly reduces the mechanical vibration, decreasing the risk of Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), ensuring comfortable use even during extended periods.
  • Starting the chainsaw is hassle-free, thanks to features like the Elastostart technology and a user-friendly choke system.
  • Despite being discontinued, engine spares, whole engines, replacement housings, and consumables are widely available, ensuring that any necessary repairs don’t turn into a headache.

Cons

  • The chainsaw is on the heavier side, which can be a drawback for users who prefer a lighter saw or for those who need to use it for extended periods.
  • The MS290 model has been discontinued, and while it was a top seller and highly reliable, newer models with more advanced features have replaced it. Finding a new MS290 can be challenging, and the technology may feel outdated compared to newer models.
  • While my experience with starting the chainsaw has been positive, some users have reported difficulties. This could point to maintenance issues or individual unit faults.
  • Although it’s perfect for mid-range tasks, some users might find its power lacking for more demanding jobs, especially when dealing with particularly large or tough trees.
  • Due to its reputation and demand, even used MS290 units can be relatively expensive, and prices vary widely based on condition and location.

Despite the discontinuation of the STIHL MS290, often fondly referred to as the “Farm Boss,” its legacy as a top-tier chainsaw endures. For those who require a reliable, robust chainsaw for light to medium tasks, securing a second-hand MS290 could be an excellent investment, especially considering its esteemed reputation and performance history.

STIHL MS290 cut log

When it was still a staple in stores, the MS290’s price ranged from approximately $200 to $400 in the USA, reflecting its position as a high-quality, mid-range chainsaw. This price variability often hinged on factors like the retailer, regional pricing strategies, and ongoing sales or promotions. However, it’s noteworthy that the MS290 commanded higher prices outside the USA. For instance, in parts of Australia, the chainsaw’s price could soar up to around $600, underscoring its global demand and the recognition of its quality and durability.

Although new models have replaced the MS290, and finding one might require a bit of searching, the chainsaw’s robust design, reliable performance, and the wide availability of spares and maintenance options contribute to its enduring appeal. For those in need of a trustworthy chainsaw and who come across a well-maintained MS290, the investment is worth considering, particularly for lighter sawing tasks where its performance and longevity can still shine.

Why Was the Stihl MS 290 Discontinued?

The discontinuation of the STIHL MS290, despite its popularity and solid performance, was primarily due to evolving industry standards and environmental regulations. While the MS290 was a reliable workhorse, changes in the following areas necessitated its phase-out:

  1. Over time, the chassis and engine design of the MS290, although robust, began to lag behind the advancing technological and ergonomic standards of newer models. This made the saw less competitive in terms of features and user comfort compared to the newer designs entering the market.
  2. Stricter environmental and emission regulations meant that the MS290’s engine, while powerful, did not align with the new eco-friendly standards. Companies like STIHL are continuously working to innovate and adapt their products to meet these regulations, ensuring that their tools are not only powerful but also environmentally responsible.

The successor to the MS290, the STIHL MS291, addressed these issues head-on. It features a completely redesigned chassis for improved ergonomics and handling, and a new chain system for better performance and ease of maintenance. One of the significant upgrades in the MS291 is the introduction of the Strato-charged engine, which offers greater fuel efficiency and substantially reduced emissions without compromising on power.

pile of log

While it’s natural for fans of the MS290 to be disappointed by its discontinuation, the MS291 serves as a worthy successor, building on the strengths of the MS290 while introducing significant improvements in environmental performance and user experience. The price increase of approximately $70 to $100 over the original MS290 is justified by these enhancements, making the MS291 a more future-proof and performance-oriented chainsaw.

Starting the MS290 Chainsaw

Starting the MS290 is a breeze, thanks to the Elastostart technology and intuitive design. It’s important to follow the proper steps, ensuring the chain brake is activated, and the saw is placed on a stable surface. The starting process involves a few pulls of the rope with proper positioning of the master control lever, and once started, ensuring proper lubrication of the chain is crucial before commencing work.

Final Thoughts

Though the STIHL MS290 Farm Boss has been discontinued and replaced by newer models like the MS291, it still holds a special place in the hearts of its users. Its robust performance, ease of maintenance, and the availability of spares make it a worthwhile investment if you can find one in good condition. For a saw that balances power, efficiency, and user comfort so well, the MS290 truly lives up to its “Farm Boss” moniker. If you’re looking for a reliable, hardworking chainsaw and happen to come across an MS290, it’s certainly worth considering.

FAQs

  1. Can the STIHL MS290 handle both softwood and hardwood effectively?
    Yes, the MS290 is designed to handle both softwood and hardwood effectively. Its powerful 56cc engine and 2.8 kW power output make it suitable for a variety of cutting tasks. For optimal cutting performance, it’s important to use the correct chain type and ensure it’s well-maintained and properly sharpened.
  2. How does the weight of the MS290 compare to other chainsaws in the same category?
    The MS290 is relatively balanced in terms of weight. Weighing 5.9 kg (dry, without bar and chain), it’s comparable to other chainsaws in its category. While some users may find it slightly heavier, its robust build and power justify the weight, ensuring durability and effective performance.
  3. What are the most common maintenance tasks for the MS290, and how frequently should they be performed?
    Common maintenance tasks for the MS290 include cleaning the air filter, checking and sharpening the chain, cleaning the chainsaw body from debris and sawdust, checking the spark plug, and ensuring proper chain tension. These should be done regularly, with more intensive cleaning and check-ups recommended after every 10 hours of operation or as needed based on usage.
  4. Are there any notable accessories or upgrades available for the MS290 to enhance its performance or versatility?
    Yes, the MS290 can be enhanced with various accessories such as different guide bar lengths, specialized chains for different types of wood, and upgraded chain tensioning systems. STIHL also offers a range of personal protective equipment and maintenance tools to complement the chainsaw’s performance and the user’s safety.
  5. How does the anti-vibration feature of the MS290 contribute to long-term user comfort and safety?
    The anti-vibration system of the MS290 significantly reduces the vibrations transmitted to the user’s hands and arms, minimizing fatigue and the risk of developing conditions like Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). This feature allows for more comfortable and safer operation, especially during extended use.
  6. Can the MS290 be used for professional forestry work, or is it strictly a landowner/farm saw?
    While the MS290 is primarily designed for landowner and farm use, its robust build and powerful performance make it suitable for light professional forestry work as well. However, for more demanding professional tasks, a saw designed explicitly for professional forestry might be more appropriate.

Join the discussion below and add your voice to our MS290 chainsaw review community. Whether you’re a seasoned chainsaw user or considering your first purchase, your insights and experiences are invaluable. Share your own reviews, tips, or questions about the MS290. Your input is crucial in enriching our collective understanding and helping others make informed decisions. Let’s cultivate a knowledgeable and supportive space for all MS290 enthusiasts!

David Murray
David Murray
Forestry Author

I'm David Murry, a forestry equipment specialist with a focus on chainsaw operation. With over 13 years of experience, I've honed my skills in operating and maintaining a wide range of machinery, from chainsaws to log splitters. My passion for the outdoors and commitment to sustainable forestry drive my work, which emphasizes safety, efficiency, and staying updated with industry advancements. Additionally, I'm dedicated to sharing my expertise and promoting environmental awareness within the forestry community.

10 comments

bought my 290 second hand n at first glance was sceptical of its performance however after buying a new bar chain gas tank cap (really miss the old screw caps) n some new chain guides it has ran flawlessly for over 2 years now almost every day cutting everything from pine to cedar even lumber when im to lazy to go dig out my circular saw n for the 50 bux i gave for saw and another 50 bux in parts hands down best money i could have spent. i bought a chinese knock off for 120 before this one n only ran for a week before chain oiler quit working so ya stihl has won me over for life

Daniel Adams
steven west
May 7, 2024 10:00 pm

I have owned my farm boss for over 20 years. I have never had to change its spark plug. I only clean the air filter often. Keep the chain sharp. Clean and wipe it off after each use.Store it in its carrier case. Love it even if it is a bit heavy. Good fresh non ethanol gas oil mixture, ready to go cut big wood, soft or hard .love my saw.

Daniel Adams
Bart Jones
February 10, 2024 11:27 am

Yep... I bought mine in 2003 also. That saw is a beast. Have cut at least 15 cords a year every year and still do. One oil reservoir gasket and spark plugs. Best saw ever.

Daniel Adams
Joe Jordan
February 8, 2024 6:10 pm

I have owned my MS290 since 2011 and would put it up against any saw in its category. Mine has been beat by oad limbs slamming into it to being run over by my tractor and rather than replace it with anything else I have had it repaired. This saw runs year round in temps that reach 100⁰ in the summer to -40⁰ in the winter and have rarely had problems starting it and it was almost always my fault when I did. This is one saw that with a little time spent on maintenance will last a lifetime working daily.

Daniel Adams
Brad Carstensen
February 7, 2024 10:06 pm

Exactly!

Kristin Watsons
David Murray
February 8, 2024 2:03 am

It looks like this chainsaw could be something I would like to purchase.

Daniel Adams
William Shreeve
February 7, 2024 9:57 pm

You might consider reading our Best Chainsaw For the Money guide.

Kristin Watsons
David Murray
February 8, 2024 1:54 am

It did not work well for me. It would not cut wood as well as I'm. On my other size holder saw this was the North. So when I bought it? I did not like it and. I thought something was wrong with it and they said it wasn't .

Daniel Adams
Mark Jermolowicz
February 7, 2024 2:55 pm

What are you talking about,, you make no scene to me,, Are you on something illegal????

Kristin Watsons
Pat Emmer
February 9, 2024 10:33 am

Bought my Ms 290 in 2003 it just recently needed a good tuneup it has been great saw.

Daniel Adams
Peter Hearn
February 7, 2024 1:13 pm

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