A wood saw belongs in your tool sheds like other essentials such as a hammer or pliers. But what happens when wood needs cutting, and your only saw has grown legs and disappeared? You find an alternative means of cutting the wood! For example, a sharp edge, lashings of kinetic energy, or both!
Being caught without a saw shouldn’t stop you from cutting that piece of wood, be it a log, a 2×4, or a sheet of board.
There are many ways to cut wood without a saw, which we’ll investigate here. And while some may not be pretty or necessarily precise, these somewhat desperate woodcutting measures will create sawdust and leave you with a dissected piece of timber.
Ready for more?
How to Cut Wood Without a Saw
The best way to cut wood without a saw is to select a sharp-edged tool capable of cutting through the timber. Milled or raw-timber gets cut using cutting tools. Tools like axes, chisels, drills, grinders, and knives work excellently.
Here are 10 ways of cutting wood without a saw:
- Use an axe to cut wood
- Cut wood with a hatchet
- Cut wood with a machete
- Use leverage to snap smaller branches manually
- Use a sharp or serrated knife to cut wood
- Use the knife and baton method
- An angle grinder can be used to cut wood
- Use a chisel and hammer
- Cut wood with a drill
- Use wire to cut wood
Let’s look at four wood cutting tasks that don’t require a saw.
- Felling a tree
- Bucking logs and deadfall
- Cutting across a length of structural timber
- Shredding wood board
Our quest for practical wood saw alternatives exclude any implement with the word saw in it, be it a jigsaw, chainsaw, reciprocating saw, circular saw, band saw, or any other saw.
We’re after humble household and toolshed items to provide our solutions. We will make one exception – a saw that looks nothing like a saw. But it packs small and plays big and makes a worthy inclusion in this article. (Read on to find out more!)
How to Fell a Tree Without a Saw
The best way to cut down a tree without a saw is to use an axe, hatchet, or machete. Cut a deep horizontal V-shape (>) at knee height into the desired fall side of the tree trunk. And a V cut slightly higher on the opposite side. The tree’s weight will cause it to topple.
The tree will invariably remain attached to the stump by the uncut fibers known as the hinge, which gets cut to free the trunk from the stump.
Branches on the fallen tree can get limbed and bucked using the axe, hatchet, or machete.
- Watch an axeman fall a large pine tree safely and effectively using an old-fashioned axe.
- Small trees can get felled without fuss using a hatchet.
- When you need firewood, and all you have is a machete, fell a small dead tree.
TIP: When chopping down a tree, never strike the blade at 90 degrees to the trunk or branch. Attack the wood at a 45-degree angle to go with the grain. This approach angle offers less resistance to the blade, and your efforts will be more effective.
Can You Cut Firewood by Hand?
Dry tree branches get snapped by hand to make kindling and thin starter timber for fires. Larger branches snap into smaller pieces using leverage and a vertical brace or a horizontal lift point. A knife and mallet technique split dry logs for a fire.
Cutting wood by hand to make a fire is an ancient discipline, Stone Age! Today, it’s known as bucking. If you need to make a fire using deadfall but don’t have an axe or a saw, you can get the necessary tinder, kindling, and bulk timber by using natural assistants and leverage, including:
- Your hands and knees – snap twigs and thin branches by leveraging the wood against one raised knee.
- Large rocks – Use horizontal leverage and kinetic energy. Place one end of a thick dry branch on a flat rock around 12-inch high and the other end resting on hard ground. Drop a heavy rock (as much weight as you can safely lift) onto the branch to snap it.
- Trees with trunks close together – slide a thick dry branch between two uprights (tree trunks) and apply force laterally until the branch snaps. Break wood into pieces using trees and muscle.
If the only piece of steel available is a long-blade kitchen knife or bushcraft knife, you can effectively shave tinder and split logs for a fire (or a shelter or a rustic chair) using the knife and baton method.
A sharp hunting knife (or bushcraft knife) will cut through small pieces of wood for fires or carving and witling purposes.
For the heroic? There’s always the Bruce Lee method of cutting wood!
Can I Cut Structural Timber Without a Saw?
Structural timber ranging from two by two-inch lumber to two by four-inch planks can get cut without a saw. Sharp, serrated-edged knives and angle grinders can cut milled lumber into shorter lengths. A chisel and hammer will produce a rough cut on structural timber. It can get smoothed with a rasp.
Cutting across a length of structural timber is best achieved by securing the wood in a vice or clamping it to a workbench. By rendering the wood immovable, your cutting task with any cutting tool will be easier, safer, and cleaner.
A bread knife with serrated teeth will cut through softwood with ease. Hardwood will take more effort and could dull the knife’s edge. The trick is to cut midway through the timber from all four sides, then snap the wood in two when a thin hinge remains. Smooth and finish the ends of the wood with a rasp or file.
Follow the wood-securing steps described above to avoid injury.
- Mark the cut line with a pencil or sharpie to guide a straight cut.
- Wear gloves and protective eyewear.
- After you’re secure – turn on the angle grinder and keep it steady. Slice through the timber.
- If the grinder blade feels too flimsy or small to cut straight through the wood? Turn the wood over and cut from the opposite side.
Here’s how to safely cut wood using an angle grinder.
- Secure the wood to a work surface with clamps.
- Mark the cut line with a pencil.
- Cut a thin groove along the line with a sharp knife.
- Place one corner of the chisel blade into the groove. Tap the chisel with the hammer to widen and deepen the track.
- Turn the chisel blade around to alternate the cut along the groove.
- Once the groove gets established, flip the wood over. Repeat the process directly opposite the grooved ridge you’ve already cut.
- When only a thin strip of wood holds the timber together, snap it in two and rasp the rough edges for a flat, smooth finish.
How to Cut Wooden Boards Without a Saw
Sawing straight, clean cuts through long wooden boards without a table saw or circular saw? That’s a challenge! But cutting boards without a saw can be achieved using alternative methods. Tools capable of rendering a clean cut through wooden boards include angle grinders, serrated knives, chisels, and drills.
The secret to cutting straight edges through wood boards is to use a rail (aka fence) to guide the cutting tool.
Guide rails/fences can be rudimentary, especially when you’re using an alternative to a circular saw, such as an angle grinder or blade.
Here’s How to Set Up a Guide Rail to Cut Wooden Boards Using an Angle Grinder:
- Find a long, straight length of thin wood or steel, preferably longer than the board you need to cut.
- Measure and mark where you want to cut the board and draw a pencil line using the rail/fence as a straightedge (ruler).
- Clamp the rail in place directly adjacent to the pencil line.
- Cut a guide groove into the board by running the tip of a sharp knife along the rail (fence) and the entire length of the pencil line.
- Run the angle grinder blade carefully against the rail (fence) and into the groove for the length of the cut.
- Flip the board over if the blade doesn’t cut entirely through on the first cut. And repeat the process with the rail (fence) clamped in place.
- Finish the cut edges with sandpaper.
To cut wooden boards using a chisel? Use the same rail/fence technique. Run a chisel corner point along the rail to cut and deepen a groove. Flip the board. And repeat on the opposite side of the board and snap the final thin hinge by hand. Smooth the edges with a rasp.
You can also use a drill to cut through wood boards. Again, use the guide rail/fence and drill holes next closely along the cut line. You’re essentially perforating the board. When you’ve drilled holes the length of the cut, snap the board in two by hand.
If you’re feeling super-energetic, use a bread knife and the rail technique to achieve a laborious but straight cut (and a blunt knife!).
Can Wire Cut Wood?
A wire saw, aka a cable saw or survival saw, can cut through raw timber and milled lumber. A cable length (braided) with handles or rings at each end gets pulled rapidly along the plank or 2-by-4. Pull in a sawing action. The sawing motion cuts through the wood. The wire saw is small enough to fit in a wallet or pocket.
The wire saw is the not-so-saw-like saw we referred to earlier.
- A degree of skill is required to use a wire saw effectively.
Here’s a great example of getting the most out of this lightweight, low-cost, stealthy woodcutting tool.
Best Tools for Cutting Wood Without a Saw!
Homesteading is tough enough when you have a shed stuffed with every saw needed for building, repairing, and cutting.
But – what happens when you don’t have a saw? We use one of the following tools!
We scouted to find the most durable and handy tools for your next cutting job.
We hope these help – whether you’re splitting kindling, building a treehouse, or preparing next season’s cordwood.
Mauls and hatchets work wonders for cutting wood without a saw. But - what if you need to carve intricate detail into your wood, plank, or timber? Then we recommend this carving (and whittling) knife. It's sharp - and small enough to fit elegantly and comfortably in your hand. It also has a carbon steel blade and comes from Europe. The reviews are also stellar.
PAID LINK - We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.12/02/2023 04:58 am GMT
Want a sturdy steel axe made in the USA? Here's one of our favorites. It comes from Rockford, Illinois, and employs hard American steel. It makes short work of logs, branches, and small trees. It's perfect for cutting wood without a saw - especially firewood and kindling. It also has a shock grip that helps reduce shock by up to 70 percent. Perfect if you have lots of logs to split for next season.
PAID LINK - We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.12/02/2023 06:59 am GMT
Do you need to split firewood to stay warm? Maybe you have a heavy-duty job that requires a maul? Then buy one made in the USA! This maul is of one solid piece. It's durable and perfect for splitting wood, firewood, and logs. It also has a heavy-duty ballistic sheath. The length and weight provide tremendous leverage when splitting wood - even tough varieties.
PAID LINK - We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.12/05/2023 03:55 am GMT
Do you need a lighter tool for cutting wood without a saw? Then we recommend a hatchet. Hatchets are perfect for splitting small logs and kindling. This hatchet is a solid piece - so it's durable. It comes from the USA - and the reviews are mostly stellar. It weighs seven ounces! It's perfect for backpacking, fishing, hiking, and off-grid living.
PAID LINK - We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.12/01/2023 04:38 pm GMT
Want a sturdy axe with a legendary reputation? Fiskars goes back to 1649! We love this heavy-duty hatchet made in Finland! It weighs around 4.1 pounds and has a wood (hickory) handle. The light size makes it perfect for removing unwanted shrubs and branches. It's also perfect for helping chop kindling. They also promise that the axe is nearly indestructible. The reviews are also stellar.
PAID LINK - We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.12/02/2023 02:48 am GMT
Can you cut, saw, or slice wood without a saw? Yep. You bet!
You now have a guide for alternative woodcutting tools! Perfect if you’re fishing up the creek or in the workshop when wood needs to get cut.
While a saw of any description will do the job best, your next best option will be using one of the methods described in this blistering post.
Also – if you have more questions about chopping firewood or cleaning up backyard grassland waste without a saw – let us know.
We love brainstorming with you.
Thanks again – and have a great day!
PS – One More Way to Chop Firewood – Without a Saw!