As we all know, your biggest ally for cutting a piece of wood is the saw. Whether it’s an old-fashioned handsaw, a table saw, miter, circular, reciprocating, or any other saw you can name – that’s your number one solution for cutting wood. However, what happens when you have an emergency to cut a piece of wood but you don’t own a saw or you aren’t close to your workshop? Your first question in this situation will most likely be – how to cut wood without a saw?
Sooner or later, every woodworker will face a scenario where he will need to cut wood without using a saw. The more experienced woodworkers most likely already know how to react in such a situation. But, if you are a beginner, hobbyist, or a person just searching for a one-time solution then you are at the right place.
That’s why, to help you find that answer and make your life easier – in this guide, we’ll be looking into the best tools that can replace the good old saw.
Cutting Wood Without Using a Saw
Wood and mankind are inseparable. Since the dawn of time, humans have used wood for their benefit. Whether it was to make fire, weapons to hunt, a boat to sail, a home to live in, or whatever people needed – wood has always been part of our life. However, to use and shape the wood to their likening, humans had to become a bit creative.
As humanity progressed over the millennia, people invented many tools for their needs. Some of these tools were and still are used to cut wood, including the saw as a primary tool of choice. But, as the title of this guide goes, we’ll be looking into using different wood cutting tools that can replace the saw.
Nonetheless, cutting wood without a saw efficiently isn’t an easy task to accomplish. But, just because it isn’t an easy task, that doesn’t necessarily make it impossible for the beginner woodworker or DIY hobbyist to accomplish.
At the end of the day, everything comes down to the user’s will to try something new, to closely follow instructions and to carefully execute the assignment. Moreover, when you have a nice sharp tool under your hands, marked cutting lines and the perfect cutting angle according to the instructions – then cutting the workpiece will be a piece of cake.
Whether your project requires a simple handsaw or something stronger like the power saw which you don’t have at the moment – don’t worry, because on our list we included various hand and power tools depending on the type of wood you need to cut.
The 8 Best Alternative Tools to the Saw for Cutting Wood:
Depending on how you use these tools, they can be the perfect substitute for cutting wood if you aren’t nearby your workshop to use a saw or you simply don’t own one. We’ll start from top to bottom as shown on the list. However, they aren’t structured in any particular order. So, a tool being lower or higher placed on our list doesn’t mean anything.
Cutting Wood with a Machete
As the first replacement tool in our guide for cutting wood without a saw, we have the machete.
This is a broad blade that’s mostly used in agriculture and sometimes as a weapon in tropical countries. Because of its shape and 12 to 18-inches long blade, the Machete is a highly versatile tool. It can be used as a knife and an axe depending on your needs. With its long and thin but sturdy blade, you can cut, chop or carve wood; trim bushes and branches, hunt, open coconuts and much more.
Before using the machete to cut wood, you must make sure that is sharp. With a dull machete in your hands, you won’t accomplish anything. If it needs sharpening, use a file, grinder, belt sander, stone or anything else you have that can sharpen the machete.
Now, to cut wood using a sharp machete isn’t a child’s play, so be careful with it and follow these steps:
- The first thing you want to do is to mark a cutting point or line on the wood. By doing so, you’ll know the exact spot to aim for and cut along
- Next, swing with your sharp machete on the marked spot and start making small cuts on both sides of the wood so the machete can enter
- Then tilt the machete at an angle and start making deeper cuts on both sides
- Repeat until the cut is big enough for the wood to split in two
- If needed, you can also trim the edges with the sharp machete at the end
Cutting Wood with an Axe
Next in line, we have a tool that has been used by humanity since ancient times for various purposes. And one of those purposes is of course the purpose to cut, chop or split wood.
Since its first invention, till the present day, the axe has seen many changes in design. These changes in design, also altered the usage of the axe. Because of them, we can now differentiate three main types of axes.
- Weapon axes
- Tool axes
- Axes for cutting and shaping wood
However, even though we can distinguish 3 main types of axes, the overall design still hasn’t changed drastically. The axe consists of two primary components: the handle/haft and the head. Thus, the main difference between various types of axes is in the shape of these two components.
Interestingly, the axe also represents a symbol in many religions and folklore around the globe. But more on this topic on another occasion, now it’s time for some wood cutting instructions:
- Before starting to cut, make sure the axe is razor-sharp and you wear protective gear
- Mark a distinct line on the piece of wood and get in a steady wide stance ready to swing
- Start with making smaller V-shaped cuts on both sides of the wood by using the axe at a slanted angle
- Keep rotating sides after every two or three cuts until the log weakens enough to break
Use the axe to trim the edges after breaking the wood
Cutting Wood with a Knife
If you maybe have never wielded a machete or an axe in your life, then you surely have used a knife before. There’s hardly a household in the entire world that doesn’t have at least one type of knife in their kitchen. After all, this is one of the earliest and most primitive tools made by humans.
Even though we now use knives mostly for cooking i.e. to chop and cut vegetables, fruit, meat and other foods, once upon a time this was one of the deadliest weapons used for combat and hunting.
Similar to the axe, the main design of the knife has roughly stayed the same from its invention until now. However, the quality of modern knives has risen to a completely new level compared to its compatriots from the past. To put things in perspective – primitive knives were made out of stone, bone and wood while now we have sharp knives with blades made of iron, steel, titanium, ceramic, and so on.
Depending on the type and size of wood you want to cut, using a household knife most likely won’t be enough. You probably will need something stronger like the whittling, hunting, or survival knife. However, no matter how sturdy a knife is, it cannot cut wood with a blunt blade. That’s why for maximum performance, you must be using a sharp knife.
To cut wood using a knife you need to:
- Mark a cutting line if needed and use a file to sharpen the knife. Using a sharp knife is crucial if you want to cut wood without a saw seamlessly
- The way you cut the wood is also very important, so begin with using a slanting technique. Meaning, you hold the knife firmly on the wood at a slanted angle and start to cut. You can also try different techniques but never forget to maintain the angle
- Continue cutting at an angle until the wood becomes weak enough to snap on its own or for you to do it with your hands
After cutting the wood without a saw using a knife, trim and smooth the edges for the perfect end result
Cutting Wood with a Chisel
When it comes to woodworking, there’s hardly a tool in mankind’s history that predates the chisel. And similar to the previously mentioned tools on our guide for cutting wood without a saw, the chisel has also kept its original design and purpose for millennia. It’s made of a handle and blade that pierces through the material after applied pressure.
Because of its uniquely shaped blade and design in general, people have used the chisel to carve and cut tough materials like wood, stone and even metal since ancient times.
The earliest carpenters and sculptures at first had a more primitive approach to using a chisel. However, as years went by, they started using a hammer and a mallet which is specifically designed to be used with the chisel. Nowadays, we even have machines like the hydraulic ram that can apply force on the chisel as no man can.
To cut wood using a chisel you need to:
- First, get yourself a pair of safety goggles to protect you from flying debris and nicely sharpen the chisel blade with a file
- Next, make sure you positioned the piece of wood in a secure and tight spot so it won’t move around
- Then firmly hold the chisel and place in on the wood at an angle around 20-degrees
- Now start hitting the firmly held chisel with the mallet in your dominant hand, but don’t be too aggressive
- Continue doing so until you’ve cut wood as much as you want
Don’t forget to clean debris after a few cuts for better visibility
Cutting Wood with a Drill
After going through some of the oldest and relatively basic tools that can replace the saw to cut wood, now it’s time to move on to the modern and more powerful ones. And as the first representative for this group, we have the drill. A powerful tool that is predominantly used for drilling holes in various materials, including wood.
However, even though we view the drill as a modern invention, its origins date back to 30,000 BC when humans used to manually rotate a sharp rock with a pointed end in another material to make a hole in it. But, the drilling machines we have today can hardly be even compared to this simple drill.
Depending on the size, design and power, we can differentiate many types of drills. And these drills are used on daily basis in construction, metalworking, medicine, and especially in woodworking to make round holes, mostly.
Because of that, cutting wood using a drill machine might sound strange to beginner woodworkers. But, do not worry, since the whole point of this guide is to give instructions on how to use a drilling machine to cut wood.
To cut wood using a drill you need to:
- Wear protective gear since it’s a powerful tool and it creates a lot of debris
- Before starting to cut wood using a drilling machine – mark a visible line with drilling points at the center of the wood
- Start to slowly drill in the closely marked spots along the line one by one
- Continue drilling until you can snap the wood in half
- The cut will be rough – use a sharp knife to trim the edges and sandpaper to make it smooth
Cutting Wood with a Router
When it comes to wood cutting tools, the router definitely deserves to be mentioned as well.
Whether as a hand or power tool, the router is a tool that you can rarely see been used outside of woodworking. And even though it’s mainly used in cabinetry, this is still a versatile apparatus that serves multiple purposes.
The router works on the concept of hollowing out an area in hard materials like wood and plastic. Because of this, the router can’t be used as freely as the jigsaw to make cuts in wood. The jigsaw, for example, can be used more freehand while the router needs more adjustments in the process. However, this doesn’t mean that cutting wood without a saw using a router is impossible, only slower.
For cutting, there are the router bits that come in various shapes and dimensions. These cutters can even be custom made to match the material being cut. Every type has its purpose, so make sure you are using the right one.
To cut wood using a router you need to:
- Safety equipment for your head and face is important with this operation
- Start by installing the appropriate router bit and adjust the router gauge for the wanted depth
- Mark a cutting line along the wood surface and place the router on it
- Make sure the router bit has contact with the material and pull the trigger
- Slowly cut and move the router in the direction of the line without deviations
When finished stop the tool and raise the router bit from the cut
Cutting Wood with a Plane
Using a plane to cut wood shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. After all, this is a widely used tool in woodworking and a personal favorite of many woodworkers.
The plane is mostly used as a flattening tool that can make a rough piece of wood as smooth as glass by reducing its thickness. Nevertheless, a great and sharp plane can cut wood without major issues.
Usually, the plane is pushed in the direction of the grain. But in Japan, for example, planes are designed to be pulled towards the user instead of being pushed.
To cut wood using a plane you need to:
- Make sure that you have a plane with a sharp blade before starting to cut
- Place the piece of wood in a tight and secure position so it doesn’t move an inch while operating
- Use the adjustment wheel to tune the depth of the blade to your liking
- Apply pressure and start pushing the plane in the direction of the grain until you reach the end
- Flip the working material and repeat the same procedure on the other side
Cutting Wood with a Lathe
Our final tool to recommend in this guide for cutting wood without a saw is the lathe.
This is a rotating machine tool that is mostly used for wood-turning, metal-spinning, glass-work, and similar work. With this machine, you can cut, turn, deform, drill, or sand a rotating workpiece by using various tools to shape it.
Today, we differentiate many types of lathe machines that can be used for various purposes. But interestingly, the very first lathe machine was a woodworking one made in ancient times.
With the lathe, you can make circular or angled cuts on the workpiece. And wearing safety equipment shouldn’t be overlooked when using this machine.
To cut wood using a lathe you need to:
- The most important thing on a lathe machine is to find the center of the workpiece
- After finding it, place the wood piece on the lathe centers
- Turn the machine on, set it on lowest speed settings and adjust the edges to be parallel with the rotation
- Slowly start to apply pressure on the wood with your tool and continue until finished
Increase the speed to even out the cut surfaces
To cut a piece of wood, you don’t necessarily need to have a saw under your hands. That’s why in this article we explored the best and most efficient alternative tools. With the 8 tools we named above, you can easily cut a piece of wood without using a saw.
However, all of these tools are different from each other. So, you must use unique techniques and methods as shown in the instructions for the cut to be successful. And since injuries always lurk in the shadows when using these types of tools, don’t forget to wear at least basic safety equipment such as gloves, eye protectors/goggles or hard boots
Keep your tools sharp, and cut wood carefully. Hopefully, this guide helped you to get the job done.
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