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Tools for Sawing

Crosscut Saws

Hand Chain Saws

Bow Saws

Pruning Saws

Pole Saws (Pole Pruners)


Photo of two men sawing

Crosscut Saws

There are two types of crosscut saws. Symmetric crosscut saws are designed for a sawyer at each end (Image), and asymmetric saws require only one sawyer (Image). They are heavier so they can be pushed and pulled without buckling. There are two basic patterns for symmetric crosscuts—felling crosscuts are light, flexible, and have concave backs that conform easily to the arc of the cut and the sawyer's arm (Image). The narrowed distance between the teeth and back helps sawyers wedge the cut quickly. Felling saws are usually preferred by trail crews. Bucking crosscuts have straight backs and are heavier and stiffer than felling saws (Image). Their weight helps the saw cut faster and the stiffness prevents buckling on the push stroke when one person saws. Most asymmetric saws are bucking saws. Symmetric saws are pulled by each sawyer. There is no push stroke.

Image of a symmetric crosscut saw.

Image of an assymmetric crosscut saw.

Image of a felling crosscut saw.

Image of a bucking crosscut saw.

The points of most crosscut saw teeth lie on the arc of a circle. These cut easier than a straight–tooth saw and are almost as simple to maintain. Crosscut blades are ground flat or ground with a taper from front to back. A flat–ground blade displays uniform thickness throughout. Flat–ground saw teeth require more "set" than taper–ground saw teeth.

Image of flat ground teeth vs. taper ground.

Taper–ground saws vary from thick–at–the–teeth to thin–at–the–back so their teeth require less set. Taper–ground saws work well for trail jobs because they begin cuts quickly and are slower to bind than flat–ground saws. For all–around trail use, a taper–ground felling crosscut is very effective. Taper–ground saws are often called crescent, precision, segment, or arc–ground saws.

Image comparing different taper ground saws.

One–person saw blades vary from 3 to 4½ feet and these saws weigh 4 to 5 pounds. Two–person saws generally have 6–foot blades and weigh about 8 pounds.

Many modern crosscuts have solid ends. That is, the teeth do not extend to the ends of the blade. For finishing some cuts, however, you will often need a saw with teeth continuous to both ends. A saw with continuous teeth is needed to cut a log in dirt or deep duff, for example.

Before sawing a log with a crosscut, "swamp" the area to remove materials that could interfere with the cut. Next, check the "lay of the log" to determine what will happen when the cut is made. Saw from the uphill side unless you are placing an undercut on a standing tree. Remove loose bark from the line where the saw will pass. Avoid getting the saw into the dirt at the end of the cut. If necessary, place a piece of bark under the log or dig it free under the cut. Make final strokes with one end of the saw so only end teeth will dull if you slip.

When carrying a saw, lay it flat across one shoulder with the teeth guarded and facing away from the neck. Carry the saw on the downhill shoulder. Grasp the front handle from under the blade. Remove the rear handle to prevent snagging on overhanging limbs. Transport saws at the rear of a line of workers. Use blade guards made of sections of rubber–lined firehose slit lengthwise with Velcro fasteners to facilitate removal. Saws need extra protection when they are transported in a vehicle. They should be secured between pieces of plywood cut to blade width, or otherwise protected. Store saws straight. Either hang them or lay them flat. Storing saws in a bent position can bow the saw. Before storing, the blade should be coated with a protectant to prevent corrosion. Never store a saw in a wet sheath.

Image of crosscut sheathed in a fire hose.

A sharp crosscut is a pleasure to operate, but a dull or incorrectly filed saw is a source of endless frustration. Quality crosscut saw filers are increasingly difficult to find. Good instruction for crosscut saw filing is still available, however. We recommend The Crosscut Saw Manual by Warren Miller (Technical Report 7771-2508-MTDC, June 1978). The manual discusses in detail how a saw works and offers experience–tested methods for choosing, using, and maintaining a saw. Copies are available from MTDC.

Tree sap may bind the crosscut blade in the cut. To prevent this, lightly lubricate the blade with a citrus–based solvent. If a flask is stoppered with a cork that has been grooved lengthwise, the blade can be evenly coated with a film of citrus–based solvent by inverting the flask and whisking the cork along the blade surface. An alternative would be a squirt bottle of citrus–based solvent that could spread a small stream of the fluid along the blade.

A leaning tree will have compressed fibers on its underside. In this case, a cut on that side could quickly bind a saw even after it has been undercut. If this happens, saw as much as possible, remove the saw, and chop away the severed wood. A down log can be under compression if it is only supported on the ends. A cut made in the middle will bind the saw as the weight of the log closes the kerf. Sometimes a cut can be continued by driving a wedge into the cut behind the saw. If the saw still binds, one sawyer should "underbuck" the log from the bottom. Remove one handle to reduce the chance of the blade "kinking" if the severed log carries it to the ground. Plant an ax in the log so the handle can support the back of the saw. Slightly notch the handle for a saw guide. Linseed oil in the notch allows the saw to run easily and minimizes handle wear. The flexible hickory holds the saw in the cut.

The cutting teeth of a crosscut saw sever the fibers on both sides of the kerf. The raker teeth cut like a plane, peel the fibers, and collect them in sawdust gullets between the teeth. From there they are carried out of the cut. A properly sharpened crosscut cuts deep and makes thick shavings.

Placement of the handles also determines how the saw cuts. For a vertical cut with the teeth pointing down and the handles up, the pull stroke will be easier the farther toward the end of the handle the hands are placed. Pointing the handles down reverses the situation. For saws that have two holes on each end, changing the handle position from the lower to the upper hole will have the same effect as moving the hands several inches up the handle.

Hand Chain Saws

Photo of men using a hand chain saw.
The hand chain saw performs equally
as well as a conventional crosscut saw.

The hand chain saw weighs only 2 pounds compared to 11 to 16 pounds for a conventional crosscut saw. The saw is equal in performance to a conventional crosscut saw for felling and superior for bucking. It is safer to carry and easier to pack.

Image of a hand chain saw.

Use and maintain this saw as you would use a crosscut saw.

Bow Saws

Photo of a man using a bow saw.
Bow saws effectively clear trails.

Bow saws are useful for clearing small downfall and for limbing. Modern bow saws come in many sizes and consist of a tubular steel frame designed to accept replaceable blades. Blades detach by loosening a wing nut or releasing a throw clamp. The clamp–type saw does not require nuts and bolts that are easily lost. Unless spare nuts or bolts are carried along, the saw becomes useless. Blade lengths can vary from 16 inches to 36 inches. Saws weigh from 1 to 4 pounds. Let the saw do the work. Apply a little downward force with each stroke. When the bow saw is used for one sawyer, lean slightly over the frame and let your weight provide some downward pressure with each push of the blade. Forcing the blade into the cut may bind or break the blade. Use as much of the length of the blade as possible; the saw will cut smoother and stay sharp longer.

Image of a bow saw.

Although the bow saw is designed for one person, two people can saw large logs more effectively. Two people operate the bow saw like a crosscut—each works only on the pull stroke.

The teeth are needle–sharp, so wear gloves when sawing and keep hands clear of the cut and the blade. Carry bow saws by your side with the blade pointed down. Sheath the blade with small–diameter fire hose and Velcro fasteners or plastic blade guards when not in use. Always carry spare parts and plenty of replacement blades on the trail.

Since worn blades are replaced rather than sharpened, maintenance consists of blade replacement, periodic checks to see that bolts are tight, and an occasional light oiling. Take care when oiling these and other trail tools. Too much oil can trap dirt in tool joints.

Examples: (Skip pictures)

Image of Sandvik all–purpose bow saw.
Sandvik all–purpose bow saw. Hardened ¾–inch x 36–inch blade.
Swedish steel frame with knuckle guard. Easy blade changing with tension lever. Weighs 2¼ pounds.

Image of Sandvik buckmaster.
Sandvik buckmaster for heavy–duty bucking jobs. Precision ¾–inch blade
never needs refilling. Frame is Swedish oval tubing, with knuckle guard. Tension lever for
quick blade change. Weighs 3 to 3½ pounds.

Image of Sandvik swifty.
Sandvik swifty designed for light pruning and landscape work. Tension mounted
blade is ¾–inch wide and 21 inches long and features peg tooth design. Quick action
tension lever facilitates blade changing. Swedish steel frame with knuckle guard. Weighs 1¼ pounds.

Image of small bow saw.
Small bow saw for pruning, limbing, landscaping, and camping. Twenty–one
inch raker tooth blade quickly and easily replaced using tension lever. Strong tubular steel
frame designed to allow use of entire cutting blade. Weighs 1½ pounds.

Image of Portex self–storing Swedish bow saw.
Portex self–storing Swedish bow saw features a ¾–inch x 16–inch
Swedish steel blade with raker teeth for firewood, limbs, or lumber. Aluminum frame with no–slip plastic
hand grip. All parts disassemble and "nest" inside handle. Easy reassembly. Weighs 1¼ pounds.

Pruning Saws

Pruning saws are useful for limbing, some brushing, and removing small downfall, especially where space is limited and cutting is difficult. The triangular handle design limits cutting depth, however. Blades vary from 10 to 36 inches, and saws weigh from ¾ to 2½ pounds.

Image of a folding pruning saw.

Folding pruning saws are also handy. Some triangular saws collapse for carrying; other folding saws have a curved blade with teeth on the underside attached to a short handle by a bolt and wing nut. The bolt and nut lock the blade open for use and closed for carrying, like a pocket knife. These blades may be sharpened with a 6–inch cant saw file. Blades are also easy and inexpensive to replace. Check the bolt often for tightness. Carry replacement parts.

Photo of a man using a pruning saw.
Pruning saws used in trail
clearing quickly limb small branches.

Smokejumpers use folding saws to retrieve parachutes and other equipment from trees or bushes.

Pruning saws should be used, maintained, and carried like bow saws.

Pruning saws used in trail clearing quickly limb small branches.

Examples: (Skip pictures)

Image of Meylan pruning saw.
Meylan pruning saw combines a curved axe handle and a curved saw blade that
enables a sawyer of average height standing on the ground to prune up nearly 10 feet high.
Handle is 36 inches long. Blade is 16 inches long. Saw weighs 2½ pounds.

Image of double–edge pruner.
Double–edge pruner has fine teeth on one edge for light trimming, lightning teeth
on the other edge for heavier jobs. Blade is 2½ feet wide at butt; 29/32 inches at point.
Fine edge has 8 points per inch; other edge is 11/32 inches pitch lightning. Saw weighs about 1 pound.

Image of curved pruner.
Curved pruner is an excellent general purpose pruner for fast cutting of small limbs.
Easy–to–grip knife–type wood handle is trimmed with nickeled screws. Fourteen–inch
blade has 7 reverse rip points per inch and is 1½ inches wide at butt,
9/16 inches wide at point. Saw weighs ½ pound.

Image of Bartlett special utility saw.
Bartlett special utility saw has 24&150;inch diamond tooth pattern
blade (4 points per inch). Weighs 1½ pounds.

Image of professional tree pruning saw.
Professional tree pruning saw (heavy–duty) has extra large teeth and gullets for
speed cutting of large limbs. Concave cutting edge is precision set and beveled filed and cuts fast
on the pull stroke. Blade is flat ground. Saw has a 26–inch blade and is 3 5/16 inches wide
at butt, 1 13/32 inches at point. Weighs 1½ pounds.

Image of Skodco pruning saw.
Skodco pruning saw has 24–inch blade, with special baked–on blued finish and
straight toothed edge for cutting on the pull stroke. Extra large hand hole enables easy use
wearing gloves. Blade is 3 9/16 inches wide at butt, 1 3/8 inches at point,
4½ points per inch. Weighs 1¾ pounds.

Pole Saws (Pole Pruners)

This saw has a curved blade attached to a long extension handle and is used to prune high protruding limbs. The teeth face backward on the underside of the blade, so the cut is made on the pull stroke. The curved blade helps prevent binding and transfers the weight of the tool to the branch to aid cutting. Handles typically extend from 4 to 16 feet.

Image of pole pruning saw.

When using a pole saw, be aware of other workers nearby. Cut only those limbs whose ends you can see. Clear an area for dropping limbs. When cutting larger limbs, make two cuts. Begin with a slight cut on the underside of the branch to prevent bark from tearing when the limb is severed from the top.

Carry pole saws by your side. Grip the handle near the blade and point it away from your body and down. Long handles may require another worker to carry the tool farther back on the handle. Don't let the end of the handle drag on the ground.

Sharpen these saws with a slim taper file. Pole saws have alternately offset teeth that are beveled on both edges. Clamp the blade so the gullets are exposed about one–eighth–inch to minimize chatter during sharpening. Align the file in the first gullet against the front and trailing edges of two adjacent teeth. The file should form an angle of about 65° with the blade. File every other gullet, then reverse direction and file alternate gullets at the same angle. Four or five strokes per tooth should suffice. File teeth equally; unevenly filed teeth will differ in height. The shorter teeth will be ineffective while cutting.

When transporting blades, provide a small protective box that holds approximately 10 to 15 blades vertically. Each blade should be separated by a ¼–inch plywood partition.

Examples: (Skip pictures)

Image of telscoping fiberglass tree pruner.
Telescoping fiberglass tree pruner has a blade that cuts limbs to 1¼ inches diameter.
Multi–power pulley design and gear–driven lever give three times more cutting power.
The 16–inch needle point saw blade cuts on the pull stroke to reduce binding. Telescoping
fiberglass pole adjusts from 6 feet to 12 feet. Weighs 7 pounds.

Image of pole pruning saw.
Pole pruning saw 16–inch saw blade adjusts to three different positions on the
aluminum head. Large hook for pushing branches, raising ropes, etc. Built–in paint
brush holder for applying tree wound paint. Poles are 5 to 12 feet long.
Saws weigh from 2 to 4 pounds.

Image of tree trimmer.
Tree trimmer strong, malleable iron pruner has steel chain working through a
ball–bearing pulley for a powerful "center–cut" action. Cuts 1–inch diameter
limbs. Poles vary from 5 to 12 feet. Weighs about 3 pounds.

Image of tree pruner with wood poles.
Fifteen–foot tree pruner with wood poles has cord–actuated
pruner blade that cuts limbs up to 1 1/8 inches in diameter. A multipower leverage
system increases your pull on the cord 15 times for quick, easy cuts. The 16–inch
needle point, teflon coated saw blade cuts on pull strokes to reduce binding. Three
5 foot wood poles may be quickly assembled and taken apart. Weighs 7 pounds.

Image of tree trimmer head.
Tree trimmer head cuts 1½ inch diameter limbs. Heavy–duty,
maleable iron pruner head has steel cable chain works through a ball bearing
pulley for a powerful, "center–cut" action. Poles 5 to 6 feet long.
Saw weighs up to 4 pounds.


Use wedges as levers to prevent the sides of a cut from pinching a saw blade before the cut is finished. Most jobs require soft wedges that will not damage saw teeth. ABS plastic wedges are available in different lengths, widths, and weights. Some have metal inserts in the heads. Other types of wedges are designed to be used in combinations for felling. Wooden wedges are no longer used by the Forest Service.

Image of a single wedge.

Select the correct wedge for the job. Replace wedges when they become chipped or broken.

Image of a double wedge.

Image of a two types of wedges.

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