We have a number of bow saws around the camp that we use on a regular basis, they’re an incredibly useful and versatile tool. So I thought I’d put together a post talking through some of the main features to look out for as well as a few tips on using one.
Size and shape
My preference is to use the best miter saw for the money but if that is not available than it is the 24 inch Bahco bow saw (the orange ones in the photo above). There’s a few reasons I like them. I find them to be a good size for taking on relatively large jobs. They also have a tensioning system on the blade which many cheaper saws don’t have (for example, the blue saw in the photo below); I find that a lack of tensioning on the blade can result in the cut running off. They also have a hand guard to stop you hurting your hand when the cut is completed (again, a feature missing from cheaper saws).
You can also get triangular shaped bow saws which are great for pruning branches from trees as you can get into smaller spaces, but they can’t saw through wood as thick as a rectangular bow saw.
Broadly speaking there are two different types of blade available for a bow saw – a greenwood blade and a seasoned wood blade. From the picture below you can see the difference.
The seasoned wood blade is the one with traditional saw teeth (top in the photo above), up and down like shark’s teeth. The greenwood blade is the one with the ‘W’ shaped tooth every 5 teeth. This is known as a raker tooth and it’s job is pretty much as it says on the tin, it rakes out sawdust as you’re cutting. When you’re cutting greenwood the sawdust can often get clogged up in the cut; the raker tooth drags out the sawdust so that the blade moves freely. In my experience the greenwood blade will cut through seasoned wood with ease, whereas the seasoned wood blade doesn’t perform well with greenwood. So if I’m only taking one blade, I take a greenwood blade.
In my view the most dangerous part of using a bow saw is fitting the safety guard, the plastic ones they come with are worse than useless as you need to get your fingers too close to the sharp bit. So I throw them away and instead use a length of pipe lagging.
You could easily argue that bow saws aren’t particularly portable and it’s true that they don’t all fold away so that they fit in your pack easily. But there are a few on the market that do collapse down, such as these below. I have a preference for the wooden collapsible bow saw over the aluminium framed one as it has adjustable tensioning via the cord and toggle.
Using a bow saw
Using a bow saw is relatively straight forward, but a few simple steps can make life easier.
Typically I’ll use a stump to support the log I’m sawing through, one that’s about knee height. Don’t try to cut in the middle using two supports, the cut will close up on itself and jam the saw blade.
Make sure that you’re cutting a length off the end, this way as you saw through the weight of the log will open up the cut as you go.
I stand on my right leg with the ball of my left foot on top of the log I’m cutting; I shift my weight so that it’s in my left foot, which helps to keep the log from moving.
You might see carpenters putting their finger or thumb down to guide the saw – avoid this with a bow saw as there’s a good chance that it’ll end with you cutting yourself.
I put my left arm through the saw and then hold the log.
Use the whole length of the blade when you’re sawing; if you just use the middle part of the blade you’re making things hard for yourself. I use a rocking motion with the saw – I saw a few cuts more or less vertically and then a few more or less horizontally and then alternate between the two. This means the saw blade is in contact with less surface area and makes the sawing easier.
We teach how to use bow saws, as well as knives, on our 2 Day & 5 Day Bushcraft Courses, the IOL Bushcraft Competency Course and also our 2 Day & 5 Day Survival Courses. You can see photos on our Facebook page and here on our own website