How To Use A Bow Saw

how to use a bow saw
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In a follow up to our top 5 best bow saw review article, we thought we would take an in depth look into the history of the bow saw, and offer some practical tips on how you actually use one.

You may not realise this, but the saw is one of the most powerful human tools. Let me explain. The humble saw enabled early man to cut wood for fire, shelter, weapons, and other tools. In other words, saws helped build civilisation from the ground up.

Furthermore, one of the oldest saws is the bow saw. Famed scientist and historian Joseph Needham tells us that it was heavily used in both ancient China and ancient Greece during the Hellenistic Period.

The bow saw is one of the oldest, simplest, and most efficient saws. It is considered a “frame saw” because it consists of a thin metal blade held between a frame. To relieve or increase the tension of the blade, a cord and a toggle are often placed on end of the frame.

The Uses of a Bow Saw

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The bow saw is used for cutting logs, living branches, or treated wood. Often used when camping or backpacking, portable bow saws can be used to cut small and medium-sized logs for fire or shelter.

Some are so big that they must be operated by two or more people. These are often used in wood-mills and lumberyards to reduce massive trees into smaller sections.

Carpenters and sculptors also used various bow saws within their shops to create chairs, tables, and other art.

Related Content: Electric Pole Saw Reviews, best tools for trimming?

The Bow Saw Vs. the Chainsaw

chainsaw in action

When there is an ample power source or fuel, chainsaws can be used to accomplish many of the same purposes as the bow-saw.

However, the chainsaw and other electric or mechanical saws have drawbacks. They need fuel, weigh a great deal, are bulky, and require intensive labor.

The bow saw on the other hand, is light, easy to carry, and does not demand the use of fuel.

How to Use a Bow Saw

  • Step 1: Ensure that the blade is sharp and clean and that there is proper tension between it and the frame. Use the toggle to increase or decrease tension.
  • Step 2: Determine the nature of the project.
  • Step 3: With the frame (handle) in one hand, place the back of the blade on the piece of wood while placing the other hand to the side of the saw. Make sure you use this hand to stabilize the wood while cutting.
  • Step 4: If cutting wood from a tree, make an undercut beneath the branch (see this video for more information about making an undercut).
  • Step 5: Begin cutting the log by moving the bow saw forward and backward with gentle motions. Move the blade at your own pace and do not let it wobble within the wood.
  • Step 6: Take the piece of cut wood and store or use it.

Safety Tips

When using a bow saw, ensure that these safety tips are followed:

  • When cutting the wood, make sure that the hand stabilizing the branch or log is at least 6-12 inches from the blade.
  • Wear protective gear including gloves, goggles, and closed-toed shoes.
  • When cutting a branch from a tree, never stand beneath the branch.
  • Maintain a 10-15 foot “safety” between the person using the bow saw and anyone else who happens to be nearby.
  • When handling the bow saw, never touch the blade and always carry it to one’s side with the blade pointed away from the body.
  • Never handle a bow saw unless there is intent to use it.
  • Keep bow saws away from children and those who have not been trained to use them.
  • Always have a second person present when using the bow saw in case of an injury.

Taking Care of your Bow Saw

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The most important part about caring for a bow saw is making sure that it’s properly cleaned. After every usage, wipe off all dirt, debris, and wood with a damp cloth until all is removed. Then dry the blade off with a dry cloth to prevent rust.

Unlike other saws, the bow saw does not require sharpening except after extensive usage. The thin blade and the teeth remain sharp for long periods of time without a high level of maintenance.

This is one reason the tool is so frequently used and widely appreciated. If the blade does need to be sharpened, it is often best to bring it to an expert or to simply purchase a new one.


The bow saw, thus, remains a handy tool that will never go out of style. If you enjoyed this article and know someone else who may need to learn a thing or two about bow saws, pass it along!

Further reading:

[Image Credits: Fiskars, Kubotathunderbay,,]

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