How to Cut Wood Without a Saw: Top 11 Alternatives to Try

If you buy something through our posts, we may get a small commission. Read more here.

A saw is one of the important power tools in every woodworker’s arsenal. But if there comes a time when these tools are lost, misplaced, or destroyed, and you need to cut wood at the moment, there are effective alternatives you can try.

If you’re curious about how to cut wood without resorting to a saw, here are some methods that I swear by.

Is it Possible to Cut Wood Without Using a Saw? + Quality of Cuts

Yes, it is possible to cut wood without using a saw. There are other tools you can find around you that can be utilized for this purpose, preferably sharp-edged ones. However, they all work differently, so you must choose the right tools that will work best for your project.

You can first opt for a hand saw blade for cutting wood. As long as the saw teeth are sharp along with the correct sawing motion, you can cut lumber. 

chopping wood

If you don’t have these saws or blades or other options left, here are different wood cutting tools for chopping wood:

11 Tools to Use for Cutting Wood Instead of a Saw

Option #1: Wood Chisel for Precision

A chisel is often my go-to tool for precise wood cuts. It’s straightforward to use, especially when precision is key. However, one issue I’ve noticed is the “kerf” or the material loss when using a chisel. It means sometimes sacrificing a bit more of your workpiece than you might prefer.

I typically recommend starting with a ½” or ¾” chisel. For the best results, use a sharp chisel. Working with a dull one will be challenging, not mention, hazardous too. While you are at it, use a mallet or deadfall hammer to use it. 


Mark the part where you plan to cut. This is a good practice when planning on making several precise cuts. 

Option #2: Knife for Rough Cutting

Knives are one of the most obvious tools to cut lumber. Make sure to use a sharp knife or serrated knives such as a sharp hunting knife. Its sharp edge will help you efficiently cut lumber. 

You will produce a rough cut at first, but once you develop the proper technique, you can cut lumber cleanly and safely. Cutting with a knife can vary in technique, largely depending on the type of wood and the knife you’re using. Each combination can require a slightly different approach:

knifes to cut wood

Notch Method

The notch method is one of the easiest methods to cut through lumber. The notch method can be used to shorten the length of lumber. 

This method is slow but rather precise compared to most wood cutting methods. Follow these steps to start notching lumber

  1. Select a straight line on the wood to begin cutting. You will be cutting from both sides, and you need to evaluate the width you are prepared to cut before going in.
  2. Hold the workpiece down and place the edge of the knife into the wood. Proceed to pry small chunks out of it.
  3. Do this from the opposite angle and do the same thing.
notch method with knife

4. Repeat this method on each angle, resulting in a deeper and wider one until you have reached the edges you wish to cut. 

5. Create the v-pattern on the lumber. Do this until the lumber can be snapped with your bare hands. 

6. Finish the edges of the wood if desired. 

Batoning Method

This knife and baton method is considered an elementary bushcraft skill. It may not be appropriate for most situations, but you can approximate a rip cut made on thin wood. 

The batoning method is mainly used to split firewood which can place significant stress on the knife.

If you’re working with a subpar knife, there’s a risk it might snap or break unpredictably. This aspect of bushcraft skills has drawn its share of critiques. That’s why there’s an emphasis on ensuring the knife has a robust edge and a substantial blade thickness when engaging in such tasks.

Batoning Wood with your Knife

Survival knives are not recommended for the baton method. The knife must also be lengthier than the piece. The process requires a knife and a mallet:

  1. Get the knife and position it at the edge to proceed to split wood. Apply as much force as you can on the sharp blade possible. 
  2. Hit the back of the blade using your mallet. Rubber is preferred, but you may also use a heavy branch or a rock.
  3. The pressure as a result of the force will direct the knife downwards. Make multiple strikes until the knife is fixed and embedded in the lumber. 
  4. Once you see the blade is sunk, continue to strike the protruding tip of the blade with your striking tool.
  5. Carry on until the lumber splits. 
batoning with knife

Ringing Method

The ringing method allows you to bring a round or irregular shape piece down into small pieces. This method is considered another bushcraft technique used to make poles for shelters.

The ringing method is one to approach with time and patience in hand, but it is suitable for most long pieces of wood. Follow these steps to start with the ringing method.

  1. Make some markings around the edge of the piece of wood that you wish to cut. Note that some of the material on both sides of the line will be lost. 
  2. Proceed to score along the marked line with the knife. Tap it carefully with a mallet if you have difficulty scraping it across. 
  3. Notch the mark on one side and cut it at a diagonal angle. 
  4. Continue to come in from each angle resulting in a deep notch. If it is thin enough, split the piece of wood. 
ringing method

Option #3: Machete

A sharp machete [1] is another tool that functions like a knife. However, ensure that you can control the blade with your dominant hand. Like most handy tools used for cutting, make sure that your machete is sharp.

Machetes are known to have heavy blades. And splitting wood with this tool requires technique. Control is important, and consider using a wrist lanyard to avoid injury. Also, ensure a clean work surface. 

Among the different tools, look for one with a thick and heavier tip if you plan to use a machete. Bolo and kukri designs are common among those serious about cutting or chopping lumber.   

Machete will lead to rough cuts and less precise cuts than a knife. However, the chopping power of the machete saves time and makes it easier to cut thicker pieces of wood than a smaller blade.  

Option #4: Drill

Another way to cut wood without a saw is through a drill. Cutting lumber with a drill is quite straightforward. One perk in using a drill is its versatility—you can work with nearly any size of wood, provided you bring along a bit of patience.


A drilling machine works well in this kind of project. Here is the step-by-step process:

  1. Mark a line along where you want to cut on the wood
  2. Create a second line to mark the width of the drill bit. The bit should fit nearly between these parallel lines. A smaller bit is better, resulting in less material loss. 
  3. Using your dominant hand, repeatedly drill holes along the line. Test the strength of the first “line” of holes periodically. 
  4. Attempt to snap the wood along the line when ready.
  5. Clean the wood edges with sandpaper or a rasp.

If you want, you can make complicated patterns to make your desired shape using your drill bit. You can either cut straight or make curved cuts. 

Option #5: Plane

A plane is a tool utilized to achieve a smooth finish on the flat side of wood pieces. It is also handy for rounding off the rough edges of workpieces.

cutting wood with plane

If you need to use a plane to cut lumber, it is best to scrape both sides of the board towards the lower depth until you can split wood with your hands.

Planes are excellent tools for cleaning up haphazard work some cutting methods produce. The blade found on the wood is designed to level off a wood surface. Make sure to move the planer across the board.

While using a planer is not the most efficient cutting tool for cutting wood, they are good for cleaning workpieces. The resulting wood will also require a certain finish to meet the exact parameters you are looking for. 

Option #6: Router

Using a wood router bit is also an option to cut lumber. It is a fairly simple process as long as the proper jigs and forms of what you need are also available.

While jigs and sleds come in various configurations, the most common shapes I encounter are circular and straight-line designs. To make a cut, I typically adjust the tool’s depth, making it straightforward to slice through the wood

cut wood with router

Exterior cuts to slowly shape the wood piece is easier than cutting through it. Most people prefer making patterns on the wood they follow to cut with. It requires, however, a higher level of skill to remove a circle.  

Option #7: Lathe

Many people consider woodturning as a form of art. The workpiece’s spinning action and emerging long curls can also be therapeutic. A lathe, used for this craft, can also be used for cutting wood. 

If it is the only option you have to cut lumber, you can place the piece of wood on the lathe and thin it out. Thin out the area where you need to cut with a turning tool. Continue to do this until the area is thin enough to break. 

Wood lathes are used to create complex patterns outside a piece of wood, so you can use techniques such as threading, reducing, and cutting.  

Option #8: Axe

A good old fashioned axe is one of the closest tools that can chop wood. Axes can create a precise cut in good hands; even a newbie will find using an axe easy.

cut wood with axe

There are different axe patterns, each with its specialized use. But no matter the design you opt for, my advice is always the same: ensure your axe is sharp. A keen edge truly makes all the difference.

When using an axe for chopping, it’s crucial to notch the log. From my experience, it’s best to create these notches with successive hits, coming in from alternating angles.

Most axes work well for generalized chopping. Some battle axes and tomahawks may be used for chopping, but they are not ideal. Felling a tree is not easy, so make sure to have an understanding before you give it a go. 

You might want to read these posts next

Option #9: Wire

Wires can also be used since it functions like a jigsaw. Wrap both ends of the wire on the piece and pull the wire back and forth to create friction. Wire cut wood usually have smooth edges compared to using other tools in this list. 

Option #10: Scissors

Another method to cut wood without a saw is with scissors. These can be used to cut thin pieces of wood not thicker than ⅛”. There is not enough shearing force to cut wood with this width. Scissors can make a straight cut, unlike other tools in this list. 

cutting wood with scissors

Dull scissors are not recommended for use since they will tear into the material. Make sure that the scissors are sharp before cutting wood. 

For smaller scale woodwork, any scissors will work. On the other hand, they are the ideal kind of scissors if you plan to cut wooden pieces frequently. 

Option #11: Hatchet for Small Projects

A hatchet is a smaller axe. It has a shorter shaft and blade and is meant to use for smaller pieces. Make sure to sharpen the hatchet before starting your project.

Other Alternative Tools for Cutting Wood Without a Saw

Other alternative tools you can use for cutting wood include an angle grinder, a radial arm, and a top tip, to name a few. These tools are good alternatives to the saw when piercing through lumber.

Which Method Should I Use for My Project?

The appropriate method for your project depends on the wood’s thickness and the tools’ availability. Ensure to evaluate the project in terms of the time you have, the tools available to you, and the thickness of the wood you will be working on.  

cutting wood

Felling a Tree Without Using a Saw

If you’re wondering if you can fell a tree without using a saw, you can certainly do so. A tool that can aid you in this process is a pole pruner. It might take longer to accomplish it, but it does get the work done. 

An axe is the next logical option when felling a tree without a saw. Create a v-shape at knee level unto the fall side of the trunk. In addition, create a higher v-shape cut on the other side. 

Make sure to cut the wood at a 45-degree angle to make the blow more effective.

Cutting Wooden Boards Without Using a Saw

You can cut wooden boards without a saw. Any of the tools I’ve mentioned earlier can do the job, but always ensure your tools are sharp before you start cutting those boards.

Will I be able to Chop Firewood by Hand?

Yes, you can chop firewood by hand. One of the most common tools in doing so involves an axe. It takes brute force and some time to manually chop firewood using any sharp edged tool mentioned in this article. 

chopping wood

Cutting wood by hand is currently known as bucking. Make sure to use assistants and leverage in doing so. Some examples include your hands and knees, large rocks, and tree trunks. 

Will I be able to Cut Structural Timber Without Using a Saw?

Yes, you can make structural timber without a saw. Structural timber gathering ranges from two pieces of two-inch lumber and two pieces of four-inch lumber, all without using a saw. This is possible if you have a sharp-edged tool in your shed.

A chisel and striking tool can create a rough cut on structural timber. The use of a vise or clamping can result in an achieved structural timber. Since the wood is immobile, you can make cleaner and easier cuts.  


I hope this guide has equipped you with insights on how to cut wood without resorting to a saw. While there’s truly no substitute for a top-notch saw, sometimes we have to make do without one.

In such cases, learning the versatile alternatives can be invaluable. My advice? Always keep a range of adaptable tools in your workshop; they can be real lifesavers in unexpected situations.

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles
Join our community on facebook and get 3 woodworking plans for free!