Woodworking is an art in its own right. Creating masterpieces from a bit of wood requires a lot of skill and finesse. It also involves following many steps, the most basic of which is cutting. You can’t shape your piece if you can’t cut the wood you’ll be working with first.
You’d think that it would be essential to have a saw for this step. It’s what the tool was made for after all, right?
But what if you’re in a hurry and your saw suddenly stops working? What if you’re a beginner, and you don’t even have one yet? It’s important to know how to make do with what you have on hand to be prepared in case something unexpected happens.
Luckily, there are many ways you can cut wood that doesn’t involve using a saw. Granted, they all require some kind of tool, but you are very likely to have one or two of them at home.
In this article, we will provide you with 8 alternatives to cut wood without a saw.
1. Knife — For cutting to a specific length
Let’s start with a tool that’s readily available at home: a knife. A kitchen knife won’t do, but a properly sharpened pocket knife, whittling knife, or hunting knife can be used to cut pieces of wood to a particular length.
First, you have to sharpen the blade. You can use a high-quality file, a wet whetstone, or a sharpening block to bring your blunt knife back to life.
For the cutting part, you have to use the right technique. Using a knife instead of a saw means that you need a slanting technique. Hold the wood at a slanted angle and start cutting. The key is to hold the piece firmly to maintain the proper angle. To make it easier, you can ask someone to help you hold it while you make the cut.
Another option is to use the knife to chip away the surface of the wood piece until it becomes thin enough to snap it in two.
The final step is to trim the edges. The only way to achieve a smooth cut from the start is by using a saw, so you’ll have to grab some sandpaper and fix the rough edges if you’re using a knife.
2. Axe — For cutting thin logs
Axes are the oldest tool used for cutting wood, so it comes to reason that they would be at the top of our list.
When you need to cut a thin log of wood, the axe is the tool for the job.
Before you start, you should draw or imagine a line and mark the spots where you want to cut.
After that’s done, you can begin chopping small bits of wood a few inches from the line. When you’re finished, switch to the other side of the line to create a V-shaped cut. This way you can easily snap the wood in half when it gets weak enough.
The V-shaped cut makes for a cleaner break, but you’ll still have to sand the edges a bit.
Keep in mind that if you’re cutting against the grain, you need to hold your axe at 45°, and at 90° if you’re chopping with the grain.
3. Machete — For cutting raw lumber
Even though you can’t achieve clean cuts with a machete, it can still get the job done. It needs to be razor-sharp, though, or it won’t work.
As with the axe, you should first draw a line on the wood piece and mark the spots where you’re going to strike.
Then you need to make small cuts along the line at a 45° angle. To make it easier, you can try to cut with the grain at a 90° angle.
Like with the axe, you need to make a V-shaped cut. So, after you’ve finished making the cuts on one side of the line, you should shift to the other side.
Repeat the process until the wood is thin enough that you can split it in two or slice what’s left of the material with your machete.
Don’t worry about accuracy because the tool is not meant for that. You can use the machete or a sharp knife to trim the rough edges.
4. Drilling machine — For cutting long, thin pieces of wood
Everyone knows that drilling machines are used to make holes on certain surfaces, so you might be wondering how they can be used for cutting.
Well, you have to draw the cutting line first. Then, you have to drill several holes following the line across the piece. You should aim at making the perforations close to each other, aligning them with their neighbor as much as you can to avoid extra work later.
Once the wood has weakened enough, it’ll break in half. All that’s left to do after that is to trim and smooth the edges with the help of a knife and some sandpaper.
5. Plane — For even and quick cutting
A good plane can sometimes be a better option than a saw if used correctly.
To achieve the best results, make sure that the blade is sharp and that the piece you’re working on is properly clamped to your workstation.
Once that’s out of the way, align the plane and adjust its depth using the depth adjustment wheel. Plane the piece forward, following the grain, by pressing down gently. Turn the wood over and repeat the process on the other side.
6. Lathe — For cutting curved shapes
The lathe is a good alternative to the saw as well. You can use it to cut a piece of wood and give it a cylindrical shape.
This time, instead of drawing a line, you should mark the center of the piece and place it between the centers of the lathe to make the cuts accurate.
Start the lathe at the lowest speed setting to get used to the way in which the tool cuts.
By applying steady pressure, you can push the lathe towards the turning wood to remove enough material to cut the piece. You can also cut cylindrical and curved shapes, as well as angled cuts.
You can increase the speed to smooth out the surface after you’ve finished.
7. Router — For versatility
Using a router to cut wood gives you the possibility of making different cuts at different angles.
You should start by installing the router bit and adjusting the gauge to obtain your desired depth.
Then, as usual, draw a line to mark the place where you want to make the cut. Pull the trigger to engage the wood, and push it down to begin cutting. Move the router carefully and steadily in the direction of the cut, following the line you’ve drawn.
When you’re done, you can release the router and lift the bit out of the cut.
8. Chisel — For satisfying cuts
Last is the technique that requires the highest level of skill, so you should be very careful and practice using a chisel before making the actual cut.
Use a file or a whetstone to sharpen the edges of the chisel and secure your workpiece to your station.
Hold the chisel at a 20° angle from the surface and make sure that the bevel side is up and that the flat side is against the piece’s surface. Now you can start carving by hitting the chisel with a hammer.
You’ll need to repeat these steps a few times to cut your workpiece. It might also be necessary to strike the chisel multiple times to achieve the desired results.
As you can see, there are many other tools other than a saw that you can use to cut wood!
It can be a bit challenging to use them for this purpose, sure. But with patience and enough practice, they can help you get the job done, sometimes even quicker and easier than with a saw.
The only downside is that you’re going to be doing quite a bit of sanding to smooth out the rough edges on your workpiece.
Since woodworking involves sharp tools and wood chips flying everywhere, remember to always wear safety gear to avoid any accidents and injuries.