Last updated on April 16, 2021 by qualified builder Aaron Barnett
Cutting wood has always been part of human history. Just as learning how to cut wood without power tools has been a part of woodworking.
Woodworking has been around for thousands of years and the processing of timber has become an integral part of modern living.
Entire industries have sprung up that all rely on the acquisition of wood to be able to produce and deliver goods and services.
Cutting wood is more of a craft rather than just being a process; as such, it requires using the right set of tools in order to get the best results.
In this day and age, technology has greatly contributed to the growth of the tools industry and has introduced us to many of the power tools we now know and love.
While power tools are paving the way to the future, not everybody has the luxury to be able to get them. If you find yourself without power tools, don’t worry! Even with just manual cutting tools, you can still get quality results so long as you know the proper technique.
In this guide, we’ll show you ways on how to cut wood even without power tools. Let’s get to it then; chop chop!
Reasons not to use power tools when cutting woods
Now you might be thinking: “Why wouldn’t I want to use power tools?”, right? While you definitely can, not all situations mean that you should.
Yes, power tools do greatly increase efficiency and accuracy, but their added kick also means that you’re more likely to suffer hand strain and fatigue from prolonged use if your only doing small detailed cuts.
Power tools are great for working with tougher materials and larger volumes, but unless it’s the majority of your work, you’ll only be wasting all that extra power.
Power tools can be more dangerous to operate and harder to operate for small detailed work, especially for beginners.
Hand tools, however, are simple to use and are easily cared for. Often being smaller, hand tools also offer greater precision and control, making them the ideal choice for smaller, less time-bound projects. Hand tools are also safer to use on average; don’t require power, and are leagues more portable.
What tools you can use to cut wood by hand?
Besides the common ax and hand saw, there are a few other hand tools that can cut wood by hand that you might not yet be aware of. Let’s go over them one by one.
1. Keyhole saw
A keyhole saw is a small saw with a long, narrow blade. It’s used to cut drywall in hard-to-reach places or at awkward angles and looks more like a rod than an actual saw.
2. Cross-cut hand saw
Cross-cut saws also known as a tenon saw have specialized small back-angled teeth for cutting perpendicular against a wood’s grain. The beveled edge allows you to make clean cuts and notches with each stroke.
If you specifically want to cut against the grain, then it’s recommended to use this type of saw as a rip saw can cause a rough finish with its bigger teeth.
3. Rip-cut hand saw
A very recognizable wood saw used by carpenters everywhere. Also called a ‘Rip Saw’, these hand saws are specially designed to make rip cuts, or are to be used as and are known as a “general hand saw” which basically cut parallel to the direction of the wood grain and can still cross-cut with a ruffer finish compared to a cross-cutting tenon saw or a dovetail saw.
4. Flooring hand saw
Also called a floorboard saw, these are specialized hand saws with a curved nose for cutting floorboards. They have ends that are sometimes toothed to allow you to do plunge cuts.
5. Coping saw
This is a type of bow saw that specializes in making intricate curved cutouts. The large space around the frame allows for maximum freedom of motion and makes it easier to do coped joints for interior trim and woodworking curved cutouts.
6. Dovetail saw
A dovetail saw is a specific type of fine joinery saw and is basically a small back saw that features a stiffening rib behind the blade, opposite a toothed edge. Its design reduces bending and allows finer control for more precise crosscuts. This saw specializes in cutting out dovetails as it has smaller teeth for a narrower kerf and a clean finish.
7. Pruning saw
As the name suggests, pruning saws are designed for pruning live shrubs and trees. It has a curved blade and looks mostly like a long, concave bread knife.
8. Hack saw
A hack saw was originally made to cut metal, but has been adapted to also cut plastic and wood. Typically referred to as a bow saw, its blade is held at both ends under tension through its c-shaped frame. Bow saws are fine-toothed, allowing them to easily and cleanly cut across a range of wooden materials.
And if you’re looking for a saw for a specific job, you might find it here.
Can you cut wood without a saw?
No saw? No problem! If you’re worried about how to cut wood without a saw and even if you find yourself without your favorite hand saw, there are other tools available that can cut wood without power, but maybe for different reasons.
Knowing how to cut wood without a saw should be part of every woodworker’s skill set so as to be able to work anywhere, anytime, and with limited resources.
1. An axe
Axes have been around for quite a long time and have been used mainly to split larger pieces of lumber in half. Axes are great for making rough cuts and for taking out large chunks of wood, especially when felling trees.
Axes are one of the OG wood cutting tools, though they still aren’t the most precise. They can be a monster splitter, check this out.
2. A knife
A sharp enough knife, such as a buck knife, can be great for cutting small pieces of wood. A technique is the most important thing when trying to cut with a knife; it shortens work time, improves quality, and avoids accidents and/or injuries.
3. A machete
A machete is pretty much the middle ground between an axe and a knife. It’s not as effective as an axe for clean-splitting large pieces of lumber, but it can still cleave out a decent amount of material for shaping and planing.
It’s also more precise than both an axe and knife because of the added length, balance, grip, and portability.
4. A Wire saw
Even with nothing sharp, you can still cut wood. Cool right? By using friction, you basically burn through wood, simulating the cut from a saw. It’s not going to be the smoothest cut, but at least it’s viable.
Be sure to save up on stamina because cutting with this method requires fast and aggressive strokes in a desperate situation.
5. A set of Chisels
You might be surprised to know that chisels can actually be used to cut wood. Though mainly used to carve intricate designs into wood, continuously striking a chisel at a 20-degree angle is enough to be able to cut wood.
It’s not the fastest, but at least it’s an available option if you only happen to have a chisel around. Clampdown the piece you want to work on so that it doesn’t fly off as you chisel your way through.
Chisels are useful for making cuts on small thin pieces of wood.
6. Your hand plane
A hand planer isn’t really a tool for cutting, but with a little bit of creativity, it can be. A planer is an essential woodworking tool that’s used to shape wood into desired thicknesses.
Using a hand planer to cut wood is basically sliding the planer continuously while angled until you make a complete cut. Most hand planes also have adjustable knives, so learn to set that to a height that makes it easier for you to cut.
So what’s the best way to cut woods without power tools?
Objectively speaking, the best way to cut without power tools is to simply use the kind of cutting tool that best fits the task at hand.
What’s the best way to cut lumber by hand from a tree you ask? Begin with larger tools, such as axes and bow saws, and change them as you work your way down a piece, such as with fine saws like dovetail saws and chisels.
Everything can be the “best” as long as it’s used within the appropriate spectrums.
How to cut a perfect circle without power tools?
Cutting a perfect circle can be a daunting task if you don’t know the fundamentals behind it. To save yourself the trouble, just get power tools and be done with it.
However, if not available, and you must know how to cut a circle in wood without power tools. And you’re determined to do so without them, then here’s how:
Cutting a circular piece
To cut a perfect circle in wood, you would need to 1st draw a perfect circle using a compass. If you don’t have a compass, you can simply tie a string to a pencil on one end and a nail on the other.
After drawing your circle, use a coping saw to make a rough cut and trace the circle. Take care not to make cuts inside the circle. Once you have a cutout, sand the edges until you have a smooth, circular piece.
Cutting a circular hole
If you’re thinking about how to cut a hole in wood without power tools, you can do so with a manual hand drill.
Cutting a circular hole is made easy by using a manual hand drill with a hole saw bit. Before going straight to drilling, 1st mark the center of the circle you want bored out. Make sure that you have the correctly-sized hole saw bit. Drill normally and you’ll be left with a perfectly circular hole.
How to cut a hole without power tools?
A manual hand drill makes all matters of making holes in wood easy by manual hand power. Even with the exception of using a hole saw bit, normal drill bits are enough to arrive at a decent, rounded, and smaller-sized hole.
How to cut a square hole without power tools?
Cutting a square hole is quite similar to cutting a circular hole, but requires a little extra work. Start by drilling or cutting out a circle with the same diameter as your desired square. Then, using a coping saw, carve out the corners until you form a square.
But fo those with the gear here’s my guide on how to cut a square hole with power tools.
Knowing how to cut wood with and without power tools is an important skill for any woodworker. For beginners and DIY’ers, power tools are not always an available option, so learning how to cut using various hand tools can save you loads of time, effort, and money.
Besides, power tools, though highly capable and efficient, are more demanding in terms of gear needed and skills needed, not to mention requires power.
There’s a reason why hand tools have not yet been phased out despite already having motorized counterparts. Hand tools are timeless tools that will always be relevant and are ready alternatives in situations that don’t allow for the use of power tools.
All you need to be a master woodworker is patience, knowledge, and a lot of experience. Happy cutting and we’ll see you in the next one!
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My name is Aaron, and welcome to Bangingtoolbox.
As a qualified builder and DIY’er, my goal with Banging Toolbox is to provide the #1 building and DIY resource on the internet for my readers.
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