How to Make Primitive Tools Pt. 2: DIY Saws

Any saw blade can be turned into a DIY saw, as either a bucksaw or bow saw.

DIY Bucksaw

DIY bucksaws are easy to assemble and just as easily disassembled for packing.

Photo courtesy Paladin Press

Content Tools

In Makeshift Workshop Skills for Survival and Self-Reliance (Paladin Press, 2009), author James Ballou provides creative and, certainly, unconventional workshop skills from construction to repair. Ballou also offers useful DIY projects for around the workshop. The following excerpt from chapter four, “Improvised Tools," provides basic assembly instructions for DIY bucksaws and bow saws. 

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DIY Bucksaw

Nearly any straight saw blade can be mounted into a bucksaw configuration of one variation or another, and this usually creates a fairly rigid frame that makes the blade easy to handle and use. The basic concept involves two vertical bars that serve as handles, to which the blade is secured on its ends at the bottoms. The handles pivot over a horizontal bar and are pulled toward the frame’s center at their tops in order to create the tension that keeps the whole unit rigid.

The frame can be made of hardwood dowels, tree branches, narrow flat boards, or metal pipe or tubing. The tops of the handles can be drawn toward the center with rope, strong twine, or even cables or metal wire in conjunction with turnbuckles, just as one might tighten up a fence gate. The simple system shown in the photos and sketch includes thin rope looped through the tops of the handles and twisted tight with the tourniquet method, using a short, sturdy dowel through the loop. The dowel is braced against the horizontal bar with the tension of the twisted cord to prevent untwisting.

Besides being easy to assemble, the neat thing about a bucksaw like this is that it can be disassembled easily for stowing in a pack. Disassembled, it takes up less space than a typical bow saw or almost any similar saw that is ready to use. It is also very easy to change blades, and its tension is adjustable.

DIY Bow Saw

A bow saw is a similar yet simpler configuration. It is simply a bow of one form or another that has a saw blade mounted on the ends of its limbs. The bow keeps the blade rigid and forms a handle. It is not as versatile as a bucksaw, because it won’t collapse as small for packing, and blade tension is not as easily adjusted. However, in some instances a simple bow saw might be quicker and easier to build in the field than a typical bucksaw.

Camping and outdoor supply stores usually carry those handy little wire saws that coil up nicely in a pocket or survival kit. One of these can be quickly hooked onto a bent branch to create an expedient bow saw in the woods. In my experience, these cut through green wood quite efficiently.

A Note on Man-Powered Sawing Machines

Before leaving our discussion of makeshift saws, I should at least mention the construction of manually powered sawing machines. Some interesting devices have been made over the years, as detailed in a number of books that describe traditional woodcraft techniques. In his book The Woodwright’s Shop, for example, author Roy Underhill describes the foot-operated reciprocating band saw in his shop, which employs the power of a spring pole to lift the blade between each downward cutting motion made by stepping on the foot pedal.

More from Makeshift Workshop:

Making Primitive Survival Tools Pt. 1: Homemade Saw Blades
Making Primitive Survival Tools Pt. 3: DIY Axes

This material was excerpted from Makeshift Workshop Skills for Survival and Self-Reliance by James Ballou with the permission of the publisher, Paladin Press. The material is copyrighted and cannot be reused or reprinted without written permission. Buy this book from our store: Makeshift Workshop Skills.