I originally wrote this for a bicycle touring mailing list, but thought it very appropriate to post here as well.
Can't believe how long the thread has gotten.
Can't believe how into it I've gotten. I guess the timing was just right and i honestly had never given this any thought before.
Figured I'd start a new thread just to clear the slate and refocus.
Here are my absolutely most creative ultralight options.
I will likely experiment with most if not all of them.
First, I must disclaim my intentions for this tool.
== my use case ==
Note that these suggestions are not aimed at cutting through 6" or larger logs though many of these options could.
My aim is processing dead, dry wood for my ultralight wood stove or on occasion a rudimentary fire.
This wood processing tool like everything but water, shelter and my bike itself is non essential so I can and will really push the limits of lightweight just so long as it isn't dangerous.
Stove tasks mean processing mostly 2" logs or less, but potentially up to 4" logs by cutting them into short sections and splitting them so they burn cleaner and hotter.
Most wood processing for a rudimentary fire would simply be broken by leveraging logs between trees or breaking sticks under foot or across knee. Longer logs may even be placed across the fire to burn in half so the device really wouldn't be used for much more then enhancing fire making.
Key processing methods are:
4) batoning (can be used for cutting through a log and splitting)
The only thing I'd consider to light or small are things like a non-locking pocket knife which would be to small for anything but splitting tiny pieces of wood or whittling and to dangerous for use with a baton.
Devices should be tough but light, but all things do break. With non-essentials I have learned from ultralight backpackers to embrace and challenge this edge.
If it does break though it should do so in a safe, non-catastrophic way as is my approach to other non-essential gear. Bonus points if it can be easily repaired in the bush.
So, without further adieu, my most creative pics.
1) Pruning saw
Consulting the gram weenies on backpackinglight.com forums I found the Fiskars Pruning saw highly recommended.
BPlight forum: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=2033
$12 at target:
advantages: weighs an amazing 3.5 oz., supposedly cuts really well, cheap, widely available, highly recommended, supposedly more efficient then chopping, blade should be tough and flexible but if it does break it's not likely to be dangerous
disadvantages: doesn't split, and split wood is essential for hot clean wood cooking stove, so will need to carry a decent knife to split some wood
There are many similar alternatives like the sierra saw that may be just as light or around the same weight.
Gerber 6.7oz, $11 http://www.rei.com/product/769770
Coughlan's pocket sierra saw, 2.5oz!?: http://store.everestgear.com/159067.html?productid=159067
(Coughlan's regular sierra saw is 5.5 oz)
You get the idea.
2) mini-hatchet / tomahawk / throwing axe
First like a lot of tools here this has an interesting history and evolution I consider a plus.
It is simple, durable, can chop and split, can also be used with baton. Thus it covers pretty much all the bases.
A handle can even be easily improvised on the spot meaning it could potentially be carried sans handle.
It has the best chopping to weight ratio due light and long handle and wide blade.
It is potentially usable as a hammer, i.e. for driving stakes.
It is extremely versatile self defense tool / deterrent.
Comes in a variety of sizes, weights and handle lengths, though it's up to you to find the right combination. In fact I find it very cool that you can quickly experiment with different handle lengths weights and types. Doesn't penalize those that like to let the designers do the work but rewards those who like to make or perfect their own. (Would love suggestions if anyone has any experience!)
In addition the heads of tomahawks do bare some resemblance to an Eskimo Ulu knife which are superb kitchen knives do their chopping and slicing capabilities. Therefore it might well come in more handy for food preparation then one might think IF the blade is kept sharp and clean.
Though tomahawks are the most effective chopping and splitting tool ounce per ounce saws give you more cutting power per ounce then any chopping blade. i.e. small sierra saws way 2.5 - 7oz. Even the smallest tomahawks and axes weight 12-16oz.
Requires more skill and better aim then a broad bladed chopping knife. I.E. you can't get as vigorous with it.
Does not replace a knife.
safety / durability:
Using with a baton improves safety when splitting which is the most dangerous chore.
As vigour of chopping increases smaller head and longer handle make it more dangerous.
Handle is really the only thing that could break. Almost all are made of wood which is probably the most desirable for weight, durability and easy customization. Wood cracks very predictably and thus is unlikely to fail catastrophically and in a harmful manner. As with most products manufacturers likely air on the side of caution in making a heavier handle. If you fashion your own handle this becomes your responsibility. It is a bonus though that a new handle can be safely and easily improvised on the spot because of the simplicity of the design. All in all this is probably the most durable good on this list though far from the safest or the lightest.
3) Fiskars PowerGear Bypass Pruner / Fiskars Bypass Pruner
advantages: uses simple hand power, extremely energy efficient, good for cutting & splitting wood for small stoves, like scissors may have many other uses, like food preparation, cutting rope
disadvantages: has a max log size, may fatigue hand rapidly, can't find one lighter then 10oz which isn't actually that light.
saftey / durability: extremely safe and durable but some attention should be paid when splitting a piece of wood at an angle or from the end.
Am still doing some research in this area if anyone has any better suggestions.
4) linoleum knife, possibly reshaped
advantages: extremely light, extremely sharp, extremely cheap, should split small wood easily, potentially usable with a baton to chop or split small wood, curved blade may be good opposing thumb to split small pieces of wood, also may be quite versatile as a whittling and food knife, meaning you may not need to carry another knife.
Comes in a variety of sizes. Plenty of blade material means blade could potentially be easily reshaped in a fashion more akin to a very small Sami / Leuku knife if preferred (though it'll never be a good chopper like the Sami / Leuku). Likely a good starting point to experiment with because they're so common on the market and cheap.
disadvantages: potentially could be to short or too light to baton, even with the baton will likely never chop wood in the round well, even with baton blade may be to thin or to short to split large wood
Safety / durability: while light the blades on these are wide and tough so they likely will not break easily. Furthermore the only time they are likely to break is when used with a baton which mitigates much of the danger since the blade is held well away from you.
note: comparable in weight to lightest pruning saws and drywall saws ironically they cut but don't split and this splits well but may not cut well. Potentially could be used in pair with one of these other options, but would likely opt for a more traditional knife if another tool was required in addition to this tool.
5) Plunge / drywall saw
6.4 oz: http://www.homedepot.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?productId=100647777
advantages: extremely light, made mostly for drywall I'm not sure if these blades will cut harder woods well
disadvantages: can't split at all
6) Replacement wood saw blade for Wyoming, bow or buck saw (BLADE ONLY)
This is an odd one but I believe it has much merit.
advantages: extremely light, extremely cheap, fairly easy to find, may be great as a piece of emergency gear.
Can be a first class saw capable of cutting large diameter trees quicker and more efficient then a heavy hatchet or chop knife (depending on one's skills)
Requires bushcraft skills. I consider the need for a bit of bush skill a plus as skills can be improved over time.
Good solution if you're doing day rides out of a base camp as it can be built and left at camp.
Good solution if you're touring in varied country and only using fire when traveling in some areas as it can be carried built for multiple days and then dismantled and only the blade kept and stored.
Though a bow saw can be improvised quite quickly an even more durable Buck saw can be improvised with a simple pocket knife and some para cord. (On a side note the best way to improvise a buck saw would be to create a quick and dirty bow saw first and then use it to make a buck saw.)
disadvantages: seperate spliting device required. Even with practice and skill it takes a minimal amount of time to improvise a good bow saw. Might be a little tedious to break down and build up if you need it nigtly, might be a little bulky to carry without breaking down.
These types of blades tend to bind fairly easily. carrying WD40 or other lubricant might be necessary.
Not for those not interested or to impatient for bush craft or camp skills. Skill in crafting a strong and heavy bow would be essential.
Safety and durability: Overall as a class these types of saws are much safer then axes or chopping knives. However, since you're making the device mostly this falls under the disclaimer, "device durability and safety depends on the skill of the maker and operator."
I can say these types of blades are very durable on the whole but also very sharp and quick to cut skin. Because of their aggressive cut they are prone to binding unexpectedly so special attention must be given to the durability and strength of the bow or buck saw in case the blade does bind.
Shoddy workmanship or improper materials are probably more likely to get you hurt by being hit from a broken bow or buck saw then cut from the blade itself.
(On a side note: A longer bladed saw would actually be safer in this respect as it the bow and blade can absorb more inertia from your arm if it binds. Long even strokes are always preferred with this type of saw and since you're not adding much weight just carrying a blade it behoves you to get a fairly long one.)
A week bow or buck saw could break or cause the blade to break, hop or spring out of control. But just as long as second hand is placed well away from cutting area, the saw is used with arms relatively extended, and strokes are long and steady cutting injuries shouldn't be an issue.
Again, beware the short bow saw. They're the most unsafe and inefficient. People get to cutting to vigorously and that's when the injuries happen.
What's more these blades can often be bought in a protective sheath, and if to long to fit in a pannier they can be velcro'd or strapped someplace safe and out of the way on your bike frame... i.e. your down tube, head tube, chain stay, seat stay or front fork blade. Best of all they might even fit in your seat post / seat tube for safe and convenient access. (Also a good place to carry spare spokes).
== some other options I've been looking at ==
1) pocket / hand chain saw
advantage: extremely light and compact, can be made into an improvised bow saw very easily
disadvantages: despite claims many still question it's abilities compared to chopping tools and other saws.
2) wyoming saw / sven saw / sawvivor
wyoming, 18oz: http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.do?product_id=7080142
sven saw, 150z: http://www.rei.com/product/404040
3) Sami / Leuku knife... come in a variety of sizes
4) Khukri / Ghurka knife... likely to heavy but excellent choppers, they do sometimes come much smaller