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ultralight wood cutting / chopping / splitting solutions?
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Michael Meiser
(mmeiser) - F

Locale: Michigan
ultralight wood cutting / chopping / splitting solutions? on 11/25/2009 04:17:30 MST Print View

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:

1) sawing

2) chopping

3) splitting

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 forums I found the Fiskars Pruning saw highly recommended.

BPlight forum:

$12 at target:

also sears:

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

Coughlan's pocket sierra saw, 2.5oz!?:
(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:

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:

sven saw, 150z:

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

Gordon Smith
(swearingen) - MLife

Locale: Portland, Oregon
Wire saw on 11/25/2009 04:57:14 MST Print View

I carry a BCB wire saw and a Mora Clipper for this purpose. About 5 ozs total. The trick to the wire saw is to make a bow saw out of it first:


Edited by swearingen on 11/25/2009 04:59:00 MST.

Karl Gottshalk
(kgottshalk) - MLife

Locale: Maine USA
Re: ultralight wood cutting / chopping / splitting solutions? on 11/25/2009 05:35:08 MST Print View

I carry a pocket chain saw for a section of local trail I maintain in my day pack all of the time. It's not perfect, but it's very functional. The link below is a video of one in use:


Edited by kgottshalk on 11/25/2009 05:35:42 MST.

Jack Newton
(figster) - F

Locale: Central Arkansas
Pocket Saw on 11/25/2009 07:07:48 MST Print View

Karl - How much does your pocket saw weigh?


Dewey Riesterer
(Kutenay) - F
Wood on 11/25/2009 08:00:25 MST Print View

We used to make lunch fires every day, when I was a Forest Service worker and never cut or split wood that I can remember. We had the tools on our vehicles when opening access roads each spring, but, we simply collected "squaw wood", the dry under branchs from trees beside the road and built out fires which worked very well.

I have axes, hatchets, saws such as those mentioned here and many knives, including a couple that can be used to "baton" wood. To me, packing any of these, except when hunting and seldom then, is just a lot of extra weight I do not need on my back.

I have a folding Kifaru stove and it works just fine with unsplit twigs and larger pieces and I collect these by breaking them off trees so that I do not leave signs of human passage/activity in wilderness areas. I enjoy a campfire, where I can obliterate all traces of it before hiking on the next day, but, I am not packing a hatchet to make this happen.

It seems to me that "light" backpacking should include LNT principles and also be about learning how to adapt to the ambient conditions with the least amount of gear, YMMV.

Edited by Kutenay on 11/25/2009 08:01:11 MST.

Ray Dunham
(Raymond) - F

Locale: SE US
Saw on 11/25/2009 08:15:16 MST Print View

In winter when I build fires I use a gerber folding saw. It may not be the lightest but is makes small work of 4-6 inch logs. I could care less about the weight because the saw is amazing and efficient and relatively light.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
small, sturdy fixed balde on 11/25/2009 08:20:13 MST Print View

a small sturdy fixed blade should be all that is needed for 99% of backpacking wood needs. as mentioned, most often fuel can simply be collected, when that's not the case or fuel is wet (and you need to get to the dry)- a small, sturdy fixed blade will do the trick- it will whittle to get you to the dry stuff, make fuzz sticks, perform light batoning/splitting (along w/ numerous other knife duties)

there are a lot of nice fixed blades that fall under 5 oz (some approaching half that)- Mora, Fallkniven, Bark River and numerous reasonably priced customs that would fit the bill

The one I settled on is a custom Landi PSK- 2.6 oz w/ the thin scales (1/8")

this one is w/ the thicker scales (1/4")


I have a Gerber/Fiskars folding saw and can vouch it works well- I don't carry it backpacking, but it does go into my day/hunting/fishing pack.

Dewey Riesterer
(Kutenay) - F
Yup. on 11/25/2009 09:56:10 MST Print View

Yup, that little knife, a wire saw and an U/L multitool will do it ALL, if you know what you are doing. My last Elk was "taken apart" with a small folding knife and a wire saw and that included ALL of the meat, between ribs, neck and "tenderloins" included. That was two years of fine meat for my "cherub" and I and I never carry my Wyoming Saw or any of the dozens of cutting tools I collected over the years.

A fire is best built "long and skinny" to match a stretched out human form, anyway and this is a far more "energy efficient" means of obtaining it's warmth that cutting, chopping, hacking and cussin' while you get your wood for your "picture perfect" campfire as seen in 1950s camping books.....

I am just finishing stacking two large Doug. Fir trees, cut into 20-30" rounds and full of knots for my fireplace. I grew up with wood heat and have cut my share of wood and these rounds cannot be split, yet, this knotty wood is THE BOMB for heating my old house. Do I sweat, grunt, curse and swing my 12 lb. hammer or 20 lb. maul to split it to fit the old fireplace.....hell, no, I am too old and smart for that, I cut it to fit both into rounds and then into chunks lengthways, using a Husky or Stihl.

Same principle applies, IMO, to campfires, I like mine 8 ft. by 2 ft. and this is the easy way in "big wood" country.

Mark Regalia
(markr) - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz
Dewey - how long ago were you with the USFS? on 11/25/2009 10:37:28 MST Print View

Squaw wood is now considered off limits, at least in Region 6. Breaking off branches reduces wildlife cover and habitat. I just thought I should bring this up so anyone reading the previous post can be aware of this.

I have broken off plenty of branches in my time. But no more.

Johann Burkard
(johannb) - F

Locale: Europe
Wire saws on 11/25/2009 10:38:06 MST Print View

I have three of these wire saws

A while ago, I tested it against a Busse NMSFNO (sp?) knife I have (20 cm blade length or so). The Busse went through wood faster, but not a lot.

One thing I noticed is that it was very hard to go through thicker wood with the wire saw.

Dewey Riesterer
(Kutenay) - F
Clarification. on 11/25/2009 11:10:16 MST Print View

I have never been with the US Forest Service, I am a Canadian, born and bred and worked for the BCFS, the Alberta Forest Service, BC Fish and Wildlife Branch and consulting firms for many years from the mid-'60s to the mid-'90s. I still do the odd gig in the BC north and will be going to the Yukon this year for mineral exploration firms, however, I am a retired geezer and lifelong advocate of wilderness preservation and LNT backpacking.

So, with that clear, sorry, for my lack thereof, I would comment on the ...wildlife habitat... generalization in your post. The taking of squaw wood will not impair and may well enhance wildlife habitat here and I have and would only do this in a region where the forest is both very dense and relatively "young", as in most of BC.

You really cannot transpose California conditions to BC, AB or other regions of Canada. You have a human population in Cal., that is roughly equal to that of ALL of Canada, which is the second-largest country on Earth. So, packing out human waste, campfire bans and other such measures are not neeeded here....but, being able to build a fire IS VERY important as being wet here, even in summer, will probably kill you and it happens frequently.

So, it is simply an adaptation to your specific environment and that was what I was trying to get across.

Andy F
(AndyF) - M

Locale: Midwest/Midatlantic
Splitting wood with a saw! on 11/25/2009 12:09:28 MST Print View

The Fiskars saw is nice, but I like the Gerber-branded version of it without the extra carabiner thing. This saw plus a 4-5" Mora knife should be all you need. You can split the larger wood with the saw using this technique, although it doesn't work equally well with all woods:

(If I remember correctly, the guy who made this video is a former US Air Force survival instructor.)

Once the wood is small enough, you can split it by batoning the knife. Or, stick to smaller diameter wood and just use the knife.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
wire saws on 11/25/2009 12:12:36 MST Print View

my luck w/ wire saws has been very poor, albeit it's a little dated too

what saw is pictured above?

Dewey what wire saw are you using?

the Gerber/Fiskar is a good saw, but obviously a wire saw would be lighter and less volume (if the it works that is :) )


Johann Burkard
(johannb) - F

Locale: Europe
Re: wire saws on 11/25/2009 12:13:55 MST Print View

what saw is pictured above?

I got them from, search for "wire saw." The store name is born survivor.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Re: Re: wire saws on 11/25/2009 12:58:08 MST Print View

found a site that carries them stateside

any chance you could put one of yours on a scale?


Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: small, sturdy fixed balde on 11/25/2009 13:13:43 MST Print View

Mike's solution makes the most sense to me. But if you really want to split wood, then maybe a cork screw approach makes sense. Get a really big screw with an eyelet, put a stick through it, and watch the other chunk of wood split. This won't work for a really big log, but neither will anything but an axe.

Michael Meiser
(mmeiser) - F

Locale: Michigan
Re: Wire saw on 11/25/2009 13:30:53 MST Print View

Gordon, was that actually your video you made? I actually looked at that. I didn't find the performance of my cord saw useful, even with a bow. But i may try a hand chain saw using the exact same theory.

On the top of my list though is to just carry an 18" bow saw blade and use the same technique to improvise a bow saw or buck saw as mentioned above. Thanks for the inspiration.

Michael Meiser
(mmeiser) - F

Locale: Michigan
Re: Wood on 11/25/2009 13:34:29 MST Print View

Karl, have you ever tried improvising a bow saw with that hand chain saw?

Edited by mmeiser on 11/25/2009 13:35:38 MST.

Johann Burkard
(johannb) - F

Locale: Europe
Re: Re: Re: wire saws on 11/25/2009 13:35:23 MST Print View

any chance you could put one of yours on a scale?

Sure, it weighs 11 g but I keep two ear plugs in the plastic bag so the true weight is probably 10 g. :-)

Dewey Riesterer
(Kutenay) - F
? on 11/25/2009 13:37:30 MST Print View

Mike, I don't know what brand it was as the chap I was with had it and we just used it to cut off the skullcap adn antlers, which is mandatory here in BC. I would just buy a couple and keep them handy, one with my hunting pack and one at my vehicle, air base camp or boat.

The only reason I would carry one is to cut off skullcaps and I have built hundreds of fires without any tool and expect to continue.

IF, I really felt the NEED for a tool to build fires, I would carry a Grandfors Bruks, Wetterlings or Iltis Oxhead "forest axe" with a 1.5 lb head and 24-26" helve on the outside of my pack and this is, IMO, the only axe type tool worth packing if you need a lot of serious fires.