Build an Ultralight Portable Buck Saw





Introduction: Build an Ultralight Portable Buck Saw

About: I have a B.A.Sc and M.Eng. from the University of British Columbia, specializing in electromechanical design, but mostly I like to tinker. One of my passions is energy conservation and efficient use of renew...

There are portable buck saws on the market, but they suffer from three problems: 1. They are too small for heavy work, with typically only a 12" blade. 2. They are too heavy. You might argue otherwise, but they are over 20 times heavier than what I'm about to describe. 3. They are too expensive, with good quality collapsible ones in the $30-$40 range.

In this instructable I'll describe a fully functional buck saw you can make out of materials found in the wilderness plus a few light items you need to bring with you.

Step 1: Materials

The following materials are required to build the saw

  • 18" to 24" buck saw blade ($5 at most hardware stores)
  • 2 large cotter pins
  • 4ft of strong cordage
Find on site:
  • 1 forked branch about the length of the saw blade and about 1" in diamter
  • 2 straight branches about 12" long and about 1" in diameter
  • 1 straight branch about 6" long and 1/2" in diameter
Branches should be dead, well seasoned, dry wood. Other than the branches found on site, the weight is negligible. The space taken up in a pack is negligible. I wrap my blade in a big coil around the inside bottom of my pack inside a simple sheath made of cardboard. To avoid losing the cotter pins, they can be tied to the saw blade to holes that exist at either end.

Step 2: Assembling the Frame

For light sawing (notches for bows and that sort of thing) the blade can be used all by itself. For heavier work (cutting down trees or bucking deadfall into firewood sized lengths) a frame can be built. Use the saw blade itself to cut a slot into one end of each of your 12" pieces. Be careful with the blade. Not surprisingly, it's sharp. You can wrap it with cloth or other material so you can grip it without cutting your hands. Cut the slot to a depth of about 1".

Assemble the pieces on the ground in about the right orientation (as shown in the picture below). Wherever one piece of the frame mates with another, you should do some carving in order to make the pieces fit better so they won't slip once the frame is tensioned.

You may have to attempt installing the blade and tensioning the frame a few times, each time disassembling and carving away more material in different places to get everything to fit nicely.

To assemble the frame, insert the blade into the two slots you cut and insert the cotter pins through the holes in the blade to prevent the saw from sliding out of the slot. Place the forked piece in the middle and tie your cordage in a big loop joining the opposite ends of your 12" pieces as shown. Insert your 6" piece in the center of the loop and start twisting it up until you have applied tension to the blade. Trial and error will determine a good tension: tight enough to tension the blade and hold the saw together, but not so tight that you break your frame. Once the blade is tensioned, let your 6" piece rest against the forked branch to prevent the cordage from untwisting.

With a little practice, it takes about 20 minutes to build this saw from scratch, not including the time to find the appropriate materials.

It is a surprisingly effective saw capable of cutting down large trees if necessary. It is incredibly cheap. If you carry just the cordage, blade, and cotter pins it is incredibly light weight. It's one drawback is that you have to build the frame with materials on site. However, when materials are scarce, and you can afford the extra weight, you can carry your disassembled frame with you. It's still lighter and cheaper than most portable buck saws on the market.

This type of saw has been described in Northern Bushcraft by Mors Kochanski. I collect books related to extended survival and self sufficiency in the wilderness, and it's one of my favorites.



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    Hey thanks a lot for this tutorial. I have been looking for a clear tutorial of how to build a bucksaw in the woods like this.

    How would this compare to, say, a folding saw like those that can be found in most outdoorsy stores in efficiency, weight, and portability?

    1 reply

    I've used those types of folding saws before. It takes a bit of practice to build a frame, but by the time I built my 3rd saw like the one in this instructable, I could build them to hold together and cut just as well as the store bought ones (better when you consider that you can easily bring a 24" or longer blade for very little additional weight, but store bought folding saws are usually have only 12" or 18" blades). Carrying just the blade, cordage, and a couple cotter pins is lighter and more portable than any folding camp saw I've ever seen.

    I like the idea, but I found the instructable a bit vague. Perhaps it would be clearer with more photos detailing every step. Looks fun though.

    3 replies

    Yeah, and it is sort of contingent on finding suitable branches. There's also a fair bit of prep in cutting notches, carving the mating surfaces and so on. I like it and all, but (this sounds more damning than I mean, seriously, I do like it) I wouldn't rely on the knowledge in the 'ible to make me a saw when I really needed one.
    I will definitely try, perhaps I'll be proven wrong :)

    Suitable branches are not difficult to find in any location where a saw is likely to be useful (ie a location where there is wood to cut). It takes a bit of prep, it's true, but the prep is part of the fun. It's great practice at knife-craft and bind-craft which are skills far more likely to come in handy when you really need them than the saw itself. I've spent a lot of time in the woods over the past 20 years or so and can't remember a single time when I really needed a saw or hatchet. I built a small cabin once and a saw is handy for that (much more so than an axe) but did I really need to build the cabin? No.

    My experience is that saws and hatchets are things people bring camping only to impress their friends or to make obscenely large fires for no particular reason. I get by quite nicely with a sturdy full tang knife and an improvised mallet to hit it with. Till you've seen a knife used in this fashion you won't believe how infinitely more versatile it becomes.

    I bring a saw blade along just in case I feel like practicing/demonstrating some knife-craft and bind-craft by building yet another saw frame, the construction of which is generally much more impressive and interesting than the cutting (and subsequent burning) of any wood.

    Hmmmm.... I'm just wondering, would you need any permits for building a cabin?

    i can get a good quality one where i live for 20 dollars or less

    I gotta try this! If for nothing else than the envious looks from my camping partners. You're right: most folding saws are too short. This solves the problem nicely.

    1 reply

    Just make sure to practice a couple times at home before you get out in the woods and really need it. It would be way to embarrassing to not be able to put it together in front of your buddies.

    Backpacking bow saws (Swen, etc.) certainly aren't 20X as heavy as this... (I'd much rather have a folding saw in the backcountry than a hatchet, axe, etc.)

    Still, a nice build. Using a 'Spanish windlass' to tighten the frame is a nice touch.

    2 replies

    I'm not suggesting that this entire saw with frame is 1/20th the weight of folding saws, just the parts I need to pack.. I've weighed a couple different folding/collapsible saws and they were 15-25x heavier than a single 24" blade plus two cotter pins which is all that I pack. I agree that a good saw and a good knife are much more useful than a hatchet or axe. But I've been disappointed with every folding saw I've tried. I started bringing a 24" bow saw instead. It's not much heavier than a folding saw but it's MUCH better, mostly due to the extra length. However, it's bulky and difficult to pack. Taking just the blade and building a frame on site gives all the benefits of a large bow saw without having to deal with the weight or the bulk.

    I gotcha--you make and discard the saw frame each time. Yep, that would certainly be light... That's cool, although the only camping I do where you're allowed to build fires is canoe camping....where weight isn't so much of an issue. Everywhere else: we haveta carry stoves.

    Sweet! Easy, and really cheap!

    AWESOME! Super smart, that's incredible! And the guy crouched down in the first picture looks A LOT like my friend.