Introduction: Manual Chainsaw

Picture of Manual Chainsaw

Everybody loves a good chainsaw, but typically they don't fit in your pocket. On top of that, they are heavy, loud and dangerous. Replace the gasoline engine of a standard chainsaw with your arms and you've got a portable and versatile tool for cutting firewood or trimming trees. It isn't nearly as fast as a motorized chain saw, but it is faster than most other hand held saws and it is much more portable.

For this project you'll need a chain saw chain, some nylon webbing, some waxed linen thread some paracord or similar nylon string, a needle, a hack saw or band saw, and a few matches.

Step 1: Cut the Chain

Picture of Cut the Chain

Start by cutting one link of the chain to break the loop. Chain saw chains are made of hardened tool steel so cutting them is a bit of a challenge. Unlike a bike chain you the pins are flattened on each end, so a chain breaker won't work. I used a bandsaw for this step, but if you don't have access to one, a hack saw will work (it'll just take much longer).

Step 2: Insert Webbing

Picture of Insert Webbing

The best way I found to create handles for the chain saw was to use some nylon tube webbing. Star by cutting a 18 inch piece of webbing and melting the ends with a match or lighter to keep it from fraying. Next, simply insert the end of the chain about 6 inches into the end of the piece of webbing.

Step 3: Sew

Picture of Sew

Using the waxed linen thread, sew around the chain as tightly as possible to keep it from slipping out of the webbing. Fold over the other end of the webbing to create big enough for your hand.

Step 4: Wrap

Picture of Wrap

The linen thread will not be strong enough to hold up to extended use, so the ends of the webbing should also be wrapped tightly in string. I used a simple lashing method to keep the string tight along the length of the wrap.

Step 5: Put It to Good Use

Picture of Put It to Good Use

This saw can be used by either one or two people depending on the size of the branch or tree being cut. Simply wrap the chain over the target branch and start pulling back and forth on the handles. Remember, since the chain was designed to be rotating quickly around a saw, it will only cut in one direction. If you are cutting as a two person team it will probably be a good idea to alternate sides of the saw to give each other a rest.

I haven't gotten an chance to try it yet, but I suspect you could use ropes as handle extensions for hard to reach branches. Let me know if you try that out.

If you have ideas for different handles styles I encourage you to try this project out yourself and post photos of the result.


gm280 (author)2016-09-03

I understand the concept but wonder how much effort it takes to actually cut through a tree or large branch? Since you are taking a pretty good sized kerf with each cut, how hard is it to actually cut something? IDK.

GregS261 (author)gm2802017-11-30

well I don't think it's for cutting fire wood but if you had one in truck or trunk

And say you are out in the country and there is one road in or out and a tree falls

It might help you get out of the woods,

Or if you have a limb in a tree and no way to get up there throw a rope over the

Limb and cut it off the road , house, could save you so you don't need a hire a

tree cutter, that's what there good for emergencies!

ewbray (author)gm2802016-12-27

As long as the cutting teeth on a manual hand chain saw are sharp, then a low speed or moderate speed 'back-and-forth' cutting motion will be more than sufficient to get through a 4-6 inch diameter tree trunk and/or tree branch in a few minutes of sawing action. The DISADVANTAGE of using an old unused regular chain saw chain to produce the manual hand chain saw is that it ONLY cuts the wood when it is going in one direction, so the user would have to use twice as many "total" stokes to cut the object. That is why the commercial models are much better because they tend to be bidirectional and cut any wood with each stroke because the cutting teeth are not set up as a unidirectional cutting device as in regular chain saw chains!

andyup1 (author)gm2802016-12-12

used mine to cut a few things. It is cheaper than buying an entire chain saw. That being said, it isn't a great replacement for a chainsaw. It does function, but has its limitations.

andyup1 (author)gm2802016-12-12

I've made one before, and they're great for specific purposes. I have one in a survival pack. They work pretty well, I think easier than a rigid saw. It doesn't take much effort to cut through a decent branch. I don't own a chainsaw, but I have

oxyexpress (author)2016-08-29

Wow...been reading the comments and everyone saying to cut the chain with this or that.....when i do goto my local saw shop to have them replace a broken tooth they just punch out the rivets and put new ones in (just like a bike chain).....wonder why no-one has thought of this before

DavidS1383 (author)oxyexpress2017-01-26

Good idea but buying a $55 device to help fabricate a $20 item makes less sense. Better to grab a hammer and hole punch and pop the rivet the "backwoodsman" way.

GreatLakesNomex (author)2016-08-30

I see this saw as an acceptable though inefficient tool for bucking up already downed trees however I'm reading a lot of comments about cutting down trees. If you want to drop standing trees and snags like this, you are practically begging for trouble. This “manual chainsaw” will produce a curved cut and will not be able to create the necessary cuts to drop a tree in a consistently controlled manner. You don’t have to take my advice but please consider it. After that feel free to take your chances. Just know there are very real and potentially lethal consequences.

-If you have never dropped a tree, get someone to show you how.

-Start small and simple (there is more to complexity than tree size).

-Use a proper cutting method and a proper saw.

-Wear a hardhat and other PPE.

-Use wedges often.

-Keep your eyes skyward.

-Have established escape routes.

-Utilize a lookout when possible.

-Keep others well away from the tree’s reach.


-Know when to walk away and call a trained sawyer.

Felling trees is not an activity you should wing. Please stay safe.

andyup1 (author)GreatLakesNomex2016-12-12

I don't think the author meant it as a replacement for sawing down trees, it's a portable alternative more for survival than anything. I've made a few in the past, they work, pretty well actually, for cutting firewood-sized chunks.

ewbray (author)2016-09-16

Wouldn't a bi-directional manual chain saw bought online the from several dealers have a sturdier anchor point for the nylon handles; also that way if you are performing a two person cut, each person can contribute to the task!

Nonreality (author)2016-09-03

There is a company that has been selling the same thing for at least 10 years. They are much better than the wire saws that came before and you can still buy. The point is that it's an emergency saw and very portable. It is not meant to replace bigger saws. For the size and weight these are one of the best.

charlesp4 (author)2016-08-28

You have a very good idea there. I think you can make the handle more ergonomic and safer to use with trapeze triangle hand grips, you can easily get them from ebay or other online stores. What you have to do is remove the pin from the last chain and attach the triangle rings to the chain with bolts.

KellinC (author)charlesp42016-08-30

That might work, but I would worry that they would get slippery from the sweat on your hands. Maybe put tape around them?

CobyUnger (author)charlesp42016-08-29

Great idea. I'll do this next time.

tincho1962 (author)2016-08-30

porque no poner un resorte fijo a un punto fijo en un extremo y tirar de el otro extremo tranquilo con ambas manos . de esa manera no es necesario estar alternando ya que el punto de fuerza lo haria el resorte y no uno

JRvZ (author)2016-08-30

How about an angle grinder to break the chain?

KMoffett (author)2016-08-28

I would recommend a Dremel with a cutoff disk to separate the links. More likely to be available than a metal cutting band saw. They work really well on hardened metals.

CobyUnger (author)KMoffett2016-08-29

Good point.

_MaveRick_ (author)2015-05-03

It's a great idea but you can go to Cabalas or Walmart and get one ready-made with a carrying case.

CobyUnger (author)_MaveRick_2015-05-03

Why buy what you can make?

acoleman3 (author)CobyUnger2015-05-04

AMEN! especially when it's in your power and ability to do so. this "go out and buy it" mentality just fuels the commercialized throw away society we live in and makes people lazy and destroys their self sufficiency. not only that but it just lines the pockets of the fat cats who run these multi-billion dollar walmart and cabela's.

RickD72 (author)acoleman32016-08-28

I really detest that term "fat cats" These are the people who make jobs for people who want to do more than sit in front of a monitor bitching about some fairy land where everyone is self sufficient . Fact is no one is and have never been . We all rely on others in some way.

TheMannFamily (author)RickD722016-08-29

"have never been" Really? At no point in the history of humanity has an individual ever had to rely on just their own efforts to accomplish a task?

(And besides, what is a group of people if not multiple individuals?)

_MaveRick_ (author)RickD722016-08-28

I am far more self sufficient than most people but with that comes the understanding that being self sufficient is labor intensive and time consuming. Success in that depends on knowing how and when to improvise and when to plan ahead and prepare. Failure to plan ahead and prepare will result in someone having to improvise so many different things that they will not succeed. I have several different types of sawing and wood chopping tools. If somehow they should all fail, I still know how to make a decent stone axe. The stone axe would however be my last option because I have planned ahead and prepared. This is also the reason I have an electric chain and pole saw. I have enough solar panels and batteries to run both those plus a lot more. Of course I have been doing this since the 1960's so I have had plenty of time to plan, prepare, gain skills and test them.

jed.watkins (author)CobyUnger2015-05-05

Because the store bought version cuts in both directions, is lighter because it doesnt have guide teeth and is cheaper because you are not paying for the super high stregth steal, depth gauges and anti kickback geometry that went into your powered saws blade. Interesting that this should pop up today, as I was just thinking about a difficult cut I made in the top of a tree today (climbing arborist) and how much easier it would have been if I only had my pocket chainsaw still. This instructable would better concentrated on the improvements one could make to the store bought versions such as the handles he made rather than the making of the saw itself inless he can tell the average tinkerer how to reverse every other tooth on a powered blade etc.

>> you can go to Cabalas or Walmart and get one ready-made

The ones at Cabelas and Wal-mart both have flimsy wire handles that break the first time you try to use it. This i'ble uses Nylon loops instead of coat-hanger wire, a fantastic improvement.

This unit is better than the wire "survival" saws too. They have the same problem: a flimsy connection between the cutty bit and the not-cutty bit your soft squishy mammal paws are supposed to hold.

lucek (author)2016-08-29

Love theese. Great for cutting stuff at ground leven or atach 50 foot of rope on each end and trim high branches. Or a few more steps to that but not many

groghunter (author)2016-08-29

FWIW, I've tried one of these, & your statement "but it is faster than most other hand held saws" hasn't held true for me. a $30 folding Corona wasn't just slightly faster, it was night & day. I'm all for repurposing & being able to make tools instead of buying them, but in this case, $30 is well spent on a saw that will get the work done in 1/5th the time.

John D Costa (author)2016-04-10

HaHaHa !!!

Many people really like a good chainsaw, but generally they don't fit it. On top of that, they tend to be heavy, noisy and threatening. I think these are all better than a chainsaw chain.

bmaverick (author)John D Costa2016-08-28

Yep. Got the Black and Decker LCS120 Lithium Ion Cordless Battery Operated 20V Chainsaw. Very low noise. Less than the cordless weed-whacker. It has a 10-in blade, but my old corded Polluan Pro electric 14-in fits on it too. Thus, I can go cordless with 14-in. The larger battery works well if you got lots to cut, else the 2.0A battery(ies) would work too. I'm not at all impressed with gas chainsaws. more time fixing them than anything else.

GrizzlyPanda (author)2016-08-28

I keep one of these in my Jeep for emergencies. Chainsaw chain can very easily be cut with a Dremel and abrasive wheels of various types. My favorite is water bottle cooling and cordless Dremel. Wear safety glasses + get dirty = Having fun!

Joe-Y (author)2016-08-28

Using a grinder is a more effective way to cut the rivets and faster. Just got to watch the heat build up.

johnb559 (author)2016-08-28

Most saw chain suppliers sell it by te length so rather than buying a "loop" of chain,ask them for te length you want and get them to leave it open.

allpurposeme made it! (author)2016-08-28

I'm getting too old for this foolishness so power is where it's at, but if I were to decide risking a heart attack was worth it I'd try making a bow chain saw. A bow saw is really simple to make and you can make them just about any length you like..3 sticks and a piece of string..

Not to mention the inherent safety of the space age technology of the handle..

TheDIYman2015 (author)2016-08-19

I made one :D I really like it but I don't like that I accidently cut myself on the chain when I was cutting :( I was cutting very fast and I accidently got a bit too close to the chain with my other hand when cutting and beleive me it hurt.

CobyUnger (author)TheDIYman20152016-08-22

Be careful. Don't forget that chain saw blades are sharp and dangerous. Can we see a photo of the one we made.

CameronA15 (author)2016-03-17

Can't wait to make it i have a couple old chainsaw chains laying around my families barn might as well put them to use! I will use the high speed cut-off toll to get through the link and then go from there.

CobyUnger (author)CameronA152016-03-18

Great. Hope it works out well for you. Post a photo once it is finished.

deansbj (author)2016-01-27

good for working on a ladder or from a tree. We have a couple. I bought one from china for about £5 and made a longer one. really good carry even if you are walking stick hunting :)

CobyUnger (author)deansbj2016-01-27

Glad you like it.

bikenny (author)2015-12-22

I always use chainsaw for cut down trees. This is amazing. Thanks!

CobyUnger (author)bikenny2015-12-27

Glad you like it. Hope it works out well for you. If you make one, be sure to post a photo.

handlebarharlan made it! (author)2015-06-29

brilliant instrucable! really easy to make, looking forward to actually trying it out!

Wow, nice job! Yours looks much better than mine.

Thank you! i had just started playing around with various paracord instructables so thought it would be interesting to combine the two. finally tried it out the other day and it works a treat. thanks again for posting this awesome instructable.

There are only few things I like more than hearing positive feedback from Instructables users who have built some of my designs. Super glad it worked out for you!

wallacetinag41 (author)2015-05-07

I have to do this, we have a t of trees in our property and I don't like using chain saws, but this way I can contribute to cutting some trees and stumps too. Thank you so much. Thinking about a jump rope or something that has the plastic coating over it for the handle parts.

CobyUnger (author)wallacetinag412015-07-12

Go for it. It is a quick and easy project and a good way to get some exercise while trimming trees.

Tardisrepairman (author)2015-05-03

If your arms get tired you can just hold tension on the chain and run round and round the tree.

(Make sure you are running in the direction the teeth cut or you could be there some time! :-)

About This Instructable




Bio: I build, I teach, I learn. Happiest when covered in saw dust, sweat and machine grease. Visit for more projects and info.
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