Manual Chainsaw





Introduction: Manual Chainsaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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114 Discussions


1 year ago

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.

4 replies

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!

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!

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.

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

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

1 reply

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.

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.

1 reply

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.


1 year ago

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!

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.

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.

Trapeze Triangle Hand Grips BLUE to use.jpg
2 replies

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

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


1 year ago

How about an angle grinder to break the chain?

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.

1 reply

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

1 reply