I tried my hand at crosscutting a beefy 18" log with a relatively low tooth-per-inch bowsaw today. I eventually made it all the way through, but not without cutting V-slices into the wood to give the blade breathing room and prevent it from constantly jamming, especially as I got into the heartwood. I should also mention that it took me forever.

Am I missing something here? I wonder if I used the right tool or if I should have been hammering in wedges or something. Should I have just used an axe?

(Hand-tool related answers only please – not interested in using chainsaws for various reasons.)

More details: The log I was cutting was green. The bow saw has no set and was brand new.

  • 4
    Can you post a picture of the saw's teeth? Also, was the log dried or wet? Depending on the position of supports under the log, you may have the gap closing and pinching the blade, rather than pulling apart as you cut.
    – Daniel B.
    Jun 22, 2015 at 8:06
  • 2
    18'' is 45cm, that's well within what a non-broken bowsaw can do (done that before, takes a moment but no problem). Cutting V-slices is entirely unnecessary if the saw is properly set and if you are not being silly and deliberately put the sawbuck in an awkward place such that gravity will cause pressure onto the slit (that is, e.g. place two sawbucks, one at each end, and try to saw in the middle).
    – Damon
    Jun 22, 2015 at 10:06
  • Abe Lincoln said, "If I had 5 hours to cut down a tree, I would spend 4 hours sharpening my axe." Jun 22, 2015 at 11:15
  • If the blade is a crosscut blade this should not have been a set issue. A picture of the teeth might help
    – Matt
    Jun 22, 2015 at 13:19
  • Blade is not a cross cut; just a regular bow saw blade. Something like this: cdnll.amleo.com/images/500/VP-BAHCOSAW_5.jpg Jun 23, 2015 at 0:23

3 Answers 3


I suspect the issue here is with the bowsaw blade not having enough 'set' to the teeth.

The 'set' of the teeth on a saw blade is how far to either side the teeth are bent out from the main body of the blade, which makes the width of the cut wider and gives the body of the blade some clearance in the saw groove (kerf).

Some bowsaw blades have no set (referred to as zero set); from what I understand bowsaw blades of this type are intended to cut green wood, that is wood that is still very fresh and still quite wet. So if you were cutting a seasoned or even part-dried log the blade would naturally struggle.

If the teeth have set it may just not be enough for the type of cut you were doing, the depth of cut specifically.

One good general aid to a saw binding in the kerf is to wax the blade. The simplest way to do this is quickly swipe a block or wax or the butt of a candle along the saw. This can make a remarkable amount of difference.

Keeping the cut open with wedges as you ask about might also be beneficial. It certainly can't hurt to try.

  • 1
    I have a nice bow saw for cutting brush in my yard. It has crosscut teeth and no set.
    – Matt
    Jun 22, 2015 at 10:41
  • Good call about the wax on the blade. I’ll give that a shot next time. Jun 23, 2015 at 0:29

Keep the gap open with wedges. Next to that, sharp teeth are the most important thing. I learned that lesson with a chainsaw -- even though the engine was doing the work, a dull chain got me nowhere, and after sharpening, it cut like a hot knife through butter.

  • I think that this might have been my issue – even though this was a new Fiskars blade, running my hands over it gives me the impression that it's actually pretty dull, and it's only at the very tips of the teeth that I've got a remotely sharp surface. Jun 23, 2015 at 0:28
  • 1
    It's only the very tips of the teeth that need to be sharp -- that's where all the action happens. If you use a wedge to keep the kerf from closing up on the blade, you don't have to waste time cutting slices.
    – Caleb
    Jun 23, 2015 at 1:30

How was the log supported? You might consider putting a sawbuck or a piece of log directly under the kerf, making an orientation similar to a see-saw, so that gravity pulls the two halves of the log such that the kerf is self-opening. This is commonly used when chainsawing logs in the woods so that the saw doesn't get pinched, and it should be applicable to handsaws as well.

  • Yep – I tried that method. It was still really tough. I think I’ll bring some wedges next time. Jul 9, 2015 at 0:53

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