A folding saw is like a penknife, only with a saw instead of a blade. They are light and surprisingly effective, making them ideal for survival use (bug out bag), camping (processing firewood), backpacking, clearing trails, hunting (dressing game), and even DIY jobs around the house.
The folding blade safely hides their sharp teeth inside the handle. This makes a folding saw a good choice when you need to climb a tree (such as for a hunting stand) or simply pruning or landscaping around the garden.
Brands include Silky, Gerber, Barnel, Trail Blazer, Bahco, Bunnings, Kershaw, and Corona. Prices range from $10 to $30, weights from 6 to 12 ounces, and blade lengths from 6 to 12 inches. The specified length is sometimes the total length of the closed saw, including the handle, not the blade length which can be 2 inches shorter.
Folding Saw Versus Axe and Other Tools
Despite their light weight and small size, a folding saw can cut through a log of up to 6 to 12 inches in diameter. This makes them tough competition for other tools. Their main limitation is that they aren’t suitable for splitting logs for firewood.
Compared to a:
- Bow saw – a folding saw is more portable and can get into tight corners.
- Chainsaw – a folding saw is safer, lighter and more reliable; making it suitable for clearing up after a storm.
- Axe – a folding saw is safer (good for kids and survival use), cuts faster, requires less energy to use, can be used with either hand (in case one hand is injured – good for survival use). However an axe will last longer and is easier to sharpen.
Folding Saw Blades
The most important part of a folding saw is the blade. Choosing the right blade can be surprisingly complicated. Here are some features to consider:
- Length. Get the longest blade that you can comfortably carry. Even an additional 1 or 2 inches can make a big difference in cutting ability. Blade lengths range from 6 to 12 inches, with 9 inches being the obvious compromise length. For comparison, a Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman multitool saw is about 3 inches long. A saw will be able to comfortably take down a branch or tree that is slightly thinner than the length of a blade. For example, a 7-inch blade should be able to saw through a 5-inch tree. You can double this by sawing around the trunk (a 7-inch blade can saw through a 10-inch tree) but this isn’t always practical.
- Shape. Straight blades are common but curved blades are reputed to cut better. The difference is slight. A curved blade is a nice-to-have feature but a straight blade should not be a deal-breaker.
- Steel type. Stainless steel will still rust, especially if covered with tree sap, so whatever metal you choose you will still need to clean and oil the blade after use. Some blades are chrome-plated but the chrome on the teeth will be worn away after a few uses.
- Coating. Some blades are coated with teflon for lower friction. This is another nice-to-have but not essential feature.
- Tooth spacing. Most saws have big teeth, with 5 to 10 teeth per inch (TPI). This is suitable for green and soft wood. A closer spacing of 10 to 15 TPI is better for hardwood and bone (and drywall and plastic – water pipes). Some saws come with two interchangeable blades, with different TPI.
- Tooth shape. The sharpest teeth have 3 sides, like a 3-sided pyramid.
- Cut direction. Saws that cut in both directions, push and pull, cut faster. However some saws cut only in the pull direction, to avoid bending the blade when pushing.
- Blade thickness. A thick blade is stronger but heavier. A thin blade cuts with less effort. It’s all a trade-off. Blades can be as thin as 1 millimeter – these blades will cut in the pull direction only.
- Bind resistance. The blade should taper down from the teeth up to the spine of the blade, making the cut wider than most of the blade. This reduces the chances of the blade binding (getting stuck) in the wood.
How to Choose a Folding Saw
Aside from the blade, here are other things to look out for:
- Strong handle. Most handles are made out of plastic. A common complaint is cheap/weak plastic.
- Full length handle. Some handles are shorter than the blade, leaving a few sharp teeth poking out even when folded.
- Availability of spare blades. Spare blades often cost about the same as a new saw, so it’s not a big deal if the manufacturer doesn’t sell spares – buy a new saw instead.
- Storage for spare blades in the handle. This is useful in case the blade breaks in the field.
- Blade lock. Most saws will be able to lock the blade in the open position. However some don’t lock in the closed (folded) position, making it possible for the blade to open when stored in a bag and cutting things up. This can be fixed by tightening the pivot screw, or using a rubber band or velcro strap.
- Handle color. A bright color makes it easy to find the saw if it is dropped in undergrowth. Paint or tape can be used to fix a dull-colored handle.
- A pouch or sheath is useful, but not critical.