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Which Tree Saw Is Best?

Updated on November 3, 2017
Will Apse profile image

The author is a biologist who worked in conservation, aquatic biology, and woodland management over many years.

Some tree saws
Some tree saws

Trees are one the great joys of any backyard or garden. The problem is they do not know when to stop growing...

Choosing the best saw to keep trees under control and healthy will save you time and effort. It will also help to keep you safe.

You might be cutting down trees or clearing fallen branches. You might be cutting logs as fuel. You might want to do some light pruning or thin out a big tree. There are saws designed for each of these jobs.

Pruning Saws

Hand Pruning Saws

The foldable pruning saw, pictured above, is the kind of saw you might take camping. It is even more useful for gardening. They are cheap to buy and fold up to slip in any kind of tool bag or tote. Small branches in the wrong place can soon be removed!

A top quality ten-inch model will cut branches up to four or five inches thick. If you are happy working from a ladder, this might be all you need for pruning small trees and shrubs.

Replacement blades will ensure the saw is always sharp.

The 10-inch Corona RazorTooth is an especially formidable tool.

A d-handle pruning saw
A d-handle pruning saw

A d-handle pruning saw is a traditional tool that will handle branches up to eight or nine inches in diameter.

Most woodworking saws are designed to cut wood on a bench at something like a 45-degree angle. A traditional d-handle pruning saw works best at more like a ninety degree angle which makes it ideal for pruning.

A curved blade helps to prevent the saw slipping from the branch as you work.

More modern, ergonomic versions of a d-saw are easier on the hands but no faster to use.

Double edged pruning saw, ideal for prized specimens.
Double edged pruning saw, ideal for prized specimens.

Double-edged Pruning Saws

A fine-toothed saw produces a neater cut with less tearing and bruising of tree tissues and reduces the chance of infection after pruning. Fine teeth cut more slowly, however, and become impractical if you are working on branches more than two or three inches in diameter, especially if you are dealing with tough hardwoods.

A two-sided, or double-edged, saw is a useful, addition to your tool collection. You can switch from the fine to coarse side, as appropriate.

When I was younger, and still able to clamber around trees like a squirrel, one of these was my favorite pruner.

Saws Combined with Slashing Tools

Combined Machete and Saw

A useful tool for dealing with unruly backyards is a combined machete and tree saw. The sharp blade can be used to slash away undergrowth, and cut down unwanted saplings. The saw will make a neat job of pruning.

I have seen trees quickly and effectively pruned with machetes, alone, in the tropics, but the results are not always pretty, with split and damaged branches left open to infection. Machetes are not recommended for pruning prized trees!

Billhook with Saw

A combined billhook and saw is a very effective hedging tool and useful for tree work, too. The saw prunes while the billhook quickly strips twigs or removes troublesome undergrowth.

The 18-inch version from Fiskars, illustrated below, has been a reliable standby in my tool bag for several years.

Combined billhook and saw.
Combined billhook and saw.

Pole Saws

Pole saws are simply saws on an extension pole. There are manual pole saws and powered pole saws that use a chainsaw driven by gas or electricity on an extension.

They make pruning trees from ground level much easier. A hand pruning saw and a pair of shears will prune most trees but you will usually need to work from a ladder, or bear the expense of a cherry picker.

Re-positioning a ladder over and over again can be hard work and for some people, working from a ladder is downright dangerous.

A pole saw gets you round the ladder problem, makes light work of pruning and lets you see what you are doing better -- important if you want your tree to look good afterwards.

A cordless pole saw in action.
A cordless pole saw in action.

Chainsaws

Chainsaws can be monsters of power that will fell a hundred foot pine tree in a few minutes. Or they can be lightweight electric models which will make pruning or clearing small fallen branches quick and easy.

Chainsaws can be gas, electric or cordless and each kind has advantages and disadvantages.

  • Gas chainsaws have the most power but need regular maintenance. Leave one for any length of time and it might be hard to start.
  • Electric chainsaws need to be near a power outlet,
  • Cordless are convenient and can often be powerful enough to do the job, but only as long as the battery lasts.

The size of you backyard is important in making a choice. Smaller backyards can be easily managed with an electric model. Big backyards that are trying to turn into a forest may need gas!

Cutting down Trees is a serious business- take a look at what is involved.

Jawsaws

Jawsaws, like the Black and Decker model pictured above, are not as fast as conventional chainsaws but they are safer to use. Kickback is less of problem and you are well shielded from the (much smaller) chain-driven, cutting teeth.

Jawsaws can be used to slice up fallen timber, prune thick branches and cut live trees, up to a few inches across.

There are corded-electric and cordless versions. Worx are one company that offer a jawsaw on an extension pole for longer reach.

Rope Saw (with cutting chain)

A high limb rope saw
A high limb rope saw

A useful kind of saw for pruning back bigger branches is a kind of chain saw you use by pulling back and forth on a rope. They can be very short for use from a ladder or very long to be used from the ground.

One advantage of these saws is that can cut a branch back close to the trunk easily and at the right angle. This looks neat and also helps prevent infection.

The one pictured above has a throwing weight. You choose your target branch, throw the rope over and, with a little work, remove it.

Bow Saws

A bow saw won't jam in wet wood.
A bow saw won't jam in wet wood.

Most full-sized, quality bow saws will cut any tree or branch up to about a foot in thickness (working from both sides). The teeth are big and splay out wide. They clear plenty of wood as they cut so the blade will never stick. Don't expect to cut too straight though!

A sharp bow saw and a strong arm will cut up medium-sized, fallen branches quicker than many power saws. There is no gas to find, no engine to start or cable to run.

These are ideal if you only have a few trees to care for and like to keep fit!

The technology is so simple almost any rugged bow saw will do those routine backyard jobs. I have a Bahco 30-Inch for working on wet wood. The tensioning mechanism is convenient and it cuts straighter than most.

The video below has some useful tips for when muscle power meets sticky, living wood.

Bear in mind that the wonderful Silky Katanaboy will cost around 200 dollars more than the Bahco!

Reciprocating Saws

This is one of those tools a gardener may never need but it is useful in some situations. Reciprocating saws work just like ordinary hand saws with a back and forth motion of the blade but the power is supplied by an electric motor. They are useful in hard to reach places.

One of the hardest jobs in any garden is removing a tree stump. Roots are tough and hard to cut underground. Simply digging holes for fence posts or new planting can be difficult if there are a lot of tree roots in the way.

A reciprocating saw is long, thin and easier to use in a hole than most saws. It will slice through tough roots without giving you a backache!

Safety Issues When Working on Trees

Gloves are always a good idea when working with trees. Power tools almost always spit out chips or dust and eye protection is essential.

The full kit pictured below is important if you plan to use a chainsaw.

Helmet, wrap chap with suspenders, protective gloves and glasses.
Helmet, wrap chap with suspenders, protective gloves and glasses.

Tips

The first tip is to look out for overhead power and utility lines!

Working on Trees

If you are pruning or cutting trees there is always a danger of something falling on you. A safety helmet and sturdy work boots (with reinforced toe cap is best) are important.

If you are felling trees you need to always to be aware of the safest exit from the area- you don't want a tree landing on you so you will need to move quickly when one starts to fall! Read a full guide here: fell_tree.htm

Power Saws

  • If you are using any kind of power saw you should use safety glasses or a face guard- the wood chips fly everywhere.
  • Some machines are very noisy and ear muffs might be needed.
  • Blades are sharp and splinters can hurt so a good pair of gloves is recommended.
  • Chainsaws are more dangerous than most tools- kickback is the single biggest problem. If the blade jams the saw can buck like crazy in your hand and you might lose control of it. It is important to read a full safety guide. http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ageng/safety/

Heavy Lifting

If the work you are doing involves heavy lifting, a back belt of the kind that weight lifters use can give a lot of protection to spine and muscles. A lot of tree professionals use these --especially as they get older.


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      • Will Apse profile image
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        Will Apse 7 weeks ago

        @Eugene

        Rope saws are useful backups if you have trees with an open growth pattern. They are not quick and they do not give you a neat cut (the branches tend to split as they fall). I have used them on sycamores when a ladder is just too awkward.

      • Will Apse profile image
        Author

        Will Apse 7 weeks ago

        @snakeslane

        I reckon a reasonably fit woman can do any job in a garden that a reasonably fit man can do. My mother still looks after her own garden in her eighties and enjoys it.

        But if you can keep your feet on the ground, especially as you get older, it is a lot safer.

      • eugbug profile image

        Eugene Brennan 8 weeks ago from Ireland

        The rope saw turned out to be really useful. I had to remove half an old apple tree which was overhanging the location for my new garden shed. Most of the limbs were 20 feet off the ground and out of range of a pole saw. The rope saw although slow was able to cut through 5 inch limbs.

      • snakeslane profile image

        Verlie Burroughs 8 weeks ago from Canada

        Hi Will. I don't see any women operators in your sawing pictures. I do a little pruning around the yard, and appreciate the safety and tool tips mentioned here. The pole chainsaw looks like a worthwhile investment. I've been using a small electric chainsaw for pruning mostly, but the trees have grown too tall for doing that now without a ladder. Chainsaw, electric cord, tall orchard ladder, maybe not a good mix, and, as you point out, moving a ladder around is a lot of work. Thanks.

      • profile image

        time raymound 2 months ago

        The Huber High Limb Cutter is the best by far. Made to not get stuck and is not made cheaply, but is still low cost.

      • Glenn Basham profile image

        Glenn Basham 2 years ago

        Really useful, thank you!

      • eugbug profile image

        Eugene Brennan 2 years ago from Ireland

        I wasn't aware of a wire saw for cutting branches, might try to make one with an old chainsaw chain.

        Again voted up and useful!

      • eugbug profile image

        Eugene Brennan 4 years ago from Ireland

        After having worn out two bargain basement chainsaws, I'm back to using my trustworthy bow saw to cut logs around the garden! As you say, you can cut logs of one foot diameter or more (but it takes some time and effort!). I once cut up a 30 foot sycamore tree into firewood with a bow saw and if the teeth are razor sharp, it doesn't require a huge amount of effort. The blades on a bow saw lasts for years if you are prepared to undergo the tedious process of re-sharpening.

        Voted up and useful!

      • The Dirt Farmer profile image

        Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

        Thanks for the overview! A 10-inch hand pruning saw sounds like what I need for our rosebushes.