The author has worked in conservation and woodland management over many years.
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.
Some of the tasks explored on this page:
- Pruning or thinning trees and shrubs.
- Cutting down trees.
- Clearing fallen branches.
- Cutting logs as fuel.
Folding Hand Pruning Saws
The single most useful tool for pruning has to be a folding saw. Folding saws can be small enough to slip into a pocket and perfect for odd pruning jobs in the garden. They can also sport mighty blades capable of sawing through large tree trunks.
They are also useful to campers and anyone who spends time in woodland.
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.
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!
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.
An 18-inch version is available from Fiskars.
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 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.
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, 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 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.
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.
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
- 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/
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.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: What hand saw is best for cutting up branches for firewood logs?
Answer: For me, the only hand saw to use for producing firewood logs is a bow saw. Bow saw blades are inexpensive, extraordinarily sharp, easy to replace and will cut thick logs quickly. For traditionalists comfortable with sharpening saw blades, a woodsman's crosscut saw will be satisfying to use. These can be found in second-hand stores for a few dollars but will usually need some serious love to get in shape.
Will Apse (author) on September 26, 2017:
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 (author) on September 26, 2017:
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.
Eugene Brennan from Ireland on September 25, 2017:
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.
Verlie Burroughs from Canada on September 24, 2017:
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.
time raymound on September 06, 2017:
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 on September 09, 2015:
Really useful, thank you!
Eugene Brennan from Ireland on April 19, 2015:
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!
Eugene Brennan from Ireland on October 30, 2013:
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!
Jill Spencer from United States on May 15, 2013:
Thanks for the overview! A 10-inch hand pruning saw sounds like what I need for our rosebushes.