A lightweight saw can be useful, though it is not really a necessity. There are plenty of ways to break up wood for fires and for shelter, if needed. The traditional wire type "survival saws" are not nearly as efficient as others, though they will do the job, albeit slower and with considerable energy expenditure. They are also not nearly as durable as a more conventional saw and require a lot of extra care when using so they aren't damaged or broken. Care and patience can be hard to come by in a survival situation. However, the wire saws are the best answer when every ounce counts. It is worth noting that when packing these wire saws it is imperative that you avoid putting a kink in the wire. This is sure to result in premature failure of the saw.
The traditional "Commando Wire Saw" with split rings for "handles," as originally developed for the British SAS (Special Air Service), had "barbs" along the woven or twisted wires. They worked, but not all that well. These have been superseded by a much better design, produced by BCB Survival in England, that has no barbs. It is comprised of three flexible interwoven wires, each of which has another smaller diameter wire wound around it which acts as the cutting edge. These do a much better job of cutting, even though that seems somewhat counter intuitive. It does seem to have some tendency to jam up in the cut when using it just with the rings, but that doesn't seem to be a problem if configured as a bow saw using a short piece of green branch, the preferred method of use for a wire saw, in any case. This model is also equipped with swivel ends which helps to prevent breakage from twisting the wires.
The best cutting wire saw I've found, by a slight margin over the BCB, is a U.S. mil. spec. design which incorporates a single, relatively thick "wire blade" with a unique spiral cutting edge. It looks a bit peculiar and doesn't look like it would cut very well, but it sure works. It is quite a bit bulkier than the B.C.B design due to the heavy duty ends with thumb screws which allow the user to exchange the wire "blade." This design is also available in a so-called "standard" version which is made with a lighter weight wire blade and permanently crimped on, less bulky, wire ends. It is a lot more compact, though a bit less durable, better for a mini size personal kit. The only drawback to these single wire style saws is that they aren't nearly as flexible as the traditional style multi-strand saw from B.C.B Survival, so packing one into a very small space, such as personal pocket survival kit, can be difficult, if not impossible. As a result, the BCB unit is a worthy product in its own right.
There are a lot of cheap imitations of both these style wire saws on the market. All of these knock-offs that I've examined weren't worth a damn. If you're going to carry one, it pays to get the good ones from a reputable source.
The other choice in the flexible survival saw category are the link or chain saw style. The original of the this style was the Pocket ChainSaw (formerly known as the Short Kutt Pocket ChainSaw) by Supreme Products. Until recently, it was the only one available. Now, another chain style saw has debuted, the Saber Cut from Ultimate Survival (Survival, Inc.).
Both these saws perform essentially as a human powered chain saw. It is absolutely amazing how fast you can cut decent sized wood with these saws. Easy enough so that you can easily use it for constructing more secure shelter than might otherwise be possible.
Read our complete review and evaluation of these two survival saws.
Folding saws (Browning, Gerber, Sierra etc.), bow saws (Sven, Sawvivor, Pack Saw, Wyoming, etc.) or the BuckSaw are not nearly as good as the Chain Saw style saws for taking down larger trees or cutting logs and they weigh quite a bit more and are bulkier as well. However, they are much better than wire saws.
For smaller trees, branches and logs, up to 3-5 inches, the folding saws are the best choice. If there is room in the kit, they are well worth it. We have tested a number of them over the years and they all do a pretty decent job, but the one I keep grabbing when I need one is the Gerber Exchange-A-Blade Sports Saw. This extremely agressive saw cuts green wood for shelters and such almost like butter and the handle is very comfortable. An alternative saw blade in the case works well on plastics, bone and hardwood. If they would just make a metal cutting alternative blade it would be perfect.
The smaller agressive saw blades found in the various models of Swiss Army knives and tools (both Victorinox and Wenger) and Leatherman tools are just scaled down versions of these folding saws and work very well. You are just limited because of their shorter length.
For bow style saws, carry extra blades because they can kink fairly easily. Some bow saws offer an optional metal cutting blade, which could be very handy to have. My pick of this litter is the Sawvivor or the Pack Saw.
Stanley, Bosch and some other woodworking tool manufacturers make folding saws that use a reciprocating saw blade. This allows you a wide selection of blades for both wood and metal. The metal blades in this style saw are a good solution for cutting up the aluminum sheet of your aircraft to improvise equipment and shelter. They can kink, so be sure to carry spare blades.
A simple hacksaw blade will also work in a pinch. Choose a bi-metal blade, which is less likely to break, and a coarse pitch, better for wood.
I should note that the small wood and bone saws in Swiss Army Knives, multi-tools and the like are really not much use for sawing firewood. You can more easily break such wood by hand or other means. Their primary worth is for cutting notches and slots and the like when improvising equipment. They can be useful, however, when cutting a small diameter green limb, which can be difficult to break off cleanly.
To the horror of many old time traditional outdoorsmen, I tend to avoid recommending hatchets and axes. It is so easy to seriously injure or cripple yourself using these tools that the risks outweigh the benefits, in my opinion. This is especially a problem if you are tired, cold or otherwise not in particularly great shape, not an unlikely possibility for any survivor. An axe or hatchet is not very forgiving of poor or sloppy technique, as many a person, experienced and not, has learned the hard and painful way. For the inexperienced survivor there isn't the time to learn how to safely use these tools, which have been known to bite even those with plenty of years handling them. A saw is simply safer.
An axe will also weigh a good deal more than even a combination of a Short-Kutt and a small hand saw or a tool such as the Leatherman Super-Tool which includes a small saw blade. If you are convinced an axe or hatchet is an absolute necessity, then you are probably experienced enough to select a good one. Without that experience, don't bother.
While some cannot fathom how one might perform many tasks without such tools, the fact is that many of the jobs an axe is well suited for can be done nearly as easily using alternate methods. For example, stripping the branches off a tree for insulation or shelter building can be easily accomplished with a "club" made from a short stout branch. If you slip or miss, the damage done is minimal. Using the old noggin is safer than using an axe or hatchet.
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