The bow saw has been popular with woodworkers since Roman times. Early bow saws were made of wood, with a steel blade and a twisted cord or wire for tension. The design, which hasn’t changed much since its introduction, has been used for hundreds of years by cabinet makers and other craftspeople.
Today, the bow saw is rarely used as a hand saw for furniture making and general carpentry. In fact, many people use the bow saw for garden and woodland use—in addition to framing and roofing work. Read on for tips on how to find the best bow saw for fast, efficient cutting.
- BEST OVERALL: Truper 30257 Steel Handle Bow Saw, 24-Inch Blade
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: GreatNeck 15550 12 In Heavy Duty Bow Saw and Hacksaw
- BEST FOLDING: Sven-Saw 15” Folding Saw
- BEST LARGE: Bahco 10-30-51 30-Inch Ergo Bow Saw for Dry Wood
- BEST PREMIUM: AGAWA – BOREAL21- 21 Inch Folding Bow Saw
What to Look for When Buying the Best Bow Saw
A visit to any hardware store or online shop will reveal a large selection of saws, many of which are easy to use thanks to corded or cordless power. Even so, these multifunctional saws cannot compare to the simplicity, affordability, and portability of the bow saw—making it an ideal choice for gardeners, survivalists, framers, and roofers. Though the best bow is a basic tool, there are still aspects that warrant a closer look. Here are a few key considerations to make when shopping for the best bow saw.
Saw blades are usually rated by TPI (teeth per inch). The more teeth the saw has, the smoother the cut. However, a high TPI blade may cause sawdust to get caught in the gullets or the gaps between teeth, which can slow down the cutting process and can overheat the blade (shortening its life span). Bow saw blades are quite coarse—as few as 3 TPI and rarely more than 14—allowing them to make fast, aggressive cuts. Low TPI blades are great for greenwood; higher TPI models are better when cutting lumber.
Many manufacturers don’t mention TPI. Instead, the bow saw blade is specified as either wet cutting or dry cutting. Wet wood is more likely to bind the blade, so this blade will have fewer teeth (lower TPI). They may also be “raker-set,” where each pair is offset. Raker-set blades make a wider cut, clearing waste as they go. Unlike many other kinds of saw blades—which only cut on the push stroke—a bow saw often cuts in both directions.
Prices for replacement bow saw blades vary, so it’s worth shopping around for replacements. A higher price often means a better quality saw blade. Cheap bow saw blades often cut poorly and seldom represent good value.
In order for a bow saw blade to cut efficiently, it needs to be under tension. If it’s not, it will bend or twist, making the saw difficult to control, leading to cuts wandering off course. This is particularly important when cutting two-by-four lumber for partition walls or larger dimensions for roof beams.
On the original design of the bow saw, tension was applied by twisting a cord or thin wire. This pulled on the wooden frame. It worked but offered a point of weakness necessitating regular replacement. Modern metal-framed bow saws have either an adjustable screw or a cam lever (occasionally both) incorporated into the handle end. The former allows for precise variation in blade tension. While the latter usually does not—it hooks into premade holes and tensions as it closes—it is the more common method and is very fast.
A bow saw can be used for cutting storm-damaged branches from trees, general pruning, and sawing logs, among other tasks. Each of these jobs usually involves a full stroke, done rapidly. It’s an efficient action, but it can lead to badly skinned knuckles.
While not all bow saws have a knuckle guard, the best ones certainly do. On low-cost models, it’s usually just a flat metal band, which is simple but effective. On better models, it may be molded into the handle. Check that there is sufficient space to put your hand between the frame/handle and knuckle guard while wearing gloves.
Folding bow saws, regardless of quality, are an exception. The need for them to fold flat means a knuckle guard cannot be incorporated.
The majority of bow saw frames are made from steel tubing, which combines strength and durability. Although prone to rust, they generally have a powder-coating finish which provides a protective plastic skin.
Some bow saws, particularly folding bow saws, are made of aluminum. It’s not quite as strong as steel but is considerably lighter and thus the perfect tool to bring on a camping or hiking trip.
The most common shape is an open bow much like a child’s drawing of a bow and arrow. The gap between the blade and the back of the frame defines the maximum log or branch diameter that can be cut, so these have the greatest capacity. Triangular bow saws are also available. These are easier to get into tight spaces—among branches for example—and are popular with roofers. Folding bow saws, which are flat for transportation, usually follow the triangular pattern when ready for use, though some are trapezoids (a straight-sided bow).
Bow saws are primarily specified by their blade length. Compact 12-inch models have a modest capacity in terms of the thickness that they can cut but are still useful as an alternative to a pruning saw when dealing with large shrubs or small fruit trees, for example. They are also very portable and work great as part of an RV’s tool kit. At the other end of the scale, a 36-inch bow saw is capable of cutting through thick beams and felling trees up to 18 inches in diameter (the generally accepted maximum cut is equal to half the blade length).
Many of the projects that would be undertaken with a bow saw can also be tackled with a chainsaw. However, bow saws are a fraction of the price, easier to carry, require no fuel (apart from perhaps a good breakfast), and are very quiet. In experienced hands, bow saws can prove to be a quick and efficient tool.
Our Top Picks
After taking a detailed look at applicable features, it’s now time to apply them to bow saws you can buy today. Although our best overall pick is a great all-rounder and will satisfy many craftspeople, we’ve also looked at other bow saw models that offer specific benefits in their respective categories.
The Truper is a general-purpose bow saw. The steel frame has a substantial thickness, giving it good strength. It’s an open design, offering plenty of space between the blade and the back of the frame, which maximizes the size of lumber or logs it can saw. Blade tensioning is by cam lever, which is quick and easy. At 1 to 1½ pounds, the Truper bow saw is relatively light.
While the supplied blade is designed for cutting greenwood, dry cutting versions are relatively inexpensive, and the addition would give the buyer an exceptional all-rounder.
GreatNeck has a reputation for producing basic, good-value bow saws. This compact 12-inch model adds versatility by including a hacksaw blade along with the standard bow saw blade, so it can cut metal as well as wood. Despite the low cost, the frame is powder-coated to prevent rust, and there’s a simple but functional knuckle guard—something often missing on budget-friendly bow saws.
The 12-inch blade does limit cutting capacity, and the blade quality could be improved (replacements are not expensive). Nevertheless, it offers great value for the money as a tool for everyday jobs around the yard, or perhaps as an addition to the RV owner’s tool kit.
The frame design of a bow saw makes it an impractical tool to carry on excursions into the wild, yet it’s safer than an ax and is easier to use. The solution? Purchase a folding bow saw like this Swedish-made Sven-Saw.
With its extremely sharp 15-inch tempered-steel blade, the Sven-Saw can tackle just about any campground activity. It has an aluminum frame that won’t rust, and in addition to its space-saving size, it weighs around 1 pound. A 21-inch model is also available.
There is no bag provided, and finding one is something of a necessity to keep the components together. Losing the wing nut, for example, would prevent assembly and use.
Bahco’s reputation for making high-quality bow saws is unrivaled—they produce a range of tools to meet most demands. This 30-inch model has the capacity for heavy-duty cutting whether managing woodland or on the job site.
Although the steel frame is a common feature, the Bahco is thicker than most, giving it the high strength required to survive tough environments. Despite its size, this bow saw is lightweight and very manageable. It’s also powder-coated for rust prevention. There is a choice of blades to suit either green or dry wood, a substantial knuckle guard built into a handle that offers all-day comfort, and a fine adjuster for precise blade tension. It’s a larger bow saw than many will need but has few competitors for cutting large diameter branches or thick section lumber.
At a glance, the Agawa looks much like any other general-purpose bow saw, if more angular than normal. A sturdy, lightweight anodized aluminum frame holds a 21-inch blade designed for aggressive cutting and offering good capacity. The only thing lacking is a knuckle guard.
Undo one nut, though, and the whole thing folds in on itself. This not only makes it compact and easy to carry but also encloses the blade so it’s safe in the hand, or in a pack with other items. It assembles in seconds, automatically tensioning the blade as it does so.
It is more expensive than most bow saws, but for some, the functionality and undeniable convenience will be worth it.
FAQs About Your New Bow Saw
You should now understand the most important characteristics of a bow saw and have had the opportunity to look at some of the best available. However, you may still have some questions relating to their purchase and use. The following FAQ section provides answers to some of the most popular queries.
Q: What is the difference between a bow saw and a folding saw?
In general, a folding saw has a broader, sheet metal blade that extends from the handle and folds back into it for transportation. The mechanism is not unlike a pocket knife. A folding saw is a single-handed tool usually used on branches no more than a couple of inches in diameter.
Q: How do you fell a tree with a bow saw?
Initially, cut a V-shaped wedge near the base, one-third through the tree on the side you want it to fall. After removing that wedge, go to the other side of the tree and saw through toward the “V” at a slightly downward angle. Be realistic—maximum tree diameter should be no more than half the length of the saw blade. Tree felling can be dangerous, so if possible, learn from someone with experience.
Q: How long does a bow saw last?
Blade wear will depend on what you saw and how often. The steel frame itself is very durable. If it’s kept clean and free of rust, it should last for many years.