How to Cut Wood without a Saw (8 Alternatives)

Last updated on August 4, 2020

How to cut wood without a saw? To be clear, a saw is ideal for the purpose. But here are eight alternatives in case you don’t have one handy. Read on!

When you hear the words “cut wood” your mind probably jumps to your favorite saw. You can picture yourself using it on one of the last projects you did. What would you do without it? What would you do without your essential tools?

By one definition, to cut means “to divide with or as if with a sharp-edged instrument.” While this may be easy by using a saw, which uses serrated edged items by definition, it can be done using a few other tools you may have sitting around. While you may jump to the idea of using a saw, here are some ideas of how to cut wood without a saw.



If you were asked to cut many other things, you may have thought of a knife first. Well in some situations, a good sharp knife will still work. This could be in the form of a pocketknife for whittling or a machete for chopping.

When using a knife of some sort you will find thinner boards easier to cut. You will also find it the most difficult to cut across the grain. Consider an approach like whittling where you attack the wood at an angle to the grain and peel it off in small chunks. This will basically give you a bunch of small pieces to cut instead of trying to go through it all at once.

When using a larger knife or machete, the swinging motion gives you the help of momentum to get through the board. If your blade wasn’t made for swinging tho it can be dangerous or damage the knife.

Always have a sharpener so you can keep your tool sharp. While this isn’t practical if you have a chainsaw sitting next to you, it can get out of a bind if your resources are limited. 



A router isn’t technically a saw. It’s closer to a drill bit but with higher RPMs and typically sharper bits. When you route the corners of the board you are shaving it to a certain shape. You can also cut shapes into a board such as letters and designs.

All of these activities are technically cutting wood without a saw. If your board is thin enough, you can even cut a board in half with the router. When doing this you may find it hard to keep a straight line without a fence or guide of some sort but cutting wood with a router is possible. Use a router table for cleaner results. 


Lathes are awesome tools that allow you to shape wood, unlike any other tool. Perfect for making a bowl or table leg, anything that needs to be round.

A lathe takes a piece of wood and spins it, and you hold different tools up to it to take off wood and round it. You basically cut the wood as it spins around until you get the desired shape. If you push down and take off all of the wood in one spot, you will end up with two pieces of wood that have now been cut by a lathe.

Axe, Maul, Hatchet

Have you ever chopped down a tree? Did you use an axe or a maul? Well, you just cut that wooden tree at its base, using a tool that isn’t a saw. Axes and mauls use the same momentum that can help a knife get through the wood but multiplies it by adding extra weight that all connects at the location you are trying to cut.

A small piece of wood may be able to get cut in one swing, but with repetitive hitting, you can get through exceptionally large chunks of wood. You will want to follow the same technique as a knife of attaching the grains in any direction but 90 degrees from the side.


cordless drill

Yes, you can put a hole saw in a drill and cut out circles. Since that still has the word saw involved, that’s not why I am going to count it. But you can still use a drill to cut wood.

If you get a drill bit you can drill a bunch of holes side by side until you weaken the wood enough to give way to some force you put on it. In some situations, you can even work the bit to the side like a router and cut wood, but the drill doesn’t spin fast enough and the bits are designed in a way for that to be efficient.


A Dremel can be used to cut wood using the same mentality as a router. You buy a sharp bit designed for cutting and the circular motion shaves off small slivers as the bit spins around. You can cut intricate shapes using this since the tool is so small and can cut curves well. This is one of the few options that you might still use for cutting if you have access to all of your favorite saws.



A planer shaves small uniform layers of wood off of a board to decrease the width. Imagine taking a 2×6 and making it a 1×6. It uses small blades spinning around very quickly as the wood is pushed across. While you won’t end up with two distinct pieces of wood often achieved when cutting, you will end up with a bunch of small shavings and a smaller piece than you started with. With enough patience, you can achieve similar results as a table saw with a planer.   



The last idea on the table is a chisel. It’s got a single sharp edge similar to a knife, machete, axe, maul, or hatchet but the momentum and weight come from the blow of a hammer. This gives you more control over where the blade sinks in.

Chisels are useful for many things, so they are often already found in a woodworking shop. Use it like an axe taking angles to the grain and you can use it to cut just about anything. The thick blade will also hold up better than a knife might as its already designed for use on wood.  


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