How to Build a Bow Saw in 5 Simple Steps

How to Build a Bow Saw in 5 Simple Steps

There are very few outdoor skills that are more important than being able to cut wood. But the size and inconvenience of carrying typical cutting saws mean that they’re often left behind.

A knife can only get you so far. In an emergency, if you need to build shelter, being able to cut larger structural sections can make a huge difference in the quality of a shelter (we’ll cover shelter building in another post).

That's why every VSSL Camp Supplies comes standard with a high-grade wire saw, because it's light, portable, and is an incredible cutting tool! The absolute best way to use a wire saw is to make it into a bow saw and in 5 super simple steps, I’ll show you how to turn it into a cutting machine. STEP 1:

Remove the wire saw from the tin (Figured we’d start with an easy one).


Find a live, sturdy branch that you can cut off to a length of about two hand widths longer than the wire saw. Make sure the branch is not so thick that you can’t bend it, but not so thin that it doesn’t provide any tension.

The size shown here is pretty much perfect, but different species of wood will have varying rigidity, so test some for flexibility before cutting. You want to be able to bend it slightly, but not break it.


Wrap the canvas straps of the wire saw around your hands and cut the branch at the pre-determined length.

There are a few mistakes people make when using a wire saw: DO NOT wrap the saw around the branch. Try and keep the wire as straight as possible as you cut. Wrapping the wire around the branch causes too much surface friction and you’ll find the wire saw binds in the wood too easily.

And be patient. If you try and rush through it, the wire can get super hot and it’ll cause a weak point in the metal and snap. Cut slow and easy.


Once you’ve cut your branch to length, hook one of the canvas straps over an end, and place that end on the ground. Now bend the branch enough so that you can secure the second canvas strap to the other end.

The branch I had chosen was very rigid so I needed to anchor the branch behind my foot and leverage it with my leg, exactly like you would string a recurve bow.

Once both canvas straps are secured on the branch, you’re ready to go. If you find that you want extra stability where the canvas straps anchor into the branch, you can use your knife to notch out anchor points. However, I find that the canvas straps hold quite well on the un-modified ends as long as there is enough tension.


Begin cutting!

You’ll see how easily the bow saw now rips through the wood compared to when you were cutting with it wrapped around your hands. And again, keep in mind that cutting too fast can cause the wire to heat up and break.

PRO TIP: Just like with any saw, keep in mind what will happen to the branch as you cut through it. You want to make sure that the branch doesn't pinch the wire. If the wire does get pinched, wait for it to cool down for a minute before trying to yank it free from the tree. It’s breaking strength is higher when cooler and less likely to snap as you try and free it.

You’ll also want to make sure that you or others with you are outside of the path of any larger tree/branch might fall on when you’ve finished cutting through it!

In addition to making shelter, the pieces you cut can be used for fire, making camp furniture, cooking supports, emergency splint or even stretcher parts.


A couple pics of fires burning with wood I’ve cut using a VSSL bow saw. I like fires.

Try building your own bow saw and test it out for yourself.

And as always, be prepared!

- Todd Weimer, VSSL Founder  

Click here to check out VSSL CAMP Supplies, which comes stocked with a sturdy wire saw along with 70 other essentials that you should have on you anytime you're out exploring the great outdoors. 


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