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How to Cut Wood Without a Saw

Who needs a saw to chop wood? We have the 8 best alternatives.

Wood cutting without a saw sounds pretty crazy, right? Everyone knows that to cut anything wooden, you need a saw. Or do you?

There are some surprising options available when it comes to making cuts in wood, and there are some more obvious choices too.

So, let us show you how to cut wood without a saw.

8 Ways to Chop Wood When You Don’t Have a Saw

  1. Use a sharp knife.
  2. Use a drill to cut wood.
  3. A sharp axe is a great way to cut wood.
  4. Use a sharp machete to split wood.
  5. Chisels are a satisfying way to cut wood.
  6. Routers make light work of wood cutting.
  7. A lathe helps you create ornate shapes.
  8. A hand plane removes wood quickly.

Why Cutting Wood is Important

Humans have always cut wood. The first boats, homes, even firewood all required a knowledge of how to cut wood long before the saw was invented. Today, cutting wood is important because without this ability, these old skills would fade.

Plus, cutting wood is like the foundation of any well-executed project. Get the angles wrong, or the cuts in the wrong place, and the whole job could be a disaster. You can’t build a square frame without getting the cuts right.

Sure, a saw cuts clean lines and is quicker. However, neat is not always the answer, especially if you are shaping or sculpting that piece of wood. These different techniques offer a different outcome to the wood you are working with.

So, sometimes, we need to learn to adapt; use the things we have rather than worry about the tools we don’t have. Plus, who knows? By ditching the saw and picking up something else, you could learn new techniques.

On that note, let’s get into the different tools you need when learning how to cut wood without a saw.

What You Need

  • Sharp knife.
  • Drill.
  • Sharp axe.
  • Sharp machete.
  • Chisel.
  • Router.
  • Lathe.
  • Plane.
  • A sharpening block or stone.

Using these tools can be dangerous, so take precautions before you embark on any task. Here’s some essential safety equipment you will need.

  • Gloves.
  • Safety goggles.
  • N95 face mask.
  • Sensible work boots.

How to Cut Wood Using a Sharp Knife

The first thing you need to do is don the appropriate safety equipment. When using specific tools like a sharp knife, gloves may impede your handling ability. Also, a face mask may not be necessary when cutting, but it will be when you start sanding.

A sharp knife is an excellent tool for cutting wood. Whether you are shaping the material or cutting it into pieces, a knife is a reliable implement to use. Here’s how you do it:

1. Sharpen the Knife

Using a blunt knife to do anything is useless. You may as well try and chop through wood with a spoon. They say a bad workman blames his tools, so our advice is, don’t become that person. Look after your knife and keep it sharp with a wet and dry stone or a sharpening block.

2. Use the Correct Technique

Try using the slanting technique, by holding the blade of the knife against the wood and making an angled cut. Do the same on the other side so that you now have a V-cut. Keep repeating the process until the wood splits in two.

3. Try Different Methods

Another effective way to cut wood with a sharp knife is to make small chip cuts along a line around the surface of the material. As you work, chipping away as you go, eventually the wood becomes thin enough to snap with your bare hands.

4. Sand Smooth

When the wood splits, grab some sandpaper and smooth the surface.

Quick Hint

Use a buck knife for the best results.

How to Cut Wood Using a Drill

Using a drill to cut wood is so simple, almost anyone can do it. Because of wood dust, goggles and a face mask are a must if you want to avoid breathing in harmful pollutants.

1. Mark Your Line

Using a pencil, draw a straight line along the surface of the wood, marking precisely where you want to cut.

2. Drill Multiple Holes

Follow the pencil line carefully and make several holes along the surface of the wood. Try and space them as closely together as you can. You’re aiming for something akin to the perforations on a sheet of toilet roll.

3. Repeat

Repeat this process until the wood becomes so weak that it easily snaps in your hands.

4. Sand Smooth

Clean up the rough surface of the cut with sandpaper until it is smooth.

Quick Note

Using an Auger drill bit removes more wood and gets the job done faster.

How to Cut Wood Using a Sharp Axe

This ancient tool has been around since humans first started cutting wood. It was invented in Australia over 49,000 years ago (1). Its design has changed little in thousands of years, and it is still one of the best ways of cutting wood.

The best safety equipment to use would be safety goggles and hard-wearing work boots. Swinging an axe in sandals might lead to losing a toe or two.

1. Mark Your Spot

You can mark where you want to cut using a line, or by simply using an x.

2. Angle the Axe

Hold your axe at 45 degrees if you are chopping against the grain of the wood. If you are splitting with the grain, hold the axe at 90 degrees. Make your first axe mark just above the line on the wood.

3. Alternate the Cut

Every second or third swing, alternate the cut to the other side of the line so that you have a V-shaped cut, a bit like the one you make when using a sharp knife.

4. Repeat

Keep repeating this process until the wood gets thin enough to break. As you near the final few cuts, you can change the angle of the axe to strike at the weakest part of the wood to snap it. This speeds up the process and gives you a neater break with fewer wood splinters.

Safe Stance

Always adopt a wide stance when swinging an axe. It gives you a better sense of balance.

How to Cut Wood Using a Sharp Machete

Your machete should be razor-sharp, just like your knife. It makes the task of cutting wood a whole lot easier. Don goggles and the correct footwear when using a machete.

1. Mark Your Spot

Locate the spot where you want to make the first strike with the machete. Mark it with an x. You could draw a line, but the machete strikes are less accurate than using a drill, so it is unlikely that you are going to hit the same spot every time.

2. Angle the Machete

Swing the machete at a 45-degree angle and strike the surface of the wood. This works better when cutting across the grain. Like using the axe, when cutting with the grain, 90 degrees is the best angle to split the fibers of the wood.

When you get the hang of hitting the same spot, repeat the process.

3. Swap Cuts

When you have made sufficient progress, shift your attention, and start cutting the other side of the mark, using the V-technique, working your way deeper into the fiber of the wood.

4. Snap the Wood

When you are confident that the wood is thin enough to break, either snap it with your hands or use the machete by slicing through the thinnest part of the material to get a cleaner cut.


Use the “Pinch grip method” when holding the machete.

How to Cut Wood Using a Chisel

Chisels are as ancient in their use and design as the axe. Every carpenter and woodworker should have a set of chisels because they are multi-functional and satisfying to use. The safety equipment you might need should include goggles to protect against flying slithers of wood.

1. Secure the Material

Because you’re using downward force, you need to clamp the wood to stop it from sliding free when you hit the chisel with the mallet.

2. Get the Angle Right

Hold the chisel at a 20-degree angle, making sure that the flat side is in contact with the wood and the beveled edge faces upwards.

3. Be Firm but Gentle

Hit the end of the chisel with the mallet, making sure that you keep a firm grip. Gently direct the movement of the blade by levering the cutting edge upwards to remove slithers of wood.

4. Repeat

Repeat this process until you have removed the desired amount of wood.

Quick Hint

If you don’t have a wooden mallet, a hammer works just fine. You could even use another piece of wood as a mallet if you wanted to.

How to Cut Wood Using a Router

Routers are pretty versatile tools, so it should come as no surprise that they are effective when it comes to cutting wood. You will need a face mask and goggles for this exercise.

1. Install the Router Bit

Install the router bit and adjust the gauge so that you get the desired depth.

2. Mark a Line

Draw a line in pencil to show you where you need to cut. Drop the router bit onto the wood and pull the trigger, allowing the bit to engage with the material.

3. Direct the Cut

Move the router in the direction of the cut, making sure you follow the line.

4. Release the Router

When done, release the router and lift the bit out of the cut.

Take Note

Using a router gives you the option of changing the bit to provide alternative cuts and angles.

How to Cut Wood Using a Lathe

Lathes are excellent if you want to get fine detail in your project. They are a particular favorite of cabinet and furniture makers.

1. Find the Center

Find the center of the wood piece and place it between the centers of the lathe. Finding the middle of the workpiece is crucial if you want the cuts you make to be uniform and accurate.

2. Go Slow

Turn the lathe on at the lowest speed setting as you get a feel for how the wood cuts.

3. Apply Steady Pressure

As the lathe rotates, apply steady pressure with the cutting tool and remove the desired amount of material. You can cut circular and angled cuts with this technique. When done, switch off the lathe and remove your project piece.

Quick Reminder

Increasing the speed of the lathe helps to smooth out the surfaces of the wood.

How to Cut Wood Using a Plane

There is little else in the woodworker’s tool kit that rivals the satisfaction of planing a piece of wood. Watching as those thin curls of material lift off with every stroke forward is hard to beat.

1. Secure the Wood

You will need to secure your material before you begin using the plane. It cannot move while you apply pressure because this will affect the quality of the finish. Clamp it to the work table.

2. Keep it Sharp

As with other cutting implements, it is vital you keep the blade sharp if you want the neatest outcome. Use a wet and dry block or a grinder.

3. Follow the Grain

Set the depth of the blade by adjusting the plane and then working in a straight line, push the plane forwards, applying gentle downward pressure. Follow the grain of the wood and work in sweeps that cover the entire piece. Whatever you do, don’t stop halfway.

4. Flip and Repeat

Turn the wood over and repeat the procedure, making sure that the blade never leaves the surface of the project until you reach the edge. When you have achieved the results you want, remove the wood from the clamps.

For Best Results

Use a Jack plane for the quickest and best results.


Can I Use a Diamond Blade to Cut Wood?

The short answer is no. Diamond saw blades are excellent at cutting hard stone-like materials as well as tiles, but the soft fibers of the wood are not suited to the fine diamond grit of the blade.

Can I Cut Wood With Scissors?

It depends on the scissors and the type of wood. Balsa wood will cut using standard scissors because it is a soft and lightweight modeling wood. You can get industrial scissors that cut plywood of a certain thickness. These scissors are enormous, measuring over 12 inches in length.

Can a Tile Cutter Cut Wood?

It is possible, but the standard of the cut would be awful. The fine grit on the blades would rip and splinter the wood and leave you with more of a gash cut than a neat cut. Also, it would take longer.

Can I Use an Angle Grinder to Cut Wood?

Angle grinders will cut wood. If you hold the cutting disc against the surface of the stock and keep a firm grip, you can apply gentle pressure as the disc spins. It will be tricky to control and may jump a little, but it will cut through the wood. Angle grinder blades are aggressive and spin at 15,000 RPM, so don’t expect the neatest finish.

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Does Home Depot Cut Wood?

Home Depot does indeed cut wood. They only use course cut blades to accommodate all types of wood, so if you are looking to get a specific neatness, you might struggle. But for general wood cutting, Home Depot has a large wood cutting department.

Let’s Cut to the Chase

Cutting wood without a saw can be challenging, but it is often rewarding. Not only do you hone new skills, but you increase your versatility as a woodworker. Nonetheless, if you are going to use an alternative to the saw, a wise woodworker keeps all their cutting tools sharp.

If there’s one thing you should take from this, it’s that you should look after your tools if you want a hassle-free life when it comes to cutting wood.

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Headshot of Mark Weir

About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.