One of the most rewarding camp crafts you can make with very few materials and some basic knife skill is a wooden bow saw frame. There are many variations of this basic design and as long as you find a version that works for you, you’ll never have an argument with me. For this tutorial, I’ll present the very basic version made by my students in my Budget Bushcraft Course. With this saw, you’ll be able to process rounds of wood neatly for other camp crafts or for firewood preparation.
A stout belt knife (The KE Bushie by Fiddleback is recommended of course!)
48" of Paracord
1x Bow Saw Blade 21”
2x 1" stainless bolts (Must be able to fit into holes of the bow saw blade)
Step 1. Find the Right Wood
Locate a green sapling approximately 1” wide. Don’t harvest one that is too small as it will not have as much strength and don’t oversize your saw as this will make it difficult to handle and use. Be forewarned, green wood flexes and will eventually contract when it dries out. You will find it easy to carve but when you are done with the saw, disassemble it and let it dry without any tension.
Step 2. Cut pieces to size
Cut your pieces to size. A good measure is your forearm. Make your vertical pieces about this long. For your horizontal piece, make sure it is the length of the bow saw blade. You will cut it down to size when you fit it together. The final piece you need to cut is a turnbuckle. This piece doesn’t need to be too thick as there really isn’t any stress where the paracord touches it. Just make it thick enough for a handle. Either wrap your saw blade with a glove or use a smaller saw like that found on a Swiss Army Knife. You can cut the wood to size with your Fiddleback if you want, the saw just makes everything easier.
Step 3. Fit Saw Blade
To fit the saw blade, baton a small notch in the bottom of each upright piece. Don’t cut too deeply as this spit notch just needs to be wide enough for the saw blade. If you want, you can cut a notch on the outside of the saw frame where the bolt will come in contact. This notch doesn’t need to be too large.
Step 4. Horizontal Piece Fitting
When fitting the horizontal piece, first slightly angle in the upright pieces. Your saw will have less play in the design if you have this slight cant to the frame. Lay your saw on the ground and place the horizontal piece over it about ½ way up the frame. Giving too much clearance between the horizontal piece and saw blade will weaken the frame. Make a mark with your knife where you will create notches on the vertical pieces. Create two chisel points on the ends of the horizontal piece that will fit into the notches.
Step 5. Notch Vertical Uprights
Create notches in your vertical pieces to prevent the horizontal piece from jarring out of place. These notches need not be too deep as tension will keep the horizontal piece in place. Don’t cut down past the heartwood as that will be your ½ way point indicator.
Step 6. Create Cord Notches Toward the Tops of Uprights
When you have your saw assembled to this point, you can elect to create a notch on each of the uprights to prevent your cordage from slipping off. This step is optional and I’ve made saws work well with and without this feature.
Step 7. Apply Cordage
Take your length of paracord and create a double overhand knot in it to make a continuous loop. The loop you create should fit over the frame of the saw and there shouldn’t be a lot of excess cordage. Good thing you have a solid knife, right? Cut the excess down to size as this step will reduce the amount of turns your turn buckle will require in the next step.
Step 8. Turnbuckle Time
Take your turnbuckle and place it inside the continuous loop. You can also carve a hole through your turnbuckle and pass one side of the continuous loop of cord through it. As you twist the turnbuckle, you will add more tension to the cord. This tension holds your saw in place. How much tension you apply is up to you and there is no set correct amount other than that which is indicated by no wiggle or play in the saw. Remember, since this is green wood, you will need to deconstruct your saw and set it up again as the wood will shrink and require tightening down the line.
Step 9. Check fit and Finish
Before you use your saw, consider cleaning up the ends by beveling them. Think about keeping the bark on the uprights as you will want extra grip. Set up your saw how you want but make sure it fits firmly when you’re done.
Step 10. Get Sawin’
The saw you just created is not a toy. It is capable of actual work and beyond being something totally awesome, it is now a skill you can carry with you so all you need to physically carry is a saw blade, some cord and a few nuts and bolts. This project tests your knife skill and improves your survivability. Play with the design, experiment with something new each time you make it and make this skill yours to keep and yours to share.
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