Pruning Saw vs. Bow Saw for Trail Maintenance

When I first adopted a trail to maintain, I was given a manual that included a list of recommended tools to bring. Among the recommendations was a bow saw. I was expected to be able to cut branches up to six inches in diameter, and I would need a saw.

I had had plenty of experience with a bow saw when I was younger. I knew them to be, among other things, rather awkward. In recent years around the house, I had been using a pruning saw. So, I elected to buy a long, quality pruning saw with a belt scabbard. I used it with good results.

Recently I came upon a comparison of the benefits of the two types of saw. The bow saw should (theoretically) cut more efficiently, partly because of its longer stroke, but mainly because its thinner blade would cut a narrower kerf. This convinced me to try taking a bow saw for trail maintenance.

I hated it.

I didn’t do any empirical testing, but the bow saw did not seem to cut any faster or better than my pruning saw. (In some ways, it was worse, which I will get to.) In the end, the bow saw didn’t seem to cut more efficiently, and that pretty much closed out any advantages it might have over a pruning saw.

So let’s talk about the advantages that the pruning saw has:

1. The pruning saw was much more portable. It goes in its scabbard, which hangs on my belt. It’s right there when I need it, and it isn’t in the way when I’m not using it. In contrast, the only way to carry the bow saw that isn’t super-awkward is to carry it in your hand, which is fine, except that I need my hands for other things. There was no good way to hook the saw over my shoulder or over my pack that wasn’t in the way and liable to cut me.

2. The pruning saw cuts straighter. The narrow, flexible blade of the bow saw allowed the cuts to wander in directions that I can’t even explain. The comparatively stiffer blade of the pruning saw causes it to cut true and straight.

3. The pruning saw easily cuts from underneath. Even when a log is laying basically on the ground, it was easy to slip the blade underneath and cut upward.

I will go back to taking my pruning saw on trail maintenance outings. By the way, the saw I use is a Silky Sugoi 420.