Knives have a place in the kits of all who enjoy activities such as camping, hunting and hiking. On many occasions it is necessary to cut wood, food, or other materials and a good blade is indispensable. Currently, there is a great interest in survival equipment and techniques, as so well illustrated by this publication. One of the items that is the focus of much attention is the knife, loosely referred to as a survival knife. These tools with large blades can perform many tasks and are often employed in cutting wood of rather thick dimensions by hacking or chopping. This does work, but there is also another way. In many cases it is both faster and quieter, which may be important if the worker wishes to be undetected.
One of the most useful items and one that is easily portable is a saw. Makers of outdoor equipment, especially cutlery, also produce small folding saws In some cases, the blades are interchangeable and are available with more than one blade pitch. A coarse blade is best for cutting wood whereas a fine blade works best on plastic or bone. Saws are available from dozens of manufacturers of outdoor equipment so it is impossible to describe more than a small sample of what is available. The saws I chose are among those that are readily available in many stores.
Most folding saws have blades that lock in position both when closed and when opened. Some have a blade that locks with the same type of lock back that is common on folding knives. Others have some sort of push button release on the side. Moreover, folding saws are available with blades that vary considerably in length. The shortest I have tested has a blade measuring only 4.4-inches in length and the longest measures 7 inches in length. Folding saws are available for as little as $10, but some sell for around $50. Within this range of size and price, there is a saw appropriately sized for any survival kit or pack. Obviously, I have not tested all models available, but some have come my way and I like them.
Using A Folding Saw
For those who are unaccustomed to using a small folding saw some general hints may be useful. First, most folding saws cut on the pulling stroke which is necessary because the blades are thin and flexible. If one were pushing the saw with considerable force and the blade happened to become stuck, there is a very real possibility of slight sideways motion bending the blade. Second, small saws should not be used with great vigor. Cuts should be made slowly and deliberately. Cutting a piece that is allowed to sag as the cut gets deeper will lead to the blade being pinched. A rigid saw blade may be forced into the cut, but a thin, folding blade is too easily bent to use force. Second, match the saw to the task. If you want to cut six-inch logs to be split into firewood, get a large bow saw. However, if you want to cut some saplings for a frame on which to lay foliage for a shelter, even a very small folding saw will do the job. All of the saws tested have blades made of stainless steel so maintenance is not a significant issue.
Characteristics of Some Folding Saws
Model Weight, oz. Closed, in. Blade, in. Open, in.
Gerber Exchange-A-Blade 5.5 8.1 6.1 14.2
Gorilla Gear 7.4 9.4 7.0 15.7
KutMaster Crush 9.5 8.2 6.6 11.6
Outdoor Edge Flip n’ Zip 2.3 5.0 4.4 9.4
Outdoor Edge Flip n’ Zip
The smallest of the saws in my equipment is the Outdoor Edge Flip n’ Zip, which has a blade that measures only 4.4 inches in length. This ultra compact saw weighs only 2.3 ounces, but it has a blade with an aggressive tooth design that readily cuts through branches and saplings that are as large as an inch in diameter. This little marvel is as compact as the average folding knife and features a back lock. The textured aluminum scales provide a good grip and as long as the saw is not used on stock outside the range for which is suitable, it will prove to be a most welcome addition to the pack or survival kit. Because it so small and light, there is no excuse for not taking this saw and a large knife on an outing. For belt carry, the Outdoor Edge comes with a pouch sheath with a Velcro® closure. Retail price of this saw is approximately $20.
The Gerber Gear Exchange-A-Blade is an excellent saw that not only has interchangeable blades, it also comes with two blades. One is coarse and it is suitable for cutting wood, but the other has fine teeth. The blade with fine teeth is suitable for making more precise cuts and notches such as those needed in making joints or fitting pieces together. The Gerber saw has a lock that holds the blade securely in both the closed and open positions. It is activated by a large spring-loaded push button at the forward end of the handle. Removing a blade involves loosening a knurled knob on the side of the handle opposite to where the locking button is located.
The conveniently sized handle on the Gerber Exchange-A-Blade is made of a rigid plastic. With a blade length of 6.1 inches and a weight of 5.5 ounces, the Gerber is a medium size model. Packaged with the saw is a sheath that holds both the saw and the extra blade. Retail price of the Gerber is approximately $20, and the fact it comes with two easily interchangeable blades makes it a good choice for many tasks.
With a weight of 9.5 ounces, the KutMaster Crush is the heaviest of the saws in my collection. However, it has a very rigid aluminum frame with the handle section covered by a rubber-like material that really sticks to the hand. The Crush has a blade length of 6.6 inches and when opened the overall length is 11.6 inches. Given the size and weight of the Crush, it is by no means my first choice for carry or survival use, but it would be a good choice for having in a cabin or other fixed location. The Crush is built like a tank, and it performed very well in cutting tests and with a retail price of about $20, it is a good value.
The Gorilla Gear saw is of rather large size, but it is convenient to use and the rubber-coated handle provides a secure grip. There is no lock to hold the blade in the handle, but after it is open a wire loop attached to a pivoted lever pulls the blade into the fully open position and holds it securely. Blade length on the Gorilla Gear saw is 7.0 inches and the edge is designed to cut wood. This saw is available for around $10, which makes it the least expensive saw that I have. Weight of this model is 7.4 ounces so it is easily portable. For someone assembling a survival kit for the lowest possible cost, the Gorilla Gear might just be what you are looking for. My preference would be for a saw that has a blade that locks in the closed position, but it would be easy to make a simple pouch sheath in which to carry the saw. Saws that appear to be identical are available from Coughlin and Coleman.
People who venture into remote places should carry a large knife, and I do too, but I also carry a small folding saw.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.