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Several people have talked about having single edge knife so that you can cut down small trees. What is the proper way to cut or carve wood with a knife?

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

You really want a saw or camp axe for this purpose, but if using a knife you want one without serrations. Serrations are not a replacement for a saw. A saw cuts a kerf wider than the blade itself so it (with skill) doesn't jam. Serrations are usually placed near the handle which is exactly where you don't want them because this is where you have the most leverage for a push cut.

Getting onto technique itself, here are a couple of videos that show how to use a small knife (not a chopper) better than I could in words. If you have a proper fixed-bade you can use batoning which is a very powerful technique, but don't try it with a folder. (If you do have to use it with a folder, such as splitting wood in an emergency, unlock the handle a small angle so that each hit is not destroying the lock. This is dangerous and should not normally be attempted.)

Ray Mears - using a knife part 1 (knife skill starts 5 minutes in)

Ray Mears - using a knife part 2 (continues a minute or two into this video) knife skills

The start of this second video shows transverse batoning, the method that one would use to cut thicker or hard limbs with a small but sturdy fixed-blade knife.

Thinner and softer shoots and saplings can often be cut by bending the limb to pretension it, then cutting at an angle into the convex side. Be careful because you are cutting into what is effectively a spring.

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Hammering on the backside of the knife with a log is exactly what you want to do to hack down a small tree. – Thomas Rawyler Feb 20 '12 at 23:18
@Mr.Wizard -- What I'm referring to is the cutting down of larger wood in an emergency when all you have is a knife handy. The videos are excellent, but appear to be how-to on carving wood as opposed to chopping down small trees. – Russell Steen Feb 21 '12 at 1:34
On second thought, both answers are about cutting, so I will just make the question fit this perfectly excellent answer. – Russell Steen Feb 21 '12 at 1:49
@Russel as Thomas remarks, what is shown at the beginning of the video from is the way you would cut down a small tree (called batoning). I placed the Ray Mears video first because it provided more normal knife use and some basic safety concepts, before moving on to batoning. Also, thanks for the Accept. – Mr.Wizard Feb 21 '12 at 5:51
Russel why would you need to cut a small tree? If you need a stick to cook fish or meat any knife will do. To cut bigger trees get a folding saw and/or an axe. – Iouri Goussev Feb 13 '13 at 2:39

What you want to do is find a good knife, that is partially serrated, so that you can have the choice of cutting things with the serrations or without...

I personally recommend the CRKT M16-10KZ (EDC) or another knife of the M16 line, as they cut small trees/shrubs quite easily. I've used the M16-10KZ (3" blade) to cut stuff like this before and it does it easily.

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note: I am not affiliated with CRKT in any way, shape, or form.

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