Old vs New – A Quest For The Quickest

slice view of log showing rings
A completely unofficial and absolutely scientifically useless quest to find the answer. Which is quicker: Hand or Power? Photo; James Bath

Axe and Bow Saw vs Chainsaw

Through the years I’ve chopped down a lot of trees. Through the years I’ve limbed and sectioned a lot of trees I’ve chopped down. Through the years, I’ve split a lot of wood that I’ve limbed and sectioned having chopped trees down.

But in every case, I’ve only ever processed trees with either hand tools or modern power tools. Pretty much every time I’ve wondered; which would be quicker? Hand or power?

Whilst on a recent but regular family ‘wooding day’ I set about a completely unofficial and absolutely scientifically useless quest to find the answer.

To clarify, this article is not a ‘how to’ demonstration of safe and decent practise with either hand or power tools – just my own cerebral waffling to answer a question that has bugged me for a long time.

hand tools used to chop and limb logs
Hand tools. Photo; James Bath

James’ Predictions On What Will Be Quickest

  • Felling – power tools.
  • Limbing – power tools? Hand tools? Don’t know.
  • Sectioning – big win for power tools. Also, sore arms for hand tools.
  • Splitting – hand tools. Maybe. Or maybe not.
  • Overall winner? Ask me at the end.
power tools used to chop and limb logs
Power tools. Photo; James Bath

Now – an obvious flaw and to pre-empt any comments to the negative. Yes, of course, should I have to transport the wood I’d collected back to the log store without the use of modern motor vehicles then ‘power’ would win. But my question is purely about felling, limbing, sectioning and then splitting the wood for stacking. Transport is out of the equation.

Also, I’m not going to get too hung up on a specific cubic volume of wood. Trees selected are from the same plantation, grown in the same conditions and of the same age so give and take they were the same. Once felled, I measured out 20ft. of trunk, the length being the benchmark in this case.

With the clock started, and suitably dressed, the experiment began with the first tree felled by chainsaw. I wasn’t working at a crazy racing pace, but just a pace that would be realistic and allow a full day’s heavy work – aside from that I like my fingers/hands/legs/arms/head where they are and racing with a chainsaw will only end seeing red.

And so the day continued with a tree felled by axe and bow saw.

20 ft. of log measured on each of the fallen trees, they were then both limbed. All times are printed at the end of this article yet this, in my dull world, proved the most exciting part of the competition.

20ft of log to be chopped by hand and power tools
20ft. of log measured on each of the fallen trees. They were then both limbed. Photo; James Bath

In my mind the power tools would now start to open a considerable lead in the sectioning – which they did. Various hurtful comments from various family members will be left unprinted about my efforts put in on the bow saw.

With light fading, and plenty of extra trees processed for firewood, we stopped for the day in the woods and transported several trailer loads home.

Having to return to work the following day, my ‘wooding’ day continued into the dark however. Powerful outside lights covered the final, dramatic (ish) showdown between a mechanical log splitter and trusty splitting maul.

The Results: Which Was The Quickest?

So – the winner? See below…

Time – Power tools

  • Felling: 1min 42
  • Limbing: 2min 26 (20 ft.)
  • Sectioning: 6min 20
  • Splitting: 20min 12
  • Total: 30min 40.

Time – Hand tools

  • Felling: 3min 57
  • Limbing: 2min 28
  • Sectioning: 36min 40
  • Splitting: 13min 20
  • Total: 56min 25.

So, the overall winner was power tools by a closer margin then certainly I would have thought. A valiant attempt from hand tools in the splitting section and a very near miss in the limbing section are worthy of mention though.

Modern power tools can of course make our life easier, even in the woods. The times above speak for themselves – especially in the sectioning part of the experiment. No human could get anywhere near to matching the speed of processing from a chainsaw in this case. However loud and maybe a bit scary, I really enjoy using chainsaws.

On the other hand, nothing beats using an axe in my book. I generally am a bit old fashioned and simply adore swinging an axe. I always knew it would be close, but the results differing only by 2 seconds for the limbing section will now make me put the chainsaw down and use an axe in future.

Hand tools certainly feel more in keeping with being in the woods. With ear defenders, a sweaty helmet, stupidly heavy trousers, and boots on, you can’t help but feeling like a kind of an invader in the quiet beauty of woodland when revving a chainsaw.

logs ready for drying and burning
Logs which will be dried and then later used to fuel stoves and open fires in the cold and wet winter months. Photo; James Bath

I love our wooding days out. It brings together the family in a beautiful part of the world and we have fun, all in the name of collecting wood which will be dried and then later used to fuel stoves and open fires in the cold and wet winter months sometime in the future. Sad as it is to admit, I love working hard as well – even on a family day out. Most of us have a weird bug – the wooding bug we call it – and I’ve a bad case of the same.

In all honesty there is nowhere I would prefer to be, and with no other people when I get the call to go wooding. But give me a couple of days before the next one – my arms are done for the moment.

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James Bath is a Senior Instructor at Frontier Bushcraft and has worked with Frontier Bushcraft since 2011. He has been involved with the instruction of bushcraft since 2005. From a family of teachers, James has instructing in his blood and, whilst always still learning himself, is passionate about passing knowledge onto others where he can - his ‘unique’ and oft brutal sense of humour/sarcasm readily being deployed to hammer a point home.

8 Responses

  1. Dave Welsby
    | Reply

    Great article, I still prefer hand tools to power. I just enjoy the feeling of them and the workout you get by using them.

  2. Clayton Baldwin
    | Reply

    Enjoyed the read , as a ex forester/country ranger I always preferred to use hand tools nothing beats using a axe/saw over a chainsaw . What if you add on the amount of time required to put on the protective clothing required for said power tool just a after thought , lol .

  3. Mark Bunyan
    | Reply

    I have been using both hand tools and chainsaws for a very long time and have a Tutahi axe and a crosscut saw, be good to try them against the power tools 🙂

  4. Jim
    | Reply

    Excellently presented description on Frontier’s web-site! Humorous also which does accompany said experiment. I worked the timber industry 28 years and definitely have a hard time hearing tweety birds after running power saw. We never wore hearing protection for mutual safety reasons.
    However-when it comes to being in the woods for any chore nothing compares to the joy of traditional hand tools. My vote-near needless experiment yet well done!

  5. James
    | Reply


    Thanks for the read and comments. Completely agree with you – whilst I enjoy chainsawing, I’d take hand tools every time if I had a choice. But given we were out on a wooding day I wasn’t allowed to ‘play’ too much.



  6. James
    | Reply


    I hadn’t thought of that angle. If I did include time for putting on/taking off PPE it would certainly have been a tighter competition. And then if you include the hoovering time as sawdust falls out the bottom of your trousers all over the house…

  7. James
    | Reply

    Hi Mark,

    I’d like to give the Tuatahi tools vs powertools a go. I’d reckon it would be pretty close on a couple of cuts. I haven’t got any Tuatahi stuff so give it a shot and let us know!



  8. James
    | Reply


    Thanks for the comments – it was definitely a needless experiment but still a fun day out!



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