'Tree cutting' vs 'Wood sawing'

I assume that chopping down trees uses the ‘tree cutting’ quality. But what about ‘chop a tree trunk into logs’ or ‘cut a log into planks’? It’s not clear what exactly the dividing line is between cutting a tree and sawing some wood. More practically, when I’m chopping down a tree with a hatchet, should I switch to the wood saw when turning logs into planks?

There really isn’t one. Many things in the code today are simply a result of rather disjointed implementation by different people at different times, exacerbated by technical restrictions of the code framework at the time.

Are you using construction menu or the tool itself?

I believe tree cutting would apply to rough cutting, like chopping down a tree or cutting it into logs. Wood sawing would be for more precise work such as cutting logs into planks.

Woah, what? You can use the construction menu to make planks? That’s confusing.

You can. Just check it out.

It seems like the questions were not fully answered, so I’d like to bring some more insight into this (all information provided here are based on the 0.F stable release and might vary for other releases).

This is correct. There a few things to mention:
A 1 tree cutting quality item allows you to fell a tree (by activating the item and choosing Chop down a tree) and to Chop a Tree Trunk into logs (also on activation).
A 2 tree cutting quality item allows you - aside from also doing what can be done with quality 1 - to also Cut a log into planks (when activating the item).
Higher quality does not offer more action options. However, when cutting down a tree, the game checks the tree cutting quality of the item used. Higher quality means faster cutting, so it’s better to fell a tree with tree cutting 2 than with wood sawing 2 (and chainsaws are even better; for every additional point in the tree cutting quality it halves the cutting time (base time around 1 hour at quality 1 or any wood sawing 2)).

A 1 wood sawing quality item does not offer anything on activation (from this quality alone). It is purely used as a crafting/construction tool quality.
A 2 wood sawing quality item allows you to do the same as a 2 tree cutting quality item on activation (nothing else).
Higher quality does not offer more action options.

Now, the [*] construction menu does also provide you with a Chop Tree Trunk into Planks and - depending on the version and/or mods you’re playing - maybe also with a Chop Tree Trunk into Logs option. These also require tool qualities accordingly.

Now, let’s talk about the differences…

There are two main points here:

  1. You can use a cheap (or self made) axe to chop down a tree and chop fire wood, but not create clean cut, useable planks.
  2. You first have to chop a large chunk of a tree up into smaller pieces to then turn them into planks.

So, you can cut down a tree with whatever you have and hack away on the trunks until they are items that can be moved, but you will need a well made axe or saw to cut them into planks.
Like before, to turn the trunks into logs it takes the tree cutting quality into account to determine the speed of the process.
In my tests the quality did not seem to influence the return rate, though, so the only thing that is lost with a low quality tool is time.

After that, you can cut the logs you’ve made into planks.
As long as the item quality is high enough to provide the Cut a log into planks option, there is no need to take another tool. The time is always the same and it seems to always produce 10 planks.

Now to the options in the building menu. I’m just going to talk about the Chop Tree Trunk into Planks option here.
While this provides a way to automating the clean up of tree trunks, it comes at a cost. It takes one hour and is therfore a bit slower than to cut them into logs (but usually faster than to cut them first into logs and then into planks), and it does only return 10 planks for each tree trunk, while the other method - depending on your skill - might provide more.

One last thing to mention: Using a tool with anyone of the qualities to turn trunks into logs can also chop up tree stumps. This is not possible with the construction menu option.

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Thank you for the very very solid answer! This is all helpful to know but it also highlights some confusing inconsistencies in the code.

This should be changed, to be fair: you can still carve a plank out of a log even without a proper axe, just a knife or something. It will take much longer, but it’s still totally doable.