What You'll Learn

  1. What to Look For
  2. Choice Cuts
The coping saw is just a narrow blade held taut in a C-shaped frame with a simple handle. Yet it can literally run circles around any other handheld saw, even a jigsaw. With a coping saw, you can cut out a heart in the back of a child's chair or make gingerbread trim for your roof eaves. Equip it with the right blade and you can cut curves in tile or metal. And, of course, you need it to create one of the most useful and elegant cuts in finish carpentry—the cope, which earned this saw its name.

A cope is the best way to marry the ends of wood molding at inside corners so the joints stay tight. It's made by carefully sawing away the profile of one molding, leaving an undulating "cope" that overlaps the profile of the adjacent piece of trim. A tight cope joint signals a hard-earned mastery of this delicate tool.

So perfectly is this saw attuned to its task that it has hardly changed since it was invented almost 90 years ago. No power, no "improvements," no bells or whistles. Just hand, eyes, and tool skillfully engaged in the shaping of wood. Craftsmanship doesn't get any purer.

What to Look For

The size of the throat—the span between blade and frame—varies from 4 to 6 inches, yet all coping saws use the same 63/8– to 6½–inch blades. The few other differences between saws are just as subtle. Tension adjustment. All blades are tightened by twisting the saw handle. Some saws also have a knob screw (1) opposite the handle, which pulls the blade taut after the handle is engaged. The flap on the T–slot fitting (2) makes it easy to adjust the blade's angle when necessary. Rigid frame. A flat frame with a rectangular cross–section (3) will hold a blade in greater tension than a round bar of the same width (4). Slotted pins (5). With these, you can use blades with loop ends (see the tile–cutting blade at right) as well as the standard wood–cutting blades with pins in their ends.
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