The Humble, Essential Coping Saw
A simple saw is the secret to perfect trim
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.
METAL: Composed of the same high–carbon steel as hacksaw blades, these can make straight cuts through thin sheets of nonferrous metal or nonhardened steel, as when making a cutout in a tin ceiling panel.
TILE: A tungsten carbide—encrusted wire makes precise, curved cuts in ceramic tile for valves or drain openings.
Plastic: Helical teeth slice through solid surfacing as well as soft Mexican–clay tiles. Because the blade cuts in all directions, it makes sharp turns with only a shift in pressure.
WOOD: Coarse blades (those with 15 teeth per inch or fewer) remove material quickly, which helps you follow the line of your cut. Fine blades with 18 teeth per inch or more can follow tight curves, but they're slow. For most applications, a coarse blade is sufficient because you'll file or sand the cut to make the molding fit perfectly flush.
Where to Find It
Bahco.com, Throop, PA
Wood-cutting and metal-cutting blades:
(wood) CP304, (metal) CP307
Olson, Bethel, CT
www.olsonsaw.com Tile-cutting blade:
360–degree, Weeks Distributors,
What to Look For:
SKU#28, Great Neck, Mineola, NY