Making the Cut
Choosing and using handsaws
In this era of power tools, hand-sawing might seem to be a waste of time. But a well-chosen handsaw is great for small jobs like cutting moldings or trimming wood while you're perched atop a ladder. Quiet, portable, and accurate (with a little practice), a handsaw is an indispensable tool.
Traditionally, saw teeth have been designed to cut either with the grain (ripping) or across it (crosscutting). Western-style saws — i.e., American or European — cut on the push stroke and have different-shaped teeth from Japanese-style saws, which cut on the pull stroke with a thinner blade.
These days, however, manufacturers have created hybrid saws that can both rip and crosscut. Some cut on the push stroke and some on the pull. That's not to say there isn't still a place for saws with traditional rip and crosscut teeth, which excel at certain tasks. It's worth laying out $20 to $25 for a multipurpose saw, $25 to $30 for a good Japanese saw, or even digging through Dad's workshop for a classic Western-style model.
All these saws do best used with a smooth and steady stroke, which allows the weight of the tool to do most of the work. To minimize splintering, push a Western saw into a board's good face, but pull a Japanese saw through a board with the good side facing down. Turn the page for more on these toolbox stalwarts.
1) Western-style ripsaw
Best For: Cutting solid wood with the grain.
Shown: Antique American carpenter's ripsaw with 5 1/2 teeth per inch (tpi). Cuts on the push stroke. Today traditional ripsaws are made only in England and are sold in North America mostly through tool catalogs.
2) Ryoba saw
Best For: Cutting solid wood, both with and across the grain. One edge has wide teeth for ripping, the other narrow teeth for crosscutting.
Shown: Japanese saw with 15 tpi for crosscutting, 10 tpi for ripping. Thin blade cuts on pull stroke.
3) Western-style crosscut saw
Best For: Cutting solid wood across the grain, as in studs, joists, and rafters.
Shown: English carpenter's crosscut saw with a 10 tpi blade that cuts on the push stroke.
1) Plywood saw
Best For: Plywood and other sheet materials, including laminates, used for underlayment, sheathing, flooring, and the like. Not good for solid wood.
Shown: Saw with curved nose for starting cuts in the center of a board. Cuts on the push stroke.
2) Toolbox saw
Best For: General-purpose ripping and crosscutting of lumber, plywood, particleboard, and plastic.
Shown: Hybrid saw with hardened, Japanese-style teeth that cut on both the push and the pull strokes.
3) Utility saw
Best For: Ripping and crosscutting plywood, particleboard, and softwood lumber for framing or trim.
Shown: Japanese-style saw with thin, replaceable blade and hardened teeth that cut on the pull stroke.
Fine Cutters1) Dovetail saw
Best For:Fine cuts in narrow wood, as when trimming moldings, making joints, or repairing furniture. Also good for cutting plastic, including laminate.
Shown:Saw with a brass back and a 14 tpi blade that cuts on the push stroke.
2) Dozuki saw
Best For:Very fine finish cuts for cabinetry and furniture-making.
Shown:Japanese saw with a 26 tpi blade that cuts on the pull stroke and leaves a very narrow kerf, or saw cut.
1) Azebiki saw
Best For: Straight-sided plunge cuts in the middle of a board for electrical boxes, switches, etc.
Shown: Japanese saw with a thin, two-sided blade (9 tpi rip and 15 tpi crosscut) that cuts on the pull stroke. No starter hole necessary.
2) Keyhole saw
Best For: Curved holes in plywood or solid wood for pipes or ducts through walls, roofs, and built-in cabinets.
Shown: Pistol-grip saw with interchangeable blades for different materials. Requires drilling a starter hole. Cuts on the push stroke.
3) Coping saw
Best For: Curves and intricate shapes in solid wood, plywood, or plastic.
Shown: Saw with a standard 6 1/2-inch replaceable blade. Blade is reversible to cut on push or pull stroke.
4) Flush-cutting saw
Best For: Cutting plugs, dowels, and tenons flush with the surrounding surface; delicate work in veneers and other thin materials.
Shown: Double-edged saw, with 22 tpi on both sides of the very flexible blade, made to cut in either direction.
Western-style rip teeth have a chisel-shaped tip, which lifts and peels wood fibers.
Baring the Teeth
Saw teeth are measured by the number of tooth points per inch (tpi). The fewer the teeth, the more aggressive the blade; the more teeth, the finer cut. Most saw teeth have "set," which means they tilt alternately left and right to make a saw cut (kerf) that's wider than the blade, keeping it from binding.
Crosscut teeth are beveled to sever wood across the grain.
Where to Find It
TOH private collection
Hida Tool Inc.
Western crosscut saw:
26-inch PAX Crosscut Saw
Thomas Flinn & Co.
Sheffield, England; available in U.S. through Garrett Wade
Model #324 12-inch Veneer Saw
New Britain, CT
SharkSaw #10-2312 General Carpentry Saw 12-inch
Carcass Saw (crosscutting), Independence Saw (rip cutting)
Takumi #10-2920 Mid Panel Saw 3 1/2-inch
Lee Valley Tools
Model #301, 6.5-inch
Stanley #15-275 pistol-grip 4-way keyhole saw
Our thanks to:
Robert Larson Company Inc., supplier of fine woodworking tools
San Francisco, CA