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.
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.
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