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Saws 101

Basics - Back Saws - Coping or Fret Saws - Hacksaw - Hand Saw - Keyhole or Compass
Frame Saw - Japanese Saws - Timber or Log Saws


Handsaws have been around for thousands of years, ancient woodworkers are depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics sawing boards into pieces. Ancient bow saws have been found in Japan, twenty-four saws from eighteenth-century England are known to survive.

Disston is one of the most popular brands of handsaws, the founder Henry Disston was born in Tewkesbury, England in 1819, his family immigrated to America where he established the company despite several personal tragedies. The DIsston Institute site gives a detailed account of what he went through as well as the company history.

Patent Drawings assigned to Henry Disston & Sons

The Basics

The cutting ability of a saw blade depends upon three measurements, rake, pitch and set.

  • Rake
This is the angle at which the teeth are ground.
  • Pitch
This is the number of teeth per inch on the blade.
  • Set
The teeth are offset on each side of the blade on a straight set blade, on fine toothed blades they may have a wavy set in which several teeth in a row will be offset to the same side.

The distance across the points of the teeth is known as the kerf or the width of the cut.

Saw Types 

Back Saw

A handsaw with a rectangular blade with a reinforcing rib along the back, types include razor, veneer, dovetail and miter box.

Coping or Fret Saw


These saws use very narrow blades so intricate designs can be cut. The blade can be rotated a full 360° to negotiate tight corners. Inside cuts are started by drilling a small hole to allow the blade to pass through it, then the blade is inserted into the saw frame. Deep throated saws called scroll saws with frames having 18" clearance are available.

Using a Coping Saw



Hacksaws are usually used for cutting metal. however they are also very handy for cutting dowels and thin wood strips.
The blades are easily interchangable, the thinner the material the finer the blade should be, a rule of thumb is that three teeth should be on the material at all times.
Hold the material being cut in a vise positioned so that the cut is close to the edge of the jaws, use slow strokes (60 per minute) with not too much downward pressure.
If a blade is changed in the middle of a cut reverse the material and cut from the other side toward the orginal cut. A new blade will have more set than a used blade and will be ruined if cut is continued.



Handsaws are available in many sizes and configurations, a good general purpose saw is 26" long and has 8 teeth per inch. Crosscut saws (to cut across the grain) have teeth with a negative rake, ripping saws (to cut in the direction of the grain) have a zero rake.

How to make a cross cut
Cross cuts go against the grain, mark the cut with a square, guide the side of the blade with the knuckle of your thumb. Start the cut by pulling up on the handsaw two or three times, then push the saw forward at about a 45° angle, continue with full even strokes.
How to make a rip cut
Rip cuts go in the direction of the grain of the wood, mark a line to follow, start the same way as cross cutting, then continue with full strokes at about a 60° angle. If it is a long cut use a wedge to spread the wood apart.
Keyhole or Compass
American Style
Japanese Style

These saws have narrow blades to cut along curves or short distances. To start inside cuts one or more holes are drilled, depending on the shape of the cut-out. On longer inside straight cuts use the keyhole saw to make a cut long enough so that a regular handsaw can be inserted to finish the cut.

Traditional Frame Saws
Frame saws are useful tools for a great many jobs—often called bow saws, the traditional shape has two hardwood handles separated by a wood bar, with the blade below the bar and a twisted wire or cable above. The result is a squatty H shape that makes handling very easy. The wire is turned and tightened to add tension to the blade, which then cuts straight and true.
Japanese Saws
The teeth on these saws cut on the pull stroke, some have teeth on both edges of the blade, offering dual TPI. Dozuki, Ryoba, and Razor are popular styles.
Timber and Log Saws
Perfect for timber framing, log building, or any heavy cutting job. Use the starting teeth to introduce a kerf, then the 3 TPI main teeth, which cut on both the push and pull stroke, to quickly slice through the toughest jobs.

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