Simple and strong, hand saws are one of the most important and useful tools for building things. Don’t be fooled by their simple appearances, though – each type of hand saw has a distinct purpose. To find out which is best for your project, let’s go through each type and see which one makes sense for you.

Types Of Hand Saws

These are the main hand saw types currently on the market.

Bow Saws

Bow saws are typically large-framed hand saws with coarse blades. The frame is bent into an arch shape resembling a strung bow, hence the name.

This type of saw is used to make large, rough cuts in wood. For example, it may be used to saw off branches or to cut logs for fire or shelter. Bow saws are known for their speed – the exceptionally long blade means more time can be spent cutting, and less time moving direction.

That said, they’re not the right choice for any delicate cut. Bow saws prioritize speed, not smooth or accurate cuts.

Dovetail Saws

Dovetail saws have a long, straight blade with a slanted, pistol-like grip. Dovetail teeth are extremely small, making them suitable for detail-oriented work like creating notches. A good dovetail saw will have at least 19 teeth per inch along the blade.

Crosscut Saws

Crosscut saws are a little taller and longer than the dovetail saws they resemble. However, while dovetail saws are meant for freestanding items, crosscut saws are meant to be used on wood kept in place with a vice.

Unlike some larger saws, crosscut saws specialize in detail work like pegs, pulls, drawer stops, and moldings. Table saws can destroy parts like these instead of cutting them to the proper size, so it’s better to do them by hand with a tool you can easily control.

Coping Saws

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Coping saws are instantly recognizable thanks to their square-shaped frame. This type of hand saw is especially good for making curves in wood, while the simple design makes it easy to adjust the blade. There are two points to keep in mind with this saw.

First, you need to get a good frame. Some hardware stores sell models that easily bend, and that’s bed. You should be able to find a solid metal frame for less than $20.

Second, make sure the blade you get has fine teeth. This slows down your cuts and reduces the chance of the blade catching on something and ripping wood out instead of properly sawing through it.

Many coping saws work well as a metal cutting hand saw for trimming metal pipes and similar items. As always, though, you need to be sure you have the right blade for the job. If the blade is too weak, you may not even be able to cut the pipe at all, much less get a clean cut.

Japanese Saws

Unlike most western-style saws, which cut on the push, Japanese hand saws are designed to cut on the pull stroke instead. This isn’t inherently good or bad – but it is different. Push strokes allow the weight of the body to be put behind them, making them ideal for cutting hardwoods like maple and oak. Pull strokes work better with soft woods like pine and cypress, where too much force can damage them.

These types of saws come in a variety of shapes, but the most important varieties are the Ryoba (a double-edged, multi-purpose cutting saw) and the Mawashibiki (a thin saw designed for cutting curves).

Keyhole Saws

Keyhole saws have a narrow, pointed tip and a thin blade. Unlike most hand saws, which focus on cutting with the full length of the blade, keyhole saws are designed to maneuver around and cut a variety of small, complex, and awkward shapes. Like most detail saws, these are usually used towards the end of a project, and the particularly small cutting teeth help to provide maximum control with each stroke.

Tenon Saw

Tenon saws are mid-sized hand saws used for creating joinery, especially mortise and tenon joinery. This makes it a particularly valuable tool if you want to simply connect pieces of wood, rather than nailing or screwing pieces together once you’re finished. Joinery requires more practice than most woodworking, so be sure to experiment with this saw and get used to it before you use it in a construction project.

Other Saw Categories

Aside from the individual types of saws, hand saws are broken up into several major categories.

Backsaws

Backsaws aren’t a specific type of hand saw. Instead, this name collectively refers to a variety of saws (including tenon, dovetail, and the Japanese douzuki) that have an additional stiffening component placed opposite the cutting edge. This stops the blade from bending as much and improves precision, but also makes it much harder to fully cut through something without widening the cut.

Crosscut Saws

Crosscut saws are designed to cut perpendicular to the grain of the wood, rather than along it. This is usually the first step in getting a piece of wood to the right size, and is followed by cuts that better align with the natural shape of the wood.

Powered Saws

Powered hand saws – including, most commonly, the electric hand saw – are used for times when speed is a little more important than accuracy. Powered saws come in three general shapes.

Circular hand saws are much like having a portable table saw. These are especially popular for cutting planks of wood to the correct size when bringing them down to a table would be inconvenient.

Chainsaws feature teeth attached to a rotating chain. While powerful, these saws have almost no precision, which drastically limits their value in construction. (Deconstruction, on the other hand? They are fantastic for that.)

Back-and-Forth saws, like jig saws, are designed to simulate the normal movement of using a hand saw. These devices rapidly pump a cutting blade back and forth. However, the thin, short blades mean they’re mostly used for small and simple projects, rather than the kind of long, deep cuts you might grab a bow saw for.

Blade Materials

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Hand saw blades are made with a wide variety of materials – and what you plan to do with the saw dictates which material you should use.

Steel

This is by far the most common material used in saw blades. Steel is inexpensive, easily shaped into many different teeth shapes, and strong enough to cut through most materials people use for building things. If you’re honestly not sure what to get, buy a steel blade. (For that matter, you may not have much of a choice).

Zinc

A rarer type of blade, zinc (and its companion, copper) are intended mainly for cutting large blocks of salt. This has limited application in households outside of art, so you probably don’t need a zinc saw, but they are available if you’re one of the few people who fall into this category.

Tungsten Carbide

Essentially “steel, but better,” tungsten carbide can hold a sharp edge much longer than steel tools. It’s also better at cutting metal, stone, and other hard materials that would quickly dull a normal blade, making it the material of choice if you plan to do a lot of cutting.

Diamond

While not necessary for most purposes, diamond blades are ideal for cutting through brittle materials that might crack and break if steel or tungsten carbide are used. Common materials cut with this sort of blade include bricks, glass, ceramic, concrete, and stone.

Note that most diamond blades are only available on circular (i.e., electric) saws. A few non-electric versions are available, mostly for coping saws. In short, while you can use diamond blades manually, this isn’t a good choice for most jobs that need this sort of blade in the first place.

Care And Upkeep

Every saw blade will wear out over time, no matter how durable the base material is – though diamond and tungsten carbide will last a very long time outside of constant, industrial-level usage.

In most cases, saws (or at least their blades) should be replaced instead of sharpened. Some saws, like coping saws and many electric saws, make replacing the blades quite easy. The main reason for this is that saw blades have a certain thickness for a reason. Shortening that too much can stop the blade from working properly, or worse, cause it to snap in the middle of usage.

Aside from this, saws should be wiped clean with a dry cloth after use and stored in a dry place. Most normal temperature changes do not affect saws, though you should not attempt to use any saw with a cold blade – it will be brittle, and that drastically increases the chance of it breaking.

Safety

Always follow the basic handsaw safety guidelines. Failure to do so significantly increases your chance of injuring yourself.

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