Hand Saw Series - The Classic Hand Saw
posted on November 19, 2010 by Ralph Bagnall

traditional hand sawHaving covered some of the basics of our craft in the "Back to Basics" posts and building on the hand plane posts, I am posting this new series on hand saws. Hand saws make it possible to expand your range of work without the huge expense of large power tools. The urban or basement woodworker can work late into the night without disturbing neighbors or family. Building a tree house deep in the woods or working high on a roof are often faster and easier using these "cordless tools". Even in your fully equipped shop, many simple cuts can be done faster by grabbing a hand saw, and there is a deep satisfaction that comes from working with well made, well tuned tools. So let's begin by looking at the classic hand saw.

accurate crosscut methodThe image of hand saws everyone shares is the carpenter cross cutting a board resting on a bench or saw horse, so let's start there. "Western" style saws like this one cut on the push stroke, so start your cut with the blade near the handle resting on your cut line, and draw the saw back toward yourself, scoring rather than cutting a starting line in the board. Slowly pushing the saw away from yourself begins the cut, deepening the line. Start out slow and gentle to keep the saw from jumping out of the cut line. As the kerf deepens, you can saw more aggressively. Here, you can see that I hold the saw at a fairly shallow angle. This angle results in a longer kerf, keeping the blade and cut more straight.

crosscutting wood by handCross cutting at a steeper angle is much faster and perfectly suited for rough cutting where accuracy is not necessary. Note in both cases that I keep my thumb high up on the body of the blade to help keep the saw vertical.

Generally, the teeth of a hand saw are ground for either ripping or cross cutting boards. This modern saw is actually ground as a combination blade, and does both quite well, but typically, cross and rip cuts are made with different saws.

Rip cuts are essentially done the same as cross cuts. Keeping the angle low gives greater control. Use the pull stroke to insure that the blade is following the cut line. Here I have ripped a board and not wandered father than the width of the pencil line.

hand ripping wood hand ripped board

Resawing is one area where even shops with lots of big power tools often fall back on the hand saw. I have resawn planks that were too wide and too long to use any but the largest bandsaw. Mark the cut line around the board and be sure the cut is following the lines.

hand resawn woodEvery woodworker should own and know how to use this classic tool. You will be surprised at how fast it can be, and you will find yourself using it more than you think! In my next post, I will be looking at coping saws.

posted on November 19, 2010 by Ralph Bagnall
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5 thoughts on “Hand Saw Series - The Classic Hand Saw”

  • Darrin Jackson

    You should do a article on the Japanese Hand saws they are easier use they cut on the pull stroke

  • John

    It is amazing how some of the old school tools, are the best! Great little post!

  • Shannon Rogers

    Good post Ralph, I think too many people think that the hand saw is for only the purist hand tool woodworkers and requires a lot of skill to get it right. While no one should expect to be cutting perfectly on their first go around, some dedicated practice time will get your body in tune very quickly and you will be making square and plumb cuts. The key I think to the hand saw is if you can draw the line, you can cut it. No jigs are necessary and no set up. It makes for very fast work, but also opens your design up greatly because you are no longer slaved to the capacities of your power tools. Hooray for hands saws!

  • Ralph Bagnall

    Thanks to all of you, I appreciate the responses, and am glad to see the saw series is off to a good start.

    Japanese saws will certainly be covered in an upcoming post. I have several and use them regularly.

    As I tried to impart in my plane series, I tend to use hand tools in conjunction with power tools, not instead of. Knowing how to use hand tools as well as power tools can make you a better, more efficient woodworker.

  • Tom

    The other day I was working on a project and I got into a
    situation where a hand saw would ideal. From that point on
    I have begun to look for a good hand saw. I love my table saw
    etc, but there are times I need a good hand saw.
    Good article. please post more

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