There's A Saw for That! Your Handsaw Handbook

Handsaws: the most iconic, and yes, hardworking of the woodworking tools. But sometimes it seems like there are as many kinds of saws as there are teeth on the things. Let's narrow it down a bit to the most useful ones you'll encounter.

The main categories of manual handsaws are ripsaw and crosscut saws, and both are usually 24" – 26" long. Panel saws are generally smaller, about 20" long.


That beauty pictured above is a vintage 1940s Disston D-7, and it's an example of a classic 26" ripsaw, which you use for sawing along the grain. The handle is set to put power behind the coarse toothline, which is 5½ points per inch. The saw plate is taper ground, which means it is progressively thinner toward both the back and the toe. This reduces binding in the kerf — aka the slit made by the saw — and permits a fairly narrow set for efficient sawing.

Also, check out how the rip teeth are configured like a row of tiny chisels with their edges at right angles to the length of the saw. This toothline separates the wood fibers.

For a new, high quality, full-size ripsaw, you'll probably need to spend about $300. Another popular option: Look for a vintage saw, since models made in the past are often just as good (or better) than the stuff on the market today. Expertly restored and sharpened saws are available in the $200 range. While many woodworkers are comfortable with general sharpening, major work such as straightening is best done by a professional saw wright.

Crosscut Saws

The example shown below is decidedly non-traditional. It's super cheap — around $16 — yet it's remarkably effective for stock breakdown that requires crosscutting. (Yes, you can use it to rip, but it won't work nearly as efficiently as a ripsaw.)

As the name implies, these saws cut across the wood's grain, so the tooth configuration is like a row of tiny V-point knives with the bevels of alternate teeth facing each other. This allows the toothline to effectively sever the fibers of the wood.

The teeth of the saw below are a version of a Japanese-style of crosscut teeth, featuring three bevels that have been made extremely hard by a special heat treatment called induction hardening. The super-sharp edges are very durable, which is good because they can't be resharpened by the user.

Power jigsaws

This saw is a compact and fairly inexpensive option for all general sawing. You can improve your ripping accuracy by also using a straightedge guide. Plus, the jigsaw will also serve for curved sawing work.


Want an great general option for hand sawing that's also affordable? Get a large bowsaw. Equipped with a wide blade, it can be used for long rip cuts simply by turning the blade 90 degrees to the frame, as I am below.

Choosing your saw: What are you cutting into?

Breakdown of rough lumber usually starts with crosscutting large boards to workable sizes. This is the place to use that cheap-and-cheerful $16 saw. Ripping, on the other hand, requires a lot of energy — either yours or from the electric company. If the stock wood is thicker than 4/4 you will want the bandsaw, but otherwise, any high quality rip handsaw is perfect. In fact, many woodworkers prefer to use hand tools as much as possible, as opposed to electric ones. With either method, the ripped edge will require smoothing later on with a hand plane or a power jointer.

For smaller, more precise crosscuts, a large backsaw is your friend. These cuts can be refined by shooting — a key woodworking skill that actually isn't hard to learn. For precise crosscutting I tend to use my table saw, but I often refine even these cuts by shooting, especially when it comes to precision joinery like dovetailing.

For accurate, dimensional ripping that leaves a smooth surface, the table saw is ideal. Hand-sawing is an alternative but the cut surface will require more planing.

August 13, 2018
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There's A Saw for That! Your Handsaw Handbook