Starting with Woodwork Hand Tools – Hand Saws

Trying to keep the hand saw category simple is not that easy but we will attempt it.

There are two main types of hand saw design, western saws & Japanese saws. Simply put, western saws cut on the push stroke whereas Japanese saws cut on the pull stroke. Japanese saw users say that a Japanese saw has an advantage for this reason because the pull stoke puts the saw blade under tension, less flex, straighter cut. Western saw users are simply conditioned to their use, many have not ventured to Japanese saws. Both work, both cut wood. Japanese saws are lighter, not so robust as western saws, but generally have finer teeth for a finer kerf. (‘ Kerf’ is the slot the saw teeth leave after they cut).

Saws that have teeth designed to cut across the grain are called crosscut while saws that have teeth designed to cut with the length of the grain are termed rip saws. Both western saws & Japanese saws have rip & crosscut saws. Both western saws & Japanese saws can have combined teeth configurations that can cut with & across the grain, crosscut & rip, hybrid types.

Rip saws

Woodworker furniture makers main use of rip saws is for cutting dovetails and the cheeks of a tenon. Dimensioning the width of a full length of timber, ie a long rip cut with the grain, can be a journey. It can be done of course, many do, but I would buy an electric saw for this type of work, even if it is cheap type. Cutting dovetails and tenon cheeks require a nice saw. There are many fine tooth economical Japanese rip cut saws perfect for this work. Recommended to get started. Western rip saws are also available of course, but, very generally speaking, you will have to pay more to get a nice rip cut. As I mentioned earlier, Japanese saws being less robust require smoother less rushed strokes, probably a good idea anyway when cutting joints. A Japanese Dozuki saw has a back like small western saws which increases their stiffness for accurate cuts.

Crosscut Saws

Crosscut saws cut your workpiece to length, so are required in the workshop unless you have a nice plug-in mitre saw! Again, both Japanese & western saws can do the job well. Western saws are called carcass saws & tenon saws. A western carcass saw has a back which I like, a Japanese Katana saw is backless, not quite as stiff but has the feature of being able to cut through and larger width of timber because it is backless. But, you can get a Dozuki saw (with a back) filed with crosscut teeth. Again, I think it is fair to say that generally you can get a good Japanese back saw for crosscutting more economically than a good quality western crosscut saw. So, if you are starting out, try a crosscut Dozuki saw maybe.

Starting out two saw recommendation…

I think a dovetail saw (fine rip teeth – 14tpi up) with a back is the way to go, (tpi is ‘teeth per inch’).

A crosscut saw (around 12tpi – 14tpi cut crosscut) with a back is what you need.

From there you can make most furniture joints as well as cut stock to length. Good place to start, if you enjoy hand saws there is a whole new world ahead. Panel saws, mitre saws, lots of teeth configurations, lengths, with & without backs. Have fun…

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