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Hand Saws Buying Guide

With its origins firmly in pre-history, it is possible that the very first hand saw was little more than a piece of an animal's jaw bone with the teeth intact. From these humble beginnings thousands of years ago, the hand saw has developed in to an extremely important workshop tool with all kinds of specialist saws being developed as the need has arisen.

Anatomy of a Hand Saw

Anatomy of a Hand Saw

There are two fundamental parts of the hand saw; the blade and the handle. Looking at the saw flat side on, the bottom edge of the blade, where the teeth are, is called the front and opposite to this at the top is called the back.

The part of the cutting edge closest to the handle is the heel of the blade and the other end of this is called the toe.

Many saws feature blades that are tapered, getting gradually thinner from the teeth up to the back. This tapering prevents the blade from getting stuck in the wood when making deep cuts.

Certain saws such as tenon, dovetail and dozuki saws have reinforcing spines along the back of the blade. This reinforcement gives added support to the thin blade which may otherwise bend or buckle when cutting.

Most saws have teeth that are set. This means that the teeth are bent sideways at a slight angle to the main body of the blade. Teeth are set alternately; one tooth to the left, the next to the right, the one after to the left and so on. This set makes the cutting edge wider than the body of the blade and again prevents the saw from getting stuck when deep cutting. The width of the cut made by the saw is called the kerf. ©

Types of Hand Saws

Ryoba Saws

Ryoba means "double blade" and ryoba saws have double sided blades. One side features ripping teeth and the other cross cutting teeth allowing the ryoba saw to be, in effect, two saws in one. Like all Japanese style saws, the ryoba cuts on the pull stroke. As the very act of cutting puts the blade in tension, Japanese saw blades can be and are much thinner than their western counterparts. This results in an extremely fine kerf even when the saws teeth have been set and a very straight cut. These saws have straight wooden handles which are usually wrapped in rattan. ©

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Dozuki Saws

The dozuki saw is capable of making very fine, very precise cuts. The blade on the dozuki is so thin that, despite cutting on the pull stroke to keep the blade in tension, it still needs the support of a reinforcing spine. This type of saw has a high number of teeth and produces a very clean, splinter free cut making it a favourite for fine jointing work, cutting mouldings for picture frames and other such tasks where finish is extremely important. Dozuki saws usually have straight wooden handles wrapped in rattan for a comfortable grip. ©

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Kataba Saws

Kataba saws have slightly thicker blades than the dozuki saws making them stronger. This extra strength means the blade does not require the reinforcing spine that the dozuki saws do giving the kataba saws unrestricted cutting depth. The kataba has the perfect combination of fine, flexible blade and large cut depth making it an extremely versatile saw. These saws are capable of cutting solid hardwood and softwood, plywood and composite materials and will leave a clean finish to the cut surfaces. Kataba saws are supplied mounted on straight handles with either a soft grip finish or a natural rattan wrapped finish. ©

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Handsaws

Possibly the most instantly recognisable type of saw, the handsaw is a popular choice when cutting boards and panel materials. Designed to cut on the push stroke, these saws tend to have thicker blades that taper, or skew, towards the toe to keep the overall weight of the saw to a minimum. Handsaws are available with blades that specifically rip cut or cross cut and some handsaws are capable of both types of cut. The large D shaped handle is designed to give the user a firm grip and maximum control of the cut. ©

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Tenon Saws

Tenon saws are built for cutting tenons and making finer, more controlled cuts. Much smaller than a handsaw, Tenon saws also have considerably thinner blades. As these saws cut on the push stroke, the blade needs to be reinforced to prevent it from buckling during the cut. This is usually done by adding a brass spine to the back of the saw to support the blade and also add weight to it. This reinforcement prevents the saw from making deep cuts but keeps the blade in tension allowing it to make very fine kerfed cuts. Because of this spine, tenon saws are also know as back saws. Similar to the handsaw, tenon saws also have D shaped handles. ©

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Flush Cutting Saws

Flush cutting saws are used for trimming dowels, plugs and tenons leaving them flush to the surrounding surface. Rather than having cranked handles and rigid blades like the veneer and reversible saws, the flush cutting saw has a straight handle and a flexible blade allowing it to bend and lay flat on the surface of the work. Flush cutting saws normally have around 20 teeth per inch and with no set to the teeth, will not scratch the surrounding area when cutting. ©

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Features to Consider When Buying a Hand Saw

Features to Consider When Buying a Hand Saw

1. Crosscut or Rip?

When buying a saw, it is important to consider what type of cutting the saw will be used for. Cross cutting, where the cut is made across the grain of the wood, has a different set of requirements to rip cutting where the cut is made along the grain. The number of teeth per inch and the shape of the teeth have a considerable effect on how effectively the saw will perform at either of these tasks. A cross cutting saw has teeth that are bevelled and shaped to sever the wood fibres as it cuts. This type of saw also has a high number of teeth per inch, usually above 10. A rip cutting saw has fewer teeth per inch normally around 4 to 10 and has teeth are shaped to splinter and chip the wood in order to perform the cut. Some saws can perform both cross and rip cuts. These usually have between 8 and 12 teeth per inch. ©

2. Push or Pull Stroke?

How a saw cuts has a massive impact on its design. The Western way of thinking has saws cutting on the push stroke but this pushing action puts the blade under compression. To compensate for this force that could cause the blade to buckle, saw blades that cut on the push stroke are either made thicker, giving a wide kerf, or require a reinforcing spine which can reduce the depth of cut of the saw. Japanese saws cut on the pull stroke. The act of pulling the blade through the wood tensions the blade automatically allowing it to be much thinner than a blade that cuts on the push stroke. A thinner blade is capable of producing a narrower kerf. ©

3. Hardpoint or Resharpenable?

Hardpoint saws have teeth that are impulse hardened to keep them much sharper for longer. This hardening, however, means that once the teeth become blunt the saw cannot be resharpened and must be disposed of. Resharpenable saws often cost much more than the disposable hardpoint saws but a good resharpenable saw will last a lifetime. ©

4. Teeth Per Inch

The number of teeth or points per inch of a saw blade gives an indication of how finely the saw will cut. The type of wood being cut should also influence your decision when choosing a saw. When cutting softwood, saws with a high number of teeth per inch are likely to clog due to the large amount of waste produced. So for softwood choose a saw that has a low number of teeth per inch say, 4 to 6 teeth for a ripping saw or 10 to 14 teeth per inch for a cross cutting saw. Hardwoods produce finer wood waste during cutting so choose saws with higher numbers of teeth per inch such as 8 to 10 teeth per inch for ripping cuts and 15 teeth per inch and finer for cross cutting. It is also worth noting that the higher the number of teeth per inch a saw has, the slower it cuts. ©

Tips From the Experts

1. When holding the saw have your thumb and index finger pointing along the saw in the direction of the cut and grip the handle with your middle, ring and little fingers. This will help to keep the cut straight. ©

How to hold a saw

2. A scored line rather than one marked out with a pen or pencil will be more accurate and will act like a guide to the saw blade. ©

3. Position yourself so your line of sight is along the back of the blade. This will help to keep the cut straight and square. ©

4. When cutting use the full length of the blade as this will allow the saw to cut more efficiently. Long, steady strokes cut the wood much faster than short, rapid ones. ©

5. Only apply force to the cutting stroke when pushing or pulling the saw. A lighter return stroke will allow the saw to clear some of the waste from its teeth to prevent clogging and will also give a more accurate cut. ©

Brands

Gyokucho

Made in Japan Gyokucho Razorsaws are the best selling replaceable blade Japanese saws both in Japan and worldwide. Each tooth is symmetrically set to ensure straight, drift free sawing and feature impulse hardened tooth tips for superior sharpness and to prevent tooth breakage. Exceptional in their performance, Gyokucho saws cut on the pull stroke and produce fine, straight kerfs.

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Sharpening & Maintenance

Sharpening

As soon as a re-sharpenable saw blade begins to feel dull or there is a drop in performance of the saw, it is time to re-sharpen it. When a hardpoint saw dulls, it is time to replace it. ©

If the saw is binding, or getting stuck in the wood, during cutting and the teeth of the saw are set, then the saw teeth will need re-setting. A saw setter is the best tool for the job as it will give a consistent set to the teeth all the way along the saw blade and looks very similar to a pair of pliers. Work on one side first setting alternate teeth and then turn the saw blade around and set the other side. ©

Saw teeth are sharpened using a file. When sharpening, clamp the saw blade in a vice ensuring the blade is fully supported. This will prevent the saw blade from vibrating when the teeth are being filed. If needed, reposition the saw in the vice as you work along the tooth line. ©

When sharpening ripping teeth, file straight across the tooth and when sharpening cross cutting teeth file at approximately 45 degrees to the tooth. This will ensure the accurate cutting edges of the saw teeth are maintained. ©

Maintenance

Always ensure the handle is fixed firmly to the blade. If the handle is loose it will result in a poor cut. If the handle is screwed to the blade then the screws can be tightened before use. ©

Clean the saw after use removing any wood waste from the teeth and gullets and give the blade a coating of light tool oil to prevent rust. ©

Use blade protectors on your handsaws to prevent the saw teeth from getting damaged when the saw is not in use. ©