The hand saw - Everything you should know

Posted by Mark Newton on

 The Hand Saw

Are you jumping into the world of woodworking?

It's a therapeutic and fulfilling endeavor, but you might be wondering what tools you need to make your dreams come true.

Your tool collection should really include the traditional hand saw.

Whether tackling small jobs around the house or larger crafting projects like furniture-making, having a reliable hand saw in your arsenal goes a long way towards maximizing productivity and creativity.

In this blog post, we'll explore everything related to working with this timeless tool - from its history and functions to the different types of handsaws currently on the market.

Get ready for an informative dive into how a simple piece of wood and metal can transform not only pieces of wood but also our lives!


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 All good?... Alrighty, let's carry on then.


Let's start with the basics

​Here's an example of a typical hand saw at 24" to 30" long.


Crown 190 24-Inch Rip Saw with 4.5 TPI

Crown 190 24-Inch Rip Saw with 4.5 TPI



This is a 'Panel Saw', a smaller hand saw  (generally 20" or less).

Stanley 15-087 20-Inch, 8-Point Contractor Grade Short Cut Handsaw

Stanley 15-087 20-Inch, 8-Point Contractor Grade Short Cut Handsaw


​Both have a thin, flexible saw plate (Blade) without a rigid back. The type of cut you want to make with Hand Saws will determine the specific tooth pattern - whether it's rip, cross or combination (SASH).

PPI - Points Per Inch – is the number of teeth along the saw plate blade, measured between gullets (the inside dip between the teeth) - which determines how well Hand Saws can cut materials. A Hand Saw with more teeth will create slower, cleaner and finer cuts whereas fewer teeth create faster, more aggressive cuts that are usually less refined.


This is a Rip-Cut hand saw - Used to cut with the wood fibers rather than across them. A very important distinction!

Lynx Garlick Taytools Thomas Flinn British 24” Rip Saw with Taper Ground Blade, Stained Beech Handle 4.5 TPI Filed for Rip Cutting

Lynx Garlick Taytools Thomas Flinn British 24” Rip Saw


The 'Rip-Cut Hand saw' is an essential tool for any traditional woodworker. It's designed to cut along the grain (ripping cut) rather than across the grain (Cross-Cut).

It isn't considered a precision tool but it allows you to break down material in a fast and efficient manner.

What makes it unique is its tooth shape; rip-cutting saw teeth have a simple point with a sharp edge instead of a curved bevel on the FACE (front of the tooth) or FLANK (back of the tooth) found on crosscut blades.

Rip-cuts can be identified by their number of teeth per inch, usually 4 to 7 PPI, which is usually stamped onto the blade.

With fewer teeth, they're easier and faster to sharpen than a crosscut tooth pattern.


This is a 'Crosscut Hand saw' - Used to Cut across the wood fibers rather than with them.

Lynx Garlick Taytools Thomas Flinn British 26” Crosscut Saw with Taper Ground Blade, Stained Beech Handle 10 TPI Filed for Cross Cutting

Cross cut hand saw


Teeth have a beveled face and flank to slice through wood fibers for a clean cut.

As a result, they're more complex to hand sharpen but not difficult.

Expect 7 to 12 points per inch (PPI).

Then there's a 'Sash Hand saw' ​- Generally considered the jack of all trades, master of none.

A Sash tooth pattern is a combination of ripping teeth and cross cutting teeth.

If you could only buy one hand saw, choose a rip saw.

It'll rip well but cross cutting won't be as refined as a crosscut tooth pattern.

Trying to rip with a crosscut handsaw isn't advisable. 


The Back Saw

CROWN 195 12" 305mm Tenon Saw Brass Back, 13 TPI - Full Handle , Red

​A back saw will have the same features but with one distinction.

It will have a rigid spine (the BACK) made of brass or steel to strengthen the thin metal saw plate (blade).

Designed for precision with fine teeth and more PPI than their larger cousins (hand saws). Available with rip or crosscut teeth patterns.


The different Back Saw's

The Dozuki saw - Actually, it's a Japanese saw style, unrelated to the back saw but it shares many of the same characteristics.

SUIZAN Japanese Hand Saw 9.5 Inch Dozuki Dovetail Pull Saw for Woodworking

Japanese back saw


The Dozuki is considered to be the most precise saw available.

They have a very thin blade with around 26 PPI, making them perfect for extra fine cuts. They leave very little trace of saw marks.


The Dovetail Saw - This is a precise back saw for cutting fine dovetail joinery.

CROWN 188 8-Inch 203-mm Dovetail Saw with Full Handle

Dovetail Saw with Full Handle

It will have a high PPI count (15 to 20) and small, fine teeth.

Available in rip or crosscut versions with a narrow Kerf to leave a very clean cut. 


The Gent's saw (gentleman's saw) - This is a small dovetail saw with a turned handle rather than a vertical grip.

Thomas Flinn Pax Taytools 10 Inch Gent Dovetail Saw, Solid Rolled Brass Back, 20 TPI, 1-5/8 Inch Wide Plate, Walnut Handle


Thomas Flinn Pax Taytools 10 Inch Gents Dovetail Saw

During Victorian times, Gentlemen woodworkers used them to make models and musical instruments.

Considered the ideal design of back saw for such delicate and precise work.


The Razor saw - A tiny version of a Gents saw, used in model making today. 

Thomas Flinn Pax Taytools 6 Inch Razor Saw, Solid Brass Rolled Back, 40 TPI, 3/4 Inch Wide Saw Plate, Walnut Handle

Thomas Flinn Pax Taytools 6 Inch Razor Saw


Teeth are fine with a very high PPI so blades are replaceable.

They cut on the pull stroke with next to no tear out even with soft wood like balsa.


The Miter Saw - A larger back saw used in conjunction with a Miter Box to cut miters.


 IVY Classic 11114 14" Miter Back Saw, Hardwood Handle


IVY Classic 11114 14" Miter Back Saw, Hardwood Handle


Tenon Saw - A medium sized back saw designed to cut tenons for mortise and tenon joinery.

CROWN 195 12" 305mm Tenon Saw Brass Back, 13 TPI - Full Handle

CROWN 195 12" 305mm Tenon Saw Brass Back, 13 TPI - Full Handle

Fine teeth reduce tear out (13 to 15 PPI is typical for a tenon saw).

Sash Saw - A smaller tenon saw for cutting window sashes. These days the term is interchangeable with Tenon Saw.


Hand Saw Components

Handle - GRIP (part you hold on to).

Lower and upper HORNS (The handle curves over the top and bottom of your hand so you won't slip during a cut).

SAW NUTS to secure the handle to the saw plate (blade).

MEDALLION is an enlarged saw nut used as a decorative brand name maker stamp on the handle. Sometimes this will say 'Warranted Superior' to denote a generic branded saw. 

Saw Plate (blade) -  

The BACK is the straight, top, non cutting edge of the plate. Often used as a straight edge. A back saw has an added spine or stiffener (still called the back).

The ETCHING is the maker's mark etched into the plate.

NIB is a decorative nipple towards the front (TOE) of the saw plate. Using a piece of twine or string, it can secure a blade guard to the saw.

The TOE is the leading edge of the SAW PLATE (Blade).

The SAW TEETH pointing forwards to cut on the push stroke.

TOOTH SIZE STAMP is found towards the back (HEEL) of the plate. It tells you the number of points per inch.

​​The HEEL is the back of the saw plate (blade).


Frame Saws

The FRAME SAW - ​A frame saw has a thin blade, mounted to a H shaped frame. 

580mm Portable Frame Saw

Portable frame saw

There are two arms (Cheeks) pivoted against a main bar in the middle of the frame (The Stretcher).

They pull together at one end of the saw, racking (pulling apart) the blade at the other. 

With a much thinner blade under tension, you don't have to worry about the blade buckling during a cut. 

There are 2 ways to tension the blade on a Frame saw.

A Turnbuckle (hemp string) twisted with a Toggle. The Toggle is then wedged behind the Stretcher to stop it unwinding.

Today you're more likely to find a long, thin metal rod with a wing nut at one or both ends. 

A frame saw is as good at cross cutting as it is rip cutting.  

One other notable advantage is its ability to start a cut in the middle of a workpiece.

Remove the blade at one end, push it through a drilled hole and re attached it to the saw. You're ready to make a cut without having to enter from the edge of the board.


The BOW SAW - These days, a bow saw is a large metal frame with a coarse, wide blade under tension between it.

Bahco Bow Saw #9 All Purpose – 3/4" x 36" blade

Bahco Bow Saw #9 All Purpose – 3/4" x 36" blade

Also known as a Buck saw, it's main use is in rough work.

You'll often see a Bow saw used to cut fallen branches after a windy day. 

Not as capable as some of it's smaller cousins, the Bow Saw can make curved cuts.

They can cut upto 6 inches or so before the blade touches the wood.

The Hacksaw is a small cousin of the Bow saw.

Identical for the most part but the Hacksaw is a metal cutting saw.


The COPING SAW - A smaller bow saw, used for intricate, detail work.

OLSON SAW SF63510 Coping Saw Frame Deluxe Coping Frame/End Screw, Original

Coping Saw

It is ideal for dovetail joinery, intricate curves and fretwork. Blades are less than 1/4" from tooth point to back and designed to cut on the pull stroke, under tension.

A coping saw has a turned handle rather than a grip for cutting around corners.


The FRET SAW - Very much the same as a Coping Saw although the frame of a Fret saw is bigger (as much as 20").​

Olson Saw SF63507 Fret Saw Fret Saw, Flat Wire Frame


Fret Saw


A Fret saw will cut a much tighter radius than a coping saw.

It also has a deeper reach into the workpiece.

Blades are finer and thinner than a coping saw so a Fret saw is much more capable of fine and intricate work.

Capable of cutting metal and plastic, the Fret saw still has a place in a modern workshop.



We hope you liked this post and are enjoying getting to hopefully learn more along your woodworking journey. We ask that you bookmark the blog and tell your friends about it so we can continue to create more content and develop our little community of woodworking fans along the way.

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