6 Different Types of Hand Saws and How YOU Can Put Them To Use

We get it, meandering through the hand saw aisle at your local hardware store can sometimes prove a bit daunting. After all, there seems to be a lot of different types of hand saws of all shapes and sizes. The ever-changing advertising and terminology can leave even the experienced woodworker’s head spinning.  So, today, we are going to cut through some of that confusion, (and yes, that pun was very much intended) by giving you a rundown on 6 of the common hand saws you might come across while perusing the aisles.

 

Infographic with a list of 6 different types of hand saws and their primary functions. Including bow saw, back saw, coping saw, keyhole saw, carpenters saw, and hacksaw.
The Basics

 

Back Saw: The Accuracy King

The term “back saw” generally refers to any type of saw that has a thick reinforced backing along the blade. This backing helps to prevent the blade from bending or bowing during the cut, which ensures a more accurate cut along with better control compared to the saws without this backing.

The stiff spline characteristic of the back saw

While back saws can be used for general cross cut purposes, they are better used for detail work and joinery – such as dovetails, mitres, box joints etc, because of their added degree of stability. The extra steel along the spine places an even pressure along the entire length of the blade which makes precise cuts much easier than with a carpenter’s saw.

Unlike the carpenter’s saws that most of us picture when we think of saws, the back saw has a rectangular blade and is shorter, usually around  35.5 centimeters (14 inches). Because the back saw has a spine that is thicker than the kerf of the blade, it is limited to material that’s thickness is less than the height of the blade – eliminating this saw for through cuts on thicker wood. The back saw’s teeth are closely spaced which allows for a smooth finish and clean cut – ideal for intricate work.


Best for:

Joinery
Accurate cuts

Coping Saw: The scroll saw of hand tools

the thin blade and u-shaped design of a coping saw

The scroll saw of hand saws.  The coping saw has a very thin metal blade stretched between two points on a thin, malleable, c-shaped frame with handle. Because the blade is so thin and the teeth are relatively small and closely spaced, the coping saw excels at making curved and intricately designed cuts with a fine finish – but the downside to the thin blade and closely spaced teeth is that these cuts take much longer to complete.

The blade of the coping saw can be reversed and removed which adds to the versatility of the saw – different blades can be purchased for different materials such as metal. In addition, because the blade is removable, the saw can be used to perform interior cut-outs from the centre of the material by detaching, inserting the blade in a drill hole, and then reattaching to the saw frame.

a crafter demonstrating a coping saw making a curved cut on plastic
Coping saws can cut on a variety of materials and are adept at accurate curves.

The thinness of the blade causes it to be relatively fragile and as the thickness of the material being cut increases, the accuracy of the coping saw decreases. Thicker material tends to cause the thin blade of the coping saw to wander and create wavy cuts – this restricts the coping saw to more delicate work on thin materials.

Best for:
Intricate designs on thinner materials
Curved cuts
Interior cut-outs

Bow Saw: The lumberjack

Hand drawing of a bow saw

While there are a few different versions of the bow saw, including some specifically designed for the shop woodworker, I’m going to focus on the common bow saw which we currently see most often in the hardware store.

The common bow saw we see in hardware stores is a versatile saw with a similar design to the coping saw but vastly different cutting ability. The bow saw gets its name from its design, which is shaped like…. you guessed it – an archer’s bow. It is comprised of a long, stiff blade held between two points on a D-shaped frame. Unlike the coping saw, the pistol grip handle of the bow saw is situated directly on the D-shaped frame. This location allows for more power to be directed into the cut – which gives an indication of what the common bow saw is mostly used for these days – quick, rough cuts.

The tooth layout on bow saws is unique in that they are not all angled in the same direction, which allows for cutting action on both the push and pull stroke of the cut. This, along with the low tooth count and deep gullets, results in demonstrably faster cuts than other saws. However, these factors also make for a choppy cut with a rough finish – good for quickly removing material, but not for work that needs a delicate, finished edge.

A bow saw sitting on a pile of freshly saw firewood

The bow saw is commonly used outside. Its tough metal blade, and rigid handle design make it ideal for cutting logs and green wood. Throwing back to its outdoor uses, the bow saw generally has two different blade styles to accommodate for the different wood you’ll be attacking outside –
the peg tooth: designed for dry wood
and the peg and raker toothed blade: designed specifically for wet wood.

The design of these blades is beyond the scope of this article, but I encourage you to pick the right one, or even one of each if you do a lot of outdoor work.

Best for:
Outdoor work on logs/green wood
Fast, rough cutting
Large curves

Hacksaw: The grinder

Red metal hacksaw

The hacksaw has a similar design to the coping saw and the bow saw and is primarily used for plastic or metal. It has a thin, wide blade, with a very high tooth count, which makes for exceptionally clean cuts. The blade is situated in a metal frame with a pistol grip handle, and varies in length depending on the model, though the standard is roughly 30cm. The blades are removable and there are a wide variety of types that can be purchased for use with different materials.

Best for:
Metal and plastic cutting
Pipes

Carpenter’s Saw: The Utility Saw

carpenter's saw with utility blade

Often referred to as the carpenter’s saw or panel saw the utility saw, is a versatile saw that can be used for a wide variety of applications and can come in several sizes. In the past, this traditional handsaw with its angular, triangle shaped blade and pistol grip handle situated at the back, came either with crosscut or rip cut angled teeth on the blade. This meant that you would often need two saws, a crosscut and ripcut, in your arsenal. However, in recent times most of these saws come with a design that holds both types of teeth, allowing the saw to cut both rip and crosscuts when necessary. These saws are often referred to as “universal” or “utility” saws – also look for saws branded as those with “hybrid” blades if looking for the utility saw.

artistic shot of a carpenter's saw on a black background

The blades vary in length but are generally longer than a back saw and have a lower tooth count. Much like the blade technology, which has changed with time, the cutting action on these saws has also changed. While most still cut on the pull stroke, as was the traditional design, there are models now that cut both on the pull and push, which allows for a much faster cut. The length of the blade results in a long cutting stroke, which also increases the speed, but at a detriment to accuracy and fine finish. Because the blade is a singular thickness throughout, unlike the back saw, the utility saw is not limited in the thickness of material it can cut.


Best for:

Dimensioning lumber
Thick material
Both crosscut and ripcutting

Keyhole Saw: The versatile handyman’s dream

Keyhole saws have a narrow, rigid blade attached to a handle. Think of this saw as the manually powered jigsaw.

The thin design of the blade allows for tight, curved cuts or interior cuts on panels, such as drywall or plywood – most often for outlets or switches. While the cuts won’t have as clean of a finish as a coping saw, the keyhole saw gets curves and odd cuts done fast.

a keyhole saw with pistol grip seen from the top and the side view

However, this little guy shouldn’t be relegated to only these odd cuts as it is a workhorse around the shop. For instance, the narrow design and sharp teeth make it ideal for cutting out quick mortises after drilling (especially if you aren’t keen on chisel work.)

Many keyhole saws come with a removable blade which opens up the possibility of using varied blades for different materials, and the saw’s relatively small design means it is easy to attach to a tool belt to be used for quick offcuts and utility purposes.

Here’s an example of an awesome use for a keyhole saw that we mentioned: Mortises!


Best for:

Interior cuts
Cuts in cramped, tight corners
Curves
Multipurpose

So, there we have it…

We hope these explanations on the common saws you see in the hardware store will help you feel less overwhelmed the next time you stand in front of the display and wonder, “Which of these saws is the right fit for my job?”

If you’ve found this article helpful we encourage you to share it with someone else who might need the info! Thanks for reading and get out there and cut your teeth on some hand saw projects! (That pun was intended as well)

 

8 Replies to “6 Different Types of Hand Saws and How YOU Can Put Them To Use”

  1. Wow I had no idea that hand saws came in so many different types and fulfill different functions.
    So what is the average amount of money you can spend on a hand saw? do you know?

    1. Hi Thabo,
      Thanks for the question!

      Saws can come in at a massive range in prices. The utility saws can be as low as 6-7 dollars for a cheap, throw away Craftright version (Geeze, modern mass production, right?) up to 60-70 dollars for the higher end Stanley FatMax saws. These are just hardware store brands – when you get into the specialty woodworking brands you’re looking at much more!

      I would say for most of the hand saws seen above, you can get relatively decent versions for 30-40 dollars (AUD) – they won’t stay sharp for as long, and don’t have the overall longevity in body, but they’ll do the job for most hobby woodworkers 🙂 I would avoid the ones coming in below $20 if you are looking to use them for more than a few projects.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. when you talk about the type of saw is only about manual handling? what about those being used in the furniture shop machine with an embedded cutting saw? Maybe you can discuss how to maintain the sharpness of the saw?

    1. Hey Ricardo,

      Thanks for stopping by!
      You’re right, in this case, I’ve referred to hand saws or tools that are used through muscle power and not motor power 😉
      Doing a post on power saws and also a post on the topic of saw maintenance are both super ideas, and I’ll work on putting the info out on those topics in the future. Thanks for the suggestion!

      Raff

  3. Thanks for writing such a detailed and informative post on this topic, I found it to be really helpful!

    My partner has an endless supply of tools and gadgets in the garage that I have never understood what on earth were used for (haha). At least I now feel confident knowing what each of his saws do 🙂

    Great post!

    1. Now when he tells you he needs another type of saw, you can’t answer “but you already have so many!” 😉 Happy to have helped a brother out, ahaha!

  4. The last time I used a hand saw, I ripped my trousers because it was not the one for the job. Good I didn’t injure myself. I used a bow saw in tight space instead of a crosscut saw. Thanks for sharing more details about each type. I should know better for the next time. Much appreciated! Ivan

    1. Aha! It’s easy to forget that, even though hand tools are inherently less dangerous than their powered cousins, they still have sharp edges! A crosscut saw can be useful in tight spaces, definitely better than the bow saw, but, the keyhole saw is likely even better 😉 Thanks for stopping by, Ivan!

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