Woodworking handsaws require more manpower than power saws and do not have the same level of accuracy and smoothness. However, woodworkers still use them for several reasons.
In this article, I will go over the pros and cons to using handsaws, types of handsaws, how to use a handsaw, and how to sharpen a handsaw.
By the end of this article, you will have all of the tools to get started with handsaws.
- What is a hand saw?
- Handsaw vs Power saw
- Handsaw vs Power Saw costs
- How to choose a handsaw?
- How to cut straight with a handsaw
- How to sharpen a handsaw
What is a hand saw?
A handsaw in woodworking is a powerless, manual saw used for cutting wood.
Not all handheld saws are hand saws. Handheld power saws, like a jigsaw or circular saw, are still power saws just like a table or miter saw
Handsaw vs Power saw
Handsaw Pros and Cons
|Suitable for all joinery types||Harder to master|
|More involved woodworking||Not as precise|
|Cheaper than power saws||More physical labor|
|Smaller and more portable||Need more saws for various tasks|
|No power required||More time consuming|
Handsaw pros explained
Suitable for all joinery types
You can use handsaws to cut any piece of wood needed for joinery. You can use a coping saw, or a fret saw to cut tight curves.
You can cut curves using a jigsaw or band saw, but band saws are expensive specialty tools and jigsaws are not the best tool for the job when cutting curves.
More involved woodworking
Woodworkers like woodworking for various reasons. Some like the design process, others like to try to create items for cheaper or of better quality, and others like the actual process of sanding, sawing, chiseling, and staining.
You are more in tuned with the wood when you use hand tools.
Now that may not be important for everyone.
The drawbacks of using handsaws may not outweigh the benefits of involved woodworking, and that is for you to choose!
Cheaper than power saws
It is much cheaper to have an arsenal of handsaws for the majority of woodworking tasks than to have an arsenal of power tools.
A hand tool user will need a handsaw, rip cut saw, crosscut saw, coping saw, and maybe even a dovetail and Japanese saw, to have most of the tools that they need.
A power tool user will need at least a jigsaw and circular saw to have the tools to satisfy those requirements.
Handsaws cons explained
Hand saws are more difficult to master than power saws and they require more skill to gain precision. Power saws can create a perfectly straight cut, but with handsaws, you are likely to have some form of human error.
Now, for the hand tool users, there are methods to correct those imperfections. One can use a planar to level out the cut after it has been cut to gain a smooth and even finish.
Like all hand tools, handsaws require more energy and manual labor and they are more time consuming.
You will also need various saws for different tasks. Handsaws are not ideal for multi use like power saws. You have the back saw, hack saw, Japanese saw, dovetail saw, and coping saw to name a few.
Power saw Pros and Cons
|Easier for beginners||Not suitable for all traditional joinery|
|More precise||More expensive but less saws needed|
|Less physical labor||Larger and less portable|
|Less time-consuming||Electricity or batteries required|
|Very versatile||More prone to injury|
Power saw Pros explained
Power saws are much easier to master for beginner woodworkers.
Additionally, power saws are more precise, require less manpower, and is less time consuming.
Power saws are also very versatile, and one saw can do a variety of tasks. For example, the most versatile power saw is the circular saw. This saw can cut wood up to 3.5 inches thick, is portable, and can be used for cross cuts, rip cuts, miter and beveled cuts.
Purchase my circular saw: Amazon link
Power Saw Cons explained
Table saws, miter saws, and circular saws are not suitable for traditional joinery. You will need a jigsaw or band saw to cut tenons and dovetails.
Power saws are also more expensive even though you need less saws.
Jigsaws, circular saws, and jobsite table saws are portable, but not as portable as hand saws.
Power saws also cause more severe injuries and should be used with caution.
To learn more about power saws, then you should check out my article “Power Saws Complete Guide”.
Handsaw vs Power Saw costs
Here is the breakdown of the cost to have the tools needed for almost all cutting needs.
Essential handsaw cost chart
|Ripcut saw||Cut along the grain of wood||$10-45|
|Crosscut saw||Cut across the grain of wood||$10-45|
|Coping saw||Cutting curves and angles||$10-30|
|Dovetail saw*||Perfect for dovetails||$15-80|
|Japanese saw*||Perfect for precision with less labor||$15-100+|
As you can see, there are some large price discrepancies with saw costs. In general, cheaper saws will be of lower quality, but that is not a rule of thumb by any means.
The lower prices are more budget end saws that I found online, while the higher costs are the more “quality” options.
Getting a ripcut, crosscut, and coping saw will cost you at least 30 dollars.
Ripcut and crosscut saws are commonly called handsaws and many of them have ripcut and crosscut ends to make it 2 in 1.
Essential Power saw
|Jigsaw||Cutting curves and smaller joinery||$30-150|
|Circular saw||Cutting straight and precisely||$40-180|
|Table saw*||Cutting larger pieces of lumber (like 4×4)||$120-600+|
When using power tools, a jigsaw and circular are the cheapest essential tools that you will need.
A circular saw cannot cut tenons and dovetails in traditional joinery, but it can be used for cutting wood to a precise length.
Jigsaws are a better tool for joinery to allow for smaller cuts. However, it is not the best saw for cutting curves because it causes common jigsaw issues.
How to choose a handsaw?
In woodworking, you will need handsaws to handle the different cuts that you will make.
Common woodworking cuts are rip-cuts, cross-cuts, and curved cuts.
You may also want a saw to cut through other types of material, like plastic and steel.
7 Types of handsaws
|Ripsaw||Cutting wood along the grain|
|Crosscut saw||Cutting wood across the grain|
|Hacksaw||Cutting wood and other materials, like steel and plastic|
|Coping saw||Cutting curves and cut-outs|
|Dovetail or Tenon saw||Specialty saw for cutting dovetails or tenons in traditional joinery|
|Flush cut saw||Cutting trims and leveling wood|
|Japanese saw||Versatile cross and rip cut saw|
I recommend having a ripsaw and a crosscut saw as a baseline. Most dual edge handsaws have a side for rip cuts and crosscuts.
If you need a saw to cut materials other than just wood, then a hacksaw is a necessity because the other saw types are wood specific.
Coping saws are beneficial for cutting out dovetails and for making curved cuts.
Japanese vs Western saw
Western saws are the majority of saw types and range from hacksaws, coping saws, traditional hand saws, and other specialty saws.
Western saws cut on the push motion and require different saws for different tasks.
Japanese saws cut on the pull motion and are also double sided to allow for rip and cross cuts. Japanese saws have thinner blades and are more accurate with proper technique.
Purchase my Japanese saw: Amazon link
How to cut straight with a handsaw
When setting up to cut with a handsaw, you will first want to mark the top and the front of the wood.
The top of the wood will show you where to start and the front will ensure that you are staying on track.
- Score the wood
- You will now score the wood by lightly cutting the wood to give the saw a ridge to sit in.
- Straighten the saw and straighten your hand
- Now you will align your arm and rest your thumb along the side of the saw.
- You will straighten the saw by looking at the reflection of the wood on your saw.
- If the wood’s reflection is straight, then you know your saw is straight.
- Cut the wood
- Now you will move the saw back and forth, cutting the wood with minimal force
- The cuts should be light, and you should not add pressure to the saw.
A lot of the tips and tricks that I learned with using handsaws came from this video from Jonathan Katz-Moses. He is the reason why I use the reflection to cut wood, and it has been a complete game changer for me.
How to sharpen a handsaw
If your saw is not cutting through the wood well, you may need to sharpen it or replace the blade.
To sharpen your handsaw, first you will need a saw sharpener to match the teeth per inch, TPI, of your saw.
- Angle the sharpener right under the first blade
- Perform one single light stroke with not pressure
- Repeat for the remainder of the teeth.
In this article we learned about the difference between handsaws and power saws. We look looked at the pros and cons for each, along with the differences in price and functionality. We also looked at the different types of handsaws and their function. We learned how to use a handsaw and how to sharpen one.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article and I wish you luck on your woodworking journeys!
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