Photos by Rob Brown; Illustration by Len Churchill
Know Your Tools: Western Style Handsaws
Western style saws, which all cut on the push stroke, can be loosely divided into three categories. Backsaws – including gents, dovetail, tenon, carcase, and inlay saws – have a rigid spine attached to the blade. Most fine woodworking saws on the market fall into this category. Frame saws have a flexible blade under tension between two fixed ends – these include coping, fret, bow, frame and hack saws. Finally, handsaws have a wide blade without a rigid spine, and fixed to a single handle. These include crosscut, rip, panel and general purpose (or carpentry) saws. Most Western saws can be re-sharpened. Saws with more teeth per inch of blade and a minimal ‘set’ (the distance the teeth stick out from the center of the blade) give a smoother finish, but cut slower. Teeth can be ground crosscut (for sawing across the direction of the wood grain) or rip (for sawing parallel to the grain). Good quality saws, if properly maintained, should last a lifetime. A beginner’s set consists of rip and crosscut panel saws for breaking down stock; crosscut and rip carcass saws for joinery; a dovetail saw for dovetails.
Price: Handsaws $25 – $450; Back Saws $70 – $390; Frame Saws $20 – $320
Overall Length: Handsaws 16″ – 26″; Back Saws 10″ – 16″
Throat Depth: Frame Saws 4-1/2″ – 12″
Saws aren’t difficult to use, but the techniques to follow for maximum efficiency and accuracy vary by saw type. Take a course (canadianwoodworking.com/courses), read (“Handsaw Essentials” by Chris Schwartz), or watch a video (search YouTube).
Protect the teeth on your saws. In the shop hang them on the wall or store in a cabinet. Use blade protectors when transporting them to and from the shop.
Depending on how often you use your saws, they eventually will need to be sharpened. Either learn how to do the job yourself, or send them to a reputable handsaw sharpening service.
Because Western saws cut on the push stroke you don’t need to pull the saw back through the cut. Lifting the saw slightly on the backstroke will reduce the build-up of dust on the cut line and keep your saw sharper.
To make perfectly straight cuts use a guide. These are especially useful when cutting mitres and dovetails. Make your own or purchase one (leevalley.com – search ‘saw guides’).