Sawing by Hand

Using a Handsaw at Home

Sawing wood is one of the most basic and necessary DIY skills. So its not surprising that whatever you do - be it cutting intricate shapes or sawing a plank to size - there's a saw to suit the job.

Most of us take wood for granted, but in fact, what saw you should use depends on the job. This also depends on the type of wood you are cutting. In spite of the widespread use of power saws, sawing by hand is often still the only efficient way to cut wood. The choice in handsaws is enormous and with many of them designed for specific cutting jobs, choosing the right ones is an important step towards successful carpentry.

When you use a saw, the cutting edges or teeth score into the wood. The kerf is the width of this cut. The severed wood crumbles into sawdust, and then away from the work piece with the spaces or gullets between the teeth.

Most saws have there teeth bent out from the blade with alternate teeth in opposite directions. This is the set. The set makes it far easier to cut with and stops the saw teeth from clogging with the sawdust. The set also enables you to adjust your cutting line slightly while you work, as it makes the saw cut a little wider than the actual thickness of the blade.

The size of the teeth makes a saw suitable for some jobs and unsuitable for others. Tooth size is a measurement, taken according to how many teeth there are per inch of saw, abbreviated to ppi. The more teeth a saw blade has the finer the cut. Consequently a saw with 16 teeth to the inch has 16ppi will cut finer, though slower, than a saw which has 12ppi.

For most jobs, a straight cut is normally all that is required - for this, you will need a hand or back saw.

There are several kinds of handsaws, but for most general-purpose work, a panel saw will prove the most useful. This gets its name from its traditional job of cutting up panels for wardrobes and cupboard backs, drawer bottoms and so on. A panel saw has a thin, flexible un-backed blade and will cut chipboard, ply, hardboard and any light timber. A panel saw can also be used for joint making, in some circumstanced. The best size for a panel saw is between 560mm and 600mm long and has 10ppi.

Although the traditional shape has scarcely changed for centuries, modern designs incorporate some new ideas. For example, one has a handle which can be used to measure angles of 45 degree's and 90 degree's, with the back of the saw serving as a straight edge.

Backsaws are identified by their steel or brass back. This has two functions: it grips the whole blade along its length to keep is rigid; and provides weight and stability when the saw is in use. The most useful type of backsaw is the tenon saw, used to make small accurate cuts both with and across the grain. For general cuts use 250mm to 300mm tenon saw with 14-16ppi is best.

Both panel and tenon saws are available with wood and plastic handles. The type of handle you choose is really a matter of personal preference. Wood tends to be more comfortable to use over long periods as it absorbs perspiration better, but plastic will almost certainly be cheaper and is less vulnerable to damaged.


About The Author

Johan Nickson is an Woodworking Expert at