Hand Saws: Types and Safety Precautions

carpenter's tools

Hand saws are used in many different DIY projects, from building a simple birdhouse to redoing an entire home. However, there are almost as many different types of handsaws as there are DIY projects. Check out this article for a complete run-down of handsaw types and safety precautions you should take while using them.

Saw Types

Rip Saw

A rip saw has large, chisel-shaped teeth, usually 5 1/2 teeth per inch, and is made to cut with the wood grain. Blade lengths measure from 24-28 inches. Teeth are cross-filed to ensure that the chisel point is set square to the direction of cutting for best performance.

This saw is best held at a 60-degree angle to the surface of the board being cut. The ripping action of the saw produces a coarse, ragged cut that makes the saw unsatisfactory for finish work.

Crosscut Saw

This saw is designed for cutting across wood grain and produces a smoother cut than rip saws. It has teeth shaped like knife points to crumble out wood between cuts. The most commonly used crosscut saws are 10-12 point for fine work and 7-8-point for faster cutting.

For general purpose, you can use a crosscut saw that is 10 teeth-per-inch. Blade lengths range from 20-28 inches, with 26 inches being the most popular. This saw can also be used to cut plywood. When using this tool, the best cutting angle is about 45 degrees.


A hacksaw is a fine-toothed saw designed to cut metal or plastic. These saws consist of a blade held in a steel frame with relatively high tension to hold it rigidly straight. High-tension models are also available.

Blades come in coarse, medium (18 teeth per inch), fine (24 teeth per inch), and fine-toothed (32 teeth per inch). Regular or standard blades are used for general-purpose cutting, while high-speed or bi-metal blades are used for cutting hard, extra-tough steel.

Most models of hacksaws can be adjusted to hold various blade lengths. Some have both horizontal and vertical positions for blades. Others provide blade storage. A close-quarter, or utility, hacksaw holds and positions the blade so it can be used effectively in narrow spaces and slots. Replacement blades include rod saw blades capable of cutting through most hard materials like stainless steel, chain, brick, glass, and tile.

Compass or Keyhole Saw

A compass saw cuts curved or straight-sided holes. The saw blades are narrow and tapered nearly to a point to fit into most spaces. Blades come in three or four styles that can be changed to fit the job, and some models have induction-hardened teeth for a longer life without sharpening.

Keyhole saws are small compass saws with finer teeth that can cut metal. Turret-head keyhole blades can be rotated and locked in several positions for easier cutting in tight, awkward spots.

Coping Saw

Used for cutting irregular shapes, curves, and intricate decorative patterns, the coping saw’s name comes from its usefulness in coping back the joints of molding when fitting two pieces together. This saw consists of a thing blade and a C-shaped steel tension frame. The removable blade is typically approximately 6 inches long.


A backsaw is a thick-bladed saw with a stiff, reinforced back to provide the rigidity necessary for precision cutting. It varies in length from 10-30 inches and is found in tooth counts from 7-14 teeth per inch. It is often used with miter boxes to cut miters.

Bow Saw

A bow saw is made of a tubular steel frame and a saw blade for fast cutting of all woods. The bow saw's frame is important, since the thin blade, usually 3/4 inch wide, must be held under high tension for fast cutting. This general-purpose saw has wide-ranging utility and is lightweight.

Some bow saws are designed to hold hacksaw blades as well as standard bow saw blades. These multi-purpose saws can be used to cut wood, metal, or plastic.

Dovetail Saw

Although they are similar to backsaws, dovetail saws are smaller with finer teeth. It is used for finish cuts, like cutting dovetail joints in woodworking. It is also commonly used for trimming molding and furniture repair, as well as cutting plastic and laminates.

Toolbox Saw

A toolbox saw, also known as a panel or short-cut saw, is good for ripping, crosscutting, and the general cutting of lumber, plywood, and particleboard.

Drywall Saw

A drywall saw resembles a kitchen knife in design, but it is used to cut drywall and plasterboard in the same fashion as a keyhole saw like those used for sawing holes for electrical-outlet switch plates.

The saw is self-starting with a sharp point for plunge cuts, and it may also have induction teeth for longer life without sharpening.

Plywood Saw

A plywood saw is specially designed for sawing plywood, veneers, laminates, and moldings. The blade, which cuts on the push stroke, is curved downward at the end to allow the user to start cuts in the center of a board. Keep in mind that this saw is not designed for cutting solid wood.

Standard saw lengths are 12-13 inches, generally with 14 teeth per inch.

Pull Saw

A pull saw is similar to most traditional saws, except the teeth are designed to cut with a pulling motion. These tools cut wood faster and with less effort because of the thinner, more flexible blade, and they feature teeth diamond-ground on three cutting edges.

Because of the flexibility of the blade and the minimal set to the teeth, the saws are excellent for flush cutting. Mini pull saws that cut sharply on the pull stroke are used for precision carpentry.

Plastic Pipe Saw

Plastic pipe saws are specifically used to cut PVC and ABS plastic, however, they can also cut wood and drywall.

Retractable Saw

This saw comes in a variety of designs and is engineered for the blades to either retract or fold back into a plastic or wooden handle; therefore, it is also called a folding saw. Some models have combination features, such as utility knives, on the opposite end of the saw blade.

Miter Box

Miter Boxes are used to help cut exact angles for wood trim and rafters. Better models provide a mechanism for a backsaw. These saws are made of plastic, hardwood, or aluminum.

Some boxes feature magnetic mount guides. The magnets grasp and hold the saw to the miter box saw guide or hold the saw blade to the plane of the saw guide.

Saw Safety Considerations

When using any type of saw, it’s important that you take the proper safety precautions. You should always wear proper eye protection, such as safety glasses or a face shield.


When selecting any type of saw, be sure to pick one that is the right size and design for the type of material being cut.

Checking for Screws and Nails

Before sawing, ensure the piece being cut is free of objects that could make the saw buckle, such as screws and nails.

Starting the Cut Properly with a Rip Saw

To start the cut properly, place your hand with your thumb in an upright position, pressing against the blade. Go slow at first to prevent the blade from jumping off the cut line. Then, after the blade is engaged, begin with partial cutting strokes and be sure to set the saw at the proper angle.

To avoid being hurt, the right saw handle should keep the user’s wrist in a somewhat natural position that is horizontal to the piece being cut.

During-Cut Considerations

During the cut, you should apply pressure only during the downstroke. When cutting longer stock, always be sure the stock is properly supported before you begin cutting.

When cutting with a hacksaw, use the full length of blade in each cutting stroke.

Saw Teeth

Dull teeth can be a safety hazard. Always make sure the teeth and blades are properly sharpened, set, and cleaned before using your machine. Always protect the teeth of any saw when the tool is not in use.

This article is courtesy of NRHA.org