Tool Tutorial: Hand Saw

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Tools & Materials
Material List
  • scrap lumber (eg, 1x1 or 2x4 minimum 10" pieces)
Tool list
  • safety glasses
  • hand saw (eg 10" fine finish mini saw)
  • F-clamp or similar

    What's a hand saw used for?

  1. Hand saws come in many shapes, styles, and sizes. Whether you want to cut wood, metal, or other materials such as plastic and PVC, there is a specific saw for the job.
  2. Each type of saw requires its own technique for cutting. The saw introduced in this tutorial is called a “fine finish” hand saw for cutting wood (or PVC pipe). It is compact, easily operated with small hands, and can be used with or without a mitre box to make all directions of cuts. You can also use these instructions to operate a “crosscut saw” and a “backsaw”; these types of saws have teeth that cut while you PUSH the saw forward.
  3. If you are planning to use any other type of saw, such as a hacksaw to cut metal, a Japanese pull saw to make a detailed woodwork cut, a coping saw to make curvy cuts in thin wood, etc., you will have to use a DIFFERENT technique than what is described below.
  4. Safety Considerations

  5. Always use eye protection while using tools, including hand tools.
  6. The teeth on a handsaw are sharp; keep your fingers at least 2” away from the blade when you are cutting. If you want to use your thumb to guide the blade ABOVE the teeth as you make the first notch in the wood, make sure to move your hand before you start making your long cutting strokes.
  7. Operating the hand saw

  8. After you have measured your wood and made a line where you want to cut, determine which piece of wood will be the smallest after you complete the cut. Set the wood down on your work surface so the smaller end sticks out over the side and the widest edge is flat on the table.
  9. Adjust the position of the wood as needed so your mark is parallel to the edge of the table and overhanging the edge by about 3”.
  10. Clamp your wood securely to the table.
  11. Rest your saw blade along your cut line to check if anything will get in the way of your saw while you cut. Readjust your wood or clamp as necessary until you have a clear path for your saw and arm.
  12. Place the teeth of your saw on your mark, with the blade at 45° from handle to tip, resting on the far upper corner of the wood. For a clean 90° cut, keep the face of your saw blade perpendicular to the face of the wood.
  13. Grasp the saw handle with both hands, and gently drag the sawblade backwards a few times at your mark to make a small notch.
  14. For a more advanced technique, you can hold the wood with your non-dominant hand on the table side of the mark, letting your thumb rest on the blade above the teeth as shown to guide the blade and keep it upright. Use your dominant hand to drag the saw backwards to make your notch.
  15. As soon as you have a little notch started, move your non-dominant hand down the wood and hold it to the table, keeping your fingers at least 2” away from the blade as you cut.
  16. Push the saw forward gently without much downward pressure; the teeth cut the wood as they run sideways past the notch, not by getting forced down into the wood.
  17. Use long, gentle strokes to make your cut through the wood. Try to be patient with yourself and the tool as you learn - the blade may bind occasionally as you figure out how to keep your hand moving smoothly in the direction of the blade. Keep practicing, this new skill will feel easier soon!
  18. Helpful hints

  19. When you get close to the end of your cut, bring your saw teeth parallel to the floor and saw more slowly. Ask a partner to gently hold the end piece of wood in place so it doesn’t fall to the floor.
  20. Try clamping a scrap piece of wood on top of the piece you’re cutting, in line with your cut mark on the table side of the line. Use this as a “fence” or a guide to keep your saw oriented straight up and down as you cut.
  21. Environmental considerations

  22. Good quality hand saws can be resharpened when they become dull and used for many decades. Old saw blades can be fantastic starting materials for new projects, or recycled as scrap metal.
Extension Challenges
  1. Try out some simple woodwork projects to practice using your saw, such as the Tablet Stand, or the Tree Cookie Coasters.
  2. Make a set of building blocks! Grab a 2x4 and mark out your desired sizes and angles with a speed square. Cut the pieces with your hand saw, then sand them and finish them with a non-toxic, food-grade finish, such as cutting board wax.
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