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Here's How: Select the Proper Handsaw for the Job

James Dulley on

Dear James: I am planning some major home improvement projects, but I am not comfortable using power saws. There seem to be a hundred designs of saws at the hardware store. Which one is best for home projects? -- Debra A.

Dear Debra: It is good you have a healthy respect for the hazards of using power tools, especially saws. With advancements in inexpensive cordless tools with common battery packs, people may have become too comfortable with power tools. This is particularly true where there are young children in the family who may pick up a tool and accidentally switch it on.

Using a handsaw may seem prehistoric to most people, but a handsaw can still be a very effective part of any tool chest. In fact, as you found when searching at the hardware store, many manufacturers are still producing a wide array of handsaws. Also, as building and materials have changed, the designs and materials for handsaws have also changed.

As with most tools, there really is not one best handsaw for every cutting task. Some are ideal for sawing wood, but if you try to saw drywall, new synthetic materials or ones with adhesives, the teeth either dull quickly or get clogged with the sawdust.

Two general classes of saws are Western and Japanese. Standard Western saws look like your typical saw with a tapered blade and a fancy pistol-grip handle. These saws cut the wood on the push stroke. The size and pitch (number of teeth per inch) determine how fast and how fine it cuts.

Japanese saws have the cutting edge on the other side of the teeth, so it cuts on the pull stroke back toward your body. With the blade in tension as you pull it, it will not have a tendency to buckle like a Western saw does. A company called Roamwild makes a Japanese saw with cutting teeth of different pitches on the top and on the bottom.

Having a thinner blade reduces the cutting force you must apply. Also, the design of the typical Japanese saw handle allows you to use both hands. Both of these facts make the job easier, especially for women who do not have the upper body strength of most men. The only drawback to a Japanese saw is the sawdust is pulled back over the cutline, making it more difficult to see.


For sawing standard lumber, you can choose between a ripsaw or a crosscut saw. A ripsaw has large, coarse teeth and is used for rapid cutting along the length of a piece of lumber. A crosscut saw has smaller, finer teeth for making final cuts down to the finished size. Most home center stores and lumberyards will rip a piece down to size for you with their power saws, so a crosscut saw would be a better choice.

You will also need some specialty saws. Most indoor projects will require cutting plywood and drywall. For these tasks, choose a saw with finer teeth that are hardened. You cannot sharpen hardened teeth, but they will last much longer when cutting these materials.

Don't forget a detail (miter) saw and miter box. A detail saw has a large, flat blade to fit into slots in the miter box for crisp cuts at a perfect 45-degree angle or when cutting a piece already in place. The blade is stiff with a reinforcing ridge along the top edge.


Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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