- Best Hacksaw
- Best Crosscut Saw
- Best Rip Saw
- Best Coping Saw
- Best Pull Saw
- Best Back & Dovetail Saw
- Best Pruning Saw
- Best Bow Saw
- Best Wallboard Saw
- Best Compass/Keyhole Saw
Best Hand Saw
Whether you are ripping down your own planks from fallen trees or cutting dovetails to assemble a delicate jewelry box, grab the wrong saw and you’re in for a heap of trouble. Selecting the right saw is a matter of knowing the job at hand, anticipating the grain of the wood and understanding what attributes make a good saw. The lists below will help you choose the proper saw for the job, but one major aspect requires a little explanation.
Will you be making cuts with the grain or across? A rip saw is used for cuts made with the grain and named for the process of ripping down boards. Crosscut saws are the opposite and their teeth are optimized for cutting against the grain. The difference is all in the teeth and using the right one will make the job easier, more accurate and help to make a smoother cut.
Beyond this, most saws are named for their intended task and are easy to distinguish. A pruning saw is meant for pruning while the wallboard saw isn’t useful for much else beyond drywall/wallboard work, so pay attention to the nomenclature. All saws benefit from hardened steel teeth. This keeps them sharper for longer and extends the time between sharpenings or replacements. The style of handle varies as much as the blade, but slight variations can really change how comfortable it is to hold. A handle that sits nicely in the hand will greatly improve your working experience.
Find the properly named saw, make sure the materials are of high quality, consider the comfort of the handle and check the teeth to make sure you’ll get an easy cut. After that’s said and done, it’s time to get to work.
I have to confess, of all the types of hand saws out there, hacksaws are my least favorite. To be fair to the hacksaws though, that's not their fault. The blessing and the curse of hacksaws is that they’re made for cutting metal. That's a blessing because there is no other handheld saw which is designed for that purpose; if we didn't have hacksaws, it would be much harder to work with metal. On the flip side of the coin, cutting meat is so darn slow, so I really don't like working with hacksaws.
Having said that, I'm really glad that hacksaws are around, because there are times when you really need one. Even people like me, who try and use power saws all they can, need a hacksaw from time to time. There are just some things you can't get to with a power saw.
What we normally refer to as a hacksaw is really a hacksaw frame, designed to hold a hacksaw blade. The whole saw is built around this blade, in an effort to make the blade cut as effectively as possible.
A hacksaw blade is a hardened, fine-toothed blade. You don't cut a large chip with a hacksaw, but a very small one. In fact, it's so small that some people have said that hacksaws don't cut, they grind. While those people are wrong, the chips you get from a hacksaw make it seem as if they are right.
The secret to a good hacksaw is how well it can hold the blade in tension. Hacksaw blades need to be held in high tension so as to prevent them from wavering or bending while cutting. But this high tension can wreak havoc on the frame itself, causing it to slowly bend and release that tension. For that reason, tool designers work hard to develop options that will withstand the pressure and which are adjustable to make up for any flexing they do.
Today's hacksaws have come a long way since those of our ancestors. Many use a toggle tensioner, making the act of changing blades much faster and easier. These toggle tensioners also need a screw adjustment to make up for any flexing of the frame, so that they don't lose tension. A hacksaw frame with a toggle tensioner that doesn’t have a screw adjustment will become sloppy over time.
Many modern hacksaw designs also take into consideration that most people use this as a two-handed tool. While small, a hacksaw has to overcome a lot of friction to cut so providing that much force usually requires two hands. The better tools are designed with this in mind, ensuring that there is a comfortable way for the forward hang to hang onto the tool.
While a vertical blade mounting is typical with these saws, they are designed in such as way as to allow alternate mountings for cutting in tight places or even flush cutting.
Another handy feature is on-board blade storage. This helps you to ensure that you always have a spare blade or two on hand. For maximum blade life, these tools should be used with a cutting oil appropriate to the metal being cut. That reduces friction, thereby reducing heat which is the worst enemy of any blade. It also helps prevent clogging of the blade, especially when cutting soft metals, such as aluminum and brass.
For overall quality I have to give the first place slot to Bahco. This is a solid-frame tool, which will make it much hardier over the long haul. While that adds to the tools cost, Bahco, like their parent company Snap-On, doesn't balk at that. Read Full Review
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Lenox is more known for their fine blades, than their hand tools. But in this case, they should be known for the quality of their tools as well. This hacksaw frame applies 50,000 PSI of force to keeping the blade straight which is more than any other hacksaw on the market. Read Full Review
DeWalt's saw is rather unique in that it's more than just a hacksaw. This saw can be used in more different ways than any other hacksaw I've seen. It also has a low-profile nose allowing it to be used in tight places. Read Full Review
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The hollow tube upper frame doesn't stop this saw from being extremely strong. It offers 30,000 PSI of blade tension. While not as much as the Lenox, it's still quite impressive. The hollow frame also allows blades to be mounted sticking out of the top tube, for use as a jab saw. Read Full Review
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Best Crosscut Saw:
For centuries, the crosscut saw has been the standard carpenter's saws. But it wasn't limited to just carpenters, seeing use with cabinet makers, furniture makers and even carriage makers. It is even more common than the rip saw, as lumber would come from the sawmill already ripped to size. However, it was typical for these woodworkers to crosscut the lumber to the length they needed, much like today.
Of course, cross-cutting with a hand saw is nowhere near as fast as doing it with a power saw. Even so, there are still times when it makes more sense to use a hand saw than it does to dig out the power saw and run extension cords for just one or two cuts. While many people use cordless power tools in that sort of situation, there are those of us who still prefer the old ways of doing things.
A crosscut saw differs from a rip saw mostly in the number of teeth it has. Rip saws can have larger teeth because the wood cuts faster with the grain and there is less chance of causing ripping or splintering. However, crosscutting a board carries both of those risks, requiring a saw that can cut through the wood fiber without damaging it. This is also harder on the saw with a much greater likelihood of causing it to go dull.
Crosscut saws range from 8 teeth per inch (TPI) to 12 teeth per inch. Obviously the more teeth, the faster it cuts. On the other side of the coin, the more teeth the saw has, the smoother it cuts. This is even more critical when cutting thin material, as it’s much easier to catch the edge of the wood, causing it to break, rather than cut. For that reason, a saw which has a minimum of three teeth for the board's thickness should always be used.
As with any saw, the most important thing is the quality of the steel used. The blades of these saws must combine a perfect match between flexibility and rigidness. If the saw is not rigid, then it will tend to bend on the push or cutting stroke. But some flexibility is needed in order to allow pulling the saw out without it binding. The teeth need to be hardened so that they will last and not go dull. The best saws use high carbon steel, so as to maintain the sharpness of the teeth through much use. Some manufacturers use a combination of steels, mating high carbon steel for the teeth with a spring steel for the body of the saw.
These saws come in a variety of lengths. Longer saws allow for a more aggressive cut with more teeth cutting through the workpiece on every stroke. These are often preferred for this ability. However, the longer saws require more room to use. Therefore, a carpenter may have more than one crosscut saw, adding a shorter "panel saw" to their collection.
Traditionally, the handles of these saws are wood, carved to fit comfortably in the hand. In olden times, many carpenters customized their saw's handles, fitting it to their hands. Today's saws aren’t customized as such, but some manufacturers are beginning to add elastomeric coatings to the handles in order to make them more comfortable to use.
I've picked a variety of saws here which run the gamut on price range. In each case, the saws I've selected are some of the most popular on the market, chosen by many for their quality and ease of use.
Lie-Nelson is all about quality. This company was founded to compete with old-world craftsmanship and they do that rather well. This 20" panel saw is the finest hand saw I've ever seen. Read Full Review
Pax probably provides the most value per dollar, or per pound, of any saw on the market. This saw is made of high carbon steel, the blade is 'breasted' keeping less teeth in contact with the wood at any moment and reducing friction. Read Full Review
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Lynx makes their saws of Sheffield spring steel. For those in the know, that's about the finest steel you can find for saw blades. This one is a 26 inch saw, with 8 TPI for aggressive cutting. Read Full Review
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While those high dollar prices give you some fine tools, it's still possible to get a descent saw without letting go of so much money. This saw, from Great Neck, is made of chrome nickel steel, combining rust-proofing with hardened teeth. Read Full Review
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This saw breaks all convention for a hand saw. Not only is it shorter than most, at only 15 inches but it has 9 teeth per inch, rather than an even number. That works out to a pretty good compromise between fast cutting and smooth finish. Even the plastic handle is non-traditional. Read Full Review
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Best Rip Saw:
Once upon a time, carpenters, cabinetmakers and furniture makers had to do everything by hand. There was no such thing as power tools, even in the largest of factories. Back then, a man's saws were some of his most important tools and quality saws could help him work better and faster.
I say "saws" in the plural because more than one saw was needed and we use multiple saws today as well, but today's saws are power tools. Our need for several is based upon the fact that no power saw can handle all cutting tasks. Likewise, the saws used by woodworkers of old were specialized, as no one saw could handle all the cutting the woodworker needed to do.
The two major saws in the carpenter's tool kit were their rip and crosscut saws. Rarely do you see anyone with a rip saw anymore, although most carpenters still keep a crosscut saw around for those times when a power tool just won't work. The difference between the two ( as with saw blades today) is how many teeth the saw has per inch. A crosscut saw has finer teeth which make a smaller cut, so as to avoid ripping and splintering the wood. But with a rip saw, the carpenter or cabinetmaker is able to cut at high speed, meaning little to no risk of splintering the wood they are cutting.
Ripping and crosscutting are quite different. When ripping, one is removing a row of cells in line with the direction that they run in. That's why there is little chance of causing splintering. The only splintering that is likely to occur is from wavy grain in the wood. Crosscutting, on the other hand, requires cutting across the grain, where individual cells of the wood have to be parted. Chances of splitting the wood are very high.
It's not uncommon to find that rip saws have blades with as little as four teeth per inch, although other manufacturers go for a more conservative seven teeth per inch. In contrast, crosscut saws will often have 12 to 16. These larger teeth can remove more material in one stroke, speeding up the cutting process, while still avoiding causing damage to the wood.
The most important part of any saw's construction is the quality of the steel used in the saw. The teeth need a high carbon steel, so that they will retain their sharpness. At the same time, the body of the saw blade needs flexibility, to avoid becoming damaged. Quality saws use a combination of different types of steel, with the teeth being made of a different type than the body of the blade.
Of course, high carbon steel is not rustproof, like stainless steel is. In fact, you'll find that the best handsaws are usually made of steel that is not rustproof. That's because stainless steel is a harder steel and not as flexible as what is needed for a saw blade's body.
Because of this, it is necessary to store the saw carefully to protect it from moisture. Some manufacturers offer sleeves or cases for this. If you don't have that, lightly oiling the blade will work. The problem with oiling the blade is that the oil could stain the wood on the next project that you do. If oiling is used, it is necessary to clean the blade thoroughly before using.
Rip saws are generally fairly long, allowing the woodworker to get a longer stroke and accomplish more with each stroke of the saw. For that reason, they are often 26" long. There are a few which are shorter, referred to as panel saws. These shorter saws provide more control to the woodworker, helping to maintain the cut line exactly as scribed.
The handle of these saws is carved out of solid hardwood. While simple, they are maximized for comfort. With the amount of effort that is expended in cutting hardwoods by hand, a good handle is an essential part of the saw's design. Properly designed, it will provide comfort, even without a rubber overlay, and prevent blistering from the work.
Don't expect these saws to be cheap. While they may look just like their inexpensive cousins, these are mostly handmade tools. You're paying for the craftsmanship that goes into them, not just a piece of steel. As quality tools, they're something you can expect to pass on to your grandchildren.
This is not the most expensive saw on this list, but I picked it for number one for its overall value. I specifically like the breasted design of the blade which reduces friction and makes cutting easier. Read Full Review
Lie-Nielsen saws are rather high dollar, but are an ideal example of you get what you pay for. Made to exacting tolerances, using the best of materials, this is a saw you'll be able to pass on to your grandchildren. For overall quality, I'd have to say they are the best. Read Full Review
For those who are looking for a handcrafted tool, I present to you the Wenzloff and Sons saw. This is a very old design, but still an excellent tool. Just don't expect to get it quickly; custom tools take time to build. Read Full Review
Lynx brings us down to a level that I can call affordable. While I appreciate the quality of those other saws, I would personally have a hard time paying those prices. On the other hand, this one might not be custom made but it's still got high quality. Read Full Review
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Best Coping Saw:
I remember my first coping saw when it came as part of a child's tool kit my parents gave me for Christmas when I was about eight years old. I guess that warped my opinion of coping saws for years. I tended to treat them like a child's toy, that is, until the first time I put up crown molding.
As far as manual hand saws go, this is the only one that is designed to allow cutting curves which makes it special. Cabinetmakers and furniture makers have used coping saws for years to add embellishment to their work. Many styles of furniture including Victorian and Colonial would have been impossible to build without the coping saw. Can you imagine trying to cut the rockers for a rocking chair without a saw that allowed cutting curves?
The coping saw is the predecessor to both the scroll saw and the jig saw. Being able to cut curves that will fit together, it was also a prime tool for use in doing inlay work, specifically in creating the inlays themselves. More than anything, it was used by carpenters in olden times to "cope" pieces of molding together. Today these saws are still used by experienced finish carpenters to do the same thing.
When installing baseboard, it is easier to make inside corners match perfectly if they are "coped" rather than being mitered. Mitered corners require a perfect 90 degree corner to fit together correctly. However, by cutting one piece of the molding out in a profile to fit over the other, the need for a mitered corner is eliminated. The first piece can be cut at 90 degrees and the second coped out to match it. This gives the appearance of a mitered corner, without any of the problems.
The same basic idea can be used for inside corners with cove molding. In this case, a miter saw is used to make a 45 degree cut on the top piece of molding, in order to create a line. A coping saw is then used to cut along the edge of that line, making a profile which will fit snug against the first piece.
For a coping saw to work well, it is essential the blade be held firmly. These blades are very small and easily twisted by the grain of the wood. The higher the tension the saw is able to provide, the less of a chance that the blade will follow the grain rather than going where you direct it.
The clamping mechanism for the blade is important as well for creating tension. Typically, these saws have pinned blades like scroll saws which makes blade changing easy; some saws make that even easier by adding a toggle lever for blade release. But it's also important the saw have a good means of tightening the blade. Most do this by allowing the handle to screw into and out of the frame.
Some of the best coping saws are referred to as "fret saws”. That's because they’re intended for cutting the slots for inserting the fret wire in guitars and other fretted string instruments. These cuts have to be extremely straight and extremely precise so obviously an excellent quality saw is required.
An offshoot of the coping saw is the jeweler's saw. This is more or less the same sort of saw, with the exception it’s intended to use blades which are even thinner and don't have pins in them. Instead, the saw has clamps to hold the blade. A jeweler's saw allows cutting curves that are even smaller and tighter than those which can be created with the coping saw. Marquetry, a decorative form of inlay work, where pictures are formed out of different types of wood veneers, is done with a jeweler's saw.
If you're looking for the best of the best in coping saws, then this saw is for you. While the price may scare some people off, the design of this frame can provide more tension to a blade than any other coping saw on the market. Read Full Review
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German made, you can expect the manufacturers of this saw to pay attention to the details and they do. The blade clamps are offset on this saw, allowing it to reach into places that most coping saws can't get to. Read Full Review
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This is actually a jeweler's saw, designed to work with very fine-toothed blades. I find that a jeweler's saw makes for an excellent coping saw, especially when I'm working with thin materials. Read Full Review
Every once in a while, there's a need for a coping saw that can cut in the middle of a board. When that happens, this is the saw to reach for. With a more than ten inch throat, there's not much you won't be able to reach with this saw. Read Full Review
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Best Pull Saw:
I'm a bit of a traditionalist at heart. I like the old ways of doing things and even the old tools they were done with. While I have nothing against grabbing a power tool and putting it to use, when it comes to hand tools, I tend to think that every new thing that comes out is just a grab for money and not a real tool that anyone needs.
That was the attitude I first approached pull saws with. A co-worker had one and had been bragging on and on about it; I was skeptical, but decided to take a look. When I used it, my skepticism quickly turned to admiration. Not only did his little pull saw cut quickly, but it was much easier to control than a traditional crosscut saw was. I became so impressed that although I still have a crosscut saw, it just sits there while I use my pull saw.
The push saw is an ancient Japanese invention. Japan has very little forest growing on it, being an island nation of mostly volcanic rock so their carpenters have always had to be careful in the use of their wood. To get the most out of it, the traditional Japanese paper house was developed. It only required wood for making the frames and muntins.
I don't know if you've ever seen a video of a Japanese craftsman building a traditional wood and paper door or wall section, but it's really something to see. They start out with a piece of wood that's about three inches square by as long as the door is tall. That's all they use. Every wooden part is cut out of that one piece of wood with a pull saw.
These saws have a very thin kerf, reducing the amount of waste. As the saw cuts under tension, rather than compression, there is little chance of it bending during the cut. So, a thinner blade can be made which makes it highly flexible and easier to steer the saw. The more traditional design is double-bladed with a coarse set of teeth on one side of the blade and a fine set on the other. That gives the carpenter a rip saw and a crosscut saw in one tool, reducing the number of tools they have to carry.
There are several different styles of these saws available today, not just the traditional double bladed one. This provides saws that are useful in a variety of circumstances. As the blades are thin and flexible, they make the best saws for flush cutting you can find.
Some of these saw designs have been modified to mix eastern and western styles. While they’re still pull saws, they have a stiffener on the back of the blade like we would expect to find on a saw used with a manual miter box. These aren’t so good for flush cutting, but help to ensure the saw stays rigid and straight throughout the cut. They are most often used in cutting joint-work, such as dove tails and tenions.
This traditional Ryoba style saw offers both rip and crosscut blades in one package. The long handle allows the tool to be used two-handed, for more power and less fatigue. Read Full Review
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This is the original pull saw that was introduced to the American market. It's single-bladed, very ergonomic, and I've had one of these saws for years. It's my go-to saw for anytime I can't use a power saw. Read Full Review
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By making it possible to disassemble their saw, Tajima has made an excellent saw kit for taking on the go with you. The soft-wallet for the saw stores the parts, protecting them and keeping them together. This saw offers different blades which allow for crosscutting and ripping. Read Full Review
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This saw has been modified from the traditional Japanese style by the addition of a back stiffner. This makes it ideal for cutting dovetail joints, as well as other types of jointry work. However, it won't work too good for crosscutting a panel or board. Read Full Review
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Best Back & Dovetail Saw:
Some saws are designed for rough cutting and others for fine. With the exception perhaps of the coping saw, the dovetail saw is the finest cutting saw there is. Actually, the surface left by a dovetail saw is smoother than you can get from a coping saw, but it only cuts in straight lines, not curved ones.
Dovetails are one of the most complex woodworking tasks there is, especially hand cut dovetails. I guess you could say it's what separates the true pros from the wannabees. While we might all think we are good, actually being ing good at making dovetails isn't something you can fake. Even doing them with power tools comes out differently, giving a clear indication to anyone in the know that they aren't made by hand.
In olden times, a cabinetmaker's apprentice had to be able to cut clean dovetail joints in order to complete his apprenticeship. The wood, multi-drawered toolbox that he made was his test. All the drawers, which are small, are joined together with hand-cut dovetails. This showed the woodworker's mastery of his trade, becoming a sample he could use to brag about his craftsmanship.
Today, all but a few woodworkers do things by simpler methods. But that doesn't mean that there's no longer a place for a dovetail saw in your toolbox. Not only can you use it to cut dovetails, but anywhere that you need straight accurate cuts. That could be for finger joining, cutting tenons, or even just cutting dowel rods for a crafts project.
The key to the dovetail saw is a straight blade with fine teeth. Generally speaking, the finer the teeth the better the cut. Of course, those fine teeth don't cut as fast as larger ones do, but they do provide a very clean cut. Some dovetail saws come with a slightly coarser blade, running 14 or 15 TPI, rather than 16 to 20. These will cut faster, but the surface finish of the cut won't be quite as smooth. Since cutting dovetails and other joints is usually ripping, rather than crosscutting, 15 TPI is actually a rather fine blade pitch.
The back of the dovetail saw's blade is wrapped in a thick piece of metal, usually brass. This makes the blade stiffer, so that it won't wander or try to follow the grain of the wood. Technically, this makes the dovetail saw a "back saw" as well, although that term is usually applied to saws which are used with a miter box. As manual miter boxes are covered elsewhere, I'm going to concentrate on dovetail saws in this list.
There are two basic handle designs used for these saws, a full handle that is open on the bottom or a round, turned handle. Generally speaking, the better quality saws have the full handle which is both more ergonomic and provides better control. However, the finer toothed saws, which are also usually smaller, often come with the round handle.
Saws with a full handle use brass split nuts to attach the handle to the blade. This allows the user to tighten the blade, when it invariably comes loose due to changes in temperature and humidity.
When using a saw with the full handle, the proper way to hold the saw is to have the middle, ring finger and pinkie inside the saw handle, with the index finger running alongside the brass stiffener. This gives you better control over the saw.
The tapered blade on this saw really makes a difference, reducing the risk of over-cutting the backside of the workpiece. This innovation sets the Lie-Nelsen saw apart from everyone else. Read Full Review
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Every tooth on this saw is hand-filed and hand-set. That makes the saw cut much smoother, providing an excellent experience to the woodworker. They have also gone to great pains to make it lightweight, to avoid operator fatigue and the resulting inaccuracies that go with it. Read Full Review
Windsor uses Swedish spring steel in an effort to provide a saw that will outlast you needs. They offer their dovetail saws in three different lengths, with three different hardwoods choices for the handles. Read Full Review
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For someone looking for a high quality dovetail saw, but not having a lot to spend, this "gents saw" is a jewel. Designed for the "gentleman woodworker" it has a simpler handle design and is available in a smaller size, helping to bring the cost down. Read Full Review
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Best Pruning Saw:
When most people think of pruning saws, they think of pole pruners. While pole pruners do usually have a saw attached to them, they are not actually a pruning saw. The actual pruning saw is a handheld, manual saw, designed specifically for crosscutting through green wood quickly.
What makes a pruning saw cut quickly is a combination of factors in the design of their blade. First of all, the teeth of a pruning saw are staggered knife points, ground to a very fine edge. This is much different than most saws which have teeth perpendicular to the line of cut. Those teeth are designed to take out a chip, while the teeth on a pruning saw are intended to act more like a series of knives by slicing into the green wood. The chips are then knocked out by the next tooth in line, as it makes its cut.
This type of cutting action works extremely well with green wood which is more likely to resist the actions of a normal saw blade. The blades of some pruning saws are curved as well which increase the amount of blade area in contact with the branch and actually making a longer cut; that adds to the saws cutting efficiency.
Blades can either be fixed or folding, much like a pocket knife. While a folding blade is fine for light work, when used constantly the folding hinge will eventually give you trouble. That could manifest in folding the saw at the wrong time and catching your hand in it. I prefer a fixed blade, just like with a knife as it reduces the risk of injury and makes a stronger tool overall. For that reason, I've only included fixed blade pruning saws in this list. However, the same manufacturers do provide folding versions of many of these saws.
Since sharpening one of these saws yourself is all but impossible, the quality of the steel is important. Good tool steel will hold an edge well as it will reduce the need for sharpening. While the best tool steels are usually high carbon, high carbon steels rust, so these tools are usually made from some sort of stainless steel with some of the newer ones being quite hard and can hold an edge quite well.
The blade is thin to avoid binding, as well as being narrow and pointed for getting into tight places between branches. Generally speaking, the longer the blade the better, as it makes for longer cut strokes which result in cutting the branch off quicker. The blade shape, coupled with the tooth design, provide for a surgically clean and accurate cut while minimizing damage to the tree.
These saws are intended to be carried by the gardener or arborist while working, even when climbing a tree, so most of them come equipped in a belt sheath for easy carrying. That keeps the saw readily at hand where it’s available when needed. The blade is also replaceable as well.
The blade of this saw is definitely designed for quality with high carbon steel, hard chrome plating, and a full tang. About the only thing they could have done better is to make it cut by itself. Read Full Review
While the blade on this saw is worth bragging about, I especially like the handle. The molded rubber handle is highly ergonomic, with ridges between the fingers to help improve your grip. That translates to a lighter grip so your muscles don't get tired as fast. Read Full Review
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This saw is part of ARS Corporation's "pro" line of saws. A new curvature grind is being used, to ensure maximum cutting efficiency and a very smooth surface after cutting. Read Full Review
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This saw is an upgrade from Felco's popular 610 model. The longer blade means a longer stroke, so you don't get tired as fast. The teeth are ground for maximum cut and smoothness, as well as fast chip clearing. Read Full Review
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This saw is different than the others on the list. Not only is it longer than them by several inches to allow a longer stroke, but it also has a D handle. That helps protect your hand while giving the handle a more comfortable angle. Read Full Review
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Best Bow Saw:
The bow saw is a specialty tool, designed for use in cutting green wood such as one may encounter when trimming a branch off a tree, cutting up a tree that fell in the driveway during a storm, or cutting branches into chunks to be used for firewood.
Many people use chainsaws for these tasks, but if you're not going to use a chainsaw fairly regularly, they really aren't worth owning. Not only it that an expensive tool to just leave sitting, but the longer it sits, the less chance there is that it will start when you go to use it. Like any gasoline engine, the carburetor can get gummed up from sitting for an extended period of time.
For those who only have to cut trees and branches occasionally, or for some other reason don't want the noise of a chainsaw, there's the bow saw. This provides an excellent way for cutting this wood, even giving you a good upper-body workout while you are at it.
The bow saw is also the ideal tool if you have been forced to bug out from your home and are trying to build a cabin in the woods. Not only does it make fairly short work of cutting down trees and cutting up logs, but it does so silently, something that no chain saw can do.
The design of the saw puts the blade under tension, with the "bow" handle providing that tension. This allows the saw to be used in situations where the blade may become pinched without a risk of the blade becoming bent. Regardless of whether you’re pushing or pulling, the blade is still under tension. For that matter, regardless of whether you are pushing or pulling, the blade is also cutting, something you don't find with other types of saws.
There are two basic ways that the blade can be tensioned. The first is with an over-center toggle clamp. I prefer these, as they are easier to work with. They also provide excellent tension for the blade, as they are not dependent on the operator's ability to apply that tension.
The other type is a screw tensioner. This requires the operator to actually tighten the blade with a thumb screw. While it works well, it is highly dependent on the hand strength of the operator. I haven't done the tests to prove it, but I strongly suspect that in most cases, there isn't as much tension on the blade with this sort of tensioner.
The bow of the saw is also the handle. Traditionally, these are nothing more than a painted tube. Some manufacturers flatten that tube somewhat, while others don't. This is mostly personal preference on the part of the manufacturer, as both methods work the same. However, some manufacturers have started adding a plastic handle with a knuckle guard on it. I think this is an excellent addition to these saws. Many a time my knuckles have encountered another branch while working.
Bow shapes can vary extensively, an important factor and one you should take into consideration when selecting a saw. The distance between the blade and the bow is the maximum thickness of branch or trunk you can cut with the saw.
Some saws have tapered bows so that they’re narrower at the nose than at the handle end. This makes them great for cutting in tight spaces, but at the cost of reducing the thickness of branch that you can cut. To cut thicker branches with these saws, you have to cut near the handle end, using short strokes.
Bow saws typically ship with some sort of blade guard or sleeve. This is not just packaging, it's there to protect you. It is very easy to injure yourself on one of these saws just carrying it out to the backyard. Keeping the blade protector in place will help prevent the risk of injury, such as if you happen to swing the saw across the side of your leg.
Bahco makes the most different models of bow saws out there. They also make the biggest, as we see with this 36 inch long saw. That extra length helps keep down operator fatigue by allowing a longer stroke. Read Full Review
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Mexican made, Truper saws are made by people who use hand tools, much more than they use power tools. This saw is nice and deep, allowing you to cut good sized branches and logs. Read Full Review
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Being made for mass market, Black and Decker's bow saw is much more reasonably priced. Nevertheless, this 24 inch saw will still cut good sized branches. The handle is padded too, something I haven't seen on these other saws. Read Full Review
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Gardena's saw has a tapered nose, making it great for tight areas. The nose part of the bow is also textured, making it work well as a second handle for two-handed operation. Read Full Review
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Best Wallboard Saw:
Drywall is normally cut by cutting through the paper outer covering with a utility knife and then snapping it to break the gypsum core. While this works for the big cuts, it isn't very effective for small ones. However, when you need to cut out a corner or an opening for a light switch, that approach just doesn't work.
I've seen professional drywallers who will eyeball the location for an outlet box and mark it out with their knife on the face side of the drywall, and then bust out the drywall with a hammer. While that works, I don't particularly like it. Busting out the hole like that tends to make the hole much larger on the backside than it is on the front.
The right way to make a hole like that is to mark it out, measuring the location and then cut the hole with a drywall saw, otherwise known as a wallboard saw or a jab saw. The name "jab saw" refers to the saw's sharp point, allowing it to be pushed through the wallboard to make a starter hole.
These saws need to have very sharp teeth (much like a pruning saw) in order to cleanly cut the paper covering of the drywall. At the same time, the teeth need to be large so that they will clear out the gypsum dust quickly when cutting. Gypsum cuts easily, so it will cut as fast as the teeth of the saw can clear the dust out of the kerf.
The blades of jab saws are slightly thicker than other saws, so that they won't flex when being pushed through the drywall. The sharp point helps with this too. In fact, the sharper the point of the saw is, the better it will pierce the drywall.
The handle of these saws is important, not so much from a comfort viewpoint, as a grip one. If the handle does not provide a good gripping surface, it is hard to jab the saw through the wallboard.
While most of these saws are essentially the same, there are some differences. Some saws are folding, like a pocket knife, others add a built-in file, for smoothing the cut you just made and still others have a double-sided blade. Choosing which of these features you want is largely a matter of personal preference.
As a pure drywall saw, this one has everyone beat, in my opinion. More than anything, the fact that they are using high carbon steel tells me that this is a high quality tool. I love the handle too, as it provides excellent grip for difficult cuts. Read Full Review
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DeWalt has done a number of rather unique things on this saw. Making it folding adds a level of convenience that few saws have. The included rasp, which flips out like a second blade, makes it extremely easy to clean up your holes or the cut edges of drywall sheets. Read Full Review
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The double-sided blade of this saw really makes it stand out. If you are ever doing complex cuts and need to be able to cut in both directions, this saw is the one for you. Read Full Review
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As part of Stanley's "Fat Max"' line of tools, this one is very comfortable to work with. The large handle provides superior grip, preventing the saw from slipping while you are using it. Read Full Review
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Milwaukee has made a truly versatile saw with this particular selection. More than anything, it's a handle which will accommodate any of their Sawzall blades. That makes it useful for much more than just cutting out electrical box openings on wallboard. Read Full Review
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Best Compass/Keyhole Saw:
Before the invention of the power jigsaw, around the end of World War II, carpenters and woodworkers needed some way of cutting round and irregular holes in wood panels. Some of this need was taken care of by the coping saw, but the coping saw was and still is limited as to how far away from the edge of a panel you can cut. Even a deep coping saw still limits you to less than a foot.
This need was met with the keyhole saw, sometimes referred to as a compass saw or even a fret saw (although a true fret saw is a coping saw). The saw consists of a very thin, pointy blade, attached to a handle. The blade is fully self-supporting, allowing it to cut inside holes anywhere on a board or panel.
To make this saw work, the steel used in the blade needs to be very hard and stiff. Otherwise, the blade will bend or even break while cutting. Some think that a keyhole saw and a drywall saw are the same for that reason, but the keyhole saw actually has harder steel in it than the drywall saw does. There are also more teeth per inch on a keyhole saw, than a drywall saw, so that it can make a finer cut. So, while you can use the two interchangeably to some extent, they aren't perfect in each other's applications.
More than anything, it is the quality of the steel that defines the quality of these saws. A good saw will last well, because the hardened steel will stay straight and the teeth of the saw will stay sharp. An inexpensive saw carries the risk of the blade bending and the teeth getting dull quickly.
The keyhole saw is also tapered, allowing a sharp point for starting holes tight spaces, and widening out towards the handle, for more rapid cutting. The narrowest point could be used like a jab saw, if you were cutting softer materials, but won't work well for this on wood panels. Typically, a hole is drilled for the point of the saw to enter and then the saw widens out the hole.
So, why would anyone want a keyhole saw today? Most of what a keyhole saw can do can also be done with a jigsaw. But a jigsaw can be hard to work with, especially when you want accuracy. The slower cutting speed and "hands-on" work with the keyhole saw makes it more accurate.
Keyhole saws come with two types of handles, much like dovetail saws. The more traditional handle is roughly perpendicular to the blade, much like a crosscut saw of a pistol grip. This is more ergonomic and easier to use. However, a number of saws have a rounded handle, which in most cases is curved for ergonomics sake. I personally feel that these saws are easier to control than the ones with the pistol grip, although the pistol grip is generally considered better.
Like Japanese saws, this saw cuts on the pull stroke, giving much more precise control. That also allows for a thinner blade, making this the thinnest bladed keyhole saw around. Read Full Review
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The teeth on this Nicholson saw are aggressively ground, making the 8 TPI blade very fast cutting. They are also impulse hardened to the point where the manufacturer claims that the saw will never need sharpening. Read Full Review
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The blade of this Greenlee saw is integrated into the ergonomic handle and not removable, making the saw stronger. teeth on the blade are non-clogging and will cut on both the push and pull strokes. Read Full Review
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Teeth on this saw's blade are triple-ground for excellent cutting performance. Being bi-metallic, the blade provides an excellent combination of flexibility and hardness, helping the teeth stay sharpened longer. Read Full Review
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