How to Use a Hand Saw?

Learning how to use a hand saw is one of those fundamental skills that every homeowner, DIYer, or woodworker should strive to perfect. While powered saws certainly have their place, if you’re working somewhere without access to power or your batteries are drained, then a good hand saw is your best option for the task at hand.

Hand saws are cheap, require minimal maintenance, and are far easier for beginners to get started with than their powered counterparts. They will teach you the fundamentals of making a clean cut through a given material, which you can then apply when using other cutting tools.

Let’s take a look at how to use a hand saw in more detail – so you’ll be able to make crosscuts and rip cuts accurately and efficiently.

Tools & Materials Needed

  • Hand saw
  • Carpenter’s square or combination square
  • Clamps
  • Pencil or pen
  • Cutting material

How to Use a Hand Saw – Guide 

Step 1: Measure and Mark Material

As the old adage goes, always measure twice and cut once! Before you do anything else, the first thing you’ll want to do is precisely measure and mark your cutting material.

You can use several different measuring tools to accomplish this step, but a combination square or carpenters square will both work well. If you don’t have either of these lying around, then you can use a scrap piece of lumber or even the backside of your saw to create a straight edge for marking your cut.

Step 2: Secure Cutting Material with Clamps

When cutting with a hand saw, the material tends to move around as you move the saw back and forth. Clamping the cutting material to your sawhorses or workbench will keep it locked in place and eliminate any movement while working the saw.

Step 3: Make the Starting Cut

When cutting with a hand saw, making the starting cut accurately is key. This notch will serve as the guide for the rest of the cut, so it’s important that it’s done accurately to prevent you from making an inaccurate cut.

using a hand saw

Use the thumb of your hand holding the material to guide the saw blade as you start the notch.

Use short strokes with the teeth closest to the handle (for a crosscut saw) to begin the cut. If you’re using a ripsaw, you’ll want to start cutting with the fine teeth on the saw furthest from the handle.

Generally, you’ll want to cut on the outside, or waste side of the cutline you marked in the previous step. This means cutting closer to the side of the wood you don’t plan on using. That way, your cut will tend towards slightly too long instead of too short – as you can always sand the wood down if it’s too long, but if it’s too short you’re out of luck.

A word about hand saw types:
While there are a wide scope of general use and specialized hand saws available, the majority of them will fall into two basic categories: the crosscut saw and the rip saw.

The crosscut saw – as the name suggests – is used for cutting across the grain of the wood. This task is more challenging than a rip cut, which is why crosscut saws require smaller, finer teeth to slice through the wood grain. Crosscut saw teeth are sharpened on both edges, which means they cut both on the push and pull motion of the saw.

Rip saws are designed for rip cutting through the wood grain, cutting in the same direction as the grain. Ripping is an easier task than crosscutting, as you’re cutting with the grain, essentially splitting it like you would with an ax. Rip saw blades have fewer, larger teeth that only cut on the push portion of the stroke.

Step 4: Position Yourself for Cutting

When making a cut with a hand saw, you can increase your accuracy and effectiveness by cutting with the correct stance and technique.

When cutting with a crosscut saw, you’ll want your saw blade to be at a 45-degree angle to the wood. For rip cuts, the ideal angle is 60 degrees.

You’ll want your entire body to be in alignment with the saw as you make the cut. That means your wrist, shoulder, and arm should be in line with the saw blade. Also, you’ll want to keep your elbow tucked in and try not to bend it out at the end of the pull stroke.

If you’re right-handed, your left foot should be forward when cutting. This will give you the power and balance necessary to make smooth cuts.

Step 5: Make the Cut

Once you’ve created the starting groove, you can move on to the main portion of the cut. Use long smooth strokes so all of the saw’s teeth can cut at the same time. You want to let the saw do most of the work, so try to avoid using too much pressure or force while cutting.

If you find that you can’t cut through the wood without having to apply excess force, your saw may be in need of sharpening.

Another issue that you may run into is the saw veering away from your cut line. This can happen if you apply too much force, or if you’re not careful while making the cut. If this happens, simply reset the saw back to where the veering began and slowly restart the cut.

Step 6: Finish the Cut

Towards the end of the cut, you generally want to slow down and finish the cut delicately. If you’re too fast or rough you can cause the end piece to fray – also called tearout. This is a particular issue when crosscutting plywood.

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Denis Gardner

I've loved tinkering and fixing things for as long as I can remember. So, naturally, I gravitated towards DIY and home improvement when I bought my first home. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or messing around with my newest tool!

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