Buy a Rip Dovetail Back Saw
“Back saws” are specifically designed for fine joinery work (they have a rigid steel or brass back to keep the blade stiff). Dovetail back saws are the smallest back saws (typically 8-10″) and are configured with fine rip-filed teeth (11-20 ppi) for cutting along the grain (think dovetails). Thinner blades (0.02″ ish) are preferred and I like the pistol grip handle because of my big hands (see above).
I have tried a good number of different models of antique and new dovetail saws, and own quite a few for my traditional woodworking school. While I’m sure that the very expensive dovetail saws (over $150) cut great, they’ve never been within my budget, so I’ll only be sharing recommendations on dovetail saws under that price point.
I own quite a few antique back saws, and they are all pretty great hand saws, like this No. 2 Disston brass back dovetail saw:
In fact, as long as the saw plate isn’t too thick (like the below Disston No. 2 “Manual Training School” dovetail saw that I bought years ago) most antique dovetail saws would be a safe bet, as long as they have a straight saw plate, aren’t missing any saw nuts, have an in-tact handle, and you don’t mind sharpening them. You can find links below to sources for good antique dovetail saws.
However, I have found that many of my students prefer to get cutting wood as soon as possible, and want to know what a super sharp dovetail saw feels like before spending time and money on rehabbing & sharpening antique hand saws. I can totally understand this, so I often share my recommendation on popular dovetail saw brands in the price range of $70 – $130. Here are a few of the popular dovetail saws within that price range:
Lie-Nielsen Dovetail Saw
I own quite a few Lie-Nielsen back saws, including several modern Lie-Nielsen dovetail saws, and really like them. The saw plate is thin, the teeth are shaped and sharpened fantastically, the saw is handsome with it’s brass back & figured maple handle, and the handle has acceptable comfort. They cost about $125 plus shipping from Maine.
Veritas Dovetail Saw
The other very popular dovetail saw is made by Lee Valley / Veritas. I get asked all the time for my opinion on the Veritas dovetail saws, since they are significantly less expensive . I have owned several of them, and did some extensive comparison between them and the Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw. You can read my article comparing these dovetail saws here: Which Affordable Dovetail Saw is Best? Lie-Nielsen vs. Veritas.
While I like the price point (around $70 plus shipping), I find the handle wood to be pretty, and I applaud Lee Valley on coming up with original designs (Lie-Nielsen usually uses historical designs), I’m not a fan of their Veritas dovetail saw. I find the saw plate to be too thick, and the tooth shape and sharpness to be inferior to some other saw brands.
This makes the sawing a little harder and the kerf and accuracy slightly inferior. And I’m not a huge fan of the look of the molded plastic saw back, which of course is a secondary consideration.
Florip Toolworks Dovetail Saws
The last dovetail saw that I tested in my shop, and with many students in my woodworking school, is the dovetail saw made by Florip Toolworks. I discovered Eric Florip after I wrote the article comparing Lie-Nielsen and Veritas dovetail saws, and the Florip dovetail saws have become a fan of his saws, both for the quality and price point. The 9-inch Florip dovetail saws start at $99 plus shipping (update: the price is now about $120…find them here) , have thin saw plates & great sharpening, and the handles are shaped in a similar way to the $200+ dovetail saws. The dovetail saw isn’t as aggressive or fast cutting as the Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw, but tends to cut a bit finer. Eric may have a longer lead time that Lie-Nielsen, which may be a factor for you if you want to get cutting wood ASAP. You can read my review on the Florip Dovetail saws here: Finally, the Best High-End and Affordable Dovetail Saw!
Gent Dovetail Saws
If you’re really on a tight budget then you can always buy a vintage dovetail back saw (they really are good if you spend time tuning them) or even a very inexpensive “gents” dovetail saw to start out with, like this one (I bought two for my sons for around $20), but make sure that you really tune it up. I don’t prefer how a Gents saw feels in the hand, but you may be willing to overlook it. Also, some come with teeth that I find to be too small (18-20 ppi).
Here’s a great video tutorial by Chris Gochnour (Fine Woodworking magazine) on tuning up an inexpensive gents dovetail saw.