Buy or Make a Coping Saw

Coping hand saw cutting a dovetail joint with a woodworking workbench in the background

I use a coping hand saw all the time, especially for cutting out the waste in dovetail joints. But because it’s not a precision tool, I’m not yet sold on spending $150+ for one, like some of my friends have (like this one). In fact, I haven’t spent $75, $50, or even $25. The most I’ve spent is about $19 on a coping saw. Is it amazing? No. But I haven’t tried any other amazing coping saw. Maybe the $100 coping saw works better? Maybe I’ll try it one day and someone can convince me otherwise. But I may just eat crow one day and see the value in an expensive coping saw. But not today. I only really use a coping saw for imprecise waste-removing cuts.

Howarth bow saw coping hand saw against blue tool chest on a woodworking workbench

However, if you do want a very attractive coping saw, then you can use the same Howarth Bow Saw tutorial video (see preview above) and just scale it down to a coping saw size (the video comes with resources & plans).

BTW, buying an inexpensive coping saws like this on Amazon are great starter saws for kids, as it’s harder for them to seriously injure themselves. And the same inexpensive coping saw will work just fine for you.

Like with any coping saw, just make sure you have plenty of replacement webs (blades) on hand because they bend, kink, and break fairly easily. These are my favorite coping saw blades.

B. Semi-Urgent Hand Saws (Buy these next)

This list of semi-urgent hand saws reflects my experience getting started out. You may encounter the need for some of these early on, depending on the projects you want to build.

 Buy or Make a Bow Saw

Howarth Bow Saw on a woodworking Workbench held by Bill Anderson

The next hand saw that I recommend is a frame saw called a “bow saw”. Bow saws are like the big brother to the coping saw (cuts curves), and a good traditional alternative to a power band saw.

Bow saw web (blade) cutting a curve in a piece of cherry wood in a woodworking workbench vise

So how do you use a bow saw? You simply tension the top string by twisting a stick, and it makes the saw tight and rigid. Hold onto the handle and turn the saw where you want to go. Just make sure you loosen the tension the string when you’re finished.

12-inch maple bow saw cutting a piece of cherry wood in a woodworking workbench vise

Historically European joiners and furniture makers used bow saws with large “webs” (blades) for rough ripping and cross cutting boards, in place of British and American panel hand saws, but I prefer to use the bendable hand saw (as mentioned above) because I don’t have a frame getting in the way of large boards. But I love a bow saw for cutting curves, and I like to use a smaller, more maneuverable web (blade) on my bow saws.

Walnut bow saw handle with a woodworking workbench in the background

I recommend that you look for a medium sized bow saw, between 12-inches and 14-inches in size. If you’re purchasing a bow saw, look for comfortable handles. Also, the pin technology is important. The best bow saws have tapered pins in the handles, which help keep the handle from getting loose and rotating during your cutting. Unfortunately most modern bow saws use cheaper straight pins. If you want one of the best bow saws possible, and you like the idea of making your own saw, then you should look into purchasing the very detailed DVD or Digital Download: “Building the Historical Howarth Bow Saw with Bill Anderson” (buy it here). Here’s a preview of the video:

The video teaches all the techniques in a way that even beginner hand tool woodworkers can build this bow saw. Bill also sells tapered brass pins that he designed based off of the historical saw that the video studies.

If you don’t have the time to make your own bow saw, eBay has some nice antique bow saws. You can also check out Jim Bode’s website for bow saws, or go to a tool swap at a local chapter of the Mid West Tool Collector’s Association. Try to find one with tapered pins if possible, but it’s not vital. There are also some people making pretty nice newer bow saws. But I haven’t seen any with tapered pins. Just make sure you buy something that looks like the saws above, and not a large buck saw (for cutting fire wood):

buck saw frame saw hand saw

People selling bow saws on eBay don’t know the difference, so they’ll usually call mix up the names.

 Buy a Large Bow Saw

Close up of 12-inch maple bow saw maker mark that reads CME 2013 CME Handworks

Read my section above on medium size bow saws (12-14 inch) to learn more about bow saws and to see buying options. A larger bow saw (18-inches to 20-inches) will allow you to fit the saw’s frame around larger pieces of wood. If you want to do your big ripping or crosscutting with a bow saw, then for a large saw like this, you can use a larger blade, or web. You can find find some decent large 18-inch or 20-inch bow saws here:

 Buy a Compass Hand Saw

Antique compass hand saw held by a woodworker over a woodworking workbench

A compass saw is really great for cutting a shape out of the inside of a board through a pre-drilled hole. I’ve also discovered that when building a historic style jointer hand plane I actually used the compass saw for trimming inside the hand plane’s bed. If you find one for cheap, then go ahead and buy it, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to purchase a compass hand saw until you have a project where you actually need it. The upside is that they are not really collector’s tools, so you should be able to purchase one for a few dollars. In case you do need one now, you can check some vintage compass saws out:

C. Non-Urgent Hand Saws (Buy as needed)

Below is a list of some non-urgent specialty hand saws. You may find that you eventually need these hand saws, but you also may not. You definitely don’t need them for getting started in traditional woodworking with hand tools.

Continue to the Chisel Buying Guide (#5)

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