Saw Search #1: Shouldn't this easier?

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Blog entry by MakingScraps posted 02-26-2010 05:36 AM 1226 reads 2 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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The search for saws that make the cut

I am just getting into woodworking and I am finding that the further down the rabbit hole of tool buying I go the harder it gets to decide what to spend my hard earned cash on when space and budget are top concerns. Feel free to skip my rambling. Hopefully by verbalizing my decision here I will be able to come to a reasonable conclusion (except buy a bunch of saws). I am looking for a couple of handsaws that will perform the trifecta of woodworking cuts – crosscut, rip, and joinery.

A simple task – Cut wood

Buying a handsaw has never been both easier and more difficult than this day and age. There are dozens of manufacturers, most of which will ship the saw of my dreams right to my door. That’s the easy part. The hard part is that there are dozens of manufacturers and there are several specialized saws by each manufacturer and then the specialized saws can be broken down even further into saws made for softwoods and hardwoods. Can’t I just say, “I want a saw that cuts wood. All kind of cuts and all kinds of wood!”. Of course not. There are reasons why there have been specialized blades. Each one is bested suited for a specific task. I can understand that. But then someone will chime in “But many modern factory made saws are poorly made. They bind and wander. You should get a $125 dovetail saw and a $225 panel saw. Or search high and low for a pre-whatever era Disston saw. They were the best.” So now I am looking at high end modern saws and rusty beat-handled saws at garage sales hoping the seller doesn’t know I have just found the holy grail of handsaws. And to top it off I have to make the decision to remain patriotic and buy a western saw or follow the Asian influence and buy a Japanese saw.

I guess I should start breaking it down. Let’s start with the most outlandish (for me) possibilities.

Super Saw – Now with jewel inlay and gilded spine

I won’t name any names but there are several companies out there who sell 8” or so handsaws for upwards of $100. For those of you who are professional woodworkers I can completely understand having a top of the line tool from a reputable manufacturer. After all the quality of your work is what brings in the clients and pays the bills. You need the best. Good thing I don’t need that- I can’t afford it. The super saws that cut like a dream and cost more than I spend on food in a week are well out of my budget. And of course, like a Honda, they keep their value so I wouldn’t save too much if I bought last year’s model used. To top it all off, the saw might need tuning when I get it new from the manufacturer. Tuning that involves files and sharpening stones. Good idea. I’ll spend all that money so it can look pretty sitting on my bench while I find someone who can do it right, hopefully before I try my hand at it and turn it into an expensive cheese slicer.

So the brand new high end saw is out. Makes sense. I don’t need a $200 dollar saw to cut $2.00 worth of wood. I am just starting out after all.

Flea markets and old tools

Finding a gently used and well cared for Disston saw from the early 1900s would be great. And when I am at the flea market/garage sale/thrift shop I will keep an eye out for it and fight off anyone else eying it up. But I sorta wanted to work on a project this year. The same problem as the super saw then comes into play. I would have to restore the saw myself or find someone with the expertise to restore it. Maybe one day I will find that beautiful Disston and I will have the time to carefully reset the teeth and file the bevel but I am already on a slippery learning curve and I am just trying to get some wood cut. I wouldn’t be much of a woodworker if I spent all of my time filing saws instead of sawing. The price for these saws is also an issue with some saws for sale from $25 and going up into the hundreds of dollars. Obviously the $25 one is for the rusty-used to have a handle-still has some teeth-saw.

As much as I love the idea of restoring an old classic that will provide years of faithful service I just don’t have the time/expertise/patience to scrounge for a great deal. I’ll keep an eye out for it but I won’t obsess over finding one.

The big box store has everything

Well I couldn’t wait forever so one of the first tools I purchased was a handsaw from the local big box store. It seemed reasonable enough. Around $10 for a saw that rips and crosscut and it even has “aggressive teeth” that promised to make the wood I was sawing beg for mercy. Well, they were right on the last part. The cheap saw binds, wanders, leaves a giant kerf in its wake and generally makes a mess of the wood. Most of the time I think it would be easier to score the wood with my kitchen knife and jump on it to break it and just sand down the splinters. I could start a new wood art form – paleolithic furniture AKA splinters and glue.

The box store saw has given me a quick start and I have been able to cut better with it each time I pick it up but it still leaves much to be desired. It is definitely useful for rough cutting and dimensioning wood that is salvaged from old broken furniture and pallets. I fear no nails with that saw.

The big decision

So with brand new high end, the brand new low end and 100 year old vintage saws off of the list for now I can narrow down my search for middle of the road crosscut, ripsaws, and joinery saws. In my next post I will hopefully come to a decision on whether to go with the western saw or a Japanese saw.

5 comments so far

View WayneC's profile


13783 posts in 4294 days

#1 posted 02-26-2010 05:39 AM

Have you looked at Japanese Saws in detail?

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Ecocandle's profile


1013 posts in 3262 days

#2 posted 02-26-2010 05:55 AM

I am a beginning woodworker, and I have a $24.00 Japanese handsaw from Home Depot. I have also bought one of those $100.00 saws you mentioned, and yes it is a better saw, but that being said, the $24.00 one still gets lots and lots of use.

I should mention, that I did have to do some practicing with it. I actuallly did several practice sessions, and now that I am comfortable with the Japanese hand saws, I can say, for this beginner, they are wonderful.

Last night I clamped a set of (4) 1×2’s in a vice and cut them all at once, using the aforementioned saw, and it cut true and quickly.

Nice post. I enjoyed reading it. I wrote a similar post, regarding some other tool decisions this evening also. Half the fun of woodworking is the planning and dreaming about the tools, before one pulls the trigger.

I look forward to your next post.

-- Brian Meeks,

View BradHess's profile


63 posts in 3209 days

#3 posted 02-26-2010 06:27 AM

I second the Japanese saws. They are awesome to use after a new practice sessions. I keep on very close whenever I am working on a project.

View MakingScraps's profile


10 posts in 3210 days

#4 posted 02-26-2010 03:05 PM

Thanks for the suggestions. So far it seems like the Japanese saw is winning out in the comments.


I did see and was tempted to buy the same saw at Home Depot. After I posted I saw your blog and was glad to see I am not the only one fretting over the minor details when buying new equipment.

View JustinB's profile


10 posts in 3227 days

#5 posted 02-26-2010 09:23 PM

I personally started with the Japanese Dozuki ‘Z’ saw ($45 or so at Woodcraft) that had won a best overall award for Japanese saws in Fine Woodworking a few years ago. It cuts beautifully but using a pull stroke takes practice. I just recently bought the Veritas Dovetail saw (the 14 ppi rip version) and I love it. It was $65 and has received many favorable reviews. I do find i like it better than the dozuki because it cuts on the push stroke and doesn’t obscure my cut line. Feels more natural to me. Lee Valley also offers that saw in a crosscut version and a 20 ppi rip version. All are $65. I do think my 14 ppi works just fine for crosscutting as well. I too am working on getting a good kit together on a budget and I think it is too easy to fixate on the expensive saws (not that they aren’t worth it….from what I’ve heard). Anyways, good luck to you.

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