Choosing a handsaw

  • Advertise with us

« back to Hand Tools forum

Forum topic by liminalshadow posted 07-04-2014 04:07 PM 2321 views 1 time favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View liminalshadow's profile


2 posts in 1446 days

07-04-2014 04:07 PM

Topic tags/keywords: saw handsaw

I’ve been trying to get started in woodworking for a couple months now. I’ve been reading up online, watching youtube videos, even started grabbing some tools. But I’ve hit a bit of a snag when it comes to Handsaws. Between trying not to spend too much until I know I want to do more, and not really knowing what I’m getting myself into, I’ve ended up with a couple saws that aren’t quite what I need for the projects I have in mind. I think I need some advice.

So, perhaps a good place to start would be to talk about what I think would be required for the projects.

Dovetail box, rabbited bottom / top
  • crosscutting stock to length
  • Cutting the dovetails for the sides
  • cutting shoulders for the rabbits (I think I saw some videos on just using a chisel for that, I don’t have a rabbit plane at the moment, but I’m including it as a possibility). This would both be cross-grain and along the grain, I think?
Walking cane – A la Paul Sellers
  • Cutting tenons to attach shaft to handle
  • Rip-cut a taper for the shaft
Cigar Box Guitar
  • Angled cross-cut for scarf joint
  • Small-kerfed cuts for the frets

Other than the box, I intend for the other projects to be in hardwoods. The box could go either way.

As for what I’ve already gotten, I have a couple selections for cross-cutting (A back saw from Woodcraft, a double-sided Japanese saw from harbor freight), and a coping saw that I might be able to use for the dovetails (At least for cutting out the waste. Cutting the sides would be possible but difficult? I think?).

So the biggest hole seems to be rip-cutting. Maybe a rip-filed backsaw for tenons and dovetails. However, I’ve been having a hard time finding good candidates for a beginning ripsaw. From a budget perspective, I’m still trying to find out if this is something I’ll enjoy enough to continue pouring resources into. Are there any good starter candidates for a ripsaw that are below the $50 mark? I’m hesitant to go the e-bay and restore route that I see so often, because of the time it takes to build enough skill to see the effects. Most of what I see in the stores are either cross-filed, or the “three cutting edge” teeth that I can’t quite wrap my head around. Can these hardware store saws be used for rip cutting? I haven’t tried to rip cut with the saws I have, since most of the stuff I’ve read has said that the crosscut teeth are pretty bad for rip cutting, if they’ll do it at all.

TL;DR – I’m trying to find a beginner saw for making rip cuts that won’t break the bank (< $50 if at all possible). I’d prefer not to go the e-bay and restore route, since I’m not confident of the learning curve, and I’m still trying to explore if this is something for me. Suggestions would be appreciated.

19 replies so far

View waho6o9's profile


8204 posts in 2598 days

#1 posted 07-04-2014 05:26 PM

View Tim's profile


3812 posts in 1983 days

#2 posted 07-04-2014 05:51 PM

Waho, he already has a crosscut saw. I don’t see how that would help.

liminal, you have a few options. One is that you can rip ok with the crosscut saws you have now. It’s not efficient, but it does work, so if you just want to get by for now try that. Another is to pick up the Veritas carcass or dovetail saws.

They’re more than your $50 budget, but they work really well and if you don’t end up using them you can resell them for a good amount and be out way less than $50. The carcass saw is bigger and you could do small tenons and dovetails but it’s not as good at either. The other option is to get the tenon and dovetail saws. You definitely don’t want to cut down the sides of your dovetails with a coping saw, but for removing the waste it’s one good way.

Another option is to post in the LJ trade and swap forum that you’re looking for saws and when a LJ that restores vintage saws has one available they can contact you. You should be able to work something out for well under $50.

And one question, Paul Sellers walking cane?

View Crank50's profile


173 posts in 1598 days

#3 posted 07-04-2014 05:51 PM

This is just my opinion but I think you might be over thinking this.
But I don’t really know that.

Anyway, it appears you are trying to stay away from power tools?
Just want to do everything by hand, or don’t want to invest in power tools?

I think a good approach is to use both.

A table saw or a band saw is the tool of choice for ripping.
After ripping with a band saw you will probably have to do some cleanup with a plane or a lot of sanding, but the band saw is much safer in my opinion.

A router or a table saw is the tool of choice for cutting rabbits.
But, rabbit planes can be had for very little money since you can easily make your own.
I saw a video once where a rabbit plane was made from from a piece of 2×4.

The best bang for the buck in hand saws is the ultra simple (and inexpensive) Stanley “Sharp Tooth” line.
They cost less than $12 with the plastic handle or about $26 with the wood handle. I have both and they have the same blade. They are the triple grind design and are suited for both cross cut and rip cuts.

Actually, my favorite hand saw is the Jorgensen “Pony” Japanese style pull saw.
I costs about $40 but lasts a long time. The big advantage for me with the pull saw is the very thin kerf it cuts. Less kerf = less work.

Another very handy little saw for small dovetail work is a 9” Marples pull saw. Home Depot sells it for about $12. It cuts a razor thin kerf.

If you just want to have beautiful boutiqe tools that look pretty and work as well or maybe a little better than the cheap saws mentioned above then there are endless choices from Lie Nielson, Veritas, Bad Axe Toolworks, etc.
Personally, I would rather put my money into good planes and chisels.

View NinjaAssassin's profile


640 posts in 1746 days

#4 posted 07-04-2014 06:34 PM

There are a few LJ’s here that restore and resell old saws as well as a few that make saws from scratch. Check out the Saw thread ( and post your question there. You might find those folks pretty helpful

-- Billy

View bigblockyeti's profile


5134 posts in 1742 days

#5 posted 07-04-2014 06:43 PM

A sharp, thin kerf back saw sounds like it would work pretty well for what you described you intend on using it for.

View CypressAndPine's profile


62 posts in 1829 days

#6 posted 07-05-2014 05:42 PM

I recommend an japanese Ryoba saw to start. One side is crosscut and one is rip cut. The Gyokucho razorsaw is inexpensive and very good at After that I would get one of their Dozuki (japanese backsaw) for fine joinery. I personally only use the japanese saws. Their ease and quality of cut cannot be matched by western saws for anywhere near the price.

-- Cypress Jake, New Orleans

View Loren's profile (online now)


10476 posts in 3669 days

#7 posted 07-05-2014 05:56 PM

A ryoba is a very useful saw. It can do a lot and the rip
teeth are graduated in size to make rip cuts easy to
start. They cut rapidly.

I do not like plastic handled ryobas. There is a tendency
for the handle to be light, so the blade has to be light
and flimsier to be balanced.

Thus I prefer The Gyokucho Ryoba.

I also use a bow saw, but that I made myself. Other
than than I use a dozuki, but the teeth are very fine and
easy to break off, so it is better to start with a ryoba,
in my opinion, to learn how to use a pull saw.

A fine western back saw is a nice thing, no doubt, but they
are pretty costly. I’m a little curious but not $100-plus
curious since I cut most joints with machinery anyway.

View BubbaIBA's profile


387 posts in 2398 days

#8 posted 07-06-2014 08:10 PM

I ve been trying to get started in woodworking for a couple months now…
...I m still trying to explore if this is something for me….
- liminalshadow

If you start with “tool shaped objects” odds are you will find that working wood is not for you. Any tool from Harbor Freight or one of the big box stores will be a tool shaped object and will frustrate more than help.

Start with a few good quality tools, such as those sold by Lee Valley. To start you need a small rip saw with about 14 ppi, you can make most cuts needed for small projects, both rip and crosscut. I’ve used Japanese saws, they are OK but for most US hand tool workers a good back saw works better. A couple of good chisels one 1/4’ or 3/8” and a 1/2” will take care of 95% of your chisel needs. A couple of diamond plates to sharpen the chisels and plane iron and a strop to polish are needed to keep ‘em sharp. A new #4 Woodriver plane is a good value and a good plane (when you are starting you do not need to teach yourself how to set up a plane).

Cost for the kit:

Chisels: about $60 USD

#4 Woodriver Plane about $150 USD

Diamond Plates: again about $150 USD

Saw around $80 USD

All good tools that will last for about $450 USD and all the kit needed to build boxes, small tables, stools and cases, and the best part you will not outgrow any of the tools. As you gain skill and interest each of these tools will be a base for an expanded kit.

BTW, you mentioned Paul Sellers, join his Masterclass….he has lots of good information on hand tool work and low cost tools.

View Richard H's profile

Richard H

489 posts in 1702 days

#9 posted 07-06-2014 08:23 PM

I know you mentioned you want to avoid the used market and really that’s not a bad idea when getting started but you might want to consider finding a saw where it’s already been sharpened and cleaned. You will pay a bit more but if you don’t know what sharp is going that route gives you a good reference spot. I picked a couple up from a tool dealer on Ebay a few months ago for a reasonable amount of money so they do exist out there. The dealers web sites are another option. Look for people who sell a lot of hand tools, put a lot of pictures including down the tooth line and who describe technical saw terms in the posts.

There isn’t a good high quality new hand saw manufacture these days. There are lots of really good back saw makers and a few decent panel saws but no hand saw makers. I guess they are just to expensive to do right anymore to make worth it.

View Crank50's profile


173 posts in 1598 days

#10 posted 07-06-2014 08:44 PM

Don’t know who BubbaIBA is other than he’s been a LJ for 956 days.
Bubba has no projects posted, but has made some nice furniture and nice planes if you dig into his posts.
But, I think he missed the point that the OP wanted to spend less than $50 on a saw.

The point was made by more than one poster that Japanese saws are hard to beat for the money they cost.

The OP also wanted to keep expenses low because he is not sure he wants to get into woodworking big time.
It is not necessary to trash everything sold by Harbor Freight or Lowes or Home Depot as “tool shaped objects” just because they cater to mass market needs and try to sell a lot of low priced tools to a large number of people instead of a few high priced tools to a small nitch market. Fact is, there are some very good tools in these stores along with the not so good. I pointed out a couple of them in my post #3.

View MrRon's profile


4793 posts in 3265 days

#11 posted 07-06-2014 09:22 PM

I’ve switched completely to the Japanese style “pull” saws. They are so much easier to use than the “push” style saw. Their kerf is much thinner too. You can develop bad habits using a western style “push” saw that is hard to break when you shift over to a Japanese saw, so starting out with the Japanese style saws will save you grief in the future.

View lightcs1776's profile


4210 posts in 1676 days

#12 posted 07-06-2014 09:37 PM

Personally, I think there are some great tools to be had second hand. My #4 and #5 Stanley planes are good examples. One doesn’t need a $160 plane to do quality work. Yes, it would be nice, but financial reality trumps the nice to have tools.

-- Chris ** If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace. — Tom Paine **

View liminalshadow's profile


2 posts in 1446 days

#13 posted 07-07-2014 01:11 PM

Thanks to everyone who’s responded so far, plenty of things to consider. At the moment, it seems the Gyokucho Ryoba might be a good compromise for what I’m looking for, but I have a couple questions about it.

I read somewhere (Can’t remember where at the moment) that japanese saws were primarily designed for cutting softwoods, and aren’t that great with hardwoods. Is this something that those of you who use this saw have run into?

Second, I think I mentioned that I have one of the harbor freight double-sided japanese-style pull saws. It made claims about a ‘rip side’ and ‘crosscut side’, but I’ve noticed upon inspecting the teeth that they’re all filed in what I think might be the three-sided tooth pattern. Is the Gyokucho saw in the same configuration, or are the teeth on either side actually filed differently? I just want to understand where the differences are before I make a decision. That being said, i am pretty sure I noticed the flimsiness Loren mentioned, and that might be reason enough to try one more time a step up.

Also, to answer some of the questions others have raised about my own projects / intentions:
I may very well be overthinking this, it’s not unusual for me. @Crank

I am mostly avoiding powertools for the moment. While there is some romanticism associated with hand tools, the main reason I’m avoiding power tools is because right now I live in an apartment, so the noise / dust / floor space required for something like a table saw isn’t something I can afford. Neither is the cost at the moment. @Crank

The walking cane project was one of his Masterclasses, available on his subscription website. It just seemed like a fun / easy project, assuming you can cut a tenon. @Tim

@Bubba, I’ve looked at his masterclases and a lot of info on his website and youtube channel. A lot of the options he talks about are either european or involve buying and restoring vintage tools. While that’s a viable option, I just wanted to explore alternates because of the learning curve involved. It may be something I decide to do down the road.

View JohnChung's profile


409 posts in 2096 days

#14 posted 07-07-2014 03:24 PM

I use Gyokucho Ryoba on hardwood. Cuts like butter. Well worth it. It has rip and crosscut teeth configuration.
Just don’t use this saw for dovetails. Get a dozuki for that.

For dovetails I use the LV dovetail saw. My grip for dozuki is not good enough for precise cuts. Maybe a dozuki would suit you better.

View Loren's profile (online now)


10476 posts in 3669 days

#15 posted 07-07-2014 03:44 PM

They work well on common hardwoods in my experience. Really
hard hardwoods maybe not. Now you can get Japanese
style dovetail saws and dozukis with teeth made especially
for harder woods, but for the hardwoods in the oak/walnut
firmness range the standard Gyokucho saws are fine.

Keep in mind that these are modern saws with replaceable
blades. They teeth are impulse hardened wand while
it may be possible to sharpen them in the traditional way,
they aren’t designed for it. They take a lot of use to get dull.

I haven’t inspected a new basic Gyokucho wrapped-handle
ryoba in many years, but my older ones have graudated
rip teeth on one side and intricately ground crosscut
teeth on the other. The rip teeth are just like you’d
find on a traditional western carpenters rip saw. Ryobas
are carpentry saws but they cut so precisely many of
us have found them suitable for furniture and instrument

I bought a Harbor Freight pull saw once, thinking it would
be equal to the Japan-made Zeta utility pull saw. It was
not in the saw class. On first glance it looks similar
but the tooth geometry, the exact grinding, is not the
same and it’s that complex Japanese grind that makes
Japan saws crosscut so fast.

showing 1 through 15 of 19 replies

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics