Hand Saw Types and Their Uses

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Hand saws are some of the oldest hand tools invented by man. They are useful for making different types of cuts on materials such as wood, metal, and plastic.

The first real hand saw dates back to the bronze age and was made from smelted and cast copper. It had a serrated edge that allowed man to cut through the wood in multiple passes rather than hack as he did with the stone tools. This first hand saw with a metal blade heralded the many modern types of hand saws we have today.

Classification of hand saws

Hand saws are classified mainly by the type of cut they make or the type of material they are designed for or the style of cutting or their applications.

By type of cut

Some saws are designed to cut across the grain and others cut along the grain. For example, if you are cutting against the grain of wood you need a crosscut saw but for a cut along the grain, a rip saw would be more suitable.

By type material

Hand saws are also classified by the type of material they cut. Saws for cutting metal are not the same as saws for cutting wood.

By cutting style

Another classification of hand saws is on how they cut through the material. There are two broad categories of hand saws based on the cutting style. A pull saw or a push saw. Pull saws cut on the pull stroke whereas push saws cut on the push stroke. Pull saws are Eastern-style or Japanese-style saws while push saws are the conventional Western-style hand saws for wood. I have shared more about the push and pull saws in this article.

By application

Lastly, hand saws are classified by application. For example, a tenon saw for cutting tenons, a dove tail saw for cutting dovetails, and trim saw for cutting trim material.

As you can see, identifying an appropriate hand saw for the job can be quite tricky. This is why I wrote this article to explore with you the different hand saw types and their applications.

The aim is to help you understand more about hand saws so that you can always pick the right one for the job. Otherwise, using the wrong type of hand saw to complete a cutting job is tedious, inefficient, and might damage the teeth or the blade of your saw.

So, shall we start the exploration? But let’s begin by identifying parts of a hand saw.

Parts of a handsaw

Before we delve into the different types of handsaws, let us first understand the parts of a typical hand saw:

parts of a hand saw
  • Handle
  • Teeth/tooth line
  • Blade or saw plate
  • Back
  • Saw nut
  • Heel
  • Toe
  • Grip
  • Upper horn
  • Lower horn

That said, not all hand saws have these parts. Some even have additional parts based on their design. But this is what to expect, generally.

Types of hand saws – classification by design

Back saw

A back saw is a hand saw with a stiffened back. In other words, this type of hand saw has a spine on the back to prevent the saw plate or blade from bending. Back saws are used for different applications and are hence subtly different in design. Examples of back saws include a tenon saw, a dovetail saw, and a gentleman saw.

Rip cut saw

A rip saw is hand saw whose teeth are configured for ripping through wood or cutting along wood grain. Its teeth are widely spaced hence a smaller teeth-per-inch of between 4 to 7. The leading edge of the teeth form 90 degrees while the trailing edge slope backward at 45 degrees. Furthermore, the teeth have a pronounced ‘set’ which allows the saw to cut quickly along the grain. Because of this configuration of the teeth, a rip saw makes a very rough cut that requires a lot of finishing work on the planer.

Combination saw

A combination saw dual-purpose hand saw that cuts both as a rip and crosscuts saw. It is a compromise of both a rip saw and a crosscut saw. The teeth of a combination hand saw blade slope forward and backward at the same angle (about 60 degrees) and both edges are beveled. This makes the saw cut along and across the grain. However, a combination saw cuts slower but smoother than a rip saw and rougher than a cross-cut saw.

Framed saw

Framed saws are handsaws that have a frame for holding the cutting blade. The saw blade is fitted between the two arms of the frame and there is a tensioner on one end for adjusting blade tension. Mostly the tensioner is a wing bot or screw. Frame saws use narrow blades, which are suitable for making intricate cuts and curves. Examples of frame saws include a hack saw, junior hacksaw, and a coping saw.

Types of hand saws – classification by application

This is the most common classification of hand saws. It is also less technical. All you need to know is the type of task you need to complete and viola, you get the right saw! The disadvantage of this classification, however, is that you might end up with the wrong teeth configuration.  

Trim saw

this a saw for cutting thin materials such as trim. It has a very thin blade for thin kerf that is serrated on both sides for both rip cuts and crosscuts on trims material.

Tenon saw

A tenon saw is a type of a back saw used to make tenons for the popular tenon and mortise joints. It has reinforced brass or steel back on the blade and a hardwood or plastic handle. Typically, the teeth density on a tenon saw is anywhere between 12 to 16 teeth-per-inch and the length of the blade ranges between 10 to 18 inches. The teeth configuration of a tenon saw can either be for rip cutting or cross cutting. As the name goes, a tenon saw is designed to cut tenons. Therefore, you can use it to cut tenons in timber or make finer crosscuts than your crosscut handsaw.

Panel saw

A panel saw is simply a general purpose hand saw. It is characterized by large teeth, a flexible saw plate, and a plastic or hardwood handle. It is designed for cutting panels and boards to length. A panel saw is readily available and inexpensive. It is available either as a cross cut saw or a rip saw

Flush cut saw

A flush cutting hand saw is for making cuts that that are flush with the surface. It has a very thin saw plate and a high tpi of above 16 teeth per inch. The teeth also do not require setting. Flush cut saws are designed trimming protruding ends flush with the surface. You can use them to flush cut dowels and tenons in cabinet making. The thin blade of a flush cut saw allows you to bend it to access tight spaces. Furthermore, the hand saw does not damage surface because the teeth are not set. Therefore, very minimal smoothing of the final piece is needed.

Dovetail saw

A dove tail is a small tenon saw or a small back saw. It has a higher teeth density than a tenon saw (between 16 to 22 tpi) but a smaller blade of about 8 to 10 inches long. The purpose of a dovetail saw is to make dove tails for your joinery work. However, you can also use it to make tenons for your carpentry projects and woodworking models that need precision cuts. A dove tail saw is also a good addition to your collection of cabinetmaking tools.

Pruning saw

pruning saw with folding blade

A pruning saw is a type of rigid, backless or arc-shaped hand saw with triple-ground teeth for cutting in both forward and backward strokes.

The saw is used to cut tree branches and shrubs but you can use it to do other garden works that cannot be completed using secateurs. It also makes good camping saw.

Some pruning saws have fixed a blade whereas others have a folding blade. The latter is better because it protects the teeth of the blade and saves on storage space.

Floorboard saw

A floorboard saw is a shallow blades hand saw with a round sawtoothed nose for plunge-cutting. You can use the saw to make straight cuts in floorboards, veneer, and wood panels. The round edge is good for making plunge-cuts into materials such as wood floors. The number of teeth per inch on a floorboard hand saw is between 11 and 13 TPI, which allows it to produce a very neat finish in every cut.

Hardpoint saw

A hardpoint saw is simply a regular saw with heat treated teeth that can remain sharper longer than a panel saw. The spacing of the teeth is about 7 to 8 teeth per inch and the teeth cannot be sharpened. However, this saw cuts faster than a regular hand saw.

Jab saw

A jab saw is a hand saw with a narrow, tapered tempered steel blade that has a sharpened chisel tip. It is used for cutting in sheetrock and drywall, hence a drywall saw. The pointed sharp end on a jab saw is good for puncturing drywall and starting cuts. A third name for a jab saw is a utility saw because it also does the job of a utility knife. However, although a jab saw cuts fastener than a utility knife, it leaves a rougher cut because of the serrated cutting edge.

Gent’s saw

Gent’s saw, also called a gentleman saw, is a type of small backsaw. It has a short blade, typically between 4 to 8 inches, and a very high teeth density of up to 30 teeth-per-inch. The high tpi on a gent’s saw and a reinforced back make it a good hand saw for precision cutting. You can use it to cut very fine tenons or make musical instruments and fine furniture which require very accurate cuts.


Hey there! I am an field electrical engineer by day, a blogger by night, and DIYer on weekends. Throughout my career, I have used many tools and learned that getting the right tool for the job is the first step to getting the job done right. This is why I write about tools and tests/reviews them on this blog.