Cutting with a Handsaw

Although you'll do most of your cutting with power saws, there are times when cutting with a handsaw will be quicker or necessary. For example, when you have only a few cuts to make in thin or narrow stock, using a handsaw might be faster than getting out the circular saw and setting it up. Then, too, there are certain cuts, such as cutouts for stair stringers, that you can start with a circular saw but need to finish with a handsaw.

Using a handsaw properly is part art, part science. The trick is to change the angle of the saw after you have started the cut. With the proper technique, cutting with a handsaw will turn out to be less difficult than you might expect.

If you don't have a handsaw, buy one with teeth that are beveled to cut in both directions. Most of these are shorter than the traditional handsaw, but they cut faster because they cut on both the upstroke and the downstroke.

Step 1

Begin the cut by setting the teeth on the waste side of the cut line and the heel of the blade (the part closest to the handle) at about 45 degrees to the wood. Put your thumbnail next to the blade so it doesn't wander. For the first few strokes, pull the saw toward you (don't push it) until you have the cut started.

Step 2

Keeping the saw straight with the cut line, push it down and pull it back, rocking it from a steep angle at the beginning of the downstroke to a flatter angle at the end. Let the weight of the saw do the work. Pushing will only wear you out and cause the saw to wander. When you get within about an inch of the other end of the board, support the waste with your free hand. Hold it firmly to keep the kerf from binding the saw. Hold on to the waste as you continue cutting. Change to a slightly faster downstroke for the last few strokes to sever the waste from the board.

Back-cutting a corner cutout

Notching the corner of a thin board is one job that may go more quickly with a handsaw. Start each of the cuts as illustrated on this page, then finish them by holding the saw perpendicular to the board, reversing the position if necessary. Use the same technique to finish cuts on a stair stringer that you started with a circular saw.


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