Well-Stocked Shop: Detail Saws

Terrific cuts from tiny teeth

Oddly enough, many woodworkers spend top dollar on premium tablesaw and chopsaw blades, but are satisfied to work with junk handsaws. This is particularly true in the case of small handsaws used for scroll work, cutting veneer, making small joints, trimming plugs, and other cleanup and detail work. Sadder yet, many woodworkers don’t even own cheap versions of these saws and don’t know what they’re missing.

Too bad, because these small-cut specialists really earn their keep, as shown in the offerings here. So check ’em out. That way, the next time you’re finessing fine work or sawing thin or delicate stock, ignore the power saws, and reach for the right tool for the job.

Tooth Talk

Typically, the more teeth per inch (tpi) that a saw blade has, the smoother and slower the cut. Choosing a saw with the proper tpi for the job at hand requires some experimentation. For the right balance between cut quality and speed (to be consistent) for general detail work, I prefer a 19-tpi dozuki. For an exceptionally smooth cut in stock less than 1⁄2" thick, I’ll reach for a saw with a 36-tpi blade. If forced to select only one saw, consider the Zona. Although its 24-tpi blade tends to stall a bit on 3⁄4"-thick stock, it handles thinner stock well, and comes with a miter box. The blade can also be reversed to cut on either the push or pull stroke. The 60-tpi “model makers” razor saw is capable of super-smooth cuts in plastic, thin-walled brass and wood, although it stalls in thicker materials.

—Joe Hurst, senior editor

Frame saws

Coping saws have introduced many youngsters to the world of woodworking, but they are good for more than pine board sailboats and rubber-band guns. 

A go-to jobsite tool for fitting moldings, these solid C-frame saws are also useful in the shop for tackling curves or pierced work that might be too dicey or awkward to cut on a scrollsaw. Coping saw blades are somewhat delicate, but they’re inexpensive and easy to replace when bent or broken.

For really fine work, step up to a fretsaw, which is basically a hand-powered scrollsaw. Outfitted with the proper blade to match the job, a fretsaw can make smooth cuts and super-tight turns in a wide variety of materials, including metal, veneer, and solid wood. Fretsaws are available with both fixed and adjustable frames. Larger saws typically have fixed U-shaped frames, which are deep enough to enable the blade to reach the middle of wide panels. However, smaller saws (which use adjustable C-frames) are easier to handle, as long as you don’t need the deeper throat capacity. The adjustable frame will also help you squeeze a few more cuts from shorter broken blades.

Veneer saws

For veneer, which is the thinnest (and often most expensive) stock in your shop, you need a saw that won’t split or tear the fragile material. The teeth on veneer saws have no set and are designed to cut cleanly both with the grain and across it. The convex blade allows you to make long cuts while keeping some teeth fully engaged in the stock–something that would be difficult to do with a straight-edged blade.

The saw is generally guided against a straight edge of some sort, beginning the cut with a few light scoring strokes to prevent splitting the veneer. Saw on the pull stroke, starting at the far end and pulling the saw toward you, rocking it backwards as the cut progresses, and ending with the trailing teeth contacting the work.  

Special Problem Solvers

These oddly shaped saws fill a niche not met by other detail saws. Considering the prices, you can’t afford not to have both of these problem solvers in your toolbox.

Flush-cut saws slice plugs, pegs, dowels, and other protrusions flush to the surrounding surface without scratching it. The 13⁄8"-wide paddle-shaped blade on Veritas’ flush-cut saw is flexible enough to be bent perpendicular to the handle. The teeth are set to one side only, enabling an aggressive cut without scratching the surface below. The double-edge blade allows you to approach the cut from either the left or the right.

Keyhole saws are designed to make pierced cuts. Although listed as a trimmer for bamboo and bonsai, Japan Woodworker’s stiff, tapered blade saw is equally suited for straight cuts and tight curves. Only 1⁄2" wide at the handle, this economical saw can start a cut from a 5⁄32"-diameter hole in the middle of a panel.

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