How to cut with a hand saw | beginner woodworking
*Video coming real soon
"A poor craftsman blames his tool." Gosh, I love that statement. The more simple the tool the less there is to blame, and few tools are simpler than a hand saw. While hand saws come in many varieties, this post will focus on the western hand saw; however, many of the principles are the same for other hand saws. The key to getting a straight and accurate cut with a hand saw is practicing the proper technique.
Lets jump into it with out any further introduction.
If you are right-handed you should stand with your left foot forward and your right foot back, knees slightly bent. This is similar to a ju-jitsu stance and will allow you to engage your full body in the work of cutting. Simply reverse the stance if you’re left-handed
Gripping the saw
The saw is gripped with the forefinger pointing forward towards the spine of the saw along the handle with the thumb wrapping around the handle to the opposite side and mimicking the pointer finger. This allows the thumb and forefinger to function as stabilizers locking the saw into the arm, thereby keeping the saw from moving left and right with out the wrist bending. The remaining three fingers grip the handle with a gentle yet firm grip -- think of it as if you are holding a baby bird in your hand; you don't want it to get away but you also don't want to crush it. If your knuckles are white then you run the risk of crushing the bird like Lennie Small would.
Correct sawing motion
When we cut with the saw we want the forearm and the saw to move back and forth in a line without any lateral movement. We do this by articulating at the shoulder and the elbow with your arm close to the body. If your elbow moves away from your body like you are doing the chicken dance then you are doing it all wrong. See video for an example.
Lining up a cut and keeping the saw there as you start the cut is much easier when you employ a little help from the thumb on your free hand. The thumb should be used to line up the saw with the cut line and keep it there as a cut starts. First, position the saw close to the cut line by hand, then place your thumb on the work piece where it can press on the side of the saw. To adjust the the cut line, simply rock your thumb forward and back to move the saw. You thumb will keep the saw from wandering as you start your cut by acting as a guide and will be safe there so long as you keep it on the side of the saw and not under it.
Starting the Cut
Position the work piece so that the side (or face) that is being cut is facing up and securely in place. A cut is best started on the far edge of the work piece (as opposed to across face or side) because it will require the minimum physical effort needed to start a straight groove for the saw to ride in.
The starting strokes work better with less pressure. I like to draw the saw back before my first cutting push when working with a western saw as it will create a micro groove that aids the saw on its first push. With a small groove established on the far edge you can work the saw forward and back to draw out the groove across the work piece to the near edge. Once the groove is established across the work piece you can relieve your helping thumb from its duties as a guide and level out the saw before continuing the cut.
Use the correct saw for your cut. A crosscut saw is used to cut across the grain and a rip saw is for cutting with the grain. You can use a rip saw to cross cut but you should not use a crosscut saw to make a rip cut.