Frame saw or bow saw, what’s the difference?

DSC_0015I recently progressed the videos on making different types of frame saw using different ingredients to maximise performance. Visitors stopped by over the days I was working and we were filming and they saw the saws in progress and indeed being used. One man asked my why Europeans didn’t adopt the English tenon saw for their joinery work, inferring this was the improved and better model. Of course in Britain too we had frame saws dating to the middle of the last millennia. Something shifted in the 1700’s when woodworkers transitioned from thinner and narrow blades to wider plate sheet steel and then the addition of the folded spline that pinched the steel and enabled the plate to be straightened by tension.

DSC_0013The progress we made was to introduce a new joint connecting the cross beam to the handles. I did this a few years ago now and have actually used my frame saw on a regular basis. I use it as what I think is the very best metal cutting saw I have ever used. Why do I say metal cutting saw rather than ‘hack’ saw. Well, it doesn’t operate at all like a hacksaw. It’s smooth cutting and it eases through the steel and brass like the proverbial hot knife through butter. I also get double the length of useable blade and, so, long even strokes that are magic.

It cuts oak equally well.

I have seen toggles and thumbscrews but never liked the look and feel of them and so I retained the toggle and the string method which I find works great. Wood absorbs some of the vibration you get with frame saws but tensioning is key to tensity in the sense of stretch.

The questioner, as with many Brits, assumed that the frames was simply the undeveloped former state of unevolved saws and backsaws were the ultra level of development. I say as with many Brits because the men I apprentice and worked with dismissed frame saws as being European and unBritish.

The bowsaw cuts lovely tenons and shoulders with equal results.
This image shows the out-cut of the frame saw and the dovetail saw respectively.



So here you see the joinery results of the bowsaw without any finish on.
These dovetails are untouched by chisel except for the shoulder cuts across the grain and came straight from the bowsaw with no further refinements.

Of course I am looking at these saws a little differently. All of the frame saws commonly available have the ability to turn the blade on its long axis and are often called turning saws. These saws are very different to the traditional bowsaws refined as saws for curved work which were never used for joinery but tighter curved work, arches and remove of waste between twin and double tenons. So it’s important here to look at things through different glasses. Frame saws are indeed good for joinery. They do other tasks including ripcutting, crosscutting and turning, and this depends on the width of the blade used, but for me here and now I want to simply present the frame saw as a joinery saw. In answering the questioner I took the saw and cut these tails for a dovetail by eye and without layout. I then cut a tenon replete with for sides and four shoulders and the same saw with the same blade gave me pristine surfaces that actually looked like a finely tuned bandsaw had cut the facets. I crosscut the shoulders with equal alacrity. So herein is the simplicity of it all. The bow saw is the least expensive saw you can use that gives at least comparable results to the more high developed tenon saw range and you can use one blade for everything without compromise. There are a few refinements you must do to make them work but this revolves around the blade and the teeth and not the frames itself. You really don’t need any turning capacity for any joinery practice so a simple saw kerf and a pin through holds the blade perfectly aligned. If someone makes one of these the cost per saw is under £3 including the blade depending on whether you use scraps of pine or some hardwood. Even if you buy decent hardwood the cost is still a fraction of a tenon saw cost.

I really have enjoyed owning one of these and especially so as a hacksaw. I have two finer toothed blades I use and of course I can interchange two or three beams to alter the length of the saw and the blade. So, I will advise when the videos are up on how to make both the simple frame saw and the fancier model. I think you will love these.

More in this and the making of them soon, very soon.

Have a nice weekend everyone!

43 thoughts on “Frame saw or bow saw, what’s the difference?”

  1. You’re going to teach us about frame saws!

    If I were close by, Paul, I’d give you a big hug-and-a-kiss. Well, maybe.

    I bought the Grammercy bowsaw a year ago and am using it carefully. It is an exquisite tool. I want more of it in the frame and bow saws’ many potential forms.

    I have put off rehabbing my grandfather’s second line Disstons (Warrantied Superior) or acquiring another saw, except for a throwaway Japanese Ryobe (two-sided) for ripping and cutting larger pieces. I just have also held off on the ECE saws, which are quite larger than Grammercy’s saw, but in the same price range.

    Certain that I can build the frame, it’s the blade that balks me. I want a reliable source of replacements. I’ve seen the many shop made frame saws in used tool stores and the blades with their inconsistent lengths look sad. I’ve read your comments about breaking off lengths of bandsaw blade at a fraction of a dedicated framesaw blade, but for the life of me cannot after hours of looking at bandsaw varieties figure out what blades you must be breaking up.

    I even bought a new Bahco pegtooth blade, intended for dry wood in their metal bowsaw frame, tested it, and it seems far off the mark to me. I’ve watched videos of he-men with massive resaw tools (blade in the middle and heavy frames), rip-cutting huge beams. One actually dug a sawing pit.

    You’re going to teach us about frame saws! I am signing up today!

    Do you want the hug-and-a-kiss or the credit card number first?

    1. Well actually, has paid and free memberships. The difference between the two being that all techniques and methods and tool making are free to subscribers whereas projects we charge for. Of course we do appreciate anyone that supports us as a paying member as this goes towards our research and paying wages, development and so on. Annnnnddddd!!! You get access to hundreds of of past and future project videos you can make to develop and reinforce the skills we teach..

  2. Mick Alexander

    Like Jeff Polaski, I can’t wait! I bought an old bow saw off an auction site, and I love using it. It has a very shallow blade which I sharpened and have used for cutting curves (making a lyre-shaped piece for a stick). But to make my own, and use it as Paul describes and demonstrates, well that would be superb. As a matter of interest, Paul, what is the additional angled piece that your fore finger is resting on? Or will I have to wait for the video to find out?!

    1. It serves as hand protection if the wood splits or snaps unexpectedly. Also, if the blade were to break which is unlikely because the blade does take a little breaking when stretched to full tension.

  3. nathanbreidinger

    Can’t wait, Paul. Like the first poster I am baffled by the blades that work best. I also like that you use yours as a “hacksaw” or metal cutting saw. Modern ones are mostly plastic and fake rubber. I have some white oak on deck for this project. Will it be available on Masterclasses or your Youtube channel? Thanks.

    1. I have two or three videos coming up, one is for YouTube and then a more in-depth one for

  4. Looking forward to the videos. What blades do you recommend? I don’t have access to any old band saw blades so I figure I have to buy a new band saw blade to start with.

  5. Oh great. Can’t wait to see that.

    My father owns a couple of frame saws. I however don’t know what was their main purpose. One has a wide blade (about an inch) and the other narrower (less than half an inch). I think they weren’t used for dovetailing since teeth density is quite low for that.

  6. Very interesting.
    But why are they so short? Here, in France, the most common blade size for a tenon saw is 500x40x0.35mm with 4 to 5 teeth/cm.
    For the large one, multi purpose, 600 or 700x40x0.6mm with 2.5 to 3.5 teeth/cm.
    Same size for the jig saw with a blade width of10 or 8mm. 3 to 4.5 teeth/cm.
    All three with rip saw teeth, most of the time.
    The last two are turning saws, the jig saw has handles, being mostly used vertically, the teeth facing the user.
    Hope it’ll helps

  7. Really can’t wait for this video. I have to admit Paul that I’ve been surprised at the level of control you manage to bring to using a frame saw. I’ve always thought that they were more of a blunt instrument. Of course if I’d bothered to engage the little grey cells I’d have realised the folly of this line of thought. Still, I’ve learnt something new today and a day like that is always a good day.

  8. I just finished watch the video on making a spoon and in that video you mentioned the possibility of putting together a video about the bow/frame saw. I can’t wait for this to come out!!!

    Thanks again for all the great content.

    1. It took a while because of some thoughts on safety, blades and technique. We have worked on this and it will knock your socks off.

  9. I wonder whether a backsaw has any advantage other than the looks over a frame type saw. For the beginner it would seem the above mentioned saw does it all and does it all well?

    1. I will try to present a fuller account on this as we progress, but you can do everything with this saw you can do with a tenon or dovetail saw bar a couple of things which I will show.

  10. Thanks Paul..I can’t wait to make my own bow saw like the one pictured with a hand gaurd

  11. Just in case anyone doubts: The risk Paul describes is real. I injured my hand using a frame saw in green lumber, cross-cutting an inch off a Christmas tree base. The saw bound in the cut, then, when it broke free, the saw moved faster than expected and my pushing hand struck the wood I was cutting. Striking the flexed knuckles on the work injured the tendons in my fingers. The doctor thought me odd when I told him I punched a Christmas tree. Even though the real problem was that I was using an inappropriately set saw for the task, the extra piece Paul has added probably would have protected my hand and the same injury could occur in other situations, as Paul described. Using a smaller, more appropriately sized frame saw also would have given me more control. When I make a saw, I may change the shape of that extra piece to give a bit more clearance for the bottom two knuckles. It might be fine as is…hard to tell from the photo. Based on this experience, I think saw handles provide protection as well as grip and I think that pointing your index finger helps keep your knuckles inside the handle.

    1. There is enough clearance as is. I have large hands and there is half an inch clearance at the narrow end.

  12. I’ve been eagerly anticipating such a project. I do have one question though: what proverb is it that speaks of a “knife through hot butter”? 🙂

  13. Curious where to get the wider blades. I made a bow saw and used the 1/8″ blade from Tool For Working Wood but I can’t seem to find wider width blades. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

  14. Paul, are you cutting the blades in half lengthwise? I had seen those blades before and wondered if that would be feasible to do. 700mm seems much too long for doing dovetails and the like and the saw in your photo doesn’t look to be at all that long. I’m assuming that when you talk of cutting metal you’re changing out to a standard 12″ hack saw blade.

    1. No, the saws are using the metal cutting bandsaw blades that can be made to whatever length you prefer by altering the beam length. Hacksaw blades are brittle and the teeth are not as refined or sharp as the bandsaw blades for metal cutting are. Also, there is no wavy edge for creating kerf either so again the bandsaw metal cutting blades cut smoothly too.

      1. Ok, I wondered from the beginning if you were using from a long roll of band saw stock. Earlier someone asked where to get wider frame saw blades and you gave links to Highland and Schmidt. So I was sidetracked with that answer. This leads to another question, how can you make one of these for “under £3 including the blade” when the price of a 100′ roll of band saw blade starts at about $100 and goes on up? I looked at several US suppliers for prices, I don’t know any UK suppliers. So that’s what’s available in the US. I don’t imagine it would be cheaper in the UK but I could be wrong, certainly not that much cheaper. I suppose if I bought a 100′ roll and made a bunch of frame saws I could get that price down under $10 each but not many of us are going to want to do that. Not trying to be difficult, just the numbers aren’t adding up for prices that I can come up with. I’m guessing that you’ve thought up another way of obtaining the blade stock. Maybe in the UK one can go down to the band saw blade store and buy a short section of your desired length. Having been in tool and die for almost 40 years I can say with some certainty that a store like that does not exist in the US. Curiosity is killing me on how you get the price down while using cut to length band saw stock.

        1. Wow! I walked into the Home Depot when I was there and bought a pack of 3 metal cutting bandsaw blades for a hand held metal cutting bandsaw for $17. The three blades gave me 6 blades the length I needed which was 20″. The wood is scraps or you can buy wood if you want to. I believe the blades were Milwaukee 14 tpi. Here in the UK a 112″ metal cutting bandsaw with non wavy blade cost about £14 if you shop around online. Thats 5 blades. I never mentioned buying a 100 foot roll for this venture. so I am not sure where this suggestion came from.

          1. Misunderstood your reply Paul. You stated band saw blade which you cut to length. In my mind that meant a roll. The toolmaker coming out in me I guess. Decades of working in Tool and Die shops will do that to a guy. Didn’t mean to offend or upset you. Was merely asking a question. I went down the wrong path from your reply earlier.

  15. Paul, any word on when you’ll blog about this? I’m hoping to make a couple for my grandsons for Christmas. Starting to get them interested in woodworking and have been making/collecting tool sets for the two of them. This would be nice editions for them and I think I might like one too.

    1. I think the film is edited and it will be on masterclasses as a free series on how to make it. Another slightly different version will be available via YouTube too. I will blog when they go up and probably make it a blog too.

      1. I have been wanting to see this for a while. Thank you Paul, I anxiously look forward to it.

    1. It’s filmed and in the line up being edited and may even be edited so we have one scheduled for free via YouTube and one type for free but to subscribers via So I suppose it will be quite soon.

  16. Is there a difficulty drilling through the band saw blade? Does the metal need annealing?

    1. It does vary between blades and makers. I have had them both ways but in most cases the teeth are hardened more than the band so it’s a test and try thing really.

  17. Thank you for you rapid response.. I ordered a Milwaukee three pack of 14 tpi blades this morning, and I am eager to give it a go! I made a frame saw following your Youtube video and using the Putsch 9 tpi rip blade. It seriously needed sharpening, but when sharpened as you teach, the saw cuts beautifully!! The 700 mm length is long for me, and I expect to make a shorter saw with a section of the new blades. Thank you very much for your videos and your prolific blogs!! Norm Abram first interested me in woodworking, but you have taught me to enjoy “real woodworking” !!! Thank you!

  18. Thanks, Paul! I was able to drill through the Milwaukee blade after spot annealing it with a Dremel abrasive cone bit. This process surely makes a fine blade for the frame saw! Thanks for the information! Best wishes, Mike Narges!!!!

  19. Paul, what to do with an old frame saw blade, that is slightly cupped across? Is there any way to make it flat again, or shall I toss it and find another one?

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