Saws – Buying and Using

Quick Links:

 If you are a beginner, the following links from our beginner site, Common Woodworking, may be useful to you:

  • Buying Saws – This guide recommends what to look for when buying the tool and the best place to buy from
  • Using Saws – This guide shows you how to use your tool


What sizes of saw do you recommend?

A 10” (25cm) dovetail saw with 16 PPI

A 12” (30cm) or 14” (36cm) (depending on your stature) tenon saw with 14 PPI

A 20-22” (51-56cm) long handsaw with 10 PPI ripcut, but an 8 PPI also works.

If you are planning to cut a lot of stock to size by hand, you may want one ripcut and one crosscut handsaw of reasonable length (say 22″+) with around 5-8 PPI.

I am struggling to saw to my line/My saw won’t cut straight. Can you help?

It could be your sawing technique or the saw could be bent or not accurately sharpened.

Sawing technique

People often apply too much downward pressure when sawing. The main thing to focus on keeping the saw in line and pushing the saw smoothly forwards and backwards. If it is sharp it will pull itself down into the cut. If it feels like it is getting stuck in the wood, you almost have to hold the saw back, so try lifting upwards a little to alleviate some of the tension. Make sure you stop sawing as soon as you notice that you have deviated from the line and go back up the sawcut. Also, have a look as to how Paul aligns his body with the saw when he is making a cut. Other than that, it is worth checking the saw to make sure it is straight, has even set and is sharp.

For more information on technique, take a look at the video within this ‘Angled Cuts’ exercise:

Dominant Eye

Make sure your dominant eye can see the line you’re cutting to, so with dovetails when you cut on the waste side of the line, you will mostly look at the line on the non-waste side. You do need to keep checking on the other side as well as looking at the top of the saw to see if it is square/in line.

Why do I get tear-out on my cross-grain cuts?

When crosscutting, you pretty much always get some level of tear-out when cutting across the grain as the wood fibres are unsupported on the back edge. That is the main reason that we use the knife wall when cross cutting. See our stock preparation page if you want more information on this.

Which saws do you recommend?

We definitely do have favourites and details of these come up regularly on Paul’s blog. Overall most seem to work well and have good steel. There are a few things to look out for such as avoiding dings and loose handles, the thickness of the steel and the handle and its angle in comparison to the blade. We have a number that we use regularly at the workshop that have no makers names and were very rusty to start with, but have been cleaned up. These can often be found for a good low price, so are a great way to get going.

Dovetail & Tenon Saws

We recommend a 14-16 tpi ripcut saw as a dovetail saw whether you’re cutting with or across the grain, ideally between 8″ and 10″ long. Here are a few options:

If you decide to go for the crown saw you may need this link.

There is more information on dovetail saws here:

Handsaws and Panel Saws

The following articles give some good recommendations.

To read information on sharpening, visit our saw sharpening and refurbishment page.