Handsaw for boat building

I think we have all tried using a handsaw and as such it does not require much introduction.

Most will properly say that it’s one of those hand tools that is easy to use but best for cutting something that don’t require much precision.

My point will be that this statement can’t be more wrong and handsaws are one of the most useful hand tools when talking about home and backyard boat building.


Lets start looking at the different handsaws. When you go to your hardware store you can find dozens of different handheld manual saws each with its own characteristic and more or less spectacular look. Some of them serve a very specific purpose like cutting keyholes other are hybrids invented by imaginative handsaw manufacturer.

This article is not about all the spectacular or hybrid saws you can find in your hardware store. It’s about the old fashion well known handsaw that has been used since our great grandfather’s great grandfather was a kid. That said the modern handsaws you get for almost nothing is in some aspect a hybrid, but more of that later.

There are two things to look at when choosing a handsaw. One is the length of the saw blade and the other is the number of teeth, normally called points to the inch, points per inch or TPI.

A normal all-round handsaw should be between 20” (500 mm) and 22” (560 mm) long. You can get handsaws that are both shorter and longer but my experience says that they are shorter that 20” (500 mm) you won’t get a good rhythm in your cut and if they are longer than 22” (560 mm) they get too flabby when cutting.

Another thing to consider when choosing the right handsaw is the number of points. Choosing a handsaw with some 6 to 8 points to the inch is ideal seen from my perspective. You will then get a handsaw that cut a relatively nice cut and still be able to make longer cuts without using much time and effort on the job.

Back in the old days there were two types of handsaws. Rip saws and crosscut saws. The difference was the way the teeth were filed. Also the saws were used for two different purposes. The rip saw used for cutting with the grains and the crosscut – surprise surprice – for cutting perpendicular to the grains. purposes. for two different puroor two different puroy the teeth were t using much time and effort on the job.   number of theet

rib sawRip saw
crosscut sawCrosscut saw

You can still get rip and crosscut saws in your hardware store but I have always found them to be expensive to buy. Also another interesting issue is the way the teeth are hardened.

Nowadays you get most handsaws with hardened and tempered saw blades. This is great since the saw will last much longer. On the other hand it can also be a problem if you use the saw for cutting old wood where there might be metal nails or screws leftover. If you once touch metal with the hardened saw blade it’s gone and will never be able to do a decent cut again.

I recommend you buy the cheapest handsaw you can find. I normally find them for between $5 and $10. Most times it’s not necessary to think much about rip or crosscut saws because the cheap handsaws most times comes with a bastard cut saw blade.

The bastard cut is a hybrid between the rip and crosscut saw. The teeth has the profile like a rip saw but are filed like a crosscut saw. This makes them suitable for cutting both with the grains and across the grains.

Some will say that the bastard saw is not good for either cuts but my experience says that with some practice you can make great quality cuts with the bastard handsaw and you don’t have to pay a fortune. If you are unlucky and cut in some metal it is no big deal, out with the old saw and get a new one.

Happy boat building,

Morten Olesen, Naval Architect

2 thoughts on “Handsaw for boat building

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