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

Circular saw for boat building

Circular saws come in two different types. One is handheld and one is stationary (table mounted). This article is only about the handheld type.

The circular saw consists of a circular blade with saw teeth round the edge. The blade is connected directly to an electric motor and there is also some kind of fixture making it possible to guide the saw blade over the material being cut.

circular saw

The saw blades can have different numbers of teeth. The more teeth the blade has the finer the cut will be but the cutting speed will also be slower.

Using a circular saw is great for cutting straight and relatively moderate curvature. The cut can be done real accurate. Also the surface finish is good when using fine teeth saw blades and relatively slow cutting speed.

The circular saw can be adjusted to cut different thicknesses of plywood and wood. With most saws this is an easy operation only requiring operating one handle. Also most circular saws can cut different angles making it easy doing bevel cuts.

As mentioned earlier the circular saw can be really helpful when cutting moderate curves. However making the curves requires that the saw is equipped with an anti-snag device. The device can be seen on the picture below.

circular saw with anti-snagging

When cutting with the circular saw the forward teeth cuts the plywood. Since the saw blade is circulating the teeth also have to pass through the plywood with the aft part of the blade. When the aft teeth are passing the material there is a risk they will snag forcing the circular saw to suddenly move up the cut.

This is more likely to happen if you are making curved cuts. Now with the anti-snagging device this is prevented so the aft of the saw blade won’t get into the cut. This means that the cut will be of better quality and more important your safety will not be compromised by any uncontrolled snagging.

Basically the handheld circular saw is a fine tool for home and backyard boat builders, but with this tool and any other electrical cutting tool it’s important to use it according to the safety and security guidelines given by the manufacturer. It’s also important to be careful and focused when using the tool so you avoid any accidents. Because remember the best way to avoid accidents is to think before you act.

Happy boat building,

Morten Olesen, Naval Architect

Saber saw – Jigsaw for boat building

When talking tools for boat building one of the most common electrical saws are jigsaws or saber saws. They are widely available and you can get them from 20 $ to more than 500 $. You can get them both with and without cable but the cheap ones are of course with cable.

Jig saw picture

So what do you get and how much should you spend on such a saw? It really depends. In my opinion if you are only going to build a small boat and beside that you only occasionally use the saw for other DYI jobs at home, I would go for a saw in the cheaper end.

Sure it properly won’t last as long as the professional expensive ones, but the point is that at the time where the cheap saw is broken and ready to through out you will most likely want a new one anyhow. And it’s after all much easier to replace a cheap tool than an expensive one.

You got the new saw so the last thing I would talk about; what is it actually good for?

To be perfectly honest with you: Not much when it comes to boat building. The quality of the cut is often very poor if you don’t concentrate really hard and cut really slow. When cutting panels and large parts for boats slow cutting is not that convenient.

When you use a jig or saber saw you should count on using some time on fairing the panels after they are cut.

There are other saws that are more useful when building boats. I will post about them some other day.

The only thing the jig/saber saw is fine for is to cut out a hole inside a plywood plate, for instance when making a hatch in a seat. Here you can take advantages of the fine cut and normally if you are a little deft you can make the cut without drilling a hole first.

One thing you might be wondering about is that the jig/saber saw on the picture is upside down. That’s because this position is often the best to use if you need to make a fine cut. Holding the saw this way and cutting from the backside of the plywood makes it easier to follow the cut line.

Happy boat building,

Morten Olesen, Naval Architect