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April 15, 2021

Professional Tool Reviews for Pros


When to Use a Handsaw Instead of a Power Tool

All too often in today’s world of gizmos and gadgets, we look for what we think is the fastest and easiest way to make the cut. The funny thing is, sometimes the old way of doing things is still the best! With all the choices of cordless tools and special power saw blades, they still make and sell quite a few different hand saws. To power-up your productivity and reduce the mess, we want you to know when to use a handsaw instead of a power tool.


The Case for Handsaws

Hand-sawing has not gone out of style. For reasons we’ll provide below, it probably never will. Even as power tools evolve, hand saws still keep changing. They cut through material quickly. We also find them incredibly durable and easier to start when you need to get a good bite on the material.

When to Use Handsaw Instead of Power Tool

We consider many of the hand saws we use today hybrid saws. They combine some of the best of several types of saws into one. They usually cut on the down or “push” stroke—much like a western-style saw. But they also cut on the up or “pull” stroke like a Japanese-style saw. This action makes the saw easier to start and helps remove the wood nearly twice as fast.

If we take a look at a few different scenarios, we can see times when it’s actually easier and quicker to just break out that hand saw. Yes, at times you can leave your reciprocating, circular, or chain saws in their cases!

When to Use a Handsaw for Undercutting Door Jambs

Not long ago, I was helping a buddy put in a new laminate floor. By the time I got there, he had already used his jigsaw to cut the laminate flooring to (kind of) fit up to the door jam. Had I had arrived a few minutes earlier, I could have saved him a lot of trouble. I also could have avoided seeing the jagged end of the laminate butting up against the trim.

With a Japanese pull saw, it would have been quick and easy to simply undercut the trim and jamb. This would have given him a seamless floor finish. We also see people reach for oscillating multi-tools to get this work done.

Rockwell Sonicrafter undercutting

Needless to say, for the rest of the room, I did the undercutting for him.

These tricky cuts are made easy by the Japanese pull saw. The saws cut on the pull stroke, making it easier to control and start the cut. Also, they typically have super-thin blades, letting them make perfect cuts in door jambs. After that, you can easily slip tile, vinyl, or laminate flooring underneath.

Rigid Foam Insulation

Sure you can use a three hundred dollar hot knife to cut rigid foam. For most weekend warriors, however, those tools cost too much. Most power saws just make a mess of the foam and are usually overkill. Some types of foam let you score and break it with a utility knife.

Still, one of the easiest ways to cut the stuff is with a handsaw. With the quick push-pull of the saw, you can easily make straight or even curved cuts. Best of all, you really minimize the mess.

Holes in Sheet Rock

One of the greatest moments when using a hand saw saves tons of time is with drywall. Use a keyhole saw to quickly make cuts in drywall to install new work boxes when adding switches or outlets.

These saws start easily because they have a sharp point. You just jab the saw through the drywall to start the cut. I do have a RotoZip tool, but many times I find that I make less dust and mess using the hand saw.

Milwaukee Rasping Jab Saw

Power tools are great—but for small jobs, you can often avoid a mess. One notable exception occurs on cuts where you may be likely to intersect existing wiring with the blade. There you want to control the depth of the cut—a feature powered saws often provide.

Use a Handsaw for Cutting 6×6 Timbers

When framing up a carport or doing a deck using 6×6 lumber, your 7-1/4″ circular saw won’t cut all the way through. Sometimes that’s the case even when you cut as deep as the saw will allow on all four sides!

You could get this last bit in the center of the timber using a 9-inch or 12-inch blade in your reciprocating saw. For an easier time of it, just grab a hand saw and make a few fast strokes. You can be finished quickly with a nice clean cut.

cutting lumber handsaw
Works great for smaller lumber as well!

Cutting Stairs and Rafters with a Handsaw

When cutting stair stringers and roof rafter bird’s mouths with a circular saw, you are either left with an unwanted saw cut where the saw cut extends beyond the actual corner, or you can’t completely remove the section.

How To Use A Speed Square

To get around this, we use a circular saw and stop the blade before it cuts beyond the end of the cut. Next, use a hand saw and finish the cut so that the removed piece squares up nicely with no overcuts. The circular saw kerf makes a great guide to allow the hand saw cut to finish out with a clean inside corner.

When to Use a Hand Saw for Tree Trimming

Yes, tree trimming. This one is probably one of the most common types of cuts that almost anyone with any kind of shrubs or trees on their property will make. For most, a chainsaw is simply overkill. It can even be dangerous in some instances. A handsaw provides an easier way to make the cut.


pruning handsaw

With the right pruning saw, you can quickly eliminate unwanted low-hanging branches and saplings. You can also pull out that saw much faster than you can fire up an electric or gas counterpart. Notable exceptions include pruning with a one-handed reciprocating saw or something like the Milwaukee M12 pruning saw.

Wrapping It Up

Knowing when to use a handsaw may make you feel old-fashioned, but if you don’t have at least one or two styles in your tool arsenal it may be time to rethink your collection and pick them up the next time you visit the nearest home improvement store.

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Gregory Mills

Anybody remember the TV show the The Woodwright’s Shop with Roy Underhill? It was all about traditional woodworking. I learned to handcut dovetails and motist and tenon joints using just hand tools (though I havn’t done it it 20 years). Even though buying a jig and using a router is faster, there is something very satisfying with knowing how the generations before you worked. I love my Japanes hand saws and often use them in the shop just because I dont want the noise of power tools to interrupt the peace and quite. I often use a hack saw over… Read more »

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