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A Complete Guide on the History and Analysis of Different Types of "Saws". (Automatic & Manual)

History of Saws

The invention and development of the saw followed soon after the discovery of copper in the near east about four thousand years ago. The early Egyptians used copper hand saws up to 500mm long, with a pistol-shaped handle lashed to the tang. Cretan carpenters about 1600 BC had large bronze saws for crosscutting and ripping.

The first iron saws were no stronger than the bronze ones they replaced. The only advantage was that the iron saws were more readily available. Later on, the Greeks and Romans made many important improvements to the iron hand saws, including various types of wooden frames for straining the blade and setting the teeth alternatively so that the saw kerf could be cut slightly wider than the thickness of the saw. The cutting edge could then be made straight and the teeth shaped to cut on the push stroke, giving a more accurate and efficient action. During the middle ages, improvements to the tools were confined to the design of the wooden frames and handles and various methods of cutting and setting the teeth.

About the middle of the seventeenth century the development of the process of rolling wide steel strip, mainly at Sheffield in England and in Holland, ushered in significant changes in the design of hand saws. The wider plates thus obtained were strong enough to dispense with wooden frames for straining the blades and the main problem became the shape and method of fixing the handles.

The Dutch and Scandinavian saw makers used a pistol-shaped handle with a ferrule fixed to a tang on the upper part of the blade. The English makers, however, preferred a handle as nearly as wide as the heel of the saw, cut from a flat plank about 25mm thick, with an oval handhole and angled grip, riveted or screwed to the blade.

With further refinements in detail, this became the standard pattern for hand saws for all types almost everywhere. For accurate work on the bench, carpenters, cabinet makers, and the like in the early eighteenth century also used sash, tenon and dovetail saws with fine teeth on a thinner blade, which was strengthened by a steel or brass back. These "backed" saws were also fitted with the new type of handle.

Although the traditional framed saws with narrow blades are still widely used in Europe for all types of bench work, ripping and cross-cutting, their use in English-speaking countries is confined to compassed or curved work. These "bow" saws or turning saws have changed very little since medieval times.

Mounting the File (for sharpening the saw)

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Mounting the Saw (for sharpening the saw)

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Levelling the Teeth and Then Sharpening it

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Saw Set

Size: to set saws from 4 to 16 points per 25mm

Material: cast metal, reinforced nylon

Use: to set saw teeth to the correct angle

The saw set is designed to bend the teeth of a saw to exactly the right angle to produce the required cut or kerf. When the handles are squeezed together a plunger presses the tooth against an anvil (a wheel with a graduated angle on the face). Which corresponds to the correct settings for saws with teeth from 4 to 16 points per 25mm. Saws that measure more than 16 points per 25mm should be reset by a saw repair specialist.

Saw Set

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Saw Plunger Pressed Against the Anvil

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Adjusting the Saw

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Two-Man Cross Cut Saw

Size: 1.2m to 2.1m

Material: blade- steel, handle- hardwood

Use: to fell trees and cut logs

The two-handed crosscut saw is one of the oldest styles of saws surviving in modern catalogs. It consists of a long flat blade with cutting teeth on the underside and an upright handle at each end. The shape of the blade seems to have been originally determined by local tradition and does not affect the cut in any obvious way. The shape of the teeth, on the other hand, is very important.

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The simplest crosscut design, known as the "peg" tooth, is an evenly spaced row of "V" shaped teeth. Each tooth is filed on both edges so that it cuts in both directions. Another shape has a deep gullet between each tooth. While the teeth do the cutting, the sawdust is carried out of the cut in the gullets. This prevents the saw jamming in the cut and is especially important for cutting unseasoned wood.

The other design for crosscut saws has rows of cutting teeth interspersed by unsharpened "raker" teeth, designed to rake the sawdust clear of the kerf. The "lance" tooth saw has a group of four cutting teeth and a pair of rakers separated by deep gullets.

Two-Man Cross Cut Saw

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Different Types of Teeth Set for the Two-Man Cross Cut Saw

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Cutting Down the Tree

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One-Man Cross Cut Saw

Size: (750mm to 1.5m)

Material: blade- steel, handle- hardwood

Use: to feel trees and to cut logs to length

One-Man crosscut saws have a hand saw style handle and a supplementary upright handle, which can be fitted anywhere along the upper edge of the blade as a secondary hand grip. It is normally positioned immediately in front of the main handle but can be fitted at the toe of the blade to convert the tool into a two-man saw.

One-man crosscut blades normally retain their full depth for most of their length, tapering rather abruptly at the toe. All the styles of teeth described for two-man saws are available for the one-man, but whatever the design there is usually a short length of peg teeth to correspond with the taper.

One-Man Cross Cut Saw

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Chain Saw

Size: bar length- (250mm to 500mm), power- electric (1100 to 1200 watts), petrol engine- (3.5 to 5.5hp)

Material: various

Use: to fell trees and cut logs to length

A modern chain saw cuts fast and efficiently even through unseasoned timber. A petrol engine or electric motor drives a continuous toothed chain which is supported and guided by a metal blade which is known as the guide bar.

Safety features are incorporated to prevent accidental starting of the tool. Electric saws are fitted with a "lock-off" button, and engine-driven saws have a centrifugal clutch, which disengages when the engine is idling.

Industrial Chain Saw

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Modern Chain Saw (Household Use)

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Folding Saw

Size: 1.2m

Material: steel

Use: to cut off branches

The folding saw is a length of flexible, toothed steel with a loop at either end. A rope is attached by the loop to each end so that the saw can be pulled in both directions. One end of the rope is thrown over the branch and the folding saw hauled up. One person takes either end of the rope and, standing well clear of the branch, they pull in alternate directions until the branch is severed. It is dangerous to cut a branch from below unaided, as both the branch and the saw itself could fall.

Folding Saw

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Log Saw

Size: 600mm to 900mm

Material: blade- steel, frame- tubular steel

Use: To cut logs to length and prune trees

The blade is held under tension in a tubular steel frame. In modern versions, tension is applied by a quick-release lever. The lever combined with an oval sectioned frame provides a comfortable handgrip. The blades, which are replaceable, are made up of pegged teeth or a combination of pegged teeth and gullets to provide cutting action in both direction.

Log Saw

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Hand Saw

Size: rip saw- length- 650mm, , cross cut length- 600mm to 650mm, , panel length- 500mm to 550mm

Material: blade- steel, , handle- beech, plastic

Use: to cut large planks or panels

Hand saws as a group have long, untapering, unsupported blades fitted with a closed handle. Although they vary in length, the main difference lies in the number and shape of the cutting teeth. The shape of the blades varies with the quality of the saw. A lot of modern saws, and some more cheaply produced traditional style saws, have a straight back and a blade of uniform thickness throughout.

The better traditional saw has a pronounced dipping curved back, known as a "skew" back. This is to reduce the weight at the toe, thus improving the balance of the tool. They are also "taper-ground", that is, ground on both sides of the blade to taper from the handle to the toe on the back of the saw while remaining a constant thickness just above the teeth. This improves the clearance of the saw in the kerf, even with a minimum set, which makes the saw easier to drive and wastes less wood.

The traditional hand saw handle is cut from a close grain hardwood, usually beech. In some ways, it is a curious design, for it is impossible to cut a handle from solid wood without leaving short-grain somewhere, and it is puzzling that the cross grain strength of plywood was never used for saw handles. Modern saws are often fitted with moulded plastic handles of a less elaborate design. In either case, a well designed handle should be set low on the back of the blade for correct balance and it should be angled to produce maximum thrust approximately halfway along the cutting edge.

Modern Saw

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Traditional Saw

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Back Saw

Size: length- 200mm to 350mm

Material: blade-steel, handle- beech or plastic

Use: to cut joints

Back saws have a straight blade, parallel top, and bottom, with a heavy strip of steel or brass wrapped along the back to provide rigidity. The handles are similar in shape to those on hand saws except that they are generally mounted higher. Smaller back saws are often fitted with an open handle. They are known as dovetail saws in Britain.

Back saws typically have cross-cut teeth for general bench work, such as cutting smaller sections of timber to length. Smaller back saws, used to cut dovetails by working mainly in line with the grain, are sharpened with fine rip saw type teeth.

When starting the cut, back saws are presented to the work at an angle in a way similar to that described for cross cut and rip saws. Once the cut is established, these saws are used more square to the work than hand saws are.

Back Saw

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Dovetail Saw

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Gent's Saw

Size: length- 100mm to 250mm

Material: blade- steel, handle- beechwood

Use: to cut very fine joints

The gent's saw is a small back saw with a straight chisel type handle. The small teeth are finely set to cut a very narrow kerf required for fine joints. The term "gent's" refers to the smaller, delicate tools given to "gentlemen" of an earlier date who enjoyed woodworking as a hobby. Saws with very fine teeth and narrow blades are called "bead" and "jewelers" saws.

Gent's Saw

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Vaneer Saw

Size: blade length- 75mm

Material: blade- steel, handle- hardwood

Use: to cut thick veneers

The vaneer saw has two curved serrated edges. One set of teeth is sharpened for cross cutting, the other for cutting vaneers with the grain.

Vaneer Saw

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Pruning Saw

Size: 300mm to 500mm

Material: blade- steel, handle- hardwood

Use: to prune trees

The simplest form of pruning saw, a descendent of one of the earliest forms of saw, is known in modern catalogues as the "Grecian" pattern. The curved, knife-like blade is serrated on the underside with regular teeth facing backwards, which cut on the pull stroke. The curve of the blade automatically progresses the cut.

The folding pruning saw has a handle the same length as or a little longer than the blades which folds into the handle for storage and safety. A double edged pruning saw is also available. It normally has fine peg teeth on one side of the blade and a coarser peg tooth and gullet combination on the other side.

Pruning Saw

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Flooring Saw

Size: length- 312mm

Material: blade- steel, handle- beechwood

Use: to cut through floor boards

A flooring saw makes it easy to lift floor boards to check plumbing or electrical wiring. The saw has a curving blade with teeth on the underside and an angled section. The curved blade of the flooring saw lets you cut into a board without having to start with a drill or keyhole saw, and the curved cutting edge is less likely to damage boards on either side. The teeth on the back edge let you cut up to a skirting board while keeping the handle clear of the wall.

Flooring Saw

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Portable Circular Saw

Size: unloaded blade speed- 3000 to 3500 rpm, weight- 3.4 to 6.35kg

Material: various

Accessories: saw blades, guide fence, saw bench

Use: to cut solid timber and board to size

The portable circular saw is an invaluable power tool. It is primarily a woodworking tool, but with special blades fitted, it can cut a number of materials with equal ease. Saw are manufactured as a purpose-made tool or as an attachment to a power drill; the latter may be underpowered for some jobs, but it is much cheaper. Larger industrial saws are available, but a saw which takes a 125mm or 187mm diameter blade is normally sufficient.

All portable circular saws should be fitted with a fixed upper blade guard and a lower blade guard which is pushed back as the saw passes through the work. The lower guard is spring-loaded to return automatically as the blade clears the work. Check that the guard is working efficiently before using the saw and never fix it in an open position when the saw is running. Choose the right blade for the job and disconnect the saw before fitting it.

Portable Circular Saw

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Portable Circular Saw (Blade Types)

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Saw Bench Attachment

Size: table size- 368mm x 250mm to 500mm to 400mm

Material: steel

Accessories: portable circular saw

Use: to convert a portable saw to a table saw

Some manufacturers supply a saw bench attachment, designed to convert their portable circular saw into a saw table. These are small, lightweight tables and normally will not take other makes of saw. If you are thinking of using this attachment, it may influence your choice of saw.

The saw is fitted upside down to the underside of the table with the blade and guard protruding above the surface. It must be fixed securely and accurately aligned with the bench guides. The saw bench has four legs, which must be securely bolted to a work bench. Alternatively, it could be fixed to a composite board base, which could be clamped to a bench when required. This has the advantage of portability and clears the work surface when the saw bench is not required. The angle and depth of the blade is adjusted by the portable saw controls.

Saw Bench Attachment

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Frame Saw

Size: length- 200mm to 700mm, , width- 3mm to 87mm

Material: blade- steel, ,frame- beechwood

Use: to rip, cross cut, and cut curves in timber

The modern frame saw is based on centuries-old construction. A relatively narrow blade is held in tension by the side pieces or "cheeks" of the frame, pivoting about their centers on the ends of a stretcher rail. The top ends of the cheeks are pulled towards each other, either by a twisted cord and toggle stick or a cable, tensioned by wing nuts. The stretcher rail and cheeks are either joined by a dry stub mortise and tenon or a bridle joint.

'the traditional two-handed method of holding the frame saw controls the direction of the blade and supports the frame. Grip the handle with one hand, the index finger extended in the direction of the blade. Take the blade fixing between the index and second finger of the other hand, wrap the thumb around the cheek and clasp the other fingers around the other hand. On some European models the blades are fixed in a vertical position for cross-cutting, but with a swivel blade for ripping. The British type of frame saw, the bow saw, has a smaller frame and is used for curves.

Frame Saw

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Frame Saw (side view)

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Holding the Frame Saw

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Coping Saw

Size: length- 159mm, , bow- depth- 118mm to 168mm

Material: blade/frame- steel, ,handle- hardwood

Use: to make curved cuts in wood or plastic

The blade of the coping saw is very narrow and has fine teeth grouped at 14 per 25mm. It is held under tension by the spring of the frame. It can be angled to cut in any direction, by twisting the pins extending from the blade holders.

Coping Saw

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Fret Saw

Size: length- 125mm, , bow depth- 287mm

Material: blade/frame- steel, , handle- hardwood

Use: to cut tight curves in wood and plastic

The fret saw is used to work thin sheet materials. It is very similar to the coping saw, but has a much deeper bow to the frame and can, therefore, be used to cut shapes well inboard from the edge of a panel. The blade is so fine, up to 32 teeth per 25mm, that it can cut curves without being angled. The blade is held at each end by a simple, thumb screw operated clamp. It is fitted like the blade of a coping saw, but the operation is much simpler as the spring of the frame itself is sufficient to tension the blade without further help.

To use the saw, hold the work flat on a bench over-hanging the edge. With the saw teeth set to face the handle, saw from below using a pull stroke. The bench backs up the work as it cuts.

Fret Saw

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Piercing Saw

Size: length- 125mm to 150mm, , bow depth- 68mm to 84mm

Material: blade/frame- steel, , handle- hardwood

Use: to cut tight curves in thin sheet metal

The piercing saw is constructed in exactly the same way as a fret saw, but its extremely fine blade, up to 80 teeth per 25mm, is specifically designed for cutting thin sheet metals, such as steel, copper, brass, and aluminium. Jewelers and silversmiths use the saw to cut gold and silver sheet.

The blade is fitted and used as a fret saw. Some frames adjust to take blades of different lengths, which is a useful and economic way to re-use broken but otherwise functioning blades.

Piercing Saw

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Sabre Saw

Size: unloaded speed- 2700 to 3300 strokes per minute, weight- 1.7 to 2.72 kg

Material: various

Accessories: saw blade, guide fence

Use: to cut curves in various materials

The sabre saw, which is designed as a power drill attachment as well as a special purpose saw, is a useful tool in the home workshop. It does not have the power and accuracy of larger saws for cutting large panels or thick sections of timber, but its versatility is a great advantage.

It can not only perform a variety of cuts but, fitted with the appropriate blades, can also saw a large section of materials. There are extra long coarse blades for cutting large sections of timber; shorter blades with different grades of teeth for finer cutting of softwoods, hardwoods, and composite boards; hack saw-like blades for cutting metal; and special blades for cutting plastic, masonry, plasterboard, leather, rubber, and cardboard.

A superior blade is available with carbide tipped teeth and there are also blades edged with tungsten carbide chips of different grades. They cut slower than many blades and are a little more expensive, but lasts longer and produce a very clean cut with virtually no splintering. They will also tackle ceramics.

Blades should be fitted according to the makers instructions. Make sure they are securely held and aligned as accurately as possible. Not all manufacturers produce the same range of blades, but some makers are interchangeable. Check that the fitting is identical by comparing a blade from your own machine with any prospective purchase.

Sabre Saw

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Sabre Saw Blade Types

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Hack Saw

Size: to take 300mm, 250mm, 300mm blades

Material: frame/blade- steel, , handle- zinc, alloy, hardwood

Use: to cut metal

Hack saws are used to cut most metals. The bow frame is adjustable to take different lengths of the blade and may be fitted with a pistol grip handle or a straight hardwood grip. The pistol grip is much more comfortable to use and is less likely to twist in your hand.

Hack Saw Type 1

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Hack Saw Type 2

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Junior Hack Saw

Size: blade length- 150mm

Material: frame- steel, , handle- nylon, zinc or aluminium alloy

Use: fine metal work

The junior hack saw is more convenient to use in confined spaces but must be used to make fine cuts only. The frame and handle of the simplest junior hack saw is made in one piece from a bent steel rod. The blade, which has 32 teeth per 25mm, is held under tension by the natural spring of the frame and held in place by slots. The pins which project from each side of the blade, hold it in position once it is inserted in the slots.

Another version of the saw has a pistol grip. The blade is located in the slot at the front end of the frame but fits into a tensioning device at the rear.

Junior Hack Saw

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Mini Hack Saw

Size: length- 200mm

Material: plastic

Accessory: hack saw blade

Use: to use where a standard hack saw is unsuitable

The mini hack saw is a one piece handle and frame which accommodates a hack saw blade. It will hold broken blades as well as new ones. It is used to cut metal in confined spaces which would be inaccessible to a standard hack saw. The blade slides into the handle and is secured by a screw clamp at the front end.

Mini Hack Saw