Which 20 Woodworking Hand Tools Should You Buy First?

Buy Two Hand Saws (Panel Saws): Rip and Cross Cut

Disston Panel Hand Saw medallion and handle

Handsaws (often called “panel saws”) are long, thin saws with a comfortable wooden handle. They are used for rough dimensioning of your lumber. Although a “panel saw” is technically a smaller handsaw that fits into the panel of a tool chest, I’ll hereafter refer to this type of saw as a “Panel Saw” to differentiate them from the broad category referred to as “hand saws”. Panel saws come in two tooth configurations: “Rip” (cuts along the grain…like a chisel) and “Cross Cut” (cuts across the grain…like a knife). You will need both.

Panel saws can be quite affordable (often as little as $5 a piece), but you need to know what you’re looking for and be willing to spend some time learning to refurbish and sharpen. My handsaw buying guide will help you know which brands & models to look out for at your local flea markets or on eBay.

Buy Three Back Saws: Dovetail Saw, Carcass Saw, & Tenon Saw

Brass backsaws for sale buying with price tag that says Drabble Sanderson London $45

Unlike panel saws, “back saws” are used for fine accurate work when making wooden joints (like dovetail joints). The thin metal saw plates are made stiff with steel or brass “backs” that run along the top of the saw plate.

Your first backsaws should be (1) a dovetail saw, with fine rip teeth, used for cutting joinery along the grain (like dovetails), (2) a “carcass saw” used for cutting across the grain (fine cross cut teeth), and (3) a larger tenon saw used for cutting deeper cuts, like tenon cheeks, along the grain (rip teeth). All three saws are used very, very often in my workshop. You could certainly get by with just a larger dovetail saw and a carcass saw at first, if you don’t plan on immediately cutting large tenons. Buying backsaws can be very confusing because there is no standardized naming system, and a dovetail saw can be turned into a carcass saw (and vice-a-versa) by sharpening it differently. And practically everybody that’s selling antique saws mixes the names up. My buyer’s guide really clears this confusion up and will help you know what to look for.

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