Hand Saw Essentials
with Jim Tolpin and Faculty


Basics of Woodworking Series Level: Level I


Using a hand saw is the most basic skill of hand tool woodworking--which is why we offer Hand Saw Essentials as the first class in our Basics of Woodworking Series. Without being able to use a saw you cannot cut wood to approximate size and start the dimensioning process, nor can you cut the joinery. So you need to start by learning how to choose and use a hand saw in the most efficient way.

The humble hand saw has gained a bad reputation - most hand saws do not work well, and they are percieved as difficult to sharpen. New premium grade hand saws are expensive and justifiably so.

In this class we'll teach you how to recognize a good used western style saw - whether you find it in a garage sale or inherited it from your grandfather. There are many good saws out there.

Japanese saws cut well but are difficult to master. We find that a well tuned and sharpened western style saw cuts just as well and is easier to keep to the line (especially for novices). We'll touch briefly on Japanese saws but this course focuses on western style handsaws.

Hand saws scale from a Gent's Saw for delicate jewelry box joinery, through dovetail, tenon and carcass saws for furniture joinery to the rip saw and cross cut saws used to cut stock out of rough boards. This course will focus on those saws you'll need in your first years as a hand tool woodworker.

Saw sharpening requires an understandiing of saw tooth geometry  - we'll take the mystery out of set, rake and fleam.

Who knows, having mastered the hand saw, you may even consider abandoning the table saw and chop saw for your projects. (Though maybe not your band saw!)

Class Description

This class focuses on the care, sharpening and effective use of handsaws through a sequence of demonstrations followed by hands-on practice.

Topics covered:

Saw theory

  • Saw tooth geometry - rake, fleam and set
  • Right teeth for the job - rip vs crosscut
  • Western vs Japanese

Saw Taxonomy

  • Choosing appropriate saws for fit and function
  • Saw types
  • Just how many saws do you need?

Caring for saws

  • Recognizing a good saw
  • Restoring  and maintaining the blade
  • Repairing / replacing the handle

Sharpening and Tuning

  • Saw Vices
  • Files
  • Saw sets
  • Students can tune and sharpen their own backsaw

Sawing Fixtures:

  • Bench hooks
  • Mitre Boxes
  • Saw Benches

Sawing techniques

  • Coarse ripping and crosscutting at the saw bench
  • Precision sawing at the workbench/span>

Cutting curves

  • Cutting shallow curves with hand saws
  • Cutting tighter curves with bow, coping and fret saws.

Saw Restoration

Building a sawbench


We strongly recommend that you bring your own handsaw to this class so that you can learn how to sharpen your own saw. We recommend that you bring a dovetail saw. The Lee Valley / Veritas Standard Dovetail Saw - 14 tpi  which, for around $65, is a great choice. If you bring a different dovetail saw please check to make sure that the teeth haven't been tempered - as these cannot be sharpened.

Feel free to bring along other handsaws that you may have inherited or gathered along the way. Each tool will provoke an interesting discussion and there's a good chance you may leave with a working saw (or at least know how complete tuning it).

More about this class


There are no prerequisites for the class - you'll benefit as a complete beginner or as an experienced woodworker who want to experience liberation of using a well tuned handsaw.

Class Information and Registration

Class starts at 9:00am on the first day.

Please read our What to Expect page for general information about the School.

Please also read our Registration Policy.

Class size: 10
Cost: $260
Materials Charge: $60

2014 Classes

When you click on the Register link you will be able to register for the class or, if the class is full, sign up for the wait list. 

October 4 - 5, 2014 Hand Saw Essentials Register


If you'd like to ask questions - please feel free to contact us – (360) 344-4455 or by email.


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Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Preservation Trades Copyright © 2007-2014. All rights reserved.

200 Battery Way | Fort Worden | Port Townsend, WA 98368 | (360) 344-4455 | email

The Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Preservation Trades is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit. Any donations made to the School are tax-deductible to the extent provided by law.