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A Guide To Woodworking Clamps

If there is one universal truth in woodworking; it is that you can never have enough clamps (and you usually haven’t got the ones you need).

Types of Woodworking Clamps

Clamps come in all sorts of shapes and sizes so it can be confusing to know which are the best to use in different situations.

Band clamps

These consist of a flexible nylon strap and a tightening mechanism; you’ll want the ones with a ratcheting mechanism which is very easy to tighten and release. Band clamps are superb for clamping picture frames, round or odd-shaped pieces.

Bar clamps

Also called F clamps or G clamps. These consist of two horizontal bars joined together by a flat bar. They can apply large amounts of pressure and will find a home in most woodworking shops.C clamps / G clampsThese are basic clamps and usually the first ones that you’ll own. Four to six of these will do you for most basic projects.

Corner clamps

Also known as mitre clamps. These are specialist clamps designed specifically for clamping miter joints or right-angle joints. They are especially useful for picture frames and the like.

Handscrew clamp

These are quite traditional and can be very flexible. The jaws can be adjusted to easily clamp sloping or tapered pieces.

Pipe clamps

Have the same uses as bar clamps, but can be a lot more flexible as you choose their capacity by changing the length of the pipe.

Sash clamps

Very similar to a bar clamp. Suitable for all but the heaviest clamping jobs and extremely versatile.

Spring clamps

Spring clamps are useful for small jobs but don’t expect them to exert a large amount of pressure.

Toggle clamps

I could write another article entirely for all the different types of toggle clamps that are available. In short they have a toggle on/off action and are frequently screwed onto something. This makes them superb for use in home-made jigs. In general, if you can dream up a custom clamping jig, there will be a toggle clamp that will make it work.

Manufacturers

Ok, so now we know the different types available and a little bit of what they’re used for. So who makes the best woodworking clamps?

Irwin

This is a great company that make a wide range of clamps at varying price points (with associated variations in quality). You’ll likely end up owning the highest number of Irwin clamps and using them most of the time but you’ll also need a few higher quality clamps to round out your collection.

Destaco clamps

Ok, that should really be DE-STA-CO. This is where you’ll want to get your toggle clamps. With the widest range and highest quality, if you’re looking for a manual toggle clamp for a jig then look no further.

Bessey / Jorgensen / Jet Tools

I’ve grouped these three together as they are generally considered to produce the highest quality clamps with little to distinguish between them. These are fantastic tools that will last many years, but you’ll pay a premium for them. Aspire to own Bessey clamps, Jorgensen clamps or Jet clamps, just don’t buy them when you’re starting out! You’ll know you’re committed to woodworking when you fork out for some of these (but you won’t regret it).

Storage for your clamps

Eventually you’re going to end up with (what feels like) hundreds of clamps, all vying for space in your (already packed) workshop. How do you keep them all neat and tidy whilst also having them easily accessibly. There’s nothing worse than gluing up, positioning your join, reaching for your clamp and realising it’s on the floor on the other side of the shop!

There are many off the shelf solutions for this and a quick search on Google will bring up many options. But if you’re interested in woodworking then you’ll most likely want to build your own custom storage. If this is the case then I would suggest taking a look at my post on tool storage for inspiration and then designing your own.

I hope this article has helped you in navigating the murky waters of clamps.

Happy clamping!​

Giddy Up, Saw Horse – Best Sawhorses

At its simplest a sawhorse is a plank with four legs which is used to support something for cutting. The best sawhorses can support lots of weight, are versatile and can be either folded down or stack-able so that they can be stored easily when not in use.

However sometimes simpler is better and you just want a plain old fashioned wooden saw horse to cut some lumber on.​

Commonly used in a pair you can support a plank across them for easy cutting, or even use clamps to fix a heavy board on them to use as a temporary work bench.

I don’t know about you, but I use my saw horses for almost every project. They get even more use than my workbench, mostly because they’re not a fixed length. If you can fit the work piece in your shop then it’ll fit on your horses.

Best Sawhorses

When purchasing woodworking equipment that is going to be taking a lot of weight you need to invest in something that is built from the best materials and to the best of standards.

You can either choose to build your own to your personal specifications or purchase the best saw horse that you can afford.

​"Quality is long remembered after price"

Having the best power tools and saws in your garage is great. But if you skimp on the supporting items like meter saw stands, portable workbenches, bench vice or sawhorses then you may end up frustrated if they don't give you a safe, secure, strong and level work surface.

Although a saw horse may seem like a very unimportant item in your work shop choosing the right one is essential. A saw horse is the type of tool that you only notice if it is not working right, a good one should just go unnoticed doing its job time and time again without any hassles. 

Best Folding Saw Horse

Toughbuilt C550 Folding Sawhorse

The C550 folding saw horses from Toughbuilt are some of the sturdiest available. Capable of holding 1100 pounds singly or 2200 pounds per pair they should stand up to most woodworkers demands.

The C550 is the replacement for the much loved 470 and has surpassed its predecessor in every way.

toughbuilt C550

Specifications

  • 1100 lbs single, 2200 lbs pair load capacity​
  • Dimensions 41.54 x 26.57 x 28.82"
  • Zinc plated
  • Pivoting feet
  • Material support pegs

Although these are priced on the high end compared to most other saw horses in our review they are probably the only ones you'll ever need and have a lot more features than any other saw horse.

These are some of the most veratile sawhorses you will ever see. The arms have built in notches that allow for a very square work surface to be built if you are looking to create a temporary table.

The C550's also feature support pegs on the legs that allow you to mount a board at a convenient angle for cutting.​

Not many sawhorses can boast these kinds of features.​

toughbuilt-c550-support-pegs
95 %
Features
92 %
Value
96 %
Durability

The best sawhorses for the money you won't be disappointed.​


Portamate PM-3300T Sawhorse

​The Portamate saw horse offers a no frills alternative to the Toughbuilt above, however they have roughly have the load capacity.

Built from tough steel they stand at a height of 33 inches. 

Out of the box these saw horses are ready to go all you need to do is unfold the legs and they are ready. No messing screws or bolts.​

The top surfaces are pre-drilled ready for your 2 x 4's to be screwed into. You can have a sturdy work area up and running in only a few minutes and it's just as quick to take apart after also. 

Specifications

  • ​1000 lbs pair load capacity
  • Full steel construction
  • Fold up legs
  • Comes as a set of two
  • Spring loaded quick lock pin
  • Pre-drilled on top for attaching 2 x 4's

Stanley 060864R Plastic Sawhorse

These Stanley sawhorses are from a high strength injection molded plastic that is capable of holding up to a 1000 lbs per pair.

​Being made from plastic these horses have a significant weight saving over their metal counterparts and are still durable enough for heavy work environments.

If you intend to be on the move regularly and need some light durable and strong sawhorse then these are just the ticket. 

Specifications

  • 1000 lbs load per pair​
  • Light-weight
  • Side hangers for cables
  • Tray for holding tools

Saw Horse Buyer's Guide

When choosing the best sawhorse for you garage or shop there are a few important considerations to take into account.

Are you looking for a saw horse that:

  • Is stack-able
  • Is easy to transport
  • Wood, plastic or metal
  • Fold-able or rigid 
  • With tool storage area or without

They come in all types of materials; you can get a metal saw horse, plastic saw horse or, my favourite because you can easily make it yourself, a wooden saw horse.

Plastic SawHorse or Metal Sawhorse

Depends on your needs. Metal will always be stronger(if well built) however plastic can be considerably lighter meaning easier transportation.​

Folding Saw Horse

There are two reasons for having a folding horse; portability and storage. A non-folding horse has a reasonably large footprint, which gets worse if you’ve got more than one and they don’t stack! One thing to bear in mind with a folding horse is how much weight it can cope with, you don’t want to compromise its integrity.

Adjustable Saw Horse

This type is height adjustable. There are two ways to achieve this (which can be combined); extendable legs or a liftable top piece. This is useful for lowering a tall work piece or for raising a temporary bench. One thing to watch out for with these is that the resulting work area is level, an off level saw horse can throw out measurements and cuts.

Tool Storage Area

This can take the form of a shelf on the lower section of the legs and can be somewhere handy to store your tools during a project. With this design the shelf can flip up to accommodate a folding horse and can provide additional structural strength and rigidity.

Most saw horses are pretty similar, feature dependent, but there is one type that is a little different.

Chainsaw Saw Horse or Log Saw Horse

This type usually has a profile that looks like an X. This means that you don’t have a flat work area on top. The X makes a perfect holder for a log and will keep it still while you cut it with a chain saw.

How to Make a Saw Horse

Five seconds on Google will give you a hundred different saw horse plans, so I’m not going to add another one to the list. What I will do is talk about features you might find useful. Once you’ve decided what you want you can search for some plans.

Personally I went for a rock solid design for my first horses with no extra features. Next time though I will definitely make them foldable; there have been a couple of times I would have liked to put them in my car to take them to a friends house but ended up sawing on the floor as they wouldn’t fit. I’m not yet sold on the adjustable height feature yet.

So there you have it, you should know what you want your horses to do.

Looking After Your Chain Saw

So let’s say that you’ve bought a new chainsaw and now you want to keep it in tip top shape. After all it was expensive, so you don’t want to have to replace it if you can avoid it.

How much maintenance you need to do depends on what type of chainsaw you bought and the features it has.

Electric Chain Saw

If you bought an electric saw and it has an auto oiler, then you’re laughing; the only thing you’ll probably need to do is to keep the blade sharp along with topping it up with chain saw oil. Don’t skimp here, you’ve just paid out some serious money for your saw and you want to use premium oil to make sure it keeps running for ever. One way to test that the auto-oiler is working is by pointing the chain bar at something you don’t mind getting oily (like a cardboard sheet) and revving the engine; you should see oil spatters appear.

Petrol Chain Saw

If you’ve got a gas powered chain saw then you’ve got a little more work cut out for you as you’ll need to look after the motor. If you’re paying attention when using your saw then you’ll get some hints when there are issues. If it’s particularly difficult to start then you could have a bad spark plug or stale gas. Alternatively if you lose power at full throttle it could have a dirty filter or a clogged exhaust.

Of course, the best place to find information about keeping your saw in perfect condition is the user manual. This will have information about all the things you should be looking at and, more importantly, all the stuff you shouldn’t touch. Remember, some of this tool should only be messed with by a qualified mechanic.

You’ll need to keep your wits about you and don’t be afraid to stop. If you’re not comfortable doing something, then you probably shouldn’t do it. Find a qualified person and see if they’ll let you watch; then maybe you’ll be confident enough to do it next time.

Air filter

A petrol chain saw is a mini-engine; and it needs to breath. It draws air in, mixes it with fuel, burns it and pushes out an exhaust. If it has difficulty with any part of this cycle it won’t run at its best.

You should check your air filter each eight hours of use (this might be a single day for you, or over several weeks). If your air filter is dirty you can experience all sorts of issues, most obviously a loss of power. However, long term issues can be increased fuel consumption (so it costs more to run) and increased wear to engine parts (so you have to replace chain saw parts more often).

To clean your air filter simply brush it gently with soft brush or, if it’s really bad, wash it in warm, soapy water and then dry it. Be gentle though, if you make holes in it you can let dust/bits get into the engine, which will mean more repairs.

Spark plug

If you notice that your saw is low on power, idles poorly or is difficult to start (more so than usual!) you might have an issue with your spark plug.

Remove the plug and check whether it’s dirty. If it is then check the air filter, or your carburetor might need adjusting, or you might just be running a bad fuel mixture. Clean the plug and check the gap, then check your air filter is clean. If you’re still having issues and you’re sure your fuel is right then get your carburetor checked by someone qualified.

Fuel mixture

Chances are that your gas chain saw has a two-stroke engine; this means that the lubricants it needs are added to the fuel rather than provided through a crankcase like in a four-stroke vehicle engine.

Each saw needs a specific ratio of fuel to oil and you’ll find this information in the manual. This is very important as having an incorrect fuel mix is a quick way to ruin your saw’s engine.

Sharpening

Regardless of the type of saw you’ll need to make sure you keep the blade sharp. If you notice the chain chattering or producing sawdust rather than large chips then you’ll want to sharpen it sooner rather than later. If you ignore a dull blade then it becomes a lot more likely that the blade will stick and you’ll experience kick-back which is really dangerous.

It is in your best interest to keep your blades as sharp as possible as it will be much safer (which is a little counter intuitive until you think it through).

To do this you can simply use a file, or you can buy a commercial chain saw sharpener. There a several chain saw sharpening tools available, including those billed as “automatic”; from the reviews I’ve read I’ve decided to stick to the file.

How to actually sharpen the teeth

A chain has two types of teeth; cutters and rakers. The cutters actually do the cutting and the rakers control the depth of the cut. The cutters need to be sharp and the rakers will be need to be filed down as the cutters wear.

You’ll want two guides for your file (both are pretty cheap tools). The first one sits on top of the cutters and makes sure the file is in the right position. You’ll then need to hold the file at the right angle (check your manual) using the guide. File from inside the cutter to the outside and make sure you are positioned so that this action is away from you (so if you slip you don’t impale yourself with the file!). Do somewhere between 5-10 strokes on each cutter and then check it for sharpness.

The second guide sits on the chain links and will hold itself in the correct place and at the correct angle. You then file over the guide to sharpen the cutter. I’d suggest going along one side of the chain, spinning it as you go, then go back along the other side.

The height of the rakers needs to be just slightly less than that of the cutters. This difference is really important. Too little and you won’t actually cut anything but too much and the saw will become jumpy (read dangerous!). Every two or three times that you sharpen the cutters you should check the rakers using a depth gauge and then file them off as you need.

Now this might all seem too complicated and too much effort. Why not just buy a new saw chain? They’re pretty cheap, right? Well, it depends on your budget. By all means go and check out the prices, but bear in mind that a decent filing job can be done in under 15 minutes (once you’ve had a little practice).

In conclusion, if you ignore the needs of your chainsaw then you’re quite quickly going to find you need to buy new parts or an entire new saw. However, if you spend a bit of care and effort at regular intervals, then your saw will look after you for years to come and be much safer to use too!

1

How To Choose a Pole Saw

What is a pole saw?

Well, the clue is in the name. It’s a saw on a pole. Yep, it’s that simple. A pole saw is typically used for pruning tree branches higher up that you can reach unaided. It’s a better (read safer!) alternative to using a chainsaw whilst stood on a ladder.

Choosing a Pole Saw

Similar to a chain saw, you want to think safety first. These things are dangerous; even though you’ve got more distance between yourself and the saw you can still get hurt if you don’t think it through and pay attention. You could probably (accidentally) engineer a way to cut yourself even with the distance between you and the blade but your main danger may not be from that. You will typically be using a pole saw to cut/prune branches that are high overhead, and guess where they’re going to fall when they get cut off (if you don’t think it through)? That’s right, straight onto your head.

Weight (and weight distribution) is extremely important when it comes to choosing your pole saw. You’re going to be holding this heavy thing on a stick way over your head, probably for several minutes at least. You need to make sure you can cope with the weight.

Power options

The same as a chainsaw you’ve got three options when it comes to powering your new pole saw. Electric and gas powered, with electric coming in corded or cordless options.

An electric polesaw is typically lower powered than a gas powered pole saw, but has the added benefit that the only maintenance you’ll need to perform is sharpening the blades and oiling it. With a gas pole saw you’ll also need to take care of the engine too by checking spark plugs and cleaning air filters (amongst other things). Another benefit of electric over gas powered is that electric pole saws won’t kick out a bunch of fumes whilst in use and are usually a lot less noisy.

If you choose a corded electric polesaw you’ll obviously be limited as to where you can work by the length of your extension cord and location of plug sockets. If you’re just pruning in your back garden this is unlikely to be an issue but if you’re a professional on a worksite you won’t want a cord hampering your movements; not to mention the risk of cutting the cord.

A cordless pole saw doesn’t have the drawback of a cord in that you don’t have a maximum range, but you will have a maximum working time. Most rechargeable batteries will give you about an hour. Again, this may not be an issue for you depending on the amount of pruning you typically need to do. You also have the option of buying additional batteries and then swapping them mid-job but they can be expensive.

A gas powered pole saw has the benefits of unlimited range, unlimited work time (actually limited by the amount of gas you have available, but you can carry jerry cans) and are typically more powerful than their electric cousins. However they have the drawback of additional maintenance as mentioned above.

Pruning saw A manual pole saw, a.k.a pruning saw should mention here that there is actually a fourth power option, which is a manual pole saw, also called a pruning saw. These are literally just a stick with a blade on the end. Some of them have a string pull which activates a clamp between two blades, so you position the saw around the branch and pull the cord to cut it. Others just have a serrated blade and you move the pole up and down to cut through. You’ll only want one of these if your job (or budget) is extremely small.

Don’t forget to be safe with your new pole saw, you’ll need much of the same safety equipment as when using a chainsaw so checkout my chainsaw article which includes a section about safety here.

Summary

In summary, have a think about what you’re going to do with your pole saw. If you’re just pruning in your back garden and it’s reasonably small then go for an electric corded pole saw. If you’ve got a bigger garden and you don’t think your cord will reach then get a cordless version and maybe treat yourself to an additional battery if needed. And, if you regularly work on large projects or for extended periods of time and you’re ok with the additional maintenance then get a gas powered pole saw. Finally, remember that you won’t be cutting through logs with a pole saw, so if you think this will be needed then consider getting a chainsaw instead.Remember to stay safe!!

So You Want To Buy A Chainsaw?

If you’ve landed here then either you’ve got something to do that requires a chainsaw so you’re looking for information on which one to buy, or you want a chainsaw and you’re looking for a task to justify the expense (to your other half).

We’ll tackle the second problem first; here’s a few reasons you might want to own a chain saw.

  • Pruning branches
  • Clearing storm debris
  • Cutting firewood
  • Felling trees
  • Preparing your own lumber
  • Art – ice sculptures and the like

Choosing a chainsaw​

Hopefully you’ve got enough of a reason now, whether you arrived with one or found it here. So what should you be looking for in your new chainsaw?

Power

First up, power; you’ve got three options when it comes to how your chainsaw is powered:

Gasoline chainsaw

These are typically more powerful and can be used in the rain. However, they require more maintenance, are heavier, noisier and give out exhaust fumes.

Electric chainsaw

Typically good for smaller jobs which require less power, electric chainsaws can be cordless or corded.

A corded chainsaw will be lighter and won’t run out of power, but you will be limited by the length of your power cord. You’ll also need to make sure your cord isn’t in your cutting path!

A cordless chainsaw will have its own battery. This means you aren’t restricted to where you can go and you’re not going to cut through your cord. But it will be heavier and you’ll have limited working time between charges. You might want to have multiple pre-charged batteries ready before you start a big job.

Aside from the typical chainsaw design, featuring front and rear handles on an engine housing with the cutting bar extending outwards, there are two further designs which may interest you depending on your reason for owning one.

Pole saw

A pole saw – literally a saw on a poleIf you’re pretty much only going to be pruning branches then you might be interested in a pole saw. This is a small saw mounted on an extension pole. With you pole you’ll have an increased reach to get up high in your trees.

Jaw saw

A “jaw saw”The last design has a set of jaws around the cutting bar which will offer increased protection from the chain. The jaws will often have teeth which will grip onto the object you’re cutting to help hold it still. This style is sometimes called a jaw saw (but not often).

Features

So you’ve chosen a style and how it’s going to be powered. Time for the optional extras:

Spring Assist Start

Some chainsaws, especially larger petrol powered ones, can be very difficult to get started. This can make it much easier.

Chain Brake

This is a lever incorporated into the front hand guard. If the chainsaw catches and kicks back then your hand will touch the lever and activate the brake. Hopefully saving you from serious injury. Highly recommended!

Chainsaw Guide Bar

This is the long bar that the chain runs around. These range in length; the longer the guide bar, the thicker diameter of log that the chainsaw can cut, but the more difficult it is to use. And remember, the longer the bar is, the bigger and heavier the chainsaw will be.

Vibration dampers

Chainsaws now have rubber or springs attached to the handles to help dampen the vibration from the motor. This makes it more comfortable to use and a lot safer; its hard to keep control when your hands have gone numb from vibration.

Safety

Don’t forget safety; a chainsaw will happily cut through you as easily as it does wood (probably easier). So as well as the safety features on the chainsaw itself you’ll also want:

  • Ear defenders
  • Chainsaw chaps
  • Shoes with steel toe caps
  • Eye protection
  • Hard hat
  • Gloves
  • A saw horse with serrated teeth to hold logs (depending on what you’re doing)

Summary

Before you rush out and by one, have a think about what you’re going to do with your chainsaw. The tasks that you can see yourself doing will determine which type is best for you. For smaller jobs you’re probably looking at a cordless electric chainsaw (maybe even a pole saw if you’re just pruning tall trees). Medium jobs will need a corded electric saw and for the biggest ones you’ll want a gasoline chainsaw. See if you can hold the saw before buying too (I doubt any shop will let you fire it up for a proper test run), but make sure the weight and size aren’t too much for you to handle. It’s dangerous remember!

Have fun with your new chainsaw. Don’t chop up anything you’ll regret later. And make sure you stay safe!!

A Guide To The Portable Band Saw

What is a portable band saw?

A portable band saw is a handheld power tool consisting of a continuous blade looped around two pulleys. It really is just a small version of a regular band saw, with one huge advantage: you can move it around a lot more easily which lets you take it to the material if it can’t be moved to a regular band saw.A band saw is typically used for cutting metal or wood and you change the blade to suit the material. You’ll typically find that using a portable band saw will result in a cleaner and squarer cut than would a reciprocating saw.

Choosing a portable band saw

Capacity - Remember, the material you are cutting needs to fit within the throat of the machine so most have a cutting capacity of around 4 inches. If you need more then you can get high capacity versions that can go up to about 6 inches but these will be larger and heavier, and thus more unwieldy.

Power - As with most power tools you have two options when it comes to powering your saw; mains or battery. Both have benefits and drawbacks. Mains saws are typically lighter and can continue working indefinitely, but are restricted to a maximum radius from an electrical outlet. A cordless portable band saw can be operated anywhere however you have a maximum cutting time between charges, the battery adds extra weight and they tend to be a little more expensive than their corded equivalents.

Tension release handle - Usually located on the forward section of the saw, this handle is used to release the tension on the blade in order to replace it. This lets you replace a dull blade or switch blades depending on the material you are cutting.

Guide rollers - These support the blade as it cuts into the material preventing it from deflecting or binding. As the blade is very thin and flexible these rollers need to rotate freely and be in the correct position to stop it warping during cutting.

Tracking adjustment - This allows you to adjust the path of the blade as it travels between the two pulleys. The front pulley floats on a spring tension hub assembly which means that it needs to be aligned correctly so that the blade travels on the correct path while you’re cutting.

Cutting shoe - This is a flat metal guide which is designed to support the saw and somewhat offset the drag of the blade’s teeth as it performs the cut. This helps to prevent the material being pulled into the rear drive pulley during the cut.

Variable speed - Being able to adjust the speed of the blade will (along with an appropriate blade) allow you to cut a wide variety of materials.

Portable band saw safety

Before you start using any new power tool you should take time to read the manual and familiarise yourself with the safety features and potential dangers of the tool, and this is no different for a portable band saw.

A bandsaw has an exposed blade which is capable of cutting through wood and most common metals ranging from copper to steel; and it will have no problems taking off your fingers too. You need to keep both hands on the provided handles at all times, this will keep them safely away from the blade.

Appropriate dress is essential, namely safety glasses and gloves; but make sure you don’t have any loose jewellery which could easily get caught in the moving blade and drag your limbs in after it.

Make sure that the material you are cutting is supported. You don’t want your material to slip mid-cut, a section to come flying off propelled by the blade or something heavy to drop on your foot. This can be as simple as having a helper hold it, making sure that their hands are well away from the blade and the cutting area in general, using a vice or saw horse and clamps.

How to use a portable band saw

Understanding how you should use a portable band saw will not only give you the best results it will also ensure that you use it in the safest manner possible.

Prepare your material

Make sure your material is secured and the chosen cut is marked clearly. It’s best to mark it around the entire diameter of the material, so that you can judge the cut accurately whilst you’re doing it.

Clear your work area

Make sure that there are no obstacles on the floor or around the material on which you might slip or nudge your saw during the cut.

Check your clothing

Make sure you don’t have any loose clothing or jewellery. Put on your safety goggles and gloves.

Check your saw

Making sure it’s not yet powered on (so unplugged / turned off) check over the saw and make sure nothing looks worn or broken. Hold your saw in the cutting position over your material and make sure there’s nothing in the way. If you’re using a corded saw make sure that the cable isn’t going to be in area of the cut.

Make sure the blade is appropriate for the material you’re going to cut.

You want at least 2, but preferably more, teeth in the material at all times. So make sure the TPI of your blade is high enough if you’re cutting very thin stock. See my article on how to choose the right band saw blade for more information, it is equally applicable for portable saws as stationary ones.

Portable Band Saw Brands

You’ll find that most of the named brands have similar features and use a standard blade length. Well known brands include DeWalt, Milwaukee and Porter Cable. You can, of course, buy cheaper brands, often for a far lower price. However be aware that the build quality of these tools will be far inferior and often will not last beyond a few jobs. As with most things, you tend to get what you pay for. And so we come to the end of our guide to portable band saws.

What Is A Horizontal Band Saw?

Band saw machines consist of a thin rotating blade in a loop fed between two pulleys and they fall into three categories; horizontal, vertical and portable. This refers to the orientation of the blade.

For a horizontal bandsaw the workpiece is held stationary and the saw moves vertically downwards into the workpiece, usually using the force of gravity to feed the cut. A vertical bandsaw has the blade stationary and the workpiece is moved horizontally into the blade.

A portable band saw is what it sounds like; the same looped blade around pulleys, but a much smaller, handheld version.

A horizontal bandsaw is typically used for cutting stock to length. With an appropriate blade it can be used to cut steel and harder materials. It can typically swivel and can thus make mitre cuts.

A vertical bandsaw is more versatile and can be used for cutting patterns/contours, polishing and filing as well as cutting to length. It is usually used for wood, plastics and softer metals.

The main drawback of the horizontal bandsaw is that you can’t cut patterns. If that’s what you want to do then buy a vertical bandsaw; it’s as simple as that. If you’re not interested in patterns then carry on reading.

A horizontal saw does a similar job to a power hacksaw. They range from small, manual, pulldown saws right up to large hydraulically controlled automated machines which can be left running unattended.

How to choose a band saw?

What features should you look for when choosing a bandsaw:​

Mitre saw – The angle of the blade can be adjusted so that you don’t have to move the work piece.

Vice – Essential for holding your work piece in place securely.

Adjustable feed pressure – This is usually changed by adding or removing weights in the pedestal.

Variable blade speed – If you cut several different types of material then you’ll want to be able to change the blade speed.

Manual or automatic – If this is for your garage workshop then you’ll want a manual saw. However if it’s for your profession then you might want a CNC controlled automatic horizontal bandsaw.

How to use a band saw?

  • Clear the floor around the saw of any slip or trip hazards.
  • Inspect the saw in its entirety, you’re looking for signs of wear and tear. Check your manufacturer’s manual for advice on sourcing replacement horizontal band saw parts.
  • Make sure you’ve got the correct blade for the type of material you want to cut. Take a look at my article on horizontal band saw blades for advice on this.
  • Check the blade for signs of wear or damage. Change the blade if you find any, these can cause the blade to catch on the workpiece, sending it flying.
  • Make sure the blade is tension-ed correctly according to the width of the blade. Check the manual for how to do this. You need to keep the blade tension-ed to keep it tracking correctly. Too little tension will cause the blade to wander, too much will break it.
  • Set the vice to the correct angle if you wish to make a mitre cut.
  • Put on your safety goggles, gloves and mask.
  • Never hold the work-piece by hand; make sure it’s firmly secured in a vice before beginning cutting. No using a saw horse here, make sure it’s definitely fixed in place.
  • Make sure that the work-piece is not touching the blade before starting the machine. Always allow the saw to come up to full speed before beginning cutting.

Here’s a good video demonstrating an Ellis horizontal bandsaw:

That’s a decent primer on the horizontal band saw. 

Coping With A Coping Saw – The Best Coping Saw

A coping saw consists of a thin, detachable, blade stretched across a deep U-shaped frame. It is one of the most versatile types of saws for fine and intricate woodworking. 

They are generally cheaper and more robust than a fret saw. ​

Best Coping Saw

​Although a lot of people would not describe a coping saw as a precision tool it can still be used to cut some very intricate and detailed shapes. They are less maneuverable than a fret saw and cannot turn as quickly due to the wider blade.

However a coping saw is a very effective tool in the right hands. They are cheap and easy to use and replacement blades are generally both cheap and easy to come by.​

Some of the best coping saws will allow you to switch the blades 360 degree so that you can swap the actually cutting to either the push or pull stroke of the saw. This can give you more control especially on supper detailed and delicate work. ​


​Robert Larson 540-2000 Coping Saw

​The German made Robert Larson coping saw has an easy to adjust tensioning system - you just turn the handle. 

It has a great ergonomic wooden handle and a nice stiff frame.​

Specifications

  • ​6 inch blade length
  • Cutting depth roughly 5 inches 
  • Accepts saw blades with pins
  • Tension adjustment is by turning the handle.

Olson Saw SF63510 Coping Saw

The SF63510 Coping Saw from Olson is a great all round workhorse of a coping saw. It is designed very much so in the traditional sense and is exactly what you would look for in the best coping saw for your next project.

Specifications

  • Hard wood handle
  • 6.5 inch blades
  • Blade can be switched to either cut on push or pull
  • Standard pin end blade
  • Can be tension-ed on either end

BAHCO 301 6 1/2 Inch Coping Saw

The Bahco 301 is a standard 6.5 inch coping saw that comes with a very high quality beech handle that is lacquered in orange. The blades are made from tempered and hardened carbon steel.

The frame is made from nickel plated steel and the whole saw has a very high quality feel.​

Specifications

  • Nickel plated steel frame​
  • 6.5 inch blades
  • High quality frame
  • Lacquered beech handle 

Why is it called a coping saw?

This saw got its name from the type of joint it is typically used for, which is called a coped joint. A coped joint consists of two pieces of molding where one is cut to fit over the other. A typical application is for one piece to be cut flat to fit up against the corner of a wall and the second piece is shaped to fit over the first.

So what is a coping saw used for?

Well, as above, it was named after a coped joint. The thinness of the blade allows for the cutting of intricate shapes and tight curves in thin materials. This means that a coping saw is also very useful for decorative cuts.

Another ideal use for this type of saw is cutting shapes out from the middle of a work piece. The blade is detachable so that you can fit it through a hole in your material and then reattach the blade. You can then cut out the required shape and detach the blade to remove the saw.

There is one drawback to a coping saw, you can only use it for cutting thin stock (but not extremely thin). The size of the blade and teeth is far too small for large workpieces. You’ll need to limit your workpiece to about 1″ thick.

If you find that you can’t cut a tight enough curve with a coping saw then you’ll probably want to try a fret saw. The much deeper frame of the fret saw also allows for cutting further away from the edge of the workpiece.Both coping saws and fret saws are pretty cheap tools, so you’re not going to break the bank if you buy both.

Another use for a coping saw is to add the finishing cuts when removing the wood from a dovetail joint or any other awkward or detailed cut(see below).​ Once the main cuts are made with a back saw the coping saw is placed into one of the vertical cuts and then cut into the surplus material working towards the opposite vertical cut. Once the waste is removed the coping saw can then be used to remove the rest from the bottom edge of the dovetail. A rasp of file will then give a smooth finish to the inside surfaces of the dovetail.

coping-saw-dovetail

Coping saw used in dovetail

How to Use a Coping Saw 

Here’s a step by step guide on how to use a coping saw to cut a section from inside a work-piece:

  1. Draw the shape that you want to cut out onto your work-piece.
  2. Make sure that the frame of your coping saw is deep enough to allow you to make your cut (try a fret saw if not).
  3. Drill a hole in your workpiece inside the section you want to cut out. The hole needs to be bigger than the thickness of your blade. If there are multiple sections to be cut out then drill a hole in each.
  4. Detach the blade from the saw. For most coping saws you twist the handle to loosen the blade so that you can detach it.
  5. Pass the blade through one of the holes you cut and the reattach the frame.
  6. Use a smooth back and forth motion to cut from the drilled hole to the line you have drawn and then cut all the way around it.
  7. Detach the blade again and remove it from the workpiece. Then push the cut section out from the main piece.
  8. Sand the edges of the hole to get the finish that you want.

Learning how to use a coping saw correctly and safely will mean you will get much better results from the blades but it will also mean that you are less likely to break the blades.

And how to cope a joint

  1. Cut the first piece of molding so that it fits flush with the wall where you want to mount it.
  2. Place the first piece on top of the second piece, edge on, and trace around it carefully.
  3. Use your coping saw to cut out the required shape, remember to stay inside the line!
  4. Test the fit.
  5. Make any adjustments needed. You might be better of with a piece of sanding paper here rather than the saw again depending on how much needs to be removed.
  6. Fit both pieces to the wall and bask in the glory of your perfectly fitted joint.

Here’s a great video on YouTube demonstrating this method:

Coping Saw Blades

You’ll need a different coping saw blade depending on the material you’re going to be cutting.

The majority of coping saws should come with at least one starter blade. You may need to experiment with some different bladed to see which one suits your specific needs. ​

Another major factor in how well your oping saw will perform is how well you tension it. Depending on the particular saw model that you choose you will need to experiment with just how tightly you tighten the saw blade. ​

Wood

There are two types of blade for cutting wood, coarse and fine. This refers to the number of teeth per inch.

Coarse blades (less than 15 teeth per inch) will cut quickly which makes it easier to follow the line you are cutting (doesn’t really make sense, you would think it would be easier if you’re cutting slowly but that actually makes the blade more likely to wander).

Fine blades can cut tighter curves but will be slower. Most of the time you’ll want to use a coarse blade and then sand the resulting cut. You’ll only want a fine blade if you want to cut a very small radius curve.

Metal

The blade will be made of the same material as hacksaw blades, high-carbon steel.

Tile

You’ll want a tungsten, carbide-encrusted wire.

Plastic

This blade will have helical teeth and will cut in all directions; which lets it make sharp turns by simply changing the direction of pressure.

Power Coping Saw

Looking for a power coping saw? Well a power coping saw or an electric coping saw is what some people refer to as a scroll saw. Many hobbyist use the term power coping saw. I rarely however hear a carpenter or professional woodworker use the term.

So there you have it, the basics of using a coping saw. 

A Guide To The Different Types Of Saw

From wikipedia:

A saw is a tool consisting of a tough blade, wire, or chain with a hard toothed edge. It is used to cut through material, most often wood. The cut is made by placing the toothed edge against the material and moving it forcefully forth and less forcefully back or continuously forward. This force may be applied by hand, or powered by steam,water, electricity or other power source.

I’ve put together a list of the most common types of saw, along with their common use cases; this should help you to decide what sort of saw you need for the job you want to do.

Hand Tools

Back Saw

The technical name for a saw that is stiffened along the back edge of the blade, which is more commonly referred to as a tenon saw as their typical use is for cutting tenons. The blade is usually relatively short. For particularly fine work it is called a dovetail saw which has very fine teeth at 22-24 points.​

Coping Saw

A coping saw is used for cutting tight curves or shapes in thin wood. The blade cuts on the pull stroke but as it can be removed you can reverse it to cut on the push.​

Cross-Cut Saw

​Used to cut across the grain; the teeth are bevel-filed at an angle other than 90 degrees and pitched at 75-80 degrees. Tooth size varies from 6 to 12 points.

Dovetail Saw

​A type of back saw with very fine teeth between 22-24 points.

Drywall Saw

Typically used for cutting holes in drywall; this saw has a pointed end which is stabbed into the material and then cuts in a regular manner. Has coarse teeth which cuts quickly but leaves a ragged edge.

Folding Saw

A folding saw is usually used in the outdoors for trimming tree branches. They are extremely easy to carry in a backpack as the saw blade is folded back into the handle. They are great to bring on a camping trip. Some are capable of cutting some fairly thick branches despite looking like a large pocket knife​.

Flush Cut Saw

​Has a very thin, flexible blade with fine teeth which cuts on the pull stroke. The blade flexes so that you can cut dowels and plugs flush with the surface without damaging it.

Fret Saw

Similar to a coping saw but with a much deeper throat.

Hacksaw

Has a thin blade with very fine teeth held under tension in a steel frame. Typically used for cutting metal.

Japanese Saw

​This type of saw has a thinner blade which cuts on the pull stroke and leaves a narrow kerf.

Panel Saw

​This is simply a small version of a crosscut saw with smaller teeth at 10-12 points. Its teeth are pitched and beveled the same as the crosscut saw. It is used for cutting thinner wood.

Ripsaw

Used to cut timber to the correct width, along the grain. Some ripsaws have incremental teeth; which is where the teeth become larger the closer they are to the handle. Generally the front of the saw’s teeth are at right angles to the blade; and are pitched at 85-90 degrees. These saws are unusual these days as timber is widely available in common widths. If you are ever needing to rip cut timber a crosscut saw will do the job just fine.​

Tenon Saw

​A more common name for a back saw; which is the technical name for a saw that is stiffened along the back edge of the blade.

Veneer Saw

​A small, double edged saw which is used for cutting thin veneers from hardwood.

Power Tools

Band Saw

​The blade is a continuous band of thin metal with teeth along one edge. A bandsaw comes in three types; vertical, horizontal and portable. A vertical bandsaw (pictured) has the blade fixed vertically; the material is moved horizontally and can be rotated freely to cut complex patterns. To use a horizontal bandsaw, the material is clamped in place and then the horizontal blade is lowered onto it using gravity to make the cut. These are typically used for ripping timber to length. A portable saw is used for the same purpose as its horizontal cousin, but is not fixed in place.

Chainsaw

​A chainsaw consists of teeth fixed to a rotating chain running along a guide bar. They are typically used for felling trees and cutting logs.

Circular Saw

​Consists of a spinning circular blade attached to hand grips. Very effective for ripping long pieces of wood as well as cross cuts. Reasonably accurate when used in conjunction with a fence.

Hole Saw

​Also known as a hole cutter, this is a ring shaped saw blade which is fitted to a drill in order to cut a circular hole in a (usually) thin workpiece.

Jigsaw

​Also known as a bayonet or sabre saw. This has a reciprocating saw blade attached to an electric motor. It can cut patterns similarly to a band saw, with the advantage that it is not restricted in how deep it can cut, however the blade is not as well supported and so can twist easily causing it to be less precise.

Miter Saw

​Consists of a spinning circular blade which is lowered onto the workpiece, which is usually clamped in place against a fence. The angle of the blade can be changed relative to the fixed fence in order to make an angled cross-cut.

Power Coping Saw​

Some people will refer to a scroll saw as a power coping saw due to how similar the blades and the cuts that you can make from them. The hand coping saw is more easy to maneuver and cheaper.​

Radial Arm Saw

​A precursor to the miter saw, this has a circular saw mounted on a sliding horizontal arm. It is used to make cross cuts in wider material than a miter saw can usually cope with.

Reciprocating Saw

​Similar to a jigsaw this has a thicker reciprocating blade mounted in-line with the handle. This is a very versatile saw which can be used for many applications by simply swapping out the blade.

Scroll Saw

​A scroll saw is a small, thin-bladed saw used for cutting intricate curves and patterns in thin material in cases where a coping saw or jigsaw cannot be used.

Table Saw

​One of the definitive tools for a woodworking shop. This consists of a circular saw blade driven by an electric motor, mounted partially protruding in a table. This tool is highly effective, and accurate, for both cross and rip cuts; as well as mitre cuts as the workpiece can be presented to the blade at any angle and bevel cuts as the vertical angle of the blade can be adjusted.

Now this is not an exhaustive list of all possible types of saw; however, most of the other types are variations on one of the types shown here.​