I use two types of handsaws during cabinetry: cross-cut and rip saws.  The difference between saws for cross-cutting (sawing perpendicular to the grain) and ripping (sawing parallel to the grain) lie in the tooth shape.  The teeth of cross-cut saws are shaped like the points of knives, whereas those of rip saws are shaped like chisels.

(Left) Rip teeth viewed from the side and the toe; and (right) crosscut teeth viewed from the side and the toe. The “toe” of a saw is the end furthest from the handle or, in cases of frame-saws (see below) the direction of thrust.

It is commonly thought that medieval saws were exclusively frame saws (saws where the blade is held under tension within an H-shaped frame), yet hand saws similar to those in common use today were known as well.  Earlier forms had the handle parallel to the cutting edge of the saw.  By the early 15th century, however, a ‘pistol grip’ style handle had emerged which re-oriented the user’s hand to grasp nearly perpendicular to the direction of the cut.  This handle is an open handle still found in today’s smaller saws, such as the backed tenon saw used to cut the dovetails, and is nearly identical to the closed –or ‘D’- handles with which we are most familiar.

The Queenhithe Dock saw, circa 1500 (note: bottom of handle is missing.)
(Above) The author’s “backed” tenon saw.  The brass spine stiffens the thin blade.  The pistol grip is essentially unchanged from the one seen (below) in this image of St. Joseph (Bodleian Library MS Bodl. 596).

I also used a frame-saw for shaping the keyhole.  Frame-saws are more common in Medieval illuminations and carvings than are hand-saws.  The accepted hypotheses for the greater number of frame-saws are in regards to the economy of metal (frame-saws use significantly less iron or steel than their hand-saw counterparts) and their ease of use (being held in tension, a frame-saw isn’t at risk of binding or kinking on the push-stroke).  Frame-saws are also useful when sawing holes and decorative piercework, as the blade can be detached from the frame, threaded through a small hole, reattached to the frame, and then used to saw out keyholes and other more intricate forms.

One of the author’s Frame-saws.

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