Shop Talk – Choosing the Right Hand Saw

In today’s modern age, power tools have largely supplanted the use of hand tools.  Not long ago, one of the primary tools of a carpenter was a hand-powered cross cut saw.  But the advent of the circular saw put a big dent in hand saw sales.
However, the average pinewood derby car builder doesn’t have a shop equipped with power tools, and it doesn’t make financial sense to invest in expensive tools for the once a year car building event.  So a hand-powered saw is the tool that makes the most sense for most car builders.
The question then is: “What type of saw should I purchase for working on a pinewood derby car?” Hopefully, this article will give you the information to make a wise purchase.
Cross Cut Saw and Rip Saw

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Using a Cross Cut Saw is the traditional way to saw a board into shorter pieces.  Similar in appearance, but less popular is the Rip Saw.  It has coarser teeth, which makes it easier to saw a board along the grain of the wood.
If you are building a wedge-shaped pinewood derby car, or a car that is essentially a flat board, then a Cross Cut Saw or a Rip Saw will certainly work.  But both saws will leave significant teeth marks in the wood (especially the Rip Saw), so quite a bit of sanding will be required.
Back Saw

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A Back Saw is the generic name for a hand saw with a reinforced top edge to minimize flexing, small closely spaced teeth, and a narrow width. It comes in several varieties including the Miter Saw and Tenon Saw.
Because of the stiffness and finely spaced teeth, a Back Saw will cut very straight and will leave minimal teeth marks.  However, the stiffened edge limits the depth of the cut.  So if, for example, you were making a flat car, the back saw would not be able to make the full seven inch cut.
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A Hacksaw is designed for cutting through metal.  The saw frame supports replaceable blades with very fine teeth, is adjustable for different blade lengths, and allows the blade to be rotated either parallel (normal), or perpendicular to the frame.
The fine-toothed blade will readily cut through pine and leaves minimal teeth marks in the wood.  The limitation of the cut depth can be avoided by rotating the blade to be perpendicular to the frame.
Another feature of the hacksaw is that many of them will support the mounting of two blades.  The dual blade width is just about right for making new axle slots.
Many hobby shops offer a small version of a Hacksaw, often called a “Hobby Saw”.

It is not as versatile as the full-sized Hacksaw, but it nice for making tiny cuts when making a more detailed car.
So, if you are looking for a saw that can make straight cuts and can be used after pinewood derby season, the hacksaw would be a good choice.
Coping Saw

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The Coping saw sports a very narrow, fine-toothed, replaceable blade, which allows making curved cuts. The large bow allows a fairly deep cut, but like the Hacksaw, the blade of the Coping Saw can be rotated to eliminate any restrictions.
Overall, the Coping Saw is the most versatile hand saw, and likely the most popular saw for pinewood derby use.  With it you can make straight or curved cuts, leaving minimal teeth marks in the wood. Another use of the Coping Saw is to make inner cuts.  Let’s say that you want to make a car similar to the Speeder.

Standard Wheelbase Speeder
To hollow out the inside, you would first drill a hole through the car (alternately, drill four holes, one at each corner of the area to be cut out). Next, disassemble the saw blade, insert it through the hole, and reattach it to the Coping Saw frame.  Then cut out the center area, and remove the blade.
Other Saws
The world of hand saws goes well beyond the saws described in this article.  Other saws include the Jeweler’s Saw, Keyhole Saw, and Dovetail Saw.  All of these could be used on pinewood derby cars, but are less common and certainly less versatile than the Coping saw.
From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 10, Issue 9
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