Hand Saw vs. Bow Saw: What’s the Difference


If you are a DIY enthusiast or a mere garden lover, you probably own or have considered owning a saw. They are highly functional tools and make life a hell of a lot easier! But, is there really a difference between the hand saw, and the bow saw, and which one is better?

The hand saw has a large handle with a flexible, toothed steel piece attached to the handle. It is used to cut pieces of wood, fiberglass, and drywall. The bow saw is a bow-shaped saw with a thin, long straight bade held in tension by an aluminum frame. It used to cut logs and prune shrubs.

You are at the hardware store, and your budget only allows you to purchase one saw. So which is it going to be-the hand saw or the bow saw? Have a read through the rest of the article for a simplified overview of the hand saw vs. the bow saw.

What Makes a Good Saw?

Hand saws and bow saws are easy-to-use tools. However, it is essential to use the right saw for a specific task. So, before digging into the key differences, let’s start with what makes a good saw in general:

  1. Sharp teeth: Purchasing a saw without sharp teeth diminished the value and purpose instantly. 
  2. Straight blade: Set your eye alongside the edge of the saw to ensure the blade is straight and not bent.
  3. Balance: your saw should be lightweight and not too top-heavy.
  4. Flex: A hand saws blade should be able to flex when you bend it.
  5. The thickness of the blade: Using a thicker blade creates more stability, but thin blades are better for precise work.
  6. Tooth geometry: there are different kinds of tooth geometries such as tooth spacing and rip or crosscut; make sure you are purchasing the right one for your needed task.

Hand Saw

Hand saws are the oldest type of saws. At first glance, hand saws seem to be simple to use tools. However, they are essential, consisting of a flexible steel blade with sharp teeth and a large handle. Hand saws are daily-used tools by many carpenters and DIY enthusiasts. 

A hand saw is a tool used to cut the wood into desired shapes and angles.

Hand Saw Characteristics

  • The handsaw has a distinct handle, most commonly made of wood but sometimes coated in plastic. 
  • It is not typically bow-shaped.
  • The hand saw has a broad blade is attached to the handle.
  • The blade is removable but usually not readily available.
  • High-quality hand saw blades can be sharpened when worn out. 
  • The two most important factors of a hand saw are the tooth angle and TPI (teeth per inch) ratio.
  • Handsaw blades are angled at 60 degrees for cutting hardwoods and 45 degrees for cutting softer woods. 
  • The TPI ratio is less dense than many other saws; it is about 5-8 TPI in general.
  • The handsaw comes in many different and highly specialized forms.
  • Hand saw blades are usually sharpened to two different tooth configurations, “Rip” and “Cross Cut.”
  • Rip-Cut: cut along the length of the board with the grain. Each tooth is shaped like a woodworking chisel, filed straight across. So, the teeth push through the wood like a chisel.
  • CrossCut: teeth cut across the grain. Each tooth is filed with two angles to make it shaped like a knife blade, so the teeth can cleanly sever the wood grain, just as if you used a knife.

Hand Saw Uses

Hand saws are not precision tools, but they are stapled tools used for functions including cutting fiberglass, wood, or drywall. Let’s have a more in-depth look at what hand saws are used for:

  • Wood
  • Metal
  • Plastic
  • Drywall
  • Furniture making

How to Use a Hand Saw

Firstly, there are many types of hand saws, each specialized for a specific task. Make sure you choose the right tool for the job. Let’s take a look at the list down below for a general idea of how to operate a handsaw, no matter which one you choose to purchase.

If you need more assistance, here’s a video just for you- Different types of hand saws and their uses:

  1. Safety! Safety comes first when using a handsaw. To avoid unnecessary injuries and hospital trips, always wear cut-resistant gloves and safety equipment.
  2. Measure once, cut twice: A pencil and rules always come in handy before cutting a piece of wood. Once cut, it’s a done deal. Make sure to double-check your measurements before sawing away.
  3. Secure your material to a workbench. You need to ensure that the material stays in one place. 
  4. Hold your pose: One must firmly hold onto the saw handle; it should be tightly secured, but relax your hand muscles to prevent strain. Furthermore, to avoid twisting the blade, check your foot stance and hold your elbow close to your body. This will correct your natural tendency to slant the blade. 
  5. Draw strokes: Use your less dominant hand to hold the end of the material opposite the saw. As you begin to cut the wood, make a few short strokes (draw strokes) to get a rhythm going. Your strokes should start close to the handle, work your way from the finer teeth to the harder teeth on the blade.
  6. Slow and steady: Do not force the tool; instead, apply a light amount of pressure and let the tool guide you. Take advantage of the blades’ full range.
  7. Check your work after every few motions to ensure that you are sawing straight and on the intended line.

Safety Tips for Using Hand Saws

To further elaborate on hand saws, we will discuss another related topic-safety tips for using hand saws.

  1. Wear safety equipment: safety goggles, cut-resistant gloves, and closed shoes.
  2. Make sure your material is secure. Do a test cut.
  3. Keep your fingers curved inward and keep your hands away from the path of the saw at all times.
  4. Keep your saw’s blade sharp.

How to Care for a Hand Saw

Hand saws should be appropriately cleaned and taken good care of. But, you cannot neglect the maintenance of your hand saw if you would like to enjoy it for a long time. So, follow these maintenance tips to keep your hand saw in tip-top shape. 

  • Clean your blade before and after you use it. Clean your blade with water and dry it off properly. 
  • Oil your blade.
  • If you have a wooden handle, sand it regularly and apply oil to keep your handle water-resistant. 
  • Sharpen or replace your blades as needed.
  • Store your saw appropriately. Sun and water cause tons of damage to tools, like rust and eroding. Store your saw in a cool and dry location. 

Bow Saw

The bow saw, on the other hand, is more often used for outdoor tasks instead of home tasks like the hand saw. A bow saw is a traditional and effective tool for cutting different objects. It is a highly practical tool for campers, gardeners, and carpenters. 

Bow Saw Characteristics

  • The bow saw is bow-shaped.
  • It has a thin, long straight blade held in tension by a hollow metal frame.  
  • A closed pistol grip handle. The handle can usually fold back and forth to tighten or loosen the blade.
  • Bow saws tend to be lightweight.
  • The blade is removable, bow saw blades are cheap and readily available.
  • High-quality bow saw blades can be sharpened when dull and worn out. 
  • Bow saws are primarily specified by their blade lengths of 14- 18 inches long. However, some blades can even extend to 30 inches long.
  • Bow saws have course blades with a TPI ratio from approximately 3-14 TPI.
  • Bow saws have crosscut teeth angled in different directions. Bow saws have a cutting stroke; they can cut on both the push and pull stroke.
  • Bow saw blades have two types of blades, peg tooth blades and peg and raker tooth blades.
  • Peg tooth blades: the blades have triangular teeth, grouped in sets of three. Each peg tooth has a large gap between it and its adjacent tooth (used to saw dry wood).
  • Peg and Raker tooth blades: Peg and Raker tooth blades have teeth grouped in four triangular peg teeth with a “raker” tooth following. The raker tooth is approximately half the size of the regular teeth and is angled outward (used to saw wet or green wood).

Features to consider when purchasing a bow saw include the length of the bow saw, the frame’s shape, it’s tension adjusters if it has a protective sheath, the handle, and its blade.

Bow Saw Basics: https://youtu.be/kd-HrJnd3jY

Bow Saw Uses

Bow saws are mainly used to cut objects into straight or curved lines. Here is a list of the common uses of a bow saw:

  • Felling trees
  • Pruning shrubs
  • Cutting logs
  • Trimming branches
  • Furniture work
  • PVC pipes

How to Use the Bow Saw

Bow saws are very easy to use, but if mishandled, you can get easily injured. Here are some tips for you to stay safe when working with bow saws.

  1. Remember to use safety equipment, like previously mentioned with the hand saw.
  2. Do not hold the bow near the blade; always try to keep your hands away from the blade.
  3. Position your bow saw’s blade perpendicular to the surface you are cutting.
  4. Take hold of the piece of material by passing your hand inside the frame. This will ensure that your hands are in contact with only the upper flat area of the blade.  
  5. Stand in a safe position and form. You need to be aware of where your material will drop.
  6. Place the teeth of the saw against the wood and begin to rake in back-and-forth motions across the surface of the wood.
  7. Use long and cutting strokes and use the entire cutting edge of the blade to maximize the cutting potential of the blade. 
  8. Take slow strokes; if you attempt to move the blade faster or cut deeper strokes, your blade will become lodged in the wood.

Safety Tips When Using a Bow Saw

Regardless of what type of saw you use, safety is and always will be a crucial step to follow and consider. So let’s have a look at the bow saw’s safety tips.

  1. Wear safety equipment
  2. Do a saw check- inspect for any signs of damage before you use your saw.
  3. Do not hold the bow saw near to the blade.
  4. Do not touch the bade immediately; it will be hot and may cause burns.
  5. Always keep the bow saw in its protective case.

How to Care for a Bow Saw

Our tools require proper care and maintenance if we want them to last. However, taking care of a bow saw is simple and, overall, will save you lots of money. Here are few simple steps to consider:

  • Clean your blade before (there may be accumulated dust particles on your blade) and after you use it. Clean your blade with water and dry it off properly. 
  • Lubricate your blade.
  • Bow saws usually have aluminum frames, but if it has a wooden handle, oil it occasionally to keep your handle from splintering. 
  • Sharpen or replace your blades as needed.
  • Store your bow saw in a dry location. For example, you can either hang it in a garage or shed or safely store its protective case (if it has one).
HAND SAWBOW SAW
HANDLELarge, distinct handleWood or plasticHollow, metal, or aluminum frame
BLADEBroadRemovableCan be SharpedNot readily availableThin, long, and straight bladeRemovableCan be sharpenedCheap and readily available
TOOTH CONFIGURATIONRip-CutCrossCutPeg Peg and Raker
PURPOSEWoodMetalPlasticDrywallFurniture makingFelling treesPruning shrubsCutting logsTrimming branchesFurniture workPVC pipes

Conclusion

Hand saws and bow saw both come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Concisely, the hand saw has a simple broad blade attached to a wooden or plastic handle, whereas the bow saw has a straight flattened long blade enclosed in an aluminum frame.

Hand saws are excellent options for cutting fiberglass, plywood and cutting wood into shapes. On the other hand, bow saws are used for cutting up logs, tree felling, and pruning shrubs.

Be sure to the right tool for the right occasion and use the tools safely. 

To conclude, both saws are efficient cutting tools and ultimately a great addition to your tools.

Resources

Best Bow Saw | a Woodworking Tool for Straight and Smooth Cuts – DIY Tool Expert

Hack Saw vs Bow Saw – Which One Should You Buy? – WoodJoy Tools

Bow Saw vs Pruning Saw (Similarities, Differences, & Uses) (gardeningbank.com) 

Bow Saw vs Pruning Saw (Similarities, Differences, & Uses) (gardeningbank.com)

12 Types Of Hand Saws and What They’re For | WG (wrenchguru.com)

Bow/frame saw vs regular hand saw (sawmillcreek.org)

What is a bow saw? – Sawshome

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