by Christopher Schwarz
When I was a kid, the first saw I bought was a Craftsman coping saw with a chrome frame and red-stained handle. For years I did everything with that saw – crosscuts, rips, curves and even joints. But I made none of those cuts particularly well.
Part of the problem was that I was 11 years old. But part of it was the saw. I still own that saw – it’s sitting in front of me now – and it simply will not tension a blade enough to prevent it from twisting. A good coping saw will keep the blade fixed at one position when fully tensioned and it will allow the blade to move freely for scrollwork when the tension is backed off.
If you’ve bought a coping saw sometime in the last 40 years, you probably have encountered the same problems that I did. While cutting, the blade at the toe rotates, while the blade at the heel stays stationary. This results in a poor cut and broken blades.
It wasn’t always this way. Coping saws (and their ancestors) have a 500-year track record in woodworking. And after buying and using dozens of vintage coping saws, I have come to the conclusion that most of the modern ones aren’t worth much. They don’t tension the blade enough and their frames are weak at best. I know of three solutions: 1. Buy a Knew Concepts coping saw, which costs $149 and tensions the blade brilliantly. 2. Hunt down a well-made vintage coping saw with a stiff and well-tensioned frame. 3. Improve a $12 coping saw with 50 cents’ worth of hardware-store washers.
All three approaches are valid. But before diving into the nitty-gritty, I think it’s important to understand where this ubiquitous woodworking saw came from. It has noble roots.
Blog: Read dozens of free online articles on the coping saw.
Online: Test your coping skills with five free Arts & Crafts letter opener patterns (below – click on the image to make it larger, or to download).
To buy: The book “Handsaw Essentials,” by Christopher Schwarz.
In our store: The DVD “Build a Custom Backsaw with Matt Cianci.”