Frame Fight! Coping Saws vs. Fret Saws
For those of you who chisel out all your waste when dovetailing, this post is not for you. Please move along. There’s nothing to see here.
OK, now that we’re alone: Have you ever been confused about which frame saw you should use to remove the waste between your pins and tails? I have. For years I used a coping saw and was blissfully happy.
Then I took an advanced dovetail class with maestro Rob Cosman and he made a strong case that a fret saw was superior because you could remove the waste in one fell swoop. So, like any good monkey, I bought a fret saw and did it that way for many years.
A fret saw’s thin blade drops into the kerf left by a dovetail saw. Then you just turn and saw.
Here are the results left by the fret saw.
But fret saws aren’t perfect. Almost all of them require some tuning. You need to file some serrations in the pads that clamp the blade, otherwise it’s all stroke, stroke, sproing! Oh and the blades tend to break a lot. Or bend.
And fret saws are slower. I use 11.5 tpi scrollsaw blades and it takes about 30 strokes to get through the waste between my typical tails in hardwood.
If you want to see a good video on how to tune up a fretsaw, check out Rob Cosman’s site. He shows you how to hot rod the handle and bend the blade for the best performance.
About Coping Saws
What I like about coping saws is that they cut faster. I use an 18 tpi blade from Tools for Working Wood. (I think they’re made by Olson.) The blades cut wicked fast thanks to their deeper gullets. It takes me 12 to 14 strokes to remove the waste between tails.
Coping saws require two swooping passes to remove the waste. Drop the teeth in your kerf and make swoop one.
Come back and make swoop two. Sometimes you have to rotate the blade to do this.
The other thing I like about the coping saw is that its throat is deeper (5″ vs. 2-3/4″ on the fret saw), which allows me to handle some drawers without turning the blade. Also, the blades are far more robust and almost never come loose. I’m quite partial to the German-made Olson coping saw. It’s about $12 and beats the pants off the stuff at the home centers.
The major downside to the coping saw is that you have to remove the waste in two passes instead of one. Because the coping saw’s blade is thick, it usually won’t drop down into the kerf left by your dovetail saw (unless you saw dovetails with a chainsaw). So you make two swooping passes to clear the waste. I think I’m going to put my fret saw away for a while. In other words, I’m going to stop fretting and just cope (sorry about that as well).
– Christopher Schwarz