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Cheap Saws 1

I like to be honest about sharing what works well for me, even if that view might be unpopular: I sometimes recommend saws of the disposable type. And this and my following post, I’ll justify that. It can be a hard sell; “disposable” is a big mental hurdle to overcome – so I’ll deal with that first.

When these saws become blunt they cannot be sharpened. But when most of us think of a saw, we think of the traditional style that can be sharpened  and whether new or old they typically are beautifully made and fantastic to use. Linking the term “disposable” to that mental image naturally makes us recoil.

But nearly all woodworkers, even many hand-tool evangelists, use battery-powered drill drivers. Batteries can fail within two years and the price of new batteries is so high that a new drill/driver is often better value. Imagine what is easier to recycle – a simple metal saw plate (that’s not fancy tool steel) with a plastic handle, or nickel cadmium/lithium-ion batteries. (All that when there are enough braces, egg beaters and screwdrivers to fulfill the needs of most workers for eternity.) The teeth on the cheap saws last a long time, too – maybe five times longer?

So it’s not as though these things will be thrown out every five minutes. I’ve heard of some woodworkers using the saw plate to make scrapers and scratch stock cutters too, so it could be even useful to have a couple hanging around.

Cheap Saws 2

Some also assume they don’t work very well. Like anything, choosing the right saw is still important. The cheap saw shown here is the Irwin Jack 880 and I find it terrific as a panel saw. What I expect from my panel saw is the ability to rip and crosscut wood up to about 1″ thick and to cut larger scale joinery. You can see examples of this in the video below where I do some basic trial cuts and use some old footage from my bench build where I cut a tenon.

One thing you will not be able to do so well with these is resawing. At best, the teeth on these saws will be hybrid or just crosscut. The good news is that handsaws that are good for ripping are the perfect saw to learn sharpening on, and for the less sadistic many woodworkers simply rip thicker stock on a table saw or bandsaw. If you need any further assurances, read David Savage’s thoughts on them. (And check out his other fantastic guides to tools while you’re there.)

Another reasonable concern is where tools like this get made, so if that’s of interest, do your research. This saw is made in Denmark.

In Part 2 I’ll discuss further things in praise of the disposable saw.

 — Graham Haydon

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Showing 16 comments
  • 8iowa

    I have several Stanley saws that I often use for “rough” cross cuts. Recently, I bought an Ace Hardware back saw for around $10. This saw can do precision cuts with a bench hook and probably even do some dovetails if they are not too small. With a saw file, this inexpensive saw will give years of service.

  • gumpbelly

    Great post. Your difficulty isn’t getting “woodworkers” to agree. I am suspicious of anyone calling themselves a “woodworker” if they don’t have at least one such saw in every vehicle they own, and maybe a collection of tooth patterns in their shop. I’m fond of the Stanley Big Max I believe it’s called. A very aggressive smaller tooth pattern on a 18 to 20″ saw. I have yet to find the wood, log, and even some Ferrous metals it wouldn’t make into smaller sizes. At home I have plenty of tools to further the breakdown. Guy never knows when he’s going to see a deal on an incredible piece of wood. Would be a bummer if all that kept him from realizing this, because it’s too big to fit in the car, and taking the time to go for a truck, or trailer, you just know it’s going to be gone when you get back.

  • Peter_McLaughlin

    To digress a bit into the egg-beater vs. battery drill “controversy.” As a tree hugger and hand tool enthusiast, I gave up battery operated drills for all the reasons you enumerate, but I loved the adjustable driver clutch….which can’t be beat when you have a few sheets of drywall to hang. My solution? A corded Ryobi drill and drive unit. I cost less than one ni-cad battery for my old drill. It is clearly not heavy duty….but it does the job.

  • tsstahl

    I’ll play my part from the bandwagon. I keep one of these in my truck for serendipity. I never know where wood is going to turn up; when it does, it often needs to be broken down.

    It also works well in plywood.

  • alegr

    You can touch hardened teeth with a diamond file. I even restored my Japanese-style Bear Saw to working condition with that. is selling special diamond files for that, but I used a generic file from a kit.

  • rjpat

    I got this saw for $10 with a $10 rebate. Couldn’t pass up a deal like that. I am mainly a power tool user, relatively new to hand tools, but I do use this saw to make the rough cuts in long boards which is just easier than try to make room around my miter saw (small shop). I am really enjoying using hand tools in general, it is much ore enjoyable, and much less noisy and dusty.

  • miathet

    Just an FYI, a certain regional large box retailer sold that exact saw for 2.99 USD after rebate and I used it to rough cut barn lumber. I thought it worked great and a few nails and staples didn’t make it work much worse. The one I have is Chinese.

    Also based on Mr. Schwarz I bought the Stanley and my 5 year old loves it and its quick in the wood miter box.


  • Dan H

    That was a very interesting demonstration.
    To convert your 6 GBP (sorry, this American keyboard does not have the Pound symbol) Irwin handsaw to dollars: I just bought some wooden planes on eBay and paid with PayPal. The exchange rate yesterday was 0.6322 GBP = $1. Your 6 GBP saw would be about $9.50.
    I have a small Stanley that I bought a few months ago that I use as a utility saw for breaking down boards. It also works in an old Miller Falls miter box that I have. You are correct, a fair amount of modern, mass-produced hand tools, that many people dismiss as rubbish, are perfectly serviceable. They are just not cool, so you, David Savage and Chris Schwarz are about the only people who will admit to using them.


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