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Cheap Saws 3

In Part 1, I discussed my reasons for owning disposable saws. Here are some other considerations, including cost.

First, please don’t assume this is a knock at quality saw makers. There are many who are  producing top-notch products, and vintage saws can be restored as perfect users. But if you’re an occasional sawyer…

The photo above an extreme case, but does illustrate a point. I could purchase 10 saws for £57 (US$90). Yes, 10 saws. Depending on your age and intensity of panel saw use (especially if you are a weekend woodworker), 10 saws could outlast you!

It’s perverse, but a good quality saw file would cost me £8 (US$12.50) – more than the price of a cheap saw. Then I’m going to need saw setting pliers and file for leveling the teeth. I respect that depending where you are in the world, this might not quite be the case – but it is worth thinking about.

To snap that into harsh figures. One cheap saw £6.35 (US$10), sharp and ready. A new, but lower-end panel saw £50 (US$79), an eBay find £20 (US$31). A set of pliers and files, another £40 (US$63) and the time to learn how to do it – plus, if you find you don’t like filing, the cost of sending it to a saw doctor. Don’t get me wrong, I think you should consider learning how to sharpen a saw, it’s a skill I’m glad I have and It’ll be very useful to you to. But if you just want to build your first workbench and get going, then why not consider a cheap saw?

Cheap Saws 4

There is also perhaps the issue of maintaining the skills and traditions of woodworking – a feeling that perhaps a cheap saw is cheating, or even somehow disrespectful. Well, as shown in the video in Part 1, I hold onto to things my family members have made and what they used to make them – even when they are pretty much expired, as is my great grandfather’s saw. His initials, almost eroded by use, makes it a very personal reminder of a long and uninterrupted life of work. Even his skills as a wheelwright meant at the time of service during the Great War his efforts were in maintaining horse-drawn vehicles. The photo below with the saw handle showing outside of his tool bag is a favorite of mine.

When I started work, my first saw was a cheap one and it in no way reduced my appreciation of my trade, inhibit my work nor prevent me from learning how to sharpen saws for different tasks when the time came to do so.

I’ll now climb down from my soap box. If you’ve had experiences, good or bad, with cheap saws and care to leave them in the comment below, I’d love to hear them.

George and Sandra

 — Graham Haydon


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Showing 26 comments
  • mslorax

    I am re-entering woodworking after a 10-year hiatus and setting up my own home shop. I had access to the production shop at the local college. It is very easy to spend on hand tools what you would spend on power tools and I almost fainted when I saw the prices of quality hand saws. I was relieved when Chris Schwarz and Mike Siemsen recommended cheap saws. I ordered a SharkTooth by Stanley. Perhaps I made a mistake, but I decided to rip an 8 ft 2 x 4 with it. Not fun. I purchased a Crown rip saw. It’s better on the crosscut than the Stanley. I’m not looking to spend big bucks because I don’t think that necessarily translates into superior performance, but I am looking to enjoy what I am doing. For me
    it is the value proposition and making the purchase decision based on price didn’t really work for me.

  • Cranios

    The solution to this conundrum is simple:
    1. Use the “cheap” (non-resharpenable) saws and replace them frequently when they start to get dull. Then you won’t mind using disposable saws at all. Unless you are some sort of purist who is into woodworking for idealistic purposes, in which case I suggest you also start out with raw logs and use a pit-saw to produce your lumber. Think of the health benefits!
    2. Keep a high-end vintage Disston or other beauty perfectly sharpened and beautifully restored and finished; bring it out whenever someone asks what sort of saw you use, so that you’ll retain your “I’m a serious, purist woodworker” cred.

  • Lowell Holmes

    The situation I find myself in can be illustrated by my experience with rasps. I purchased a popular rasp a few years ago. It was a 50 dollar rasp and one that had a good reputation. I found it to be absolutely un-usable. It is a #50 N*** and one many praise.
    Fast forward to the purchase of the Ariou rasp for twice what the #50 N*** cost. So now I have $150 invested in rasps and only one is usable. That makes the cost of the good one really high. The other one is not being used.

    Cheap tools are not for me.

  • Crowbeard

    Lumbersexual – is that as in the rhyme?

    In days of old when knights were bold
    And women weren’t invented,
    Men drilled holes in telegraph poles
    And had to be contented!

  • ArtieMax

    Thank you for the article. I am always looking for woodworking for paupers (even tho I am more skinflint). After having fought with western style saws for years, I finally gave up and bought 3 Irwin pull saws. For a total of under $60usd spread over 3 months I am happy with my choices. Maybe more expensive “true” Japanese saws may work better, I don’t care. These 3 saw well and fast, don’t require resharpening and the old blades are able to be morphed into different tools.

  • Lowell Holmes

    I don’t tolerate cheap tools. Why should I spend my recreational time using a shoddy tool?
    I have tools I didn’t pay much for, but the shoddy tools soon found a resting place in a local land fill.

    Stanley 60 chisels are acceptable, so cheap is not defined by price. I have a cheap pull saw. It never gets used.

    Nicholson rasps are not cheap, they are sorry tools. The Ariou rasps are a bargain at any price.

    Cheap tools just don’t cut it for me.

  • rbfarris

    I have Disston rip and crosscut saws that I picked up at auctions for less than $10.00 each. I think I paid another $20.00 to have them professionally sharpened and set. I haven’t used them in years but they will still hang on the wall of my “forever” shop and go to one of the grands if they are still interested in woodworking.

  • bdormer

    I have had a short (like 20″) Stanley SharkTooth saw for a very long time (at least 10 years – maybe longer). It does a respectable rip and crosscut and cuts on both the push and pull stroke, so it’s quite fast. It’s got an abysmal tote – but at least its made of wood (Sorry, they don’t sell short/wood tote saws like this one anymore). It leaves an acceptable edge, but doesn’t leave a glass-smooth cut, then again it’s not really supposed to. It works quite well. So much so that my vintage Disston’s (rip and crosscut) tend to stay up on the wall – preserved for the future. After I saw a Chris Schwarz blog post a while back saying that he liked these saws – I went out and bought a full size (with wood handle) and a short (icky plastic handle) saw. The short one lives in the trunk (or boot, if you are British) of my car – ready for those “gotta have it now” trips to the lumberyard. For the price, these saws are indeed very hard to beat.

    If someone (maybe Stanley themselves – are you listening??) would put decent totes on these saws, they would really have something.

  • Matt_Rob

    So I ordered the Irwin 880 plus saw from a Amazon.Uk supplier Big Red Box as is not sold in the US and received it today so it took 10 days to travel from the UK to Middle Tennessee, not bad. I wanted to find out if I could see the merit of the saw that Graham had found a place in his kit. I used it to saw White oak and Southern Yellow pine both crosscut on a bench hook and rip on my saw bench. My go to saws are a Disston D 8 5 ppi rip and a Keystone by Disston 8 ppi crosscut I have to admit I have d 23 8 ppi crosscut that is just good as the Keystone but I love the etching on the Keystone, but I digress. I found the Irwin saw to be decent for what it is and not ask it to be something other. It takes patience when starting a cut or it will bounce out of the kerf . It is like driving a car with without steering as the saw has little set to the teeth it will run in the kerf that is started and I found it hard to move onto a line if you have one of those OH Shit moments and start the cut a slight bit off. So I guess it will be my new lumber yard saw,hiding under the rear seat in my truck as it will resist corrosion with it’s protective coating.

  • SteveM

    Yesterday I had a need to cut some 6mm plywood to about 1″x1″ square. Too small for the table saw so I decided to dust off the “cheap saw” and see how it would perform. I scored the surface veneers with a knife and good thing too because even though I cut about 1/4″ away from the line the saw threw off all kinds of splinters and shredded the wood around the cut horribly. However, a few swipes with a plane and the results were certainly acceptable. It’s also the saw I take to the lumberyard for when I might need to whack a few feet off the end of a board.

  • Milford

    One aspect of replaceable-blade saws (I prefer that adjective where appropriate; disposable sounds like poor quality from first use) not touched on so far is that the hardened teeth will remain sharp longer than those soft enough to be file-sharpened. And even among those, some are better than others. Brief use of one of the cheaper ones sent me back to a Gyokucho (Razorsaw) one. On their website, Gyokucho explains that they harden saw tooth surfaces one tooth at a time, leaving the interior tough to help avoid breakage. In my experience, the clue for getting a new blade is that the tips of the teeth seem to wear most, creating a narrower kerf in which the blade tends to stick.

    Someone once questioned throwing away the used blades, so I asked him if he sent his empty beer cans back to the brewery to be refilled. All scrap metal should be recycled properly.

  • Bill Rainford

    I use my fine saws in the workshop, but out in the field, and in particular when timber framing I love my Bahco Ergo Superior saws. The black coated metal does a great job when working with green timbers we use in timber framing. (Fast/easy cleanup at the end of the day as well) At $25-$40 they cost more than the lower tier disposable saws but they cut well and last a long time.

    -Bill

  • Bernard Naish

    They work adequately! They are cheap! They do not give me anywhere near the pleasure of using a saw I have rescued from a waste skip and restored myself.

  • I don’t think the trees care what kind of saw dissect them, as long as it’s sharp. Cuts from sharp tools hurt less. Plus, what tree wouldn’t want a close shave?

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