Handsaw vs Hacksaw

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Handsaws and Hacksaws are two of the common tools used for woodworking and construction projects. They are similar in many ways, but they do have some distinct differences. Handsaws cut wood whereas, hacksaws cut harder materials such as metals and plastic. Plastics are also quite dense and difficult to cut with an ordinary handsaw.

A handsaw is a handheld saw. You hold the saw in your hands, and use your muscles to move it back and forth. A hacksaw is a special type of handsaw that also relies on the user’s movements to function. The hacksaw has a bow-shaped frame with a fine-toothed removable blade in between the bow.

Evolution of the Handsaw

Carpenter tools isolated on white background


Archeologists discovered metal hand saws from around 1500 B.C in Ancient Egypt and Ur in ancient Mesopotamia. They discovered handsaws made from flint in southern France and also found many stone handsaws in Europe.

Early Handsaws  

Handsaws first evolved with the Japanese. So, here is a brief account of the history of the handsaw as the Japanese developed it:

The Yayoi Period: 300BC-250 A.D.

People discovered iron during this period. They started making tools of iron instead of stone.

The Kofun Period: 250-538 A.D.

People made the first handsaws during the fourth century. Archeologists found dozens of hand saws made during this period. These saws were not for cutting wood. The people of that period used them like sharpening files to make accessories.

The Asuka Nara Period: 538-794 A.D.

The introduction of Buddhism in Japan during the sixth century, in the Asuka Nara period, had a great impact on woodworking tools. Rip-cut saws replaced cross-cut saws during this period.

The Muromachi Period 1336-1573 A.D.

The Ooga was the first rip-cut saw introduced during the mid-Muromachi period in the 15th century.

The Azuchi, Momoyama Period 1573-1603 A.D.

With the demand for more architectural structures, the Japanese kept improvising on their saws. They changed the structure of the saws. They also introduced different types of saws like the Kagari and Maebiki.

The Edo Period 1603-1868 A.D.

Sometime during the 17th century, people introduced different types of saws – each one for a specific purpose.

The Meiji Period 1868-1912 A.D.

During this period western influence crept into Japanese architecture. The Japanese made double-edge saws with rip teeth on one side and crosscut teeth on the other. These saws became very popular.

The Taisho Period 1912-1926 A.D.

The popularity of the handsaw increased from the Taisho period to the Showa period.

The Showa Period 1926-1989 A.D.

Around this time, people shifted from hand-made saws to mass-produced saws with replaceable blades.

The Heisei Period 1989-Present

Japanese woodworking saws are recognized all over the world today. Many western woodworkers use them along with their western handsaws for their woodworking projects.

The Modern Handsaw

Handsaw in white background

We use the modern handsaw to cut softwood, hardwood, and plywood. But there are advanced variants to cut certain woods. A typical handsaw has a wide, permanently fixed blade. It has about 7- 10 teeth per inch (TPI). The teeth of the blade are designed for cross-cutting or rip-cutting.

The type of blade teeth depends on whether you cut across the grain (crosscutting) or along the grain (rip cutting).

Nowadays, modern handsaws have universal teeth which we use to make both types of cuts.

A special feature of the handsaw is its closed handles. This type of handheld handle enables you to cut faster and more efficiently. This saw cuts on the push rather than the pull as is the case with Japanese handsaws. It also prevents your hand from coming in contact with the blade while sawing.

Types of Handsaws

Handsaws hang on the wall
Image Credit: Epukas via Creative Commons

You can find different types of handsaws. There are all-purpose handsaws and special handsaws to cut specific types of wood. Teeth variations are an important factor. We use large-toothed handsaws for heavy-duty projects. It enhances the speed of your work. We use fine-toothed handsaws for precision work. Given below are the names of some handsaws.

The wallboard saw, pull saw, coping saw, crosscut saw, rip saw, bow saw, fret saw, and backsaw to mention a few. The Japanese  handsaw has a push-strike movement, and cuts with small sharp teeth. We use the keyhole saw and veneer saw for small, fine work.

After you recognize their specifications, you can decide which handsaw will suit your requirements.

Handsaw Uses

  • You can use the handsaw to cut large pieces of timber.
  • Use it to make furniture.
  • Handsaws make holes in electrical outlets, piping, utility plugs, and fixtures.
  • You use them on tree limbs, shrubs, thick vines, and low branches.
  • Handsaws create angled cuts in thin pieces of wood.
  • Artisans use the handsaw to cut shapes traced on plywood, wood, or drywall.

The Hacksaw

man cutting wood with a small hand saw
A detail of a

Like the handsaw, the hacksaw is also a manually powered, handheld tool used for sawing. The common hacksaw is fine-teethed and set in a bow-shaped frame. The frame enables you to hold the hacksaw while working. The blade cuts on the push rather than the pull.

Hacksaws cut metals or something stronger and harder than wood. A hacksaw cuts steel rods, pipes, metal, plastic. You can also use it to cut polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and other softer materials.

One important feature of the hacksaw is its blade attached to the frame using nuts. This makes the blade easy to replace.

Types of Hacksaws

There are four sub-categories of hacksaws. These are the full-size hacksaw, the junior hacksaw, the mini hacksaw, and the power hacksaw.

There are many different types of hacksaw blades available. Some hacksaws have as few as three teeth per inch. And others have as many as 32 teeth per inch.

Hacksaw Uses

  • Plumbers use the hacksaw to cut different types of gutter pipes.
  • Electricians use this tool to cut the metal covers of electric wires.
  • Carpenters use the hacksaw to cut and shape metals. They create thousands of beautiful things like furniture, shelves, vessels, handles, and other things with the help of a hacksaw.
  • A hacksaw cuts both thick and thin metals. Its blade is relatively light, making it easy to cut thin metallic items.
  • You can also use a hacksaw to shape different types of metallic items (old or new).
  • A hacksaw also cuts different plastic materials.
  • A hacksaw cuts copper and steel pipes to shorten them.

Differences Between Handsaws and Hacksaws

The set of construction tools includes different saws

Woodworkers use handsaws primarily to cut wood; the hacksaw cuts tougher materials like metal and plastic.

The handsaw has a closed handle that is permanently fixed. The hacksaw’s blade is detachable and replaceable due to how it is fixed to the frame. The frame of the hacksaw also acts as its handle.

Depending on the material they are designed to cut, their blades differ in thickness. The blades used in a handsaw are thicker. The blades of a hacksaw are thinner as they cut through metals and other materials.

Not only do the blades differ in thickness, but the teeth density of each blade is also different. A handsaw has a tooth density of 7 to 10 teeth per inch. The tooth density of a typical hacksaw blade is 3 to 32 teeth per inch.

Most handsaws cut on the push stroke. The modern variants of the handsaw, cut both on the push and pull stroke. The hacksaw cuts only on the push stroke.

You can sharpen handsaw blades, but you need to replace the hacksaw blades quite often as you cannot sharpen them.


Handsaws and hacksaws are convenient tools. But if you use them carelessly, it is dangerous. So, whether it is manual or automatic, whichever handsaw or hacksaw you buy, use it following all the safety measures. Of course, the deciding factor in determining which saw to use depends on the material you cut.

Whichever type of saw you use, handsaw or hacksaw, you will find them an indispensable part of your woodworking toolkit. Collect a good collection of hacksaws and handsaws for creating some great woodworking projects.