Hand saws are invaluable tools for carpentry and woodworking. Most hobbyists have more than one type of hand saw, and professionals have an assortment in their shops. Hand saws are not identical, nor is every type suitable for all materials.
You cannot cut metal with a hand saw that is designed and made to work on wood. To cut metal, you’ll need a hacksaw, which is the only hand saw designed for this type of work. Also, you need a hacksaw with appropriate blades and teeth for different metals.
Like all hand saws, hacksaws have distinct features, mostly depending on the style or type. Any hand saw that you might use to cut wood doesn’t have the construction, design, or specs to work on metal. Read on to understand why you can’t cut metal with a hand saw and should use a hacksaw instead.
Which Type of Hand Saws Can You Use To Cut Metal?
There are more than a dozen distinct types of hand saws available today. Powered saws are not included in this count, some of which are handheld.
Here are the broad classifications of the most common manual hand saws you may be familiar with:
- Basic saw
- Bone saw
- Bow saw
- Coping saw
- Crosscut saw
- Japanese saw
- Keyhole saw
- Pruning saw
- Rip-cut saw
- Veneer saw
- Wallboard saw
While many hand saws appear similar, a few differences in design and material make every type suitable for distinct purposes. If you consider only the blade material, any type of hand saw with beveled, sharp, and sturdy cutting edges should work on metal. But that’s not how saws work.
The only classic hand saw you can use to cut metal is a hacksaw. Before I talk about hacksaws, here are the reasons why you cannot use most hand saws to cut metal.
Why You Cannot Use Most Hand Saws To Cut Metal
The Majority of Hand Saws Don’t Have a Fixed Frame
A majority of basic hand saws that are used most extensively don’t have a fixed frame securing or spanning the entire blade. Thus, the blade will flex and, in all likelihood, wobble if you use it to cut metal. Metal is denser than wood. Also, the cellular structure of any wood simplifies cutting.
You cannot use any blade that flexes or wobbles to cut metal. This singular factor is irrespective of the other features of common hand saws that also determine whether or not a particular type can cut metal. These features include:
- Blade material
- Set or pattern
- Teeth per inch
Having said that, a few types of hand saws have a fixed frame, including but not limited to the following:
- Coping saw
- Bow saw
The stiffening rib of a backsaw is akin to a fixed frame holding the blade with the cutting edges on the opposite side. Likewise, the other three types of hand saws listed above have frames securing both ends of the blade, which isn’t very different from the purpose of the design of a hacksaw.
However, the frames of these types of hand saws don’t make their blades and teeth suitable for metal.
Hand Saw Blades for Woodworking Aren’t for Metals
Steel and alloys are the most common materials used to make the blades and cutting edges or teeth of hand saws designed for woodworking. You will get carbon steel blades in many basic or standard hand saws. However, the blades are likely made of low-carbon steel.
You need high-speed steel or high-carbon steel to cut metal. Hacksaw blades are made of such materials. Also, many hacksaws have bi-metal blades, which are a lot sharper and stronger than the low or medium-carbon steel cutting edges of all-purpose or general hand saws.
Hand Saws’ Set and Teeth Per Inch Don’t Cut Metals
The lack of a fixed frame in most types of hand saws causes the inevitable flexing or wobbling problem when you try to cut metal. The blade material is likely to be significantly inferior to that of a hacksaw, so you may not cut any metal at all, and the unsteady sawing will get worse.
Additionally, the set of teeth – and subsequently, their per-inch count – on most types of hand saws make them a non-starter for cutting metal. Hand saws generally have blades with 3 to 20 teeth per inch (2.54 cm). The range for hacksaws is 18 to 32 teeth per inch (or TPI).
If you have to use a rip-cut hand saw for a 1-inch wood board or plank, you don’t require more than 8 TPI. Even a 4 or 5 TPI count will work. A 1/2-inch (1.27-cm) piece of wood will call for 7 to 11 teeth per inch. With crosscut hand saws, 6 to 15 teeth per inch will suffice for most boards and planks.
You cannot cut metal with anything short of 18 teeth per inch, even if you have a softie like aluminum. Plus, the teeth set or the pattern of the cutting edges of most hand saws make them unsuitable for metal. Consider the parallel slicing and centered cutting actions of a crosscut hand saw.
The teeth set of crosscut hand saws essentially execute parallel slices against the wood grain, and the centered cut takes off a chunk without peeling or ripping the fiber. This cutting pattern is not designed for or effective on metal. No metal has cellular structures, fibers, or grains of wood.
How To Choose an Appropriate Hacksaw To Cut Different Metals
While the hacksaw is the only hand saw you can use to manually cut different metals and alloys, you should still get an appropriate one with suitable attributes, such as the following:
- Strong blade material: bi-metal, high-carbon steel, high-speed steel, etc.
- Relevant style or type: fixed frame, adjustable frame, deep cutting frame
- Desired frame: solid frame, which is heavier, or tubular and hollow, which is lighter
- Grip and handle: pistol, which is the most popular, or straight (wood/plastic)
- Teeth per inch: coarse, medium, or fine, as necessary for the metal you have
- Coarse hacksaw: 14 to 18 TPI for reinforced steel, high-carbon, high-speed, etc.
- Medium-toothed: 18 to 24 TPI for cast iron, mild steel, stainless steel, etc.
- Fine-toothed saw: up to 32 TPI for aluminum, brass, bronze, copper, tin, etc.
- Blade length: based on the size and type of the metal block, piece, or sheet
- Staggered set: alternating teeth pattern – single, double, or triple, aka zig-zag
You cannot use any type of hand saw to cut metal except a hacksaw. Also, a hacksaw can cut most plastics, so it is a really worthwhile investment if you are considering buying a new hand saw. Use the attributes I have shared to pick the best hacksaw for your metalworking needs.