Non Tweak-Able Tools

by | Mar 9, 2016 | 32 comments

I don't dislike hard points for being wasteful. The metal always comes in.

I don’t dislike hard points for being wasteful. The metal always comes in.

My most well used tools are like mates; I accept them warts and all, and they’re dependable without needing to be pampered.

I’m careful not to cross the line though, and some job’s around our building site of a home would be plain abuse of a good friendship. For those jobs I call on something less precious (you know the weird kid with the teeth and glasses – basically Helen).

There’s always a hard point (disposable) saw kicking about, and these seem to come in regardless of the job. Almost good enough to stay in the workshop, and yet the first to hand when there’s any risk of nails, concrete, or trauma.

I am frequently impressed by today’s hard point, I’ve written about this before, and even used one throughout my English bench build. Give them a decent handle and you’d have something that I’d recommend to any beginner woodworker – a cost effective way to experience sharp.

But there’s something keeping them from pride of place on the tool wall. They’re just so bloody universal. They’ll promise to cut through tiles, dead bodies, and steel, as well as with and across wood grain. Yet I’m not so sure the manufacturers know what cutting with the grain feels like.

If you’re looking to whip through a bit of construction pine then you’re in luck, and I do rate a good hard point for getting you going. But as you gain experience you’re going to want to tweak, and at that point ‘universal’ becomes the last thing you need. We want tuned and optimised.

My butchered but always faithful Pax

My butchered but always faithful Pax

When I bought my Pax saw several years ago, I bought it for the length and because I knew that it was heavy. I also liked the handle.
The saw had 20 teeth per inch. I took a couple of cuts when it first came, thought ‘that’s a good saw’, and then immediately filed all of the teeth off. I also tapered the blade slightly.

That probably sounds bizarre to a lot of people, but I like my rip saws aggressive, and whatever the saw, I consider it all to be part of the set up. If you couldn’t adjust your plane irons with the camber you require, then I think you’d see what I mean. Perhaps that’s why disposable plane irons have never taken off.

I’ve got a bit of rambling to come on this subject shortly, including some hard points that I’ve actually found to be excellent.
What is your own experience with non tweak-able saws?
Do you have any recommendations for any good Japanese saws?

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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Glen Canaday

    They do get dull and as you know can’t be sharpened without great effort. The place where I live is the font from which all garage sale vintage saws breed, so I dont pay more than $2 for a hand saw. At that price point, hard tooth disposables lose their advantage and I have antique steel coming out my ears.

    • Glen Canaday

      Oh, I forgot to japanese crosscut saw was fantastic new. It isn’t new anymore, it’s got 20 yearson it. But since the teeth are also hardened and the specialty files required to sharpen a non-hardened japanese tooth cost so much, it hangs on a hook, unused.

  2. Justin

    I made do for many years with a 26″ Stanley Sharptooth. It was a good saw, and I eventually made a new walnut handle for it to replace slippery, blocky birch handle that came with the saw. When I finally got a vintage Disston D8 and learned how to sharpen a saw, I was amazed at how stiff the vintage saw was in comparison to the new one. I think it probably improved my technique to learn with the more flexible newer saw – your technique had to be *just right* to keep from kinking it in the cut. But I would never want to switch back. Though I do think it makes sense to keep one handy for risky cuts, as Richard suggests.

  3. Wannabewoodworker

    Can you actually harden a hard point saw? I don’t think I’ve ever read an article about how to do it, nor have I ever seen anyone advocate doing it. Surely it just isn’t economically sensible? And given that only the actual teeth on a hard point have been tempered, wouldn’t you be cutting into the “soft” steel of the saw after the first or second sharpen anyway?

    • Jasper

      Induction hardening only hardens the surface. So there is indeed not much material to file off. Hard files are expensive. Re-hardening is not a DIY job.

      But a worn hard point saw can be used to practice your saw filing skills, after cutting off the old teeth. And after that, cut it to scrapers.

  4. Ed

    My comment about Japanese saws is just that some Japanese tools are built to be used with Japanese methods of holding the workpiece. This ties to layout too, affecting the relationship between reference face and show face and which faces you when cutting. Be aware of all of that before you put too much into using a Japanese saw. I thought my saw was part of the problem when I was learning dovetails, but it really wasn’t. The saw was helpful to “experience sharp,” as you say. In the end, I prefer the English / Western tenon saw. It pushes the dust away from me rather than pulling it onto my knife or pencil line. You need to pull from below the workpiece to avoid pulling dust onto your line if you use a Japanese saw. When I get into more complicated sawing where a piece is clamped or held at a funny angle in a Western style bench and I cannot change the clamping angle much, e.g., cutting to scribes on chair legs, I just want to site my line and cut. I’m sure it can be done with the Japanese saw, but my brain and hands have just gone down a different path. Now and then, pulling from below is the way to go, and the Eastern saw will come out.

  5. John Thomas

    I bought a Stanley saw sever years ago. No to good. Since then I have taken my Dad’s saw and several I got off the internet and had Bad Axe sharpen them. They cut wonderful.

  6. Jasper

    My hands are only medium sized, but most of the vintage handle don’t fit well. If I don’t know how to hold a tool, I simply won’t use it. The old steel is nice though.
    The current line of Bahco saws is adequate for me; they have a choice of teeth and the balance is good. Keeping the worn ones for dirty work.

    Fine Japanese saws are nice for short-grained woods like mahogany. And fine trimming, small mitre box work. Many of the coarse models are set for green wood and gardening. I have yet to find an affordable, thin, 7 tpi Japanese rip saw. One could use a frame saw instead. As Ed comments, the clamping angle is indeed an issue.

    • Justin

      Just to check: You’re not trying to fit four fingers through the handle, are you? Vintage saws are designed for a three-finger grip. The index finger should lie aside the handle, pointed towards the tip of the saw. I have medium hands, too, and the old tools fit like a glove. The new ones feel cavernous with the hand holds cut for an improper 4-finger grip.

      • Jasper

        Thanks, but no, I use a three-finger grip. You’re right, the modern ones are large. But many fit me well. Not just like a glove, but also with a glove 🙂 Nice when handling rough materials, or in the cold.

        • Justin

          Okay, I wasn’t trying to sound condescending (so sorry if it came across that ), but I had no idea of your level of experience. Lots of folks apparently think that old-timers just had tiny hands!

          • Jasper

            No offence taken.
            We are here to learn and share and enjoy, are we not?
            I really enjoy feeling free to learn. This implies other people should feel free to teach. Something that is not new to me, may be new to others.

  7. Neal Mangham

    Has no one mentioned the unfortunately deprecatory reference to Helen??? Wait until you ask someone to bring you a cup of tea to the workbench.

    • Helen

      Haha. Thank you Neal.
      If I am to be treat the same as that saw, then you can be sure that the tea will be drying up fast.

  8. Chris Buckingham

    Hard Point Saws ! They are really good for cutting those Thermolite blocks, if I try to use them for wood I find I am so constantly phased by their total lack of balance, feeling just like a dead thing in your hand, that I cant really enjoy doing the job at hand, I know where I got all my Hard Points Saws, people just bring them to me for sharpening, when I tell them it is a waste of time they just throw them in the corner, with the others.

  9. Peter McLaughlin

    If 20tpi wasn’t aggressive enough, what tpi did you end up with?

  10. Paul Chapman

    I use hardpoint saws for rough work. In general I find them very good, although the quality can be a bit variable, even between different examples of the same saw. Rather than throw them away when they are blunt, they make a good source of material for scrapers and scratch stocks.

  11. Joe

    Laugh if you will, but the first saw I bought when I started down the woodworkers path years ago was a Shark Japanese Ryoba-style (both rip and crosscut teeth) pull saw from the local Sears, and I can tell you that though I have “graduated” to some nice push type saws for most of my work, my shop will always have one of those pull saws hanging around. It is the first saw to get packed when traveling to help friends with various construction projects and is the only hand saw I use on plywood. Hard teeth, flexible blade, smooth and fast cutting (thanks to the rip and crosscut tooth), and replaceable blade (old blades make nice scrapers as has been mentioned). There is a learning curve for pull saws (just like for push), but they are wonderful tools for certain situations.

  12. Ian M. Stewart

    You asked about experiences with hard point saws. I have an Axcaliber Fineline toolbox saw from Axminster, about 15tpi that comes in handy sometimes and tracks well. So far, it’s not been abused and has stayed sharp, leaving a fine finish to the cut. It’s not as ‘nice to use’ as my Diston tenon saw or my Marples dovetail saw, but then it’s not a backsaw at all. It is however much handier at 14″ blade than the big vintage handsaws for small deep cuts across the grain wherever the backsaws won’t go.

  13. John Gibson

    I have the joy (challenge) of working wood at the house and cottage. In winter (now), the cottage is a decent hike on snowshoes from the nearest parking. So I have two sets of tools, with the B team residing mostly at the cottage. I have been happy with the green-handled Japanese saw for the (relatively) fine work, and am about to replace a couple of sharky or hardpoint saws, after thanking them for their service in rain, snow, whatever, and cutting firewood, dirty wood, ABS pipe, plywood, MDF, an occasional nail, …

    In general I believe that life is too short to put up with poor tools. But there is definitely a place for inexpensive or expendable ones.

    Richard, after you say sorry to Helen for the last post, maybe you could comment on whether you have a beater screwdriver somewhere that doubles as a chisel, prybar, scraper, glue scraper, …

  14. John Thomas

    I am using 5 tpi for ripping, and a ten for cross cutting, that is what I call brought sawing.. That is the Disston style saws.
    I have several back saws of finer tpi for the tendons, dovetails, etc.

  15. Ocelot

    I have one of those hard points – emergency purchase – and though I absolutely hate the idea of ‘disposable’ tools, it cuts well. Well, well enough. I don’t like waste; would like to hear about how to use the materials of a blunt ‘hard point’ to make other things – scrapers? – is the body steel fit for that?

  16. Stefan

    Hi Richard,
    I’ve got two cheap Stanley saws. One of the them is a resharpeable one and the other is a hard pointed one.
    The hard pointed saw often comes with me when I’m buying lumber and have to cut it onsite so it will fit into my car.
    The resharpeable one I’ve used for some resawing tasks.
    Honestly I’m asking myself why not spending some time to make a nice handle for both models?
    Even if the blade will be dull in a while, then you can buy the same model once again and reuse the made handle.


    • Ian M. Stewart

      @Stefan, That may work if it’s one of the ‘big name’ manufacturers saws, and the model has been around for a while, but I’d be worried that the saw had been discontinued or re-designed with the same name and the handle wouldn’t fit. Disposable is disposable.

      • Gilgaron

        It’d just be a matter of drilling the right holes in the plate to match whatever handle.

  17. Gav

    I did a job with friend away from home using his tools. Some required sharpening and there was a hard point tenon saw in there that was flogged. Out of interest we asked the sharpening service if anything could be done with it. It was stated that they make an exellent back up once the teeth are ground off completely and refiled and set- which was the case. So, aside from the decent brass backed primary tenon saw there was now a resharpenable knockabout backup. Cost about $15 , saved on landfill. Does the job. Has been resharpened , still cuts well for what it is. In saying that , I bought an traditional tenon saw from the local waste depot for $4 . Cleaned it up, sharpened it use it daily .

  18. Bob Easton

    Hmmmmph! It appears to me that Helen’s teeth are about 2TPI, nicely spaced and very attractive. Maybe they’re even sharp enough to get even with the guy who makes snide remarks!

  19. Ollie Sparks

    ..and useful they are, I use mine for ripping through nasty exotics, where the tooth geometry is actually works pretty well on perspex like timbers. Our friend Mr Arnold has the coolest use so far though – sweating them onto the bottom of gunmetal plane castings, to form the steel sole!

  20. jimmy b

    I started unplugged woodworking just a year ago this month. I bought an Irwin hardpoint saw to use for my workbench build. It performed great for me then and is still going strong. I do agree that it cuts much better on the cross cut than the rip. On the rip it tends to wander very quickly. I have since saved up and bought a 14″ Bad Axe sash saw with hybrid cut. I also built the Tom Fidgen style frame saw with the Bad Axe blade. I use the frame saw for all my ripping now, but I swear that $20 Irwin saw cuts as good as anything on the cross cut, but the cut is ragged so I only use it on rough dimensioning my wood. Last Christmas I made a lot of crafts out of pallet wood for my wife and daughter to sell at craft shows, and no, I did not put my Bad Axe to that wood, and the Irwin performed great. But as much of a rookie as I am, I can tell the difference in the rip ability of the frame saw and the fineness and accuracy of the Bad Axe saws. But the Irwin will always have a place in the shop. and when it is gone, I’m going to have a lot of new scrapers!

  21. douglas coates

    Hard-points worry me (the tree-hugger part of me) – it ought not to be possible to buy a whole saw for under a tenner, then sling it later. But they can be worryingly good. The Bahco Profcut are outstanding, their finer veneer saws are really handy round the shop and will give a decent Japanese saw a bit of a fright. If and when it gets tired, flat one side and you have an excellent flush-cut for nowt.

  22. Duncan

    Sorry to come late to this post. I feel its a matter of getting to know the tool and gradually it becomes clear which particular jobs it’s best for. If you’re trying to make a living doing this there isn’t always time to get the feel for something and you would just go with what you know works. I’ve used Disstons for most things for a long time (inherited from my father – the first tools he bought when he finished his apprenticeship), an old Sorby shoulder saw for crosscut joinery and a Pax saw for dovetails. I use hard points for rough work, or work in the rain, to save the better saws. I don’t find the hardpoint backsaws I’ve tried much use. Haven’t found anything hardpoints do better than traditional saws, but they are certainly up to making good cuts. I’m retired now and have used Japanese saws for maybe 3 years. I liked them straight off but found that they take time to get used to, like other tools. Now I use them for some delicate work. I’ve little a 0.2mm dozuki saw that’s excellent for fine dovetails, though it’s a bit slow and you can’t get a fret saw blade down the kerf so only useful when I don’t mind spending time and think I need a fine cut. I’ve tried a 0.3mm dozuki for dovetails – OK with the fret saw – but not really an improvement on the traditional western saw. Yes, the pull saws draw the dust over the line, but sometimes it’s better to watch the saw rather than the line – especially ripping with a pull saw!

    I’ll also join the chorus of support for Helen (alright, and Richard). You’re a great team.

  23. Jeff

    I have too many hand saws.
    As strange as that may sound to some, I must admit that I have far more hand saws than I and my two sons can use.
    Most of them are good old names that we all enjoy using and some are just things that have been found in the dump and brought home for reuse.
    I still much prefer my D8 filed for ripping and a D100 set up for cross cuts over any power saw I have.
    I also bought a Stanley “Shark Saw” about 20 years ago as a throw away tool to cut lamenated flooring for a kitchen remodeling. I still have that saw although I recently dulled it while cutting up some rubber conveyor belting ( I didn’t know there was a spring wire core…) and it still works just not as quickly or accuratly as before.
    I got one for each of my sons for a “first real saw” when they were around 5 years old.
    When used under adult supervision (ALWAYS) these make a very good saw for short, young arms that are eager to make some saw dust.


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