The Hardpoint Saw

by | Mar 25, 2014 | 23 comments

Like any item designed to be used and then chucked, hardpoint saws are not the best type of tool to be promoting.
But I did decide to use one throughout my workbench build.

It was difficult to know what tooling to use in our video because I’m hoping that many people will want to watch and learn from it, so I want it to be accessible. If I used a beautiful array of well set and specialised tools then I get concerned that I’m creating a message that this is the only way to go about it – that a workbench can’t be built without heavy investment.
On the other hand using cheap and disposable tools could be setting a very bad example.

With the saw I opted to set the bad example. Not because I’m bad really, but because I feel there’s something much more important than tool choice to be highlighted; and that’s good technique.
I find that choice can be a very distracting thing, and when it comes to learning a new skill what better excuse than to blame your tools?

I’m not proposing that my tool kit for the workbench is what you should aspire to, only that these tools for this project are more than adequate. I’m assuming that no one will see me using a disposable saw and think, ‘yup, I best go sling my lovely Disston and buy one of these instead’.sawCheap, new tools are generally pretty grim so I don’t extend my recommendation much further than the saws. I bought a spoke shave once and wouldn’t have had much luck cutting myself with it, let alone cheese… or wood. Saws though are a little different.

With any tool purchase I suppose we have at least three choices; splash out and buy something well made and new, scour second hand sales or ebay and take a punt on something old, or buy new but very cheap.

The third category is generally best avoided if you don’t want to get put off woodworking for life, but what if you simply can’t afford to buy something half decent, do you just put it on hold until more prosperous times?

I find that a different approach is needed for each tool.

Chisels for example are a good place to start with old ones. They can be found abandoned by the bucket load and are a very good way for getting a feel for sharpening.

Old saws are not quite so simple.
Good ones attract very healthy prices, and bad ones require a lot of work. I don’t want to mystify the skill of saw restoration and sharpening because it’s a very satisfying and important skill to learn, but I do feel that it’s one to be learnt after you have a full understanding of the sawing itself. Anything is easy once you know how to do it, but I know I would struggle to set up a saw myself if I wasn’t already confident in sawing with it, I simply wouldn’t know what I was aiming for.

Hard point saws might just fall in to the same dismal cheap tools pile if it wasn’t for one important thing. They are good.
They aren’t beautifully balanced and glide through the cut good, but they are sharp and do cut well. They aren’t designed as a cheap alternative for the hobbyist, but for real work, for tradesmen, and so extensive research has gone in to maximising the durability and sharpness. The price reflects the sheer quantity that are made rather than the quality- they are very cheap, so cheap in fact that you would barely cover the postage of an old saw bought on Ebay or even the saw files you’d need.

I’m only talking about panel saws here, tenon and small dovetail saws are a different story and perhaps I’ll go on to those another time. The hardpoints are optimised only for cross cutting, and for this they cut extremely quickly, you can get them working for light ripping as well but it’ll be slower. sawing hardpointIt may seem like a sad thing to be recommending a disposable saw but they can make a very good learning aid if you haven’t yet got used to sawing by hand. They come ready to use and you’ll get feedback right from your first cut, so you’ll soon learn if you’re holding it wrong or pushing down too hard.

Once you have that technique mastered you’ll be ready to treat yourself to something much finer as your work requires, or maybe try your hand at bringing something lovely and old back to use.

Rather than simply supporting a disposable product, I like to see it as supporting getting started in woodworking.
Many people are learning woodworking on their own today, not in the capable hands of a master, so I think it can be wise to start out with at least a few things ready set. This way results from making can be seen early on, which should prove the best encouragement for the enthusiasm needed to delve in and learn some more.

Once you start to progress with your woodworking it will come natural to want to learn how to sharpen a saw, and by that point you’ll be ready to learn it quickly.

And the disposable saw will likely keep itself away from the bin, safely stashed in the garage instead, ready and waiting for when you need to trim some plasterboards or some other makeshift diy.

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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. Jerry Dye

    Richard, What an excellent post! I have a lot of very good saws left to me by ancestors and acquired by me along the way but your thoughts about Hardpoint saws open further potential for those just starting out and without a large budget. I may purchase one of these Hardpoint saws just to see how they survive cutting a nail and how that affects their performance.

  2. Chris Buckingham,France

    I did at first think you had been sniffing something stronger than EvoStick when I read your title ! However having read your review I can see that there is some merit in using a hard point, the only doubt that I now have is that having mastered the art of sawing with the very “dead” feel of a hard point, the user will have to learn all over again with a “proper” saw, but at least he/she will have some yardstick to judge the performance (or not) of their first real saw. And the hardpoint can always be used to cut thermolite blocks ! A fate that I have seen many Distons suffer!

  3. ScottV

    I have a hard point saw stashed in my car for whenever a piece of lumber follows me home that does not quite fit.

  4. e

    No argument here. I don’t have a huge collection of saws, but I have a few good, not great, saws (A couple Atkins, an old craftsman, and few few others). My go-to for mitre and crosscut is a hardpoint knife-tooth Stanley backsaw that I picked up about a dozen years ago. Good handle, good weight, and cuts like a demon. Wide kerf and thick plate, but pretty clean and easy to control, if lacking in subtlety. When I need a finer cut, the better saws come out. Actually have sharpened it– Diamond stick does OK. But, a few more teeth snap and it will get a retoothing into the soft plate for a second life.

  5. DallasL

    I’m still learning to saw properly, so I use a hard-point saw for rough cutting, and it’s working fine for the skill level I have at this time. I don’t have any experience with a fine panel saw yet so I guess I don’t know what I’m missing there.

  6. Graham Haydon

    Amen, hardpoint are blooming good. Also, when finished with you can use the saw plate to make scrapers & scrach tools.

  7. Cormac

    Richard, Great post. I have yet to buy a good saw and am stuck with a Spears and Jackson hard point which cuts and rips well. Like you said I’m using it to practice technique before the daunting task of jointing, sharpening and setting a new old saw! I did however make a handle from a template complete with lambs tongue and now really enjoy using the saw. Hope the renovations are progressing well.

  8. Peter Page

    I have started cutting the teeth off of hardpoint saws and puting new teeth on them.. They sharpen up ok with a file.

    • Simonm

      Sorry – coming late to this thread, but Peter, you make an excellent point: contrary to popular mythology, hardpoint ‘disposable’ saws _can_ be resharpened with care. You just need diamond files and a tolerance for loud squeaky noises!

      Why bother? That’s a good question, but I like my saws to be a known quantity. Whenever I buy any hardpoints (and the better ones are not *that* cheap!), I put a prominent number on the top of the handle in permanent marker, and try to keep the new ones for the better work. Unless cared for I find they do dull-off fast, and a touch-up helps. It’s not that different to maintaining router cuttters in that sense.

      Of course, you might also re-profile for proper rip-cutting too – I haven’t tried that. Where you’d probably come unstuck would be resetting the teeth – they’d tend to snap, I expect.

  9. Peter Buchin

    I’m on Disability and have been s-l-o-w-l-y building my starter collection of tools. I got a cheapo hardpoint solely to cut the 2x material for my workbench. I’d rather put money into decent chisels and marking tools.

  10. Graham

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard the exact term “hardpoint saw” used here in Canada but from your post I assume it refers to the same extra-hardened panel saws (which can’t be sharpened) that are available cheaply at every home centre and most hardware stores here.

    If I’ve got that right, I completely agree and I think this post makes a great point. I haven’t had the time, money, or need yet to put together a full tool kit and when I look at my list of planned purchases panel saws are a low priority, generally speaking. It isn’t because I love the current panel saw I’ve got (not at all) but it’s a very workable saw that crosscuts well and is even fine to rip with in smallish stock. It doesn’t leave a great finish but I always refine edges and ends with better tools anyways. I use it on every project and if it didn’t perform like it does I would’ve either had to drop a lot of money for good new saws or else spend a lot of time finding decent old saws and learning how to refurbish and sharpen them.

  11. Michael Forster

    I remember making exactly the same point in t magazine article a while ago – hardpoint saws, by the nature of their intended us, have to be both cheap and good – not a combination one generally finds in many other areas. I don’t do a lot of large ripping or crosscut work, so can’t justify (or raise enthusiasm for) the expense of a quality saw. for dovetailing – the joint that I cut most often – I’ve got some really good saws – including a custom-made Wenzloff – and wouldn’t think of using anything less. When asked for advice about first tool-kits I tend to advise harpoint saws for all the reasons you state, saving the serious money for a good quality plane or two.

  12. Jim Linn

    I built an entire workshop with cheap tools – hardpoint saws, Wickes chisels, chop saws for £99 – and it was an effort, I have to admit. I didn’t expect them to last the whole project – I considered them consumables – but all but the electric drills did. I used up 4 drills. But they were only about £15 each, the cheapest I could find. I still have the Wickes chisels which are really rubbish but ok for coarse carpentry.

    I did all my roofing rafters with a small hardpoint and a cheap chop saw.

    It isn’t that you should stay away from cheap stuff, it’s what you want to use them for that counts.

  13. TC

    Hard points are pretty much all i have. They are cheap and sharp and not precious. Like most things when you’re starting out, you don’t know if you’ll like it (woodworking) or get on with it so will shy away from spending a heap of money. I would never go bargain basement but as has been mentioned, tools from Wickes or Toolstation will be more than adequate to start, saws, chisels, marking devices. When you can use them and realise it’s something you want to do, then splash out on your antique saws and Veritas planes,etc and then you’ll really appreciate the quality that a good tool brings. Also some of these good tools are so precious that you end up not using them. A hardpoint? Doesn’t matter, just cut with it!
    I sometimes wonder if when a certain tool gets mentioned by your goodself or similar websites, there isn’t a mass rush to the internet to get one, just because so and so uses one?
    Also, i see you intend building your bench with a hardpoint but maybe a future project, something fine, built with ordinary cheaper tools which might encourage the beginner to try something they wouldn’t normally atempt? I love watching Norm on the telly but that workshop, not for the ordinary mortal……
    Have fun

  14. Mike Hamilton

    “stashed in the garage instead ready and waiting for when you need to try your hand at trimming plasterboards or some other makeshift diy”

    Or something I learned from my father – placed with the “ok to loan to the neighbor” tools. I kept his “loaner” ax to start my loaner set.


  15. James Watriss

    One other good reason to own one of those saws: inevitably, if people know you work with wood, someone will want to borrow tools from you. As the saying goes, “a borrowed saw cuts anything.”

    I had a housemate who borrowed one of my hardpoint Marples pull-saws from the basement without telling me, and used it to *try* to cut a box-spring in half to get it down some stairs. The look of terror on his face when he handed me a now-toothless pull saw was priceless. Thankfully, it was only a $20 saw.

    Gotta have something cheap to loan out to the dummies, even once you upgrade.

  16. jason

    agreed ,alot of woodworking is sharpening and setting tools,so it is nice to just pick up a hardpoint saw and get on with the job! just make sure when you are buying one to look down the spine of the saw to make sure you get a nice straight one ,as many are a bit bananerry!

  17. Andy ryalls

    I think you are right Richard they do have a place. It just worries me how many end up in landfill sites. We live in a throw away world which we all need to try and stop. I remember once buying a box of 10 for £49. I took one cut with the first saw and threw the whole box in the skip and would not let any of my employees touch them. Which means that there is quality in the hard point world too.

  18. Cobwobbler

    I’ve started off with a cheap hard point from Woolworths just before it closed down, £2.99 . I’ve used it to death and it’s only just going off the boil. I also picked up an old Sheffield steel rip saw from the tip for £5, Googled how to sharpen and went for it. It’s a ripping beast, but for cross cuts I use the hardpoint and considered sharpening it like Peter has done for the experience or I could spend another £2.99 for 2 years. On the subject of cheap tools my first plane was a Wilkos £12.99. I read up, watched videos absorbed every bit on info I could on tuning planes and applied it to the cheap wilkos plane and it works, really well. It does the job I want it to and gives me “angel wings” shavings. And on the plus side if I made a complete balls of sharpening / fetling a £12.99 plane it doesn’t matter, if I do the same to £250 worth of Lie-Nielson and cock it up I’d be crying in the wood shavings for a month. I’ve since moved on to old wooden planes which I love to bits.
    I’m now waiting for “SOMEBODY” to get a video ready on making a wooden planes. Then I can spend the cash on the plane iron.

  19. John

    I’ve used a hardpoint panel saw for quite a few years now. I bought one whn I built my shed from reclaimed timber. The first thing I noticed was that due to the comparitively small size, they are easier to control than a full-sizze saw, and there was very little buckling and jamming going on. As it happens I never liked usng the big saws. To me big, heavy tools seem clumsy. Strange really, as I am not a dainty person! So the hardpoint stayed in my arsenal. The other day, for the sheer hell of it, I ordered a hardpoint backsaw merely to see how it performs. If it is okay, then it stays, for dimensioning reclaimed small stock. I might even try the saw for joint cutting! I also had thought about making a better handle; should it pass its usefulness test!

  20. Mignal

    I suppose they aren’t that much different from the disposable Japanese saw blades, except with those you get to retain the handle.
    I cut up some Oak today with a Stanley jet cut (or whatever they are called now). Cut as fast as any hand saw will, even with the grain.

  21. carlo

    Here in continental Europe woodworkers used for century only bow or frame saws. Different lengths different pitches , they built all they had to.. For cross cutting to length they used an higher TPI with teeth rip filed. So frame saws require economical blades, they cut well and fast and a beginner has to learn the simplest sharpening method…i believe bow saws are good for a beginner and for an experienced woodworker

  22. Mike

    Good points one and all, no pun intended. Old saws usually have problems, when I was a kid that was all that was around – old saws that were dull and had big problems. Misery did not make me love their company. 25 years ago a good friend turned me onto japanese style pull saws, they changed my life with straight easy cuts. I did not like that they could not be adjusted but soon got over that. Now that I have been using them for years I want to branch out into western saws again to see what I really missed. I have still been warned to stay away from old saws until I learn more about their setup, but those japanese style saws kept me from hating hand saws forever. They each have their place, but it is no wonder why I see bodgers cutting pegs with pull saws in many youtube videos?!


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