If you want to make straight cuts in wood, a tenon saw is your new best friend. It makes crosscuts and rips and allows you to make deeper cuts for precise mortise and tenon joints.
This DIY guide explains how to use a tenon saw and offers pro-level tips for the best results.
Tools and Materials
Before we jump in with both feet, we need to gather the right tools and materials. Let’s start with the tools you’ll need.
- Tenon saw.
- Combination square.
- Dust sheet.
- Vacuum cleaner.
- Dust mask.
- Goggles or Safety Glasses.
How to Use a Tenon Saw – Step-by-Step Instructions
So, you’ve gathered your tools and are itching to get started. Before you make the first cut, you’ll need to secure your workpiece. The steps below explain how to make crosscuts.
Step 1: Secure the Wood
Set up your workbench so it stands on flat ground and is secure. Safety is crucial when you work with saws and other bladed tools; the last thing you want to do is slip or fall mid-cut.
Lay the dust sheet beneath the workbench to catch the falling sawdust. This part isn’t vital, but it sure makes the clean-up easier.
Take your section of wood and place it on the workbench. Use clamps like these Irwin ratchet Bar Clamps to secure your wood to the workbench.
Step 2: Mark the Cut
Use the carpenter’s combination square and pencil to make the cut line. Check it twice before you use the saw because accuracy is critical here. As an old carpenter once told me, “measure twice, so you only have to cut once”.
Step 3: Put On Your Safety Gear
It may seem overkill putting on safety glasses and a face mask, but I’ve seen too many people ignore the risks and pay the price. Sawdust is toxic when inhaled.
Step 4: Grip the Saw Properly
Hold the handle with your dominant hand, but keep your index finger pointing towards the blade to steady the saw.
Step 5: Line the Saw to the Cut Line
Making an accurate score line is crucial if you want the most precise final cut. Place the saw on the wood, lining it to the cut mark. Push the blade with gentle pressure and a firm grip to score the timber.
Pro Tip: Tenon saws, like most western saws, cut on the push, not the pull.
Step 6: Make the Cut
Use the kerf (cut thickness) to keep the blade straight. Ensure that the blade is perpendicular to the workpiece and the teeth are cutting evenly across the surface. Check that the saw’s heel (back end of the blade nearest the handle) is flat against the timber.
You should be able to slice through a one-inch baton in seven strokes as long as the saw is sharp.
Pro Tip: Use your free hand to apply downward pressure on the blade to speed up the cutting process.
Check out the video below for extra tips on using a tenon saw.
Step 7: Time to Clean Up
Remove the wood and workbench and gather up the dust sheet. Use a vacuum cleaner to suck up the smaller debris. You can dispose of the sawdust in the bin.
Check out our guide to the Best Hand Saws in the UK for a comprehensive roundup of other saw types.
If you lack the skills or confidence to use a tenon saw, find a professional tradesperson in your local area on Rated People.
How to Make Longitudinal Cuts
The process of making lengthwise cuts differs slightly from crosscuts. As described in the first section, secure the wood to the workbench and don’t forget to put on your safety gear.
Here’s our step-by-step guide:
Step 1: Mark the Cut Line
Use the carpenter’s square and pencil to make the cut line. Remember to check twice before making your marks. If you’re working on a longer length of wood, it may be better to make a pencil mark on both ends of the wood and join them up using a ruler or spirit level.
Step 2: Place the Saw on the Cut Line
Using the grip described in Step 4 above, push the blade forward with firm but gentle pressure. Once you’ve scored the wood, you have a cut line to follow.
Step 3: Make the Cut
Keep the saw straight, and don’t angle the blade. The initial strokes are the most crucial because they determine the quality of the cut.
Use your free hand to guide the saw blade as you work along the length. Once the saw cuts into the wood, the kerf (cut thickness) should act as a guide and keep the blade running straight. When you reach the other end, allow the blade to exit the wood as smoothly as possible to reduce ripping.
Pro Tip: Resist the temptation to make cuts from both ends and meet in the middle, as you rarely make accurate cuts and risk missing the cut line.
What to Look For in a Tenon Saw
Below are the essential features to keep in mind when choosing a new tenon saw:
- TPI (Teeth per Inch): a greater tooth count means the saw will cut more efficiently. Most tenon saws have between 10 and 14 teeth per inch.
- Cutting depth: the width of the blade from the spine to the teeth determines the cutting depth. Typically, tenon saws have a 10 cm cutting depth.
- Blade length: the longer the blade, the more extensive cuts you can make. Most tenon saws have a 40.5 cm blade, and shorter blades are called Dovetail saws.
- Handle: your saw needs to feel comfortable, and the handle is crucial for improving your cutting experience. Most tenon saws have a closed grip to protect your hands from the blade.
Check out this detailed review and buying guide for the lowdown on the Best Tenon Saws in the UK.
Final Thoughts – How to Use a Tenon Saw
A tenon saw is your best option when making mortise and tenon joints, as it has the length, depth, and tooth count to do the job correctly. It also has the best handle and grip for doing this intricate work.
Once you discover the virtues of a tenon saw, you won’t look back. I know I didn’t!
To learn more about saws, check out our comprehensive guide to the essential saws carpenters use daily.