This is easier said than done, however. The trick is to keep from letting any bad technique get in the way of the saw doing what it wants, which is to follow the path of least resistance.
The first thing to think about regarding proper handsaw technique is your grip. The good news: it's easy.
Just hold your saw like you are shaking hands with someone. Not too tight, though. Don't let go, only hold it as tight as you might an egg. Don't let it break or you'll have an icky mess.
Oh, the other thing is that you should hold any saw with your index finger pointing out. In fact, you should hold other tools this way too, such as hand planes and bread knives. This little trick tells your brain to do everything right and will increase accuracy. Plus, most saws' handles are designed to be held with this three-finger grip.
|Your index finger points the way to a straight cut.|
So, in my toolbox I have two full size crosscut saws, two ripsaws, a giant tennon saw filed rip and a sashsaw filed crosscut, both by BadAxe, and a wonderful old Spear & Jackson dovetail saw. I love all of these saws, and use them all of the time.
|My hand saws, saw bench and saw sharpening files.|
Knowing this, my recommendation for your first saw will be a little surprising:
You should start with a Japanese Ryoba saw.
|Japanese Ryoba saw|
I know. Weird, isn't it? Not many out there would probably agree with me, but here are the reasons for what I think.
First, they work really well. A Ryoba has teeth on both sides of the saw. Rip teeth on one side for cutting with the grain, and crosscut teeth on the other for cutting across the grain. These teeth are brilliantly designed in a way I completely do not understand, but they work. What else do you need to do? This saw leaves a really thin kerf (the space in the wood after you cut). The rip teeth are aggressive enough for fast ripping, and the crosscut teeth leave a very fine surface behind. This saw does everything from rough stock break down to dovetails.
Second, they are inexpensive. Mine ran about 30 Euros, and when it got dull and the plate kinked, I replaced the blade for less than 20 Euros. You can spend hundreds of dollars on one, but, there is no need to blow all your money on the world's finest tools when starting out. Don't buy junk, but a good, stout user should not keep you from eating for long.
Third, the mechanics of using this saw are essentially the same as for using any western saw. This statement also might be controversial, because the Japanese saw cuts on the pullstroke, where as western saws cut on the push. But think about it, the grip is the same, arm movements are fundamentally the same, your elbow goes in the same spot, and unless you go totally eastern with doing your woodworking on the floor, your feet position and full body position is the same. When you upgrade to specialty saws, either Japanese or western, there isn't all that much more to learn. Don't think you need to be part of the western saw school of thought, or the Japanese school. Be a member of the Hand Saw School.
Fourth, this saw is relatively small, and takes up far less room that a collection of western saws and a till to store them in. Mine goes in the original plastic case and I hang it from a hook.
Fifth, you really don't have to worry about sharpening this saw. When it gets dull, take the blade out of the handle, cut it up into scraper stock, and buy a new one. Once you get a western saw someday (and I wholeheartedly suggest that in the future you do), you should learn to sharpen them. Someday I will post a series of essential intermediate tools, and saw sharpening equipment will be on that list. For now, you should be focused on actually making things by cutting wood.
Last, the juvenile in me loves the brand-name of saw that I have; DICK. I love my DICK saw.
When you choose a Ryoba, there are a few things you should look for to ensure you get a quality tool. Make sure the teeth are the shiny steel color of the rest of the saw. The black ones have been hardened, and although you are probably not going to have this saw resharpened, I like the feel of regular teeth better.
A plastic handle isn't necessarily a bad thing. Traditionally, these saws were wrapped with some natural fiber, but often these days a plastic, bamboo look-a-like wrap will be used. A natural fiber will only drive up the cost.
A removable blade is also OK. In fact, I think it is better as you can get rid of the old blade and insert a new, sharp one when you need to.
It is for these reasons that I think your first handsaw should be a Ryoba. Save all that money to make sure you have the right jack plane. Save all the time learning to sharpen for learning to saw straight first. I think that a western saw is a great thing to graduate to. They will increase your finesse, but you kind of need to know how to saw to a line first.
Once you know how to saw to a line, you are free to saw to any line that is required. A compound miter is no more difficult than ripping to width. The first Japanese saw I ever got I purchased at a grocery store for 4.99. I eventually had to spend about $250 before I got a western saw that left a surface anywhere near as smooth as that cheapo got. Don't discount these tools as mere gimmicks.
Next up in the Newbie series: Chisels worthy of fine woodworking.
If you enjoyed this post, check out the rest of the series: