Coping is the art of joining one irregular surface to another, such as working on cornices and frames. To do this to a high standard, you will need to use a coping saw.
Coping saws are handheld tools that are designed for cutting tight inside joints to give your project a professional finish. They are excellent tools in the right hands, but you might need some advice on how to use them if you don’t have much experience.
To help you with your task, this article will teach you how to use a coping saw. We will look at what a coping saw is, which tasks it is suitable for, and how you should use it to make precise cuts.
- A coping saw is a handheld tool used for cutting tight inside joints and irregular shapes, giving a professional finish to projects like cornices and frames.
- To use a coping saw safely, first secure the workpiece in a clamp, then place the saw’s central teeth on the cutting line and move it slowly until the teeth bite into the material.
- Coping saws can cut through wood, plastics, and some metals, as long as the appropriate blade is used; they are best suited for cutting materials 1 to 2 inches in thickness.
- Ensure your safety by inspecting the saw and blade, wearing protective gear, and cutting only the appropriate materials with the right blade.
What is a Coping Saw?
A coping saw provides enough flexibility to cut tight angles and curves. If you are cutting door frames or floor moldings and need a smooth edge that joins the two parts together without leaving a gap, a coping saw is the best tool for the job.
It is U-shaped, with a gap in the middle known as the saw’s “throat”, and the steel frame holds a thin blade that is flexible enough to be maneuvered around awkward corners. The handle can be turned to loosen or tighten the blade, and there is a mechanism at the end of the frame that allows you to angle the blade.
Coping saws also have other uses. They are excellent for cutting awkward shapes to fit around objects such as pipework when placing wooden floors. They also work well when cutting irregular shapes out of small sheet material, which is why they are among the favorite tools of hobbyists.
Typically, coping saw blades have between 12 and 15 teeth per inch (TPI), but other blade types are available to suit specific tasks and materials.
What You Need
To use a coping saw effectively, there are some important steps you will need to take before you start.
Choose the Right Blade
Different tasks require different blades. The higher the tooth count, the smoother the cut will be. Your saw will also need more teeth if you are cutting harder materials.
If you are cutting highly-detailed moldings and want to achieve a professional-looking finish, you will need to choose your blade carefully. Most blades are 6.75 inches in length, with tooth counts ranging from 10 to 20 per inch.
Choose a Saw
Coping saws are versatile cutting tools but there are other types of saws that are part of the same family. A fret saw is a good alternative and is preferred by people working on smaller, more intricate tasks. Jewelry makers often use fret saws as they can make smooth cuts in precious metals while achieving a high-quality finish.
You will need safety goggles to protect your eyes from debris, especially if you are cutting precious metals. As coping saws are used for precision cutting, it is likely that your face will be close to the surface of the project to allow you to focus on the details.
If you are cutting MDF or other composite materials, you should also always wear an N95 face mask to prevent you from inhaling any harmful particles that will be released.
Choose the Right Size
Determine which size of coping saw you need. If you are working on small-scale projects, you might opt for a fret saw, but for larger pieces a 5-inch throat depth is standard. This will provide enough depth to accommodate workpieces without compromising the saw’s maneuverability.
As coping saws are usually used for small-scale, intricate tasks, it is standard practice to use a vice or other clamps to hold the workpiece in place. It should hold your stock securely and prevent it from moving when you make cuts, but you will still need to be able to maneuver your saw around the item without the clamps getting in the way.
How To Use a Coping Saw
1. Install the Blade
Rest the end of the frame furthest from the handle on a sturdy, stable surface. The handle should be facing upwards. Insert the blade into the spigot and push down firmly to compress the saw’s steel frame. Insert the other end of the blade into the housing near the handle and release the tension. You can now adjust the blade as needed.
2. Clamp the Material in Place
Secure your project with clamps or a vice to prevent it from moving or slipping when you make cuts. If it moves while you are cutting, it could ruin the piece you are working on.
3. Start Cutting
Place the saw blade where you want to start your cut. Make short, slow cuts at first. This will ensure the blade bites into the material and you start your cutting line in the right place.
4. Continue Sawing
Continue sawing perpendicular to the wood, following the cutting line. As you cut, you can turn the blade to help you cut tight angles more easily and accurately. If you are cutting through moldings, you may need to make a couple of sweeps or consider also starting from the other end.
Which Materials Can You Cut with a Coping Saw?
As coping saws are flexible and relatively delicate, they aren’t suitable for cutting large, thick workpieces. However, this doesn’t mean they won’t be able to cut through a wide range of different materials.
Coping saws can cut through wood, plastics, and even some metals, as long as you use the right blade.
What Thickness Can a Coping Saw Cut?
Due to their thin blades, coping saws are designed for cutting thinner materials rather than thicker stock. Even so, they will cope with cutting wood measuring 1 to 2 inches in thickness. You will still need to be careful, as the blade could snap if you apply too much pressure. If you try to cut anything thicker than 2 inches, there will be a major risk of the blade bending too much and snapping.
Coping Saw Safety Tips
Coping saws are far from the most dangerous tools you will find in a workshop but it is still important to take the necessary precautions when using one. Here are a few simple steps you can take to work safely with a coping saw:
Inspect the Saw
One of the best things you can do for any tool is to simply inspect it before use. This means checking the frame, handle, and blade spigots for any damage. The blades used on coping saws are extremely sharp, so they could give you a severe cut if they come loose while sawing. Make a habit of checking your tools and you will be much safer while using them.
Inspect the Blade
Your blade will be subjected to a lot of pressure during use, which will be increased greatly if the blade is dull. A dull blade is far likelier to snap during use. To check the sharpness, try cutting a piece of scrap wood before moving on to your actual project.
Choose the Right Material
Different materials require different types of blades. Make sure you choose the right blade for the material you are cutting or you will likely encounter issues later.
As mentioned earlier, you should wear protective goggles when using a coping saw as your face will probably be close to the material. Goggles will prevent any debris from getting into your eyes. If you are cutting composite materials such as MDF, you should also wear an N95 mask to protect your lungs against harmful particles.