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How to Use a Coping Saw: Simple 4-Step Process

Coping saws give you that extra-neat professional finish.

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.

Key Takeaways

  • 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.

Protect Yourself

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.


Coping saw blades are thin and prone to snapping, so make sure you always have spares before you start cutting.

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.

Protective Gear

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.


Why Is It Called a Coping Saw?

Despite its rather unassuming appearance, the coping saw has been a crucial tool in carpentry and other lines of work since the 19th century.

The unique blade design of this saw allows the user to cut intricate shapes and curves due to its slim profile and the small radius at which it can turn while still being taut.

And while these features are largely what makes this saw so recognizable, many don’t realize that its name has less to do with its blade than with how it’s used – predominantly to “cope” trim around doorways, windows, and other structures.

This is why many carpenters refer to it as the go-to tool for molding fittings or making curved cuts in trimmings or baseboards. Ultimately, go by another name or not, the coping saw’s abilities make it an indispensable part of any woodworking tool arsenal.

What Angle Should a Coping Cut Be?

Finding the right angle for the cut is key to success, and most carpenters agree that the ideal angle is 45 degrees. This angle allows for maximum stability of the joint as 45 degrees produces better overall tension than shallower or steeper angles.

45 degrees leaves enough clearance above the surface of each piece so that awkward gaps which must be filled with external materials can be avoided.

Coping cuts are an essential skill in woodworking, allowing a craftsman to make a perfect fit of pieces without having to resort to laborious adjustments.

With this knowledge, it’s easy for even novice crafters to produce professional-looking projects that no-one would guess are amateur work.

How Thick Can You Cut with a Coping Saw?

Despite being a small tool, the coping saw still has the capability to cut two or even three inches thick with relative ease.

It’s a type of saw that is very versatile when it comes to making accurate, curved cuts in wood. The small size allows it to fit into spaces where other larger saws can’t go, and its increased maneuverability makes for detailed cutting.

It does this by simply cutting across the grain and cutting on top of and through the grain. Allowing it to make successful cuts with great accuracy no matter how thick the material may be.

Should Coping Saw Be Push or Pull?

It’s best if a coping saw is pull rather than push. Whether to push or pull a coping saw is vitally important for effective and safe use. Pulling the saw makes it more likely that the material will be cut safely and cleanly, ensuring an excellent result.

Pushing the saw can cause problems, as it is difficult to apply enough pressure to an object while making sure the blade remains straight. In addition, pushing carries an increased risk of injury due to accidental slips in the direction of the blade.

Keeping this in mind and taking appropriate care when assembling a coping saw will ensure proper and secure cutting with each and every use.

What Should You Not Do with a Coping Saw?

A coping saw is a handy and versatile tool, but there are some activities that it should not be used for. As it has very thin blades, the saw can become damaged or broken if used to cut through metal or too thick a piece of wood.

Copings saws generally do not make straight cuts in larger pieces and thus should not be used for making precision cuts in them.

It is also important to note that removing attached pieces with the saw could cause kickback, leading to potential injury, making this an activity that would best be avoided altogether.

An individual should use their coping saw with caution and only for the intended purpose: making delicate curved cuts in wood and other similar materials.

What Is the Difference Between a Scroll Saw and a Coping Saw?

A scroll saw and a coping saw is two essential power tools for any woodworker. Although they may look similar, there are a few key differences between them. A scroll saw is a more precise tool with a narrow blade ideal for intricate cuts such as curves and circles.

Whereas a coping saw is better suited to irregular or rough cuts in a variety of materials, including metal, plastic, and wood. Scroll saws are generally easier to use due to their limited range of motion, making them ideal for detailed projects where fine control is required.

Coping saws have adjustable blades that can be tensioned to make tight turns, enabling them to perform irregular shapes such as long rails with deep cuts. Ultimately, both saws are valuable tools that serve specific purposes depending on the job at hand.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.