To the uninitiated, the coping saw and hacksaw could easily be confused. However, they’re not the same, and their applications have minimal overlap. What’s the difference between these two saws, and when would you use which?
What is a Coping Saw?
This precision hand saw is a fine woodworking staple.
A coping saw is a handsaw that has a thin blade with fine cutting teeth, mounted on a C-shaped frame. This hand saw derives its name from the task it was meant for: cutting precise coping joints.
Its fine teeth and adjustable blade angle make it the perfect instrument for creating precision cuts in woodwork.
A hacksaw is the standard metal-cutting hand saw in most DIY toolkits.
It can cut a wide variety of materials including aluminum, copper, steel, plastic, fiberglass, and it even cuts wood. The only requirement is to pick the right blade according to the materials to be cut.
This saw comes in various sizes and is easily recognizable by its D-shaped frame and tensioned blade. For more information on different types of hacksaw, see our full article.
Difference Between Coping Saw and Hacksaw
A standard coping saw may look like a mini version of the hacksaw to the uninitiated, but they’re not the same. The main differences are blade size, adjustability, frame size, and purpose for which they are used.
Generally, a hacksaw cuts on the push stroke and is meant for two-handed operation. On the other hand, a coping saw is designed for pull cut and can be operated with one hand.
The hacksaw is primarily used to cut metal, for starters, while the coping saw is meant for woodwork. The hacksaw makes quick, straight cuts, whereas the coping saw is meant to make fine, intricate cuts.
1. Frame Design
The coping saw frame has a standard design consisting of a deep, C-shaped frame and a straight, simple handle. The frame depth (called the throat) varies between 4 and 6 inches – this depth determines the limits of its application. Deeper throats allow for cuts in workpieces with a wider diameter. This is really the only variable in the coping saw’s frame – the saw was designed so well that it has undergone very little change over time.
The hacksaw has a D-shaped frame that is either adjustable or fixed, depending on the application. The handles could vary widely and includes straight, pistol-type, and tubular. This toolbox staple comes in various frame sizes, from the standard (full-sized) frame that fits a 12″ blade down to the mini hacksaw that fits an adjustable 6″ blade.
2. Type of Blade
The angle on coping saw blades can be adjusted. This allows for more controlled and precise cutting on intricate patterns and hard-to-reach angles. Coping saw blades are narrow and have a length of 6 3/8″ to 6 ½ “. They vary in coarseness with TPI (teeth per inch) ranging from 10 to 24. The finer blades (20 and 24 TPI) generally offer a smoother finish, although they cut very slowly. Coarser blades (10 – 15 TPI) make a rougher, quicker cut.
Coping saw blades have hooks at the ends for attaching them to the frame – this is what allows for the adjustable angle.
Hacksaw blades vary greatly in length and can fit various frames. These also vary in coarseness, with TPI ranging from 12 to 32. This is much finer than the coping saw blades since they’re meant for metal cutting. Harder materials require finer blades, hence the coarseness of the coping saw blades.
Hacksaws can’t cut curves like the coping saw since their blades are broad. The blade will heat up from the friction and warp if you attempt to cut a curve using a hacksaw.
The kerf is the slit that is created on the workpiece in the cutting blade’s path. As you can guess, the fine blade on coping saw creates thin kerf which is perfect for joinery work.
Hacksaw blades are much thicker and also has “set on teeth”. This is the zigzag arrangement of the blade teeth that allows better chip removal, but results in wider kerf.
4. Cut on Push vs Pull
Hacksaws are meant to cut on the push stroke while coping saws are meant to cut on the pull stroke.
Both of these saws have reversible blades, though, so you can adjust the blade to suit your preferences and the application. Generally, cutting on the pull stroke offers you more control over the cut.
5. Size of the Saw
Coping saws have one standard length (just over 6″), with the throat measurement varying between 4 and 6″.
Hacksaws come in various shapes and sizes, with the throat depth more or less standard for each size saw. A full-sized hacksaw has a blade length of 12″. From here, they get smaller, going to a junior hacksaw and a mini hacksaw.
6. Operation (One-handed vs. Two-handed)
While both handsaws can be used with one hand, they are designed to operate in a specific way.
Coping saws are meant for one-handed operation.
These are precision tools meant for slow, careful cutting. The small size of the coping saw also allows it to be operated with one hand.
The workpiece isn’t always clamped in a vice since coping saws are used to cut intricate patterns. Here, one hand would hold and manipulate the workpiece while the other would operate the saw.
Hacksaws are generally meant for two-handed operation.
Since these are only for straight cuts, the workpiece would be secured in a vice. This leaves both hands free to operate the saw. One hand would be placed on the handle, while the other would hold the front end of the frame, applying downward pressure during operation. This gives you greater control over the pressure exerted on the blade.
Coping saws are used to create intricate cuts on wood. A common use of a coping saw is to create fine woodworking joints. It is also used for cutting trim molding when installing shoe molding or quarter round and crown molding.
You could also use them on metal, plywood, MDF, particle board, and plastic by swapping out the blades.
Hacksaws are meant to create quick, straight cuts on metal. As with the coping saw, they also have interchangeable blades, which allow for cutting plastic and wood.
Which Hand Saw is Right for You?
Hacksaws and coping saws have minimal overlap in their application. However, if needed, you could probably use them interchangeably in some applications. If you only had the budget for one, which one should you buy?
Get a Coping Saw: if you plan to create intricate cuts
Coping saws can create intricate cuts at complicated angles. Hacksaws can’t do this.
Choose the hacksaw for metal cutting
Suppose you plan on doing traditional DIY and repair work around the house, generally making straight cuts on metal and plastic pipes and sheets. In that case, the hacksaw is your best friend. The coping saw can do these jobs in a pinch, but it will probably take really long, and you could snap the blade if you’re not careful.