Fret Saw vs Coping Saw

Ever walked into a woodshop and been mesmerized by the variety of saws hanging on the wall? Among these, you might have noticed the fret saw, and the coping saw, seemingly identical twins in the saw family. Yet, appearances can deceive!

At first, a fret saw, and a coping saw appear similar. But they are two different types of saws designed for two different types of cutting jobs.

Overview of Coping Saw and Fret Saw

Fret Saw vs Coping Saw

Coping Saw

If you have ever been to a wood shop, chances are you have seen a coping saw. It is often the first saw that woodworkers use to make precision cuts. The saw gets its name from the coping cut, which is used to fit molding together instead of using a miter joint.

A coping saw uses short blades with fine teeth to make precision cuts in wood. The frame which holds the blade is C-shaped, made from steel, and holds the blade using pivots so that it can be positioned to make different angles of cuts.
A coping saw
The blade can be tightened after it is installed, which increases the tension and allows for faster, more precise cutting. You can use blades with teeth that cut on the push or pull stroke, but most woodworkers prefer the cuts to be on the pull stroke for greater precision.

Coping saws are quite common and inexpensive. While you can purchase more expensive versions, you can find a good coping saw and a set of high-quality blades for around $20 in total.

Fret Saw

At first, a fret saw looks quite similar in design to a coping saw. In fact, fret saws are related and designed to perform intricate work, much like a coping saw. Some of the fret saws come with an elongated C-frame.
A Fret Saw
But the real difference in terms of design is how the blade attaches to the fret saw.

Instead of using pins like a coping saw, fret saws have clamps that hold the ends tight. This allows you to use scroll saw blades on fret saws; thanks to the pin-less clamping design.

Differences Between Fret Saw and Coping Saw

Comparison Table

Feature Fret Saw Coping Saw
Primary Use Intricate cuts Precision & Curved cuts
Frame Shape Elongated C or rectangular C-shaped
Frame Size Deeper (Throat Depth) Shallower
Blade Attachment Clamps Pins
Blade Length Shorter Longer
Blade Thickness Thinner Thicker
Teeth Per Inch (TPI) Higher Lower
Blade Tension Generally fixed Adjustable
Common Materials Cut Thin wood, veneers Wood, Crown molding, plastic, ceramic tile
Cutting Reach Better for deep cuts Limited by frame size
Durability More delicate More robust
Ease of Blade Change More involved Simpler
Typical Price Range Slightly higher More affordable

1. Uses

Fret saw is for more precision cuts where accuracy is paramount. Fret saws tend to be used for specific types of cuts and are more delicate compared to coping saws.

A fret saw is commonly used in scrollwork, marquetry, template making, crafting, etc., where extremely fine and intricate cuts are required.

Coping Saw: Although both types can be used for woodworking, the coping saw is more robust. This means that for large projects or when you need to make several cuts during one session, the coping saw is preferred.
Man using a coping saw to cut a semi circle in wood
You will see coping saws used to cut wood, particularly in coping moldings, and cutting complex shapes with curves. It can also cut plywood, plastic, and ceramic tile, depending on the type of blade used (you will need a diamond blade for tiles).

It is often used to create curved cuts in wood. Once a hole is drilled, the blade can be inserted, then attached to the handle so the cut can begin from the inside. Rotating the blade allows for different angles to be cut.

Its versatility makes it perfect for fine woodworking, carpentry, and even handyman jobs.

2. Frame Design

Both have the same type of curved or C-shaped frame with handle and detachable blades. The frame is elongated and is often rectangular in the fret saw, which creates more throat depth.

However, the main difference is that coping saws attach the blades using pins, while fret saws use clamps.

This also means that the blade-changing process on a coping saw is simpler.

3. Blade

The blades of a coping saw are longer, are typically thicker, and have fewer teeth per inch (TPI), enabling them to handle rougher cuts and thicker and harder materials.

While fret saws blades are typically thinner and have more TPI, which allows them to make finer, more detailed cuts.

The blade tension in a coping saw is easily adjustable, allowing you to change the cutting characteristics on the fly. In contrast, the fret saw typically has a fixed blade tension.

4. Cutting Reach

The cutting reach (how far from the edge you can cut into the material) depends on the throat depth, which is the distance from the blade to the back of the frame.
Fret saw cutting plywood deep
A fret saw has a deep-throated frame that allows deeper cuts into the material. Whereas a coping saw has a comparatively shorter frame and is limited to shallower cuts.

Coping Saw Vs. Jewelers Saw vs. Fret Saw

A jeweler’s saw looks quite similar to the fret saw and coping saw. It’s similar in size, shape, and general design.

Adjustable Frame

The one obvious difference is that the frame of a jeweler’s saw can be adjusted to hold different lengths of blades. But apart from the visual differences, each saw has a different function.
Jewelry expert cutting with a jewelers saw

Blade Thickness and TPI

Jeweler’s saw blades tend to be even thinner and have a higher TPI (Teeth Per Inch) than fret saw blades. This allows for even more precise and delicate cuts, which is often needed in jewelry making.

Frame Size

Fret saws often have a larger frame, or “throat,” allowing for a larger cutting capacity. This isn’t usually necessary in jewelry making, so jeweler’s saws often have a smaller frame.

Put simply, coping saws and fret saws are primarily designed to cut through wood. While a jeweler’s saw is primarily designed to cut through precious metals.

However, these differences can sometimes be blurred, especially since the tools are so similar. It’s possible to use a fret saw for some jewelry making tasks and vice versa.

Which Saw Do I Need?

You should choose the saw according to the task at hand, the material being worked with, and the level of detail required in the cuts.

  • Coping Saw: This type of saw is mainly used for coping decorative trims and woodworking. A coping saw stands as a versatile tool in any woodworker’s arsenal, particularly effective at cutting curves.
  • Fret Saw: Fret saws excel at making precision cuts in different materials, although it is mostly wood. Fret saws are more delicate compared to coping saws, so they are used to make specific cuts after you have completed the heavy work with the coping saw. Dovetail and inlay work are great examples of what fret saws can do.
  • Jeweler’s Saw: If you need to make precise cuts into precious metals, then the jeweler’s saw is for you. It is designed to handle blades with different lengths so that you can cut through different sizes of metals.

To wrap it up, the choice between a coping saw, fret saw, or jeweler’s saw depends on your project requirements. While coping saws are versatile and robust for carpentry and woodworking, fret saws excel in precise, intricate cuts, and jeweler’s saws are perfect for detailed work on precious metals. Select the right saw for your task and achieve the precision and efficiency you desire in your craftwork.