Last Updated on September 5, 2023 by Barry Gray
Even though this website does focus primarily on power tools of all shapes, sizes, and prices, there is something that still appeals to me about the manual version. I know this comes from my earliest days of working with wood since my grandfather preferred to work with more traditional tools. It was even a big day when he decided to purchase a basic Black & Decker drill, but I’m not sure he ever even used it.
You see, we are so used to zipping through wood thanks to a plethora of power tools that complete the task in seconds, but is there still a place for the age-old way of doing things via either a hacksaw or a hand saw?
Also, that opens up other questions about which option out of the two is best. So, that’s what I’m going to explore here right now, and I think you will learn a few new things about both saws.
But I want to stress something right at the start. Big brands still produce both handsaws and hacksaws, so the concept of using either option is not entirely lost on everyone. Sure they have been surpassed by power tools, but I feel it’s a good idea not to lose sight of where woodworking or cutting materials have come from.
The Basic Concept of the Hacksaw and Handsaw
You see, the opening question in the title is slightly misleading. I say this because both the hacksaw and hand saw do have different uses, so it’s difficult to then state one is better than the other.
Basically, a hacksaw is designed to cut through either metal or plastic. On the other hand, a hand saw is primarily designed to cut through one type of material: wood.
Now, that does translate to you using either tool in a completely different way, so if you plan on using manual tools, then it’s clear you should have both options to cover all bases.
But I admit some people do find themselves becoming confused about these two saws. Keep in mind that, technically at least, a hacksaw is a version of a handsaw, just with a specific purpose in mind.
Yet as you will see over the course of the next few minutes, both saws are entirely different in what they can do and even their approach to getting you the results you want to achieve.
The Main Differences Between a Hacksaw and Handsaw
So I’ll tell you all about how the hacksaw and handsaw work, and among all those details are a number of differences. But I think it’s a good idea to look at those differences more clearly as it may influence your decision whether you want to use either of these manual saws.
As mentioned right at the start, a hacksaw and handsaw are designed to cut different materials and are not intended to overlap effectively.
A handsaw would struggle and probably break if you tried to cut plastic or metal. It just couldn’t manage to do it, and it’s all thanks to the tooth design and density. On the other hand, a hacksaw could get through some wood, but you would make such hard work of it that I would really not recommend giving it a shot.
To put it in the most simplistic of terms. A handsaw is a woodworking tool, while a hacksaw is most certainly not a woodworking tool.
Another huge difference is with the blades.
First, look at the thickness of both blades. You will see the hacksaw blade is significantly thinner than the handsaw blade. The overall size is different, with the hacksaw blade also being narrower than the handsaw equivalent.
But there’s also that issue of teeth and their density. As I mentioned, a handsaw will have a density of up to 10 teeth per inch. A hacksaw can easily come with three times that amount, and that’s a big difference.
Also, the way the blades are attached to the handle is different. A handsaw has the blade firmly attached and cannot be replaced aside from very few saws. A hacksaw blade is designed to be removed and changed when the teeth on the blade are not as sharp or the material you are cutting changes.
Another difference is the cutting motion with each saw. A handsaw works in two directions, whereas a hacksaw will only work on the push action. It’s all thanks to the design of the teeth and how they then cut through the material, so you will tend to see you achieve faster results with a handsaw.
Also, there’s a tendency for you to have to hold the hacksaw blade level for it to work. With a handsaw, you can alter the angle depending on the material you want to cut.
Here, you can hold a handsaw at 60 degrees when dealing with hardwood or drop it to 45 degrees for softwoods. You should find you have no problem getting the teeth to rip through the material.
Something else to consider is the issue of versatility, which is what the hacksaw has in spades, which is the opposite of the handsaw.
When I’m talking about versatility, what I’m referring to is the fact you can interchange a hacksaw blade in order to change what it’s capable of cutting and also how smooth the cut will be. All you do is unscrew those nuts and swap out the blade. It’s nice and simple.
You just do not have that option with a handsaw. The blade you see is the only one you will have with that handsaw. So, the versatility is just not there.
Sharpening the Blades
Typically, when a hacksaw blade is no longer cutting as it should, you dispose of it and install a new one. However, as I’ve mentioned more than once, that’s not an option with a handsaw.
Yet you don’t always have to throw away your hand saw when the blade is not as sharp as you would like. Instead, it is possible to sharpen your handsaw blade even though it is a time-consuming job.
Are They Worth Having Today?
I’m fully aware that so many power tools exist today that can cut wood faster than a handsaw or cut thicker and larger pieces of metal in a fraction of the time. Yet I cannot take myself away from appreciating what it’s like to produce something in a time-old manner using manual tools.
I know they aren’t the best option when rushing to complete something. It’s certainly a lot easier to whip out a power tool and finish the job in no time at all. In those instances, I’d stay away from them.
I see using a hacksaw or handsaw as something for posterity. There’s a rawness to it all and a coolness about doing something the traditional way. It’s also clear that brands still see a market for both the handsaw and hacksaw, with names such as DeWalt even producing numerous versions today.
Honestly, if big brands see a need for them, then it means more people are still using these manual saws even when it’s so easy to get your hands on power versions.
The Basic Concept of a Hacksaw
But first, let me take you through the basics of a hacksaw.
To begin with, a hacksaw is easy to spot thanks to its universal design. What you have here is a thin saw blade along with a bow frame. That means the blade is held at either end but is then suspended in mid-air between these two points.
Also, a hacksaw does come with relatively fine teeth along the blade. But don’t think that this means it will struggle to cut through the material because this tool is designed to cope with some of the harder materials out there: plastic and metal.
How a Hacksaw Works
I should also mention that a hacksaw only produces the cutting motion in one direction. In this instance, the push part of the motion is vital.
Also, the teeth on the hacksaw blade play an important role. Here, the number of teeth can vary from as few as three to as many as 32 teeth per inch of blade. That’s a huge difference, but the higher the number, the smoother the cut it will produce, which is something you may want to remember.
But one thing you should also know is that hacksaw blades are surprisingly tough when it comes to longevity. However, replacing them is quick and easy since these blades are simply held into place via a nut at either end. Unscrew them, add the new blade, and tighten everything up.
Oh, and hacksaw blades tend to be manufactured from one of two materials: high-carbon steel and high-speed steel. Out of the two, it’s the high-speed steel that’s the most robust and hard-wearing. As a result, it will take longer to wear out, which may influence your decision about which blade to use.
Different Types of Hacksaw
There are four different types of hacksaws available. The smallest is known as the mini hacksaw, and it’s best for cutting metal or plastic where space is tight. I’m talking about a hacksaw with a blade that is less than 6” in length, and while you may think that’s still quite large, it’s significantly smaller than other versions.
The next hacksaw is the junior hacksaw, which is the middle-ground between the mini and full-size hacksaw. Typically, you are looking at this hacksaw coming with a blade of around 6” to 8”. Some may be slightly larger in size, but that’s certainly your average size.
Then there’s the full-size hacksaw, which is the saw with the better ability to cut through more challenging materials. You are looking at the blades measuring some 10” or even 12” in length, but they should certainly not drop below that 10” level.
The final hacksaw is a power hacksaw that uses a power source to generate those results. However, this is all about manual tools, so I’ll just quickly move on.
But there’s something else you should know about the hacksaw, and that’s the fact you have three different types of blades: the rip cut, crosscut, and buck saw. This changes depending on the angle of the teeth, so some will produce a smoother cut than others, so keep that in mind when going to make your cut.
More About the Teeth
One thing you will quickly notice with a hacksaw is that different blades come with varying densities regarding teeth. Well, those differences relate to what the blade is then capable of cutting.
Take a 14-density blade as an example. Those fewer teeth make this the perfect blade for cutting softer metals such as aluminum. However, if you then swap it out for an 18-tooth blade, you are getting more into the realm of a general cutting saw, even though there’s little in the way of finesse.
Moving to a 24-tooth blade, this can cut through steel plates up to 6mm thick. That may not sound like much, but it’s surprising how often this will be adequate for a number of projects.
Finally, the 32 tooth density blade is better for cutting hollow metal or pipes.
When you look at those different blades and what they are designed to do, you see why people make sure they have different densities available.
The Basic Concept of a Handsaw
A handsaw is designed to be used to cut through any wood, and that includes even plywood. However, it’s not just the material it can cut that makes this different from the hacksaw.
How a Handsaw Works
A handsaw comes with a permanent blade. You will not be able to just unscrew this and swap it for another one. Also, the number of teeth per inch is significantly lower compared to a hacksaw.
Most handsaws will come with between 7 and 10 teeth per inch. Remember that a hacksaw can have as many as 32 teeth per inch, and you see how big a difference that can be.
But the teeth on a handsaw are more intricate than you think. For example, these blades are pretty universal in how they cut, which means they can produce both crosscutting and rip cuts. It all depends on whether you cut with or against the grain. However, it’s cool to know in advance that the blade on a handsaw can produce either.
But the teeth are not the only difference when comparing a hacksaw with a handsaw. In the case of the handsaw, it comes with more of a closed handle rather than a bow shape. Personally, I feel I get a more confident grip with the handle on a handsaw, and that’s probably why it works better for producing fast cuts and working at speed.
Yet there is also one other difference, and it’s how the handsaw manages to cut the wood. Remember I mentioned how the hacksaw only works on the push stroke? Well, the modern handsaw can cut on both the push and pull strokes.
That does mean it will get through the material faster because it’s cutting on both motions as opposed to the hacksaw, where only one move works.
My opinion is that any individual involved in carrying out DIY projects around the home should still have both a hacksaw and handsaw in their arsenal of tools. Sure, you might not use them that often, but I feel there’s something cool about tackling certain projects in the same way as they have been tackled for decades.
If I was giving a recommendation, then I would tell anybody to go out and get some of these manual tools. You don’t have to worry about power, apart from your arm becoming fatigued, and there’s certainly nothing complicated about setting them up.
I think you have nothing whatsoever to lose by giving these saws a go. Who knows, you may end up falling in love with them, even though I completely understand if your power tools remain your tool of choice.