Woodsmith last issue Woodsmith current issue

Keep up to date with

Sign Up for Our FREE Newsletter

Give a Gift FREE Issue
Share Page:

Perfect Cuts With Coping & Fret Saws

By: Dennis Perkins
For smooth, curved cuts and other fine work, it’s tough to beat the results you can get with these essential saws.

You don't always need to turn on a power tool like a jig saw or band saw to cut curved workpieces. If the pieces are small, a coping saw, or its cousin the fret saw, might be the better choice. Though it's often dismissed as just a rough carpentry tool, a coping saw can be extremely useful in the woodshop. And fine-cutting fret saws have been a mainstay of high-quality furniture making shops for a very long time.

5363064 snip 1548830473559 new


Chances are you already have a coping saw around the shop. For many woodworkers, this was the first saw we ever picked up. Its short blade and fine teeth make it safe enough for a young person to try their hand at woodworking.

A coping saw is simply a C-shaped, steel frame with pivoting blade holders that capture pins on the ends of the blade. A few twists of the handle tighten the blade. This puts the blade under tension and allows it to cut fast, tight curves in just about any material. You can install the blade to cut either on the push or pull stroke, although for most work I find that a pull cut is easier to control.

Of course, the saw gets its name from the coping cut used to fit molding together in place of a miter joint. That use has kept the saw in every finish carpenter's tool box for over a hundred years. The availability of blades to cut wood, plastic, and even ceramic tile also make it an indispensable handyman's tool.

In the woodshop, a coping saw also excels at cutting curved parts for furniture and is especially useful for making interior cuts. All you need to do is drill a hole in the workpiece and thread the blade through it. Then mount the blade in the saw to make the cut. And by rotating the blade in the frame, you can angle it to reach into inside corners.

Unlike most other hand tools, there are few "high-end" expensive coping saws. For about $15, you can buy a well-made saw that will probably last a lifetime. And high-quality blades will only set you back about $5 for a dozen. You can learn more about the blades in the box at the bottom of the page.


A close cousin of the coping saw, the fret saw is the tool of choice for intricate work. At first glance, the deep-throated fret saw shown in the photo looks a lot like a stretched-out coping saw. But closer examination shows an important distinction. The method for attaching the blade is quite different. Fret saw blades do not have pins. Instead, clamps on the saw hold the ends tight. An added benefit of this clamping method is that you can use commonly available scroll saw blades.

5363064 snip 1548830523304 new

The smaller fret saws are sometimes called jeweler's saws because of their frequent use in cutting precious metals. In addition to the blade clamping mechanism, these saws also feature an adjustable frame. This enables them to accommodate different blade lengths.

USING A FRET SAW. You wouldn't want to use a fret saw for the heavy work of a coping saw. The thinner blades aren't designed for heavy cutting. But it's capable of much greater precision. The saw gets its name from the delicate patterns characteristic of classic fretwork designs. Even if you don't intend to do this kind of work, there are some common woodworking tasks that a fret saw will make easier.

DOVETAILS. When it comes to hand-cut dovetails, a fret saw is the fastest way to remove the waste between the pins and tails. After laying out and cutting the shapes, a few quick strokes with the fret saw completes the dovetails. The extremely fine blade fits easily in the kerf of the dovetail saw cut and even has plenty of room to turn the blade to make the cut. All you need to do is cut along the scribed baseline. Once you get the hang of it, you'll hardly need to do any clean up with a chisel.

INLAY WORK. Another application where the fret saw really shines is cutting small, intricate pieces for inlay or marquetry work. Here again, the blade can follow even the tightest curves of your patterns. Since these workpieces are often very thin, a method of support is crucial to making a successful cut.

A fretwork cutting table, sometimes called bird'smouth or V-board, is often used to hold a workpiece. You can see this in action in the photo at left. The V-shaped cutout on the table gives you plenty of room to move the saw while supporting both ends of the workpiece.

BREAKING BLADES. On the downside, the thin blades that make the fret saw a great tool for intricate work, also make for frequent blade breakages. But you'll quickly learn how to get the most life out of each one. Usually, this means avoiding binding it in a cut.

If you don't already have a coping saw and fret saw in your shop, you should consider spending a little bit of money to add them to your tool collection. After a few cuts, you'll be a believer.

Coping & Fret Saw Blades

While the saws get all the credit, it's really the range of blades for coping and fret saws that makes them such handy tools. Specialized coping saw blades can be purchased to cut plastic, metal, and even ceramic tile. And a fret saw equipped with a metal-cutting blade can come in handy for cutting soft metals.

COPING SAW BLADES. Woodworking blades are commonly available in 10, 15, 20, and 24 teeth per inch (tpi). The 20- and 24-tpi blades leave an extremely smooth finish, while the 10- and 15-tpi blades are great for an aggressive, fast cut.

FRET SAW BLADES. Fret saw blades are sold by gauge rather than teeth per inch. The gauge indicates the thickness of the blade. For example, a 2/0 blade is .011" and the 3/0 is .009". These are the most common sizes used by woodworkers. For a more aggressive cut or when working with thicker stock, you can install a scroll saw blade on a fret saw. The wide variety of scroll saw blades means you'll find one suited for almost any task.

5363064 snip 1548830565304 new

Published: June, 21 2019
Topics: None
Share Page:

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

WSM Sidebar Ad_PlansHalloween2020


Related Articles


The Best Electric Brad Nailer For Healthy Nails

The Best Respirators to Keep you Safe!

The Best Pocket Hole Jigs to Create Joints that Last

Take Your Sanding Projects To The Next Level With The Best Belt Sanders Of 2021

Smoothen Numerous Surfaces With The Best Palm Sanders Of 2021

Best Socket Sets For Day-To-Day Needs

Create Strong And Robust Interlocking Dovetail Joints With The Best Dovetail Jigs

Best Carpenters Tool Belts For Easy Storage Of Essential Equipment

The Best Dewalt Wrenches To Topple Every Project

Add the Best Vise Jaws to Your Workshop for Added Workpiece Stability

The Best Sawzalls; Cut Through Anything. Anywhere

Best Dewalt Tool Kits For DIY Home Project

Make Stapling A Breeze With The Best Pneumatic Staple Gun

Add The Best Dewalt Impact Drivers To Your Tool Kit

Effortlessly Thread Neat Screws With The Best Die Sets

Measure with Accuracy: Best Angle Finder

No More Cracks: Best Wood Filler

Enhance Your Woodworking Projects With The Best Plate Joiners Of 2021

Make Your Sanding Jobs Easier With The Best Spindle Sanders Of 2021

Best Scroll Saw For The Finest Cutting Results

See Through Walls With The Best Stud Finders

The Best DeWalt Drills and More For Your DIY Needs

The Best Drill Press Of 2021

The Best Wood Planer To Complete Your Woodshop

Make Every Cut Ideal: Best Router Table Fence

The Best Router Base For Furniture Manufacturing

The Best Allen Wrench to Get the Job Done!

Make Your Projects Effortless With The Best Ball Peen Hammer

Brushless Drills: An Incredible Addition to your Toolbox

Keep Your Cuts Clean With The Best Radial Arm Saw

Best Tap Sets For Your Workshop

The Smoothest Experience With The Best Random Orbital Sander

Carve and Create With The Best CNC Router

Upgrade Your Workshop With The Best Benchtop Jointer

Deal with Logs with the Best Wood Chipper

Blast the Tunes with the Best Woodshop Radio

Best Compact Bandsaws For Easy Cutting

Best Finishing Nailers For Durability

Best Mini Air Compressors To Buy

Our Team’s Review of the Best Propane Torches

Best Wood Carving Sets For Hobbyists

Best Wood Lathe For Beginner

Use The Best Edge Sanders To Smoothen Any Wooden Surface

Seamlessly Cut And Chop Wood With The Best Hatchets

Woodturning Essentials: The Best Roughing Gouges

Best Shop Fans: Top 7 High-Velocity Heavy-Duty Fans for Garages, Worksites and Workshops

Preserve Your Valuables With The Best Linseed Oil

Best Rubber Mallets For Woodworking

Best Wrench Sets That Makes Work Easy

The Best Wrench Racks To Organize Your Tools

The 7 Best Calipers For Accurate Measurements

Best Marking Gauges For Professional And DIY Woodworkers

Best Folding Stools To Fit into Compact Spaces

Get The Perfect Flush Cuts Every time With The Best Edge Banding Trimmers

Best Deck Screws For Pressure Treated Woods To Make A Perfect Deck

Best Miter Saw Stands To Mount Your Cutting Tools On The Go

Increase Your Sanding Efficiency With Zero Effort Using The Best File Belt Sanders

Best Table Saw Fence 2021 for Smooth Cuts and Shapes

Sharpen And Shape With The Best Bench Grinders

Best Metal Clamps for Your Craftsmen Needs

Best Cordless Impact Wrenches for All of Your Mechanical Needs

Best Biscuit Joiners to Help Easing Your Woodwork

Best Estwing Hammers For Your DIY Needs

Use The Best Wood Moisture Meters To Separate Healthy And Damaged Wood Pieces

The Best Rail And Stile Router Bits: The Staple Of Hassle-Free Woodworking

Best Adjustable Wrench For Hassle-Free Work

Best CNC Router Bits For A Hassle-Free Woodworking Project

Achieve Precision with the Best Glass Cutter

Keep Things Sharp With The Best Sharpening Stones

The Best Sandblaster To Get Your Job Started Strong

Best Forstner Bits To Add To Your Woodworking Tool Kit

The Best Jointer For Every Type Of Woodworking

The Best Track Saw of 2021

Our Team’s Review Of The Best Spring Clamps

Best Rasp Files – A Versatile Woodcarving Solution

The Best Veneer Edge Banding: A Perfect Finish To Your Furniture

Catch The Dust Before It Catches You With The Best Dust Hoods

Best Depth-Gauges: A Staple For Woodworking Enthusiasts

Construct Your Projects On The Best Workbenches Available

Smooth Out Your Work Using the Best Sanding Discs

Best Caster Wheels 2021

The Best Furniture Levelers: Bid Farewell to your Furniture Woes

7 Best Flush Cut Saw That Could Change the Wood Cutting Game

Level-Up Your Portals With the Best Door Hinges

Organize Your Lifestyle With the Best Pegboard Hooks

The Best Magnetic Toolbars For Easy Storage And Organization

The Best Vise: A Staple In Every Workshop

Our Team’s Review of the Best Rolling Tool Chest

Organize With Ease: Best Pegboards

Make Better Cuts With The Best Table Saw Push Block

Cut And Shape With Ease: Best Router Table

The Best Plywood Jigs For Every Need

Reviewing The Best Taper Jigs This Year

Hit The Nail On The Head With The Best Hammers

Make Every Cut: Best Angle Grinder

The Best Wood Stain For Every Project

The Best Overhead Storage Rack For Convenient, Safe Storage

The Best Double Sided Tapes That Won’t Damage Surfaces

The Best Saw Dust Catchers For Shop Safety

Toolbox Essentials: The Best Sandpaper

Start Your Next Carving Project With The Best Scorp

Seal, Coat, and Craft With the Best Epoxy

Finding the Best Circular Saw in 2021

Reviewing the Best Drill Bits of 2021

Best Ratchet Wrench for Quick and Easy Repair

The Best Table Saw For The Everyday Handyman

Reviewing the Best Router Leveling Jigs

Tackle Screws Effectively With The Best Screwdriver Sets

Best Shop Vac For Those Heavy-Duty Cleaning Tasks

Best Tape Measures For Professionals and DIYers

The Best Handscrew Clamp For Gluing, Painting, and Building

The Best Wood Mallet For Your Next Carpentry Project

Revamp Your Outdoor Space With The Best Deck Stain

Smooth Out Edges With The Best Spokeshaves

The Best Carpentry Square For Precise Measuring

Protect Your Outdoor Entertainment Space With The Best Firepit Cover

Get The Right Measurements With The Best Framing Square

Best Wood Chisels For Impactful Wood Crafting

The Best Bird House Kits For First-Time Builders

The Best Wood Glue To Complete Your DIY Projects

Our Top Picks Of The Best Wood Burning Kits This Year

Reviewing The Best Moving Dollies This Year

Best Wooden Box Puzzles For Challenging Fun

Get Organized With The Best Racks For Firewood

The Best Landscape Edgers To Beautify Your Space

Endless Fun With The Best Wooden Puzzles

Our Top Picks Of The Best Blueprints This Year

Reviewing The Best Benches This Year

Never Lose Out On Warmth: Best Water Heaters

Make Cutting Easier With The Best Band Saws

Easy to Use and Efficient: Best Sanding Blocks Reviewed

Reviewing The Best Axes Right Now

Cordless Precision Possible: Best Compact Routers

Work Smarter with the Best Canvas Aprons

Convenience And Reliability: Best Tankless Water Heater

Create Clean Slices using the Best Low Angle Block Planes

Craft Wood Effortlessly with the Best Carving Chisels

Make Storage Seamless With The Best Extension Cord Reel

Review: The Best Cordless Drills

Don’t Let Handtools Slow You Down: Best Drills

Get Your Home Looking Sharp With The Best Wall Paints

The Best Table Saw Stand For Easy And Clean Cuts

Keep Your Tools Running Smoothly With The Best Lubricant Oil

Review Of The Best Hacksaws Right Now

Strong and Soft: Best Shop Towels

Stay Sharp With The Best Electric Pole Saws

Get Up-Top With the Best Step Ladders

The Best Deep Toolbox For Maximizing Your Space And Time

The Best Porch Swing Will Sweep You Off Your Feet

Tackle Any Project with the Best Chop Saws

Review of the Best Portable Generators

Secure Woodworking with the Best Bench Vise

Precise and Durable: Best Measuring Tape

Enhance Your Cuts Using The Best Miter Saw

Keep Your Work Organized: Best Toolboxes

The Best Electric Log Splitter For Great Cuts