Hacksaws, Handles & Blades
Hacksaws are one of the most common hand tools. Nearly everyone owns one, and if you don’t have one, you need to buy one. Hacksaws are inexpensive and very economical to use. But most of you never use it because the one time you tried to use it things didn’t go well. You broke the hacksaw blade, the blade kept falling out of the handle, or it kept getting stuck in the piece you were trying to cut. If you did manage to get the piece cut, it took forever and the cut ended up crooked.
The main reasons most people have difficulty when sawing metal with a hacksaw are:
You have the blade in wrong
You aren’t using a sharp blade
There is too much flex in the blade
The number of teeth is too great for the project
You are putting too much pressure on the saw
You don’t clamp the work.
I’ll cover each of these difficulties as you and I go through this article.
Hacksaws and hacksaw blades are designed to cut metal (I will tell you how to use it to cut wood and plastic) and most people find cutting metal very difficult and frustrating. The reason, most of the time, is that they don’t really know how to use the metal hacksaw.
What is a Hacksaw?
A hacksaw is a metal frame designed to hold a tempered metal blade. The blade is typically 1/2 inch high and the majority of them are 12 inches long. The blade has a hole on each end that fits into pins on the hacksaw. Hacksaws are designed to cut on the push stroke. The handle (grip) is angled just right so you put a little pressure on the blade when you push it through the material you are cutting. Even though some so-called “experts” will tell you that you can put the blade in the other way a hacksaw does not work well if you have the blade in backwards.
Do you need a Hacksaw?
You can cut almost anything with a hacksaw. Although it was designed to cut metal, you can use it to cut plastic, wood, metal tubing, aluminum, copper, and brass. It works very well to cut electrical tubing (conduit), BMX (flexible metal tubing), plastic water pipe, (PVT & CVT) and even nuts and bolts. You can use it to cut a 2X4 in a pinch and with the right blade porcelin tile.
Setting up the Hacksaw to Cut.
Step 1. Determine which blade you will use to cut the material. Use a 32 t.p.i. blade for conduit, a 18 tooth blade for cutting off a bolt or plastic pipe and an 8 tooth for wood. In practice you want at least three teeth in contact with the material at any time. If you are cutting deeper than the depth of the blade use a blade that has wavy teeth. The wavy blade leaves a wider slot (kerf) that keeps the blade from sticking in the groove you are cutting. You can use it to cut wood. It will cut a lot slower than a wood saw, but it works if you don’t have anything else. Use a 8 or 10 tooth blade and mark the cut line on the board both horizontally and vertically. Use the horizontal mark to make you initial cut (groove) and the vertical mark to keep yourself cut straight. Take your time and don’t put a lot of pressure on the hacksaw.
Step 2. Insert the blade so that the teeth are pointing forward. If you can’t see this, rub your finger gently over the edge of the blade.
You will feel the teeth “grip” your finger. Put the blade so it grips when you push the saw. The holes of the blade go into the pins on the bottom of the frame. Many hacksaws are designed to take different length blades so if you have an adjustable frame you may have to shorten or lengthen the frame to fit your blade.
The teeth should try to “grab” your finger when pushed. If they don’t feel sharp, the blade is dull and should be replaced. Blades are inexpensive so don’t be afraid to replace it.
Step 3. Tighten the thumbscrew until you can’t turn it with your hand (Hand tight) This amount of tension on the blade should keep the blade from bowing as you cut. Sometimes if I will tighten it another 1/4 turn with a pliers if I am having problems with the blade falling off.
Ok, Let’s Cut Something.
I am going to use a metal pipe for this example. It is easy to cut and once you get used to the hacksaw, cutting metal will be a breeze.
To really use a hacksaw well you need to clamp your work. I have a vise on a workbench that I usually use.
If you don’t have a vise screw a 2 foot 2X4 onto your bench and hold the pipe with your left hand.
Step 1. To use a hacksaw properly, grip the frame with both hands. (I am right handed so I grab the handle with my right hand and use my left hand to hold the other end of the saw.) Hold the hacksaw so that the right hand’s index finger is pointing ahead to help guide the saw. As you push the blade (forward stroke) use your left hand to guide the saw so that it cuts straight. DO NOT use your left hand to apply pressure, just use it to guide your cut. Use most of the blade. If you apply pressure on the forward stroke with your left hand most likely the teeth will grab too much and the saw will “stick” . Again a hacksaw handle is angled to give you the proper down pressure on the blade.
Step 2. When you get to the end of the forward stroke, stop and pull the saw back with your right hand. As you pull back don’t apply any pressure with your right hand. (It only cuts in the forward direction and putting pressure on the return stroke will just wear out the blade prematurely). A lot of teachers will make you lift the saw on the return stroke so you don’t destroy the blade. When possible use a vise to secure the metal you want to cut. Move your body forward and back as you cut, pressing on the forward stroke and easing off on the return one.
Step 3. Repeat this until you saw all the way through the pipe. With a little practice you will be able to cut at about 1 stroke every second. Don’t stroke any faster than this because it will create too much heat and again wear out the blade prematurely.
Don’t put too much pressure on the blade. You may have to break a blade or two before you get the feel of how much pressure you can apply. Don’t saw too quickly as that can cause the blade to break as well. Always check to make sure that the blade is secured tightly in its frame.
Reviews. Or Don’t buy one at Wally World
Believe it or not, I could tell you a lot more about using a hacksaw, but this is enough to get you cutting properly. Buy one of the hacksaws I recommend below. Even the cheap one is good quality and will last you years. With a quality saw it won’t take long before you get good at using one.
DON’T buy a cheap one at the local dollar store. Why? The hacksaw has to have a little strength to keep the blade tensioned correctly and the cheap ones will give you nothing but years of frustration. Also buy a hacksaw with the handle tilted like the Stanley in the picture above. A hacksaw with a straight handle like the one I inherited from my great grandfather is very hard to use for a beginner.
Blades are cheap, so buy a box of them in at least two “teeth” numbers (more about that below). But don’t buy cheap blades. The cheap blades are too brittle and you will end up breaking a lot of them. A good hacksaw blade cuts on it own with very little pressure from you so change the blades as soon as they get dull. To tell if a blade is dull pull your finger over the blade. If it is still sharp the teeth will try to “catch” on your finger. A dull blade won’t. I prefer Milwaukee blades because they will flex without breaking, and last a long, long time compared to the cheap blades. Better yet, buy two inexpensive hacksaws and keep different blades on each. Dull, worn blades take a lot of work to cut, so change them as often as you would a utility knife or razor blade.
I’ve selected three hacksaws and blades for you that I recommend.
Good Hacksaw Blades – Worth every penny. Buy a pack of 18 tooth, 32 tooth and if you don’t have a wood saw 8-to-10 tooth.
Click on the links below to buy your new Hacksaw, read reviews and get more information:
Basic Homeowner Grade – You use it every month or so – Good tool at a good price. (I have one like these that is at least 30 years old)
Remodel/Construction Grade – You use it every weekend or use it once in a while for work – Better tool, will last you years.
Professional Grade – You use it everyday – When you only want the best.