Carcass Saw vs Dovetail Saw

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Just how many kinds of saws are there? That’s an excellent question, and the saws you have in your home woodworking shop will depend on the types and size of projects you pursue.  A casual list-making task came up with at least 33 different types of saws, hand and power, and that list is not likely a complete one.

Construction industry woodworkers will have a vast variety of saws for many different purposes, some general and some very specific to the task at hand.  However, the home woodworker will have a very different set of saws, although with some crossover.

Today we will focus our attention on two handsaws that are common to a home workshop – no power tools today.  The carcass and dovetail saw are apt to be among commonly used tools in a home workshop, and they are today’s saws to discuss.

What Is a Carcass Saw and Why Is It Called a Carcass Saw?

Dovetail Joinery

A carcass saw is a backsaw with crosscut teeth, meaning it cuts across the grain rather than with it.  However, this can be misleading, too, as both crosscut carcass saws and rip carcass saws.

The term “back saw” refers to the steel or brass backs atop the saw.  This spine, if you will, enhances the saw’s weight, keeps it rigid,  and allows it to cut through wood easily.  That extra weight and the push stroke of the saw allow that easy cut.

Interestingly, the furniture frames were once referred to as “carcasses,” and the back saw used to cut commonly used to cut dado joints and mortise and tenon joints, came to be called the carcass saw.

They are used to make precision cuts across the grain and define the edges of a dado.  This makes it an ideal companion to the dovetail saw, which we will get to in a moment.

The blade will commonly have 14 teeth per inch filed in a crosscut tooth configuration for quick, accurate, and smooth cuts.  Their handles are angled rather than inline with the blade, making the push cut easy on the wrist.

The rip carcass saw is a bit of a misnomer and, at the same time, an accurate identifier. Its tooth configuration lends itself to both crosscuts and rip cuts (against vs. with the wood grain).

If you are making furniture in your home shop, you will want to have a carcass saw for these reasons.

What Is a Dovetail Saw?

What Is a Dovetail Saw

In discussing the carcass saw, we mentioned dovetail and mortise and tenon joints.  The dovetail saw will also come in handy as a companion tool to the carcass saw in those tasks.

Dovetail saws are similar to backsaws in that they have that rigid spine on top of the blade to provide extra weight to the saw.  However, dovetail saws are smaller than other backsaws like the carcass saw and with finer teeth.  The teeth per inch count on a dovetail saw will be in the 15 – 20 teeth range. 

Dovetail saws provide small and very precise cuts.  When a neat finish is required from a cut and precision is necessary for fitting two pieces of wood together, the dovetail saw is the tool of choice in that joinery.

A dovetail pull saw is similar to other saws, except the teeth are designed and configured to cut in a pulling motion rather than a push motion.  That pull stroke cuts wood more quickly and with less effort than push strokes, especially with a dovetail saw’s smaller and thinner blade.

Although dovetail saws more commonly cut on the push stroke, many new versions of dovetail saws will cut on both the push and pull strokes. It’s just that the pull stroke requires less effort.

Most dovetail cuts are rip cuts with the grain.  In the cutting of a tenon, though, you are cutting across the grain, and in those instances, your carcass saw will be the tool you reach for on your project.

Can You Use a Carcass Saw For Dovetails?

Can You Use a Carcass Saw For Dovetails

The short answer is yes, you can.  In fact, some woodworkers recommend not investing in a dovetail saw because a tenon saw or carcass saw can do the same work and will save you money.

Dovetail saws are small and of limited purpose outside of dovetail cuts.  The carcass saw is a bit more versatile.  Both a tenon saw and a carcass saw will cut your dead, small joints and will also cut small tenons and shoulders for your joinery such as drawer dovetails.

The longer length of a carcass saw, or a tenon saw will help give you a straighter cut, too, and allow you a better view of straight.  

If pressed in your budget and you have to choose your handsaws carefully, you might want to consider opting for the carcass saw only, rather than both.  Of course, this is a personal preference, and if you’ve been trained in the use of both and are comfortable with it, there may be a saving in some other part of your tool inventory.

We want to give you some visual aid in understanding the differences between and among these saws, so we found a video to help.

It will show the uses to which each saw can be put and help inform you about which is or are best for your shop.  Again, it depends on whether you will be building furniture that requires precise joinery work.

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