Tips for Cutting Wood in Tight Spaces

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We’re not sure here at Obsessed Woodworking how many times we have written “the right tool for the right job,” but this piece is a perfect example of that maxim.  Tight spot tools, if you will.

It’s not so much for the woodworking shop since you would have planned the layout and configuration of your stationary tools carefully so as not to create close quarters or confined spaces.  It’s more about a task in general woodworking where space is limited, such as:

  • A crawl space
  • In the back of a cabinet
  • In a tricky demolition

Perhaps the blade of a tool can’t reach, or the angle doesn’t permit clear and clean access to the material needing to be cut, or the handle is vertical when only a horizontal handle will do.

Let’s see if we can help.

Saws For Cutting Wood In Tight Spaces

Lots of names come to mind when talking about cutting wood in tight spaces -like Dremel, Sawzall, mini reciprocating saws, and compact circular saws.  

Each of these options has some things in common:

  • Small size, yet good power
  • Options for handle size, angle, and configuration
  • Easy to use and direction of cutting

Renovation work can sometimes create that situation where we must work in a small space with little room for movement, and you find yourself needing to cut something in a tight space.  The right tool for the right job will make this easier and less daunting than it might seem.

A tool with an oscillating or reciprocating blade can help solve that problem.  Once you have made a few cuts with one of these tools, you’ll be very comfortable cutting wood in the closest quarters you encounter. 

With each of these kinds of tools, it’s the blade that moves, not the tool or your arm.  If a hand saw won’t work because there isn’t enough elbow room to draw it back, it’s not a problem.  If you can reach the blade to the cut point, the blade will do the moving.

And if the power tool is cordless, so much the better.  Reach won’t be hindered by the cord either in the distance or in the space to fit it while cutting.  If the blade can touch the cut point, you’re all set.

Reciprocating Saws For Tight Spots

Reciprocating Saws For Tight Spots

With reciprocating saws, the blade choice can become important for your job.  A low tooth-per-inch blade will cut faster but rougher; a higher tooth-per-inch blade will cut slower but cleaner.  And with blade choices ranging from 3” to 12”, you can see their advantage in tight spots.

The blade material can also be important to consider.  High-carbon blades are more flexible but less durable and are better suited for softer woods.  Steel blades are tougher and better suited for harder woods.  A bi-metal blade will cost you more but can be more cost-effective because of its durability and toughness. 

Rotary Saws for Cutting Circles and Openings

Rotary saws are great for operating in narrow spaces because they are light and easily portable.  Depending on the blade chosen, they are handy for cutting openings (for electrical outlets, for instance) and detail/precise cuts.

Compact Circular Saws in Close Quarters

Here’s another power tool option for cutting wood in close quarters.  Its sharp, round blade can be toothed or abrasive, depending on the job and the material to be cut.  The two handles, one for handling the tool and the other to make the cutting more stable, can serve you well.

Lightweight and compact (thus, the name, a smaller version of the circular saw you are accustomed to using), it is easily portable and can fit into that small space for you.

Hand Saw For Tight Areas

Hand Saw

The options here are varying and suitable for cutting in tight areas, too.  Each of them has its best use and particular purpose, and each can cut small spaces.  They include:

  • Dovetail saw. It’s a western saw and cuts on the push.  It comes with handle options, with a pistol-grip handle giving you better control and an easier push.
  • Crosscut saw. If it’s a wider piece of wood to be cut, this might be a better choice.  With a wise choice on the teeth per inch and a blade, a bit taller than that of a dovetail saw, you can make cuts on up to 1” x 3” pieces cleanly and accurately.
  • Japanese hand saw. With high tension from the handle, these pull saws allow for thin blades that make a narrow kerf.  This requires less effort and thus needs less room for a clean and accurate cut.  They are perfect, for instance, in flush-cutting dowels.
  • Coping saw. They are very handy for cutting curves.  The blades are thin, and the frame is tall, and with little effort required, they can make a curved cut in a tight space easy to make.

Tight spaces require tight space tools.  We’ve presented several for you to consider, and some of them should be a part of your woodworking shop tool inventory, especially the hand saws. 

We especially favor the Japanese hand saws.  Their pull-cut blades are thin and high tension and take a narrow kerf, thus requiring less effort to make clean, flush cuts.  They are a bit more expensive than, say, a compass saw, but a single handle with multiple blade choices to attach it to will provide a versatile choice for your various needs. 

Whether cutting openings, dowels, curves, or ends, there is a saw for each purpose when working in small or narrow spaces. The right tight space tool for the right tight space job, once again, is the rule. 

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