What Is A Coping Saw Used For?

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How well do you cope in your woodworking shop?  That question doesn’t have to do with your mood or your ability to handle the stress of woodworking (that’s a joke), but rather how you make cope cuts.  There really is such a thing as a cope cut, too (not a joke).

Coping saws have thin blades held taut in a u-shaped (or c-shaped, depending on which way you hold it) frame with a handle, and like jigsaws, are used to make curve cuts and irregularly shaped cuts in wood or metal.  Unlike the jig saw, a power tool, a coping saw is a hand tool.

Its thin blade allows it to be very maneuverable such that the coping saw can make very tight curves.  While the jigsaw, because it is powered and has a shorter blade than a coping saw, is well-suited for very irregular shapes and very tight curve cuts, the coping saw is better with more gradual curves and circles.

Trim carpenters like “Custom Cal The Contractor’s Pal” from a previous piece we wrote about trim work keep a coping saw as a regular tool in their bag for making coped joints.  A cope cut has to do with inside corners.  

As an example, when installing baseboard trim at an inside corner, one piece of trim is run right to the wall; a coping saw is then used to cut the intersecting piece of baseboard trim to match the profile of the first piece.  

That cope will make a neat and tight inside corner for you and will produce a better fit in a shorter time than you could with a mitered corner joint.  A little sandpaper to smooth out the cope and almost no pressure to slide the pieces together into the corner will produce a very clean joint.  This is the professional touch that will make your trim work look great.

While the coping saw is not especially difficult to use, it can be a little bit intimidating, mostly because you are making an interior cut on the wood, a cut requiring some thought and careful measurement. 

When Was The Coping Saw Invented?

Coping saws have been around for a long time, having been invented probably around the middle of the 16th century.

Does a Coping Saw Cut on the Push or Pull?

Coping Saw

While a hacksaw blade’s teeth are pointed away from the handle for a push cut, a coping saw blade’s teeth are pointed toward the handle for a pull cut.  There is a short steadying bar where the blade is attached that prevents the blade from twisting as the cut is being made.  

With the right blade, a coping saw can cut through metal, such as aluminum piping.  However, the hacksaw is better suited since that is a cut it is made for, and the smaller teeth and greater teeth per inch of the hacksaw can make short order of the piping.  

How Many Teeth Per Inch Does A Coping Saw Have?

Coping saw blades come in a variety of tooth count per inch, including 10, 15, 20, and 24 per inch.  Most, though, will be in the 10 – 15 range.  As with other “finish” blades, the higher tooth count blades will leave a smoother cut, while the more common tooth counts (lower per inch) are for a quick cut.

If you were going to cut your daughter’s initial in the back of the desk chair you made for her, you’d likely use the higher tooth count blades for the smooth finish it will leave.  A little light sanding and the initial is done.

Coping saw blade sizes are 6 ⅜ “ and 6 ½”.  The distance from the blade to the top (or side, depending on how you are holding it), referred to as the throat, varies between 4″ and 6″.

What Can a Coping Saw Cut?

IRWIN Tools ProTouch Coping Saw (2014400), Blue & Yellow

We’ve already discussed wood and mentioned metal as materials a coping saw can cut comfortably.  We’ll continue:

  • Wood.  Since the pieces of wood being cut by a coping saw will usually be on the thin side, it’s the perfect hand saw for curvy and circular cuts.  It is easy to maneuver, and a low tooth-per-inch blade can make quick cuts easily for you.  Some sandpaper, a rasp, or a file can then smooth out the cut.

The coping saw can cut solid wood (usually thin), plywood, and even MDF, although we don’t recommend the latter since the glue and resin in it will dull the blade quickly.

  • Metal.  The coping saw blades are high-carbon steel, just like the blades of a hacksaw.  They can make cuts easily through thin metal sheets or non-hardened steel.  They are not designed to cut through all metals, though, and it’s suggested you stay with its strengths, which is cutting wood, and leave the metal cutting to a hacksaw.
  • Plastics and tiles.  With the right blade attachments, a coping saw can make precise cuts easily through soft-Mexican clay tiles for your kitchen or bathroom backsplashes, for instance. 

Using a Coping Saw

The sturdy metal frames of coping saws provide stability when making cuts.  The sharp teeth of a coping saw make them easy to use, and with the coarse-cut blades (lower tooth-per-inch count), the cuts will be quick.  

If extreme cut neatness is not necessary, the coarse-cut blades will be fine for most tasks.  Sandpaper and files will smooth out the cuts for you easily.  If greater cut neatness is required, simply swap out the coarse-cut blade with a finer-cut blade (higher tooth-per-inch count).  The cut will take longer but probably won’t need as much sanding to smooth it out.

The blade can be made taut simply by turning the tensioning mechanism where the blade attaches to the frame.  When cutting a pattern in wood, the blade will be removed, and one end inserted into a hole drilled for the purpose.  Once the blade is through the drill hole, it will be re-attached to the tensioning mechanism on the saw frame, and the cutting can begin.

It’s a handy tool to have generally in the shop, but it is essential, as we said, for the trim carpenter for inside corner cope cuts.  

We found a video directly on that point, actually, and the trim carpenter offers some very handy tips for those inside corners, too.  

Don’t be intimidated by the thought of a new saw, a hand saw at that, in your shop.  Once you’ve made a few cuts and learned what it is capable of doing, you’ll likely find more uses for it on future projects. 

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