How to Use a Hacksaw

Woman using a hacksaw

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The traditional hand-operated hacksaw is no longer familiar to everyone, since corded and battery-powered jigsaws have emerged as workhorse tools for most DIYers. And it's true that a power jigsaw or reciprocating saw mounted with the right kind of blade can serve most of the functions performed by a hacksaw. But, as every professional plumber knows, the hacksaw still has its place, and if you don't own one, you owe it to yourself to add it to your tool collection.

In addition to being an inexpensive tool, a hacksaw has a very long cutting surface that is ideal when you are cutting large pipes, and has fine teeth that are great for cutting metals smoothly. As a classic plumber's tool, the hacksaw is primarily a tool for cutting metals, such as steel pipes or sheet metal, but it can also be very useful for cutting plastic pipes when you don't have a specialty tool designed for that purpose.

The key to using hacksaw effectively is to understand the various blades available for the tool, and choosing the right one for the job.

Anatomy of a Hacksaw

The hacksaw is a very simple tool, consisting of an elongated C-shaped frame with a handle at one end, and a narrow, flexible blade that mounts on pegs and is stretched taut across the open side of the frame. There are also mini-hacksaw frames that allow one end of the blade to extend past the handle. These are well-suited for use in confined spaces, where a full-sized saw frame won't fit.

Blade Types

Hacksaw blades are available with tooth counts ranging from 14 to 32 teeth per inch. Thin stock calls for finer teeth; thicker metal requires fewer teeth per inch. The way teeth are positioned on a blade is called “set.” There are three typical tooth sets:

  • Regular: These work well on softer metals that don’t contain iron. The teeth are lined up touching each other and alternating to the left and right.
  • Raker: Perfect for cutting into thick metals. The teeth are placed in sets of three.
  • Wavy: The right choice for hard, thin metals. The teeth are set in a wave pattern from left to right for a smooth, fine cut.

Frame Types

Hacksaw frames can be either fixed or adjustable. A fixed frame accepts one blade length; while the adjustable typically handles 10- and 12-inch blades; some can accept blades ranging from 8 to 16 inches. There’s a slight price difference, but the versatility of an adjustable frame is well worth the additional cost.

A hacksaw blade has a hole at each end that fits onto pegs on the frame, and these pegs can be set in four positions: up, down, left and right. Also, the blade can be mounted on the posts with the tooth side in either direction, giving you a total of eight blade positions to choose from.

Using a Hacksaw

The key to success when using a hacksaw is to mount the blade so it is taut with in the frame, and to cut using slow, steady strokes. Americans are accustomed to saws that cut on the push stroke, but reversing the blade to cut on the pull stroke—as is the case with fine Japanese woodworking saws—sometimes gives you a better result when using a hacksaw. Whatever the blade’s orientation, it’s essential that you cut slowly, no more than one stroke per second; metal-on-metal produces tremendous heat and can quickly ruin a blade. A drop of oil on the blade helps reduce friction and keeps the temperature down. Overheated blades can quickly become dull.

Hacksaw Safety Tips

For best results when using a hacksaw, follow these practices:

  • Choose the correct blade for the material being cut.
  • Secure the blade with the teeth pointing forward if you want to cut on the push stroke; backward if you want to cut on the pull stroke.
  • Keep the blade rigid and the frame properly aligned. The blade should be very taut in the frame for efficient cutting.
  • Cut using strong, slow, steady strokes.
  • Use the entire length of the blade in each cutting stroke.
  • Keep saw blades clean, and use light machine oil on the blade to keep it from overheating and breaking.
  • Cut harder materials more slowly than soft materials.
  • Clamp thin, flat pieces that require edge cutting.
  • If you’re cutting pipe, always secure it in a vise before cutting.