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What is a Fret Saw?

By B. Schreiber
Updated May 17, 2024
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A fret saw is a hand tool that is a type of bow saw, with the blade situated in a metal frame. The fret saw is a more modern version of the familiar bow saw that often is used for rough work. It has a characteristically deep frame that allows one to work further from an edge. The fret saw blade usually is shorter in length than similar saws and contains a thinner blade. It therefore is capable of finer work.

The fret saw usually is used for making curved cuts in things being fashioned from wood. It takes its name from its utility in creating fretwork, the intricate geometric designs that commonly decorate furniture and instruments, among other things. Ornamental wooden chair backs are an example of fretwork, though the word also applies to metal designs. The fret saw is similar to the coping saw, so called because of its use in creating the cope joints on molding.

The blade of the fret saw can be removed at one end to do fretwork inside a piece of wood. To do this, one bores or drills a hole into the piece of wood after tracing the desired design. The unattached end of the blade is then inserted through the starting hole, the blade is reattached to the frame, and the blade can be loosened, then turned or angled for sharps turns in the cuts. A support jig often is used for fretwork. The jig holds the wood and allows it to be turned, which makes sawing easier.

The fret saw also is handy in cutting cope joints in molding. The molding to be cut is placed at a right angle to a matching piece, and the profile is marked on the piece to be cut. The saw then cuts the contour. This is a useful way of fitting molding into corners that are not completely square and where a miter joint might not fit as well.

As with other hand tools, obtaining good results with a fret saw can be challenging. Practicing with templates or scrap wood is likely to increase one’s accuracy over time. Curved shapes also will benefit by thorough preparation, including good design and a model. After a design is conceived or chosen, it should be drawn first on paper, then on wood, before being cut according to the desired plan. Geometrical aids such as a compass are useful in creating designs.

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