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What is a Fretsaw?

By Caitlin Kenney
Updated May 17, 2024
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A fretsaw is a hand-operated saw that is typically used for fine, ornamental wood cutting. Its unique shape makes this tool especially suited to cut intricate curves into wood and saw accurately in tight spaces. When in power tool form, the fretsaw is often called the scroll saw, which operates in a similar fashion and often uses the same blade. Though they are generally designed for woodcutting, special blades may be applied to saw through metal.

While it is similar in shape to a coping saw, the frame of a fretsaw is much deeper, extending back from the blade in the shape of a horseshoe. The depth of the frame allows cuts to be made at a much farther distance from the surface of the wood, so that larger pieces of wood can be used. At one end of the “horseshoe,” a short, thin blade spans the narrow opening. The thinness of the blade permits greater maneuverability for sharp turns or tight curves, making the fretsaw ideal for sawing designs into wood or clearing out the waste in a dovetail.

The blade has fine, short teeth engineered to make more detailed and controlled cuts. The delicateness of the teeth and the thinness of the blades make them relatively fragile and in need of more frequent replacement than coping saw blades. While coping saws allow some rotation of the blade, fretsaw blades are fixed to face in one direction within the frame. In instances where this may be a disadvantage, a special spiral blade can be used, which cuts in every direction without needing to rotate the entire saw or switch to a coping saw. These blades are wider, however, and do not make such fine incisions into the wood.

Because of its large size and weight, the fretsaw has a tendency to rotate away from the intended direction of the cut and new users may have difficulty controlling it. Most users find that holding the saw so that the blade and handle are oriented vertically as they cut helps to maintain accuracy. Many users also choose to clamp the wood or metal to a workbench, often with a device known as the V-board. The V-board clamps the work in place while allowing access to the wood through a V-shaped opening.

Many wood or metal workshops also include an electric fretsaw, sometimes called a scroll saw. These machines are effective at making precise, intricate cuts in wood up to ten millimeters (0.39 inches), after which point it becomes more difficult to control the design. The wood should be pushed into the machine slowly, especially with thicker pieces, as the operator prevents the work from vibrating too much by pressing it against the table.

The operator should be careful to keep hands away from the blade, wear safety goggles, and take care not to shut off the fretsaw while it is cutting, as this can break or damage the blade. The blade should also be positioned so the angle of the teeth point downward, otherwise it may break when the operator tries to apply a piece of wood.

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Discussion Comments
By anon239631 — On Jan 10, 2012

I want to know how fretsaw blades are manufactured and who can supply the plant and machines for making fretsaw blades. --Ashok

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