When I'm using my hand saw to make various cuts, I find it extremely difficult to make a straight cut. Where am I going wrong, what I am missing that the pros seem to have down?

  • 2
    Hi Anthony. Can you explain some of what your current technique is? Do you draw a line on the wood, for example? What kind of wood are you cutting through?
    – Joe
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 15:45
  • 1
    Strange that nobody has mentioned that his saw might be bent Commented Nov 9, 2018 at 18:53

10 Answers 10


One obvious solution is not letting the saw do anything that you don't want it to do by using a guide. In the easiest case, the fingers of your left hand are the guide, much like a professional chef would handle a knife, except one normally uses the thumb's nail for that with a saw.
Alternatively, you can simply fasten a straight piece of wood with a screw clamp. Any old block of building wood with an straight, orthogonal cut at the end will do.
Preferrably, your guide should have a small bevel (really small) on the bottom edge to account for the fact that most saws have set teeth.

You can of course also buy guides which will hold your saw in place with rare earth magnets, too (optionally even with a particular angle). Those are much easier to handle and more fancy, but also a bit more expensive than a block of building wood. I use these for cutting minute dovetails sometimes. They do give a better surface than sawing free-handed.

Then of course, using the correct saw makes a huge difference as well. There exist saws for rip cuts (along the grain) and for cross cuts (orthogonal to the grain), and "universal" saws which work equally bad well for either direction.
Also, there exist "western" and "eastern" (japanese) saws, the former cutting on push and requiring condiderably more force, the latter cutting on "pull" and usually being much slimmer (0.2-0.6mm) and having much smaller teeth.

Which saw is the right one for you is a matter of taste, but I very much prefer japanese saws (dozuki whenever possible, kataba if you need to go deeper than the back will allow, ryoba for the more coarse stuff. Ryoba is typically available with rip on one side and cross on the other, which is very nice).

Pulling with two fingers is a lot more comfortable (and I'm inclined to believe much more precise) than working with force. But that's a bit of a matter of taste, too, you'll have to try.

Here is a photo of a guide that costs about 4€ in material (of which 1€ is for the neodym magnets in the little holes) and 5 minutes to manufacture:

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Thanks to the magnets, the saw will cling to the guide nicely. You get 100% straight, perpendicular cuts every time. Similar guides are available commercially from Veritas (for about 10-12 times the price).

  • I'm having a hard time understanding how the two images are related because they seem to be connected differently. Which part is the guide and which is the wood being cut? Thank you!
    – ipavlic
    Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 1:16
  • @ipavlic Both images show the guide. It's 3 pieces fixed orthogonally with magnets in one so the saw (as shown in image 2) will cling to it. The to-be-cut piece would be clamped beneath as to be exactly inside the angle. Then the saw has no other choice but to go down on it straight, doing an exactly perpendicular cut.
    – Damon
    Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 17:50

One very important step in using a hand saw is not to force the saw. You shouldn't be trying to force the saw through the wood. The cutting blades are sharp. Once you have a groove started, ease up on the saw and let the teeth do the work for you. Sure, it takes a bit longer at first, but you are rewarded with straighter cuts with cleaner ends.

Secondly, when you're using a hand saw, the power from the stroke should be coming from your body stance. If you're right handed, stand with your left foot further out than your right and lean with your left side into the direction of the cut. Hold the saw such that your index finger is pointing along the saw in the direction you want to cut. This will help keep things aligned.

  • 1
    You might add to align your shoulders, also - I am not an expert on this (and am mediocre at straight cuts) but in addition to your second paragraph I'm pretty sure shoulder alignment is useful to keeping the force straight, just like it is in golf or baseball.
    – Joe
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 14:41
  • I recently learned the finger trick after all these years... don't ask me about my results up until now.
    – user5572
    Commented Nov 9, 2018 at 21:26

I am no pro but here's my tip.

I mark the four sides and give a 2mm deep cut on the four sides. This way when starting cut on the top the blade tends to stay aligned with the previous cuts.

I've been pretty much successful with this method.

Drawings are better than words:

Image of the above with caption "Blade path" and a red line showing where to cut

  • 3
    Even a deep, straight score using a clamped straight edge makes a big difference for me. I also find myself my successful with a draw style say that cuts on the pull, rather than push stroke. Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 15:52
  • What tool did you use to draw this image If i may ask? Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 4:58
  • 2
    @HankyPanky, it looks like he used sketchup
    – g19fanatic
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 19:09

I am a beginner myself with hand sawing, but the following tips worked for me for straighter saw cuts:

  • Mark your cuts either with a pencil or marking knife or both. This allows you to see if you follow the line. The added benefit of using a marking knife is that it severes wood fibres, so there is less tearing or splintering on the exit side.

  • Do not force the saw, just let it do its job. For Western-style saws, forward pressure is OK, but do not apply (a lot of) downward pressure. Relax your grip on the handle -- it may help if you imagine holding a tiny bird in your hand that you are trying not to crush.

  • As others have pointed out, your elbow should swing free of your body.

  • How you start the cut can make a huge difference. For particularly delicate cuts, I cut a straight V-groove with a marking knife or chisel that helps the blade to start right at the planned angle. Again, no forcing the saw and no downward pressure at all. I make a few pull strokes to get the blade catch in the wood (pros I've seen on YouTube start the cut with short back-and-forth movement -- didn't work for me, I guess it depends on the wood).

  • Another handy trick when starting a cut is to watch the reflection of the wood on the saw blade to see if you are holding it perpendicular to the surface.

  • Once the cut is started, control the saw by focusing on where the saw should go, as opposed to where it is. I know it sounds vague, but for some reason it works.

  • Use the full length of the blade. In my admittedly limited experience, this results in straighter, cleaner and faster cuts + the wear on the blade is more even. It helps if you imagine the saw is longer than is actually is.

  • If the saw starts to wander, do not bend the blade. Instead, track back to where the saw started wandering and try again.

Finally, practice a lot: a single scrap piece of wood offers plenty of opportunity. For what it's worth, I stopped beating myself over cuts that wandered off 1-3 degrees and bought a low-angle block plane, built a simple shooting board and now I can straighten a slightly skewed cut.


One time honored method for achieving square cuts is to use a miter box. Check out this article on Ditch the Miter Box for an interesting discussion of pros and cons. The main article suggests abandoning miter boxes and using a back saw without the box for making precise cuts.

No matter how you make the cut, one sure aid in getting a straight cut is to first draw the line along which you wish to cut, then place the saw on one side of the line. Never try to saw down the middle of the line because you are essentially erasing as you go. Even if you start by putting down a saw kerf, make it on the side of the line that is going to give you the desired length of the piece of wood.


I'm a week late to this question but I'll throw in a bit of my experience.

Hand sawing does involve much body mechanics as was previously described. Assuming your shoulders are aligned and you're moving your arm as you should be, the only other thing that might make the saw wander off the cut line is misalignment of the teeth. Otherwise known as the "set" of the teeth. This is never a problem with new saws but is almost always an issue with something found at a flea market.

I sent on of my saw off to Matt Cianci once who sharpened and set the teeth and did a masterful job of it. It was astounding how well the saw cut. Since then, I have attempted it myself with another old saw with mixed success. The last attempt was successful at getting the teeth all set properly.

My point is that once the teeth are set properly and you have your arm swinging in line with the cut, the saw should track straight.

My favorite videos for learning this and other woodworking techniques are those in the YouTube channel of Paul Sellers. He has a gift for explanation and demonstration. He also has a paid video service which I have not tried yet.

  • Careful measuring and marking
  • Stop your work moving by using a vice or bench-hook
  • Use a sharp saw
  • Make sure you are comfortable and have room to work
  • Dont rush
  • Practice

I try to See what the saw is doing with each motion. I used to just saw away and not really see what was going on.

The main problem I see is people tilting the saw in the z-plane as they cut. Keeping the saw blade straight up-and-down or orthogonal to the piece being cut has helped me cut straighter.

  • Your answer could be enhanced by explaining the steps you use in order. Also, please explain what you mean by 'karate or freethrows or something"
    – Ashlar
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 15:43

You have to draw with a ruler on the wood. Next you need to make a little mark on the wood, on the line with your saw and then after that you need to saw on the mark.

  • 1
    I think it's clear from context that the question is not about how to make a line on the material, but how to cut a marked line accurately without the saw wandering.
    – user5572
    Commented Nov 16, 2018 at 21:32

I have been using a hand saw (and only a hand saw) for the past year for my cat room project. Cutting a straight line is uber-difficult (i can't make a straight cut with scissors). No workshop, just my deck and yard. Because as female I don't weigh or carry as much mass above waist, to compensate I put my left foot (I'm right-handed) on top of the board (basically a lunge), with hips and shoulders square to the board.

This secures the board better than holding with hand. Mostly it allows for greater force in the sagittal plane than i could exert standing behind the board.

Since this is the most effective position for me, I need my work surface about 2' high. I use a patio bench that has slats running short side. After drawing my line (I prefer a square), I place my line for cross cut within the gaps between the slats and abut my line and saw up against one side.

Starting with a few "hesitation cuts" I follow the edge which physically prevents skewing to one side. If I do drift off line, it can only be in a positive direction (into surplus material) allowing me to just trim any error off providing a clean straight cut. (the bench is metal- would gauge wood.) I use a stainless steel razor toothed pruning saw for everything.

  • 1
    Hi, welcome to StackExchange. You might not be aware but you've basically reinvented a basic handsaw technique that some of the earliest woodworking guides describe, sawing on low sawbenches or trestles (basically what we can sawhorses today). Now about that saw........ why, just why?? LOL Treat yourself to a decent saw (numerous inexpensive options to pick from) and your cutting will improve instantly, in speed, accuracy and smoothness of cut which I presume is a big deal for you if you're limited on tools/equipment.
    – Graphus
    Commented Jun 5, 2022 at 17:26
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    In fact, given how you describe your technique, you would be wise to invest the small amount of cash for a set of Japanese style pull-saws. Most economy brands have replaceable blades and are more like grown-up x-acto razor saws. They are actually really well made, and are are a remarkable deal for the amount of tool you get for the price. With this technique and decent cutting tools you will have no problem making clean straight cuts.
    – user5572
    Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 14:52
  • @gnicko, removing that last para is a fairly cheeky revision to make. Regardless of what 'we' think of using a saw such as that the mention of it formed a fairly major component of the Answer and it really shouldn't have been separated from what preceded it.
    – Graphus
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 12:44
  • @jdv, not sure pull saws are actually a good beginner recommendation. While I like a few (not all) of the pull saws I've used and I think everyone should give them a shot, I do think it's undeniable that they're harder to use for joinery cuts. Western pull saws are generally easier to learn in on, and are equally suited to a low sawing posture, as many recent adopters of the Roman workbench might attest. With zero clamps available push saws are arguably a better fit for e.g. major ripping operations since the bulk of the force goes down into the bench and doesn't try to lift the workpiece.
    – Graphus
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 12:55
  • 1
    @Graphus (and @gnicko) we are in more or less full agreement. I'd still advise folks starting out to try pull saws even for simple joinery. The barrier to entry is super low and I've found that folks who come to woodworking from other crafts where x-acto knives and so on are familiar it translates quite well. I'm not advising replacing all your yard sale saw finds with fancy Japanese saws that go unused in the shop!
    – user5572
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 13:53

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