I am a little unclear on some of the nuances of rip vs. crosscut with handsaws.

I know a crosscut saw should be used when cutting perpindicular to the grain, and the rip saw when cutting with the grain. My question is where this changes.

For example, cutting a dado slot perpendicular to a long board (grain running in long direction) should be done with a crosscut. But what if you are now cutting a dovetail slot (so the saw is now tilted 45 or so degrees).

It seems to me that this is now more of a rip cut since you are cutting some across the grain but also some angle into the grain.

Whats the rule?

1 Answer 1


But what if you are now cutting a dovetail slot (so the saw is now tilted 45 or so degrees).

That's still a cross cut because you're sawing at 90° to the long grain.

It's cutting actual dovetails that you really have to ponder which saw is the ideal choice. However, up to a point you don't have to worry about whether a cut is more rip than cross-cut, or vice versa. You can use the same saw for either cut, regardless of its type.

It's not that a rip saw can't be used for crosscutting it's just that it's less efficient at it, ditto the opposite. And despite the emphasis placed on using the right type of saw for specific cuts it's actually quite common to use the 'wrong' saw for some cuts, the classic example being the traditional dovetail saw used for all joint work which will invariably involve a combination of rip cuts and cross-grain cuts.

An interesting historical point is that cross-cut saw teeth are actually relatively new in the history of woodworking, prior to a certain date (post-Renaissance I think) all European saws were filed rip.

  • not to mention hybrid filings!
    – aaron
    Mar 15, 2017 at 16:03
  • Okay awesome, thanks. I was under the impression that if you tried to use a crosscut saw along the grain that it would wander significantly.
    – jbord39
    Mar 15, 2017 at 18:28
  • @aaron Yes, not to mention them :-)
    – Graphus
    Mar 16, 2017 at 7:44
  • @jbord39 Yes it can tend to, but that doesn't mean that rip cuts aren't fairly commonly done with saws filed for cross-cutting (q.v. the point about dovetail saws). The length of the saw cut is important naturally, because a small amount of drift becomes a big problem after a larger distance, but drift can be controlled by the user to a large extent. And also by the set of the teeth (reduce set on the side the saw naturally drifts to and it will tend to cut straighter). There's also the quality of the cut face to consider (sometimes important, sometimes not) but that can usually be cleaned up.
    – Graphus
    Mar 16, 2017 at 7:51
  • Tooth size is a factor, too, in how efficient the cut will be as well as the surface left by the cut. A large rip tooth is gonna be pretty rough on a cross cut, while a small rip tooth will leave a surface about as smooth as a crosscut. Mar 21, 2017 at 14:26

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