What Is a Coping Saw?

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The term coping refers to the art of joining two irregular surfaces together. This is common when cutting complex curves and shapes on wood, plastic, metal and any other thin materials.  To do this, you need a coping saw. So, what is a coping saw? 

What is a Coping Saw?

A coping saw is a handheld saw used to cut or create complex shapes, curves and tight angles on the surface and interior of wood, plastic or metal. Coping saws are usually U-shaped with a handle and a thin blade joined to a steel frame. 

The thin blade typically has 12 to 15 teeth per inch depending on the complexity of the project. Manufacturers design the handle in such a way that you can turn it to tighten or loosen the blade. There is also a rotating spigot mechanism at the end of the steel frame that allows you to correctly angle the blade.

Most people usually use coping saws when creating smooth edges to join two irregular parts together without leaving a conspicuous gap. For instance, you might need it when working with door frames, floor moldings, and pipework in case you need to lay a wooden floor.

Coping saw placed on a chair

How To Use a Coping Saw

Now that you know what a coping saw is, here is a quick step-by-step guide on how to correctly use it. 

Step One: Install the Blade 

In case you haven’t already, you will need to set the blade in place. To do this:

  1. Position the saw so that the handle faces upwards with the end of the frame furthest from the handle lying on a flat surface. 
  2. Position the blade in the rotating spigot then push downwards to compress the steel frame.
  3. Position the opposite end in the opening near the handle and then slowly release the compression.
  4. Adjust to your preference.

Step Two: Clamp the Material to be Cut in Place

Whether it is wood, plastic, or metal, you will need to clamp the material you’re cutting in place so that it doesn’t move around in the process. If the material moves, this can result in inaccuracies and mess up your project. 

Step Three: Start Cutting 

Depending on whether you want to create a shape, make a fine cut, work on intricate joints or cut through a molding, you should start by positioning the blade where you want to start cutting. The spigot mechanism will help you angle the blade correctly.

First, make short slow cuts to enable the blade to bite into the material then increase speed as you follow the pattern. Steadily turn the blade when cutting through complicated angles or moldings. 

Keep in mind that the thin blade of the coping saw makes it prone to snapping. That is why we recommend that you have a spare while working to avoid any inconveniences.

When Should I Use a Coping Saw?

Coping saws are usually very versatile and you can use them in a variety of projects. Below are some common situations in which you can use a coping saw. 

Close up of a coping saw

When Creating a Coped Intersection 

When working on a coped or irregular intersection, you will need a coping saw to achieve the required accuracy and smooth finish. This is because other type of saws with bigger blades such as crosscut or bow saws make it very difficult to work on convoluted intersections especially when thin cuts are required. 

When Creating a Hole

Although most people don’t know this, you can actually use a coping saw to create a hole on a wooden frame. This is a fairly intricate process and might require some expertise. 

Here is how you can cut a hole using a coping saw:

  1. First, remove the blade by squeezing the saw, then carefully unhook both ends of the blade.
  2. Use a pencil to trace a circle where you want to cut, then drill a hole in the center of the circle
  3. Pass the frame of the saw through the drilled hole then reattach the blade. 
  4. Cut from the drilled hole to the edge of the traced circle 
  5. Saw to cut the whole traced area

When Creating Shapes or Curves on a Wooden Surface 

If you are looking to create some shapes or curves on the surface of your wood, a coping saw will be one of the tools you use. This is because of the small teeth that allow you to make fine cuts and cut through the wood with more accuracy. 

With a coping saw, you can create different shapes to give your woodwork a taste of style and professionalism.

When Cutting Areas that are Hard to Reach

Even when you are not trying to cut a shape, curve, or cutting through moldings, you can still use a coping saw to work on difficult areas. For example, if you have a part of the construction that normal-sized saws like the crosscut saw cannot reach, you can use a coping saw. 

When you Need a Cheaper Alternative 

There are a number of other saws that can do the same work that a coping saw does in a more efficient and faster way. However, they are expensive and not good options if you are on a budget.

In that case, you can use the coping saw until you are able to afford the more efficient options.

Person explaining what is a coping saw

What Materials Can I Cut with a Coping Saw?

While you can use coping saws with a variety of materials, their agile and delicate nature do not allow you to use them on thick or large materials. Usually, coping saws are only used to cut materials that are 1 to 2 inches thick. 

Thicker materials require that you apply too much pressure which may result in the blade flexing and snapping. 

However, if you have the right blade for your project, you can use a coping saw to cut through such materials as:

  • Wood
  • Plastics 
  • Metals
  • Aluminum tubing

Safety Measures With a Coping Saw

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports about 4,000 finger accidents related to different types of saws every year in America. The coping saw no doubt contributes to these statistics. As with any power tool, you need to be very careful when using it. 

Below are some safety tips to keep in mind when using a coping saw: 

  • Thoroughly inspect the saw before using it. Check the frame, handle, and spigot to ensure they are in good condition. 
  • Make sure that the blade is sharp enough. Blunt blades are much more likely to snap since you will need to apply a lot of pressure. 
  • Ensure that you are using the right kind of blade for the right kind of material
  • Wear protective eyewear to prevent any materials from entering your eyes. The CDC reports that about 2000 U.S. workers sustain eye injuries that require medical attention every day. So this is a really serious issue. 


A coping saw comes in handy when you want to add a touch of professionalism and style to your projects. To avoid any damages or accidents, make sure that you cut only appropriate materials, inspect the saw before using, sharpen the blade regularly and wear protective goggles. 

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.