Dovetail saws have outstanding tensile strength, and they produce an extremely handsome finished product. Not only do woodworkers favor them for a litany of joints, but they pride themselves on the ability to create them. Many strive to master the form and spend countless hours learning it. And while the ability to produce one relies on attention to detail and a trained hand, the right saw can make all the difference.
And we get it — we’re car people. But we understand that car folks enjoy putting themselves to the test and spend some of their free time mastering new crafts. As always, good tools make the learning curve much less painful. That’s why we’re taking the time to help you find the best dovetail saw for your next woodworking project.
Fans of eastern woodworking tools are probably pretty happy to see a Dozuki make the top of the list. The Japanese Dozuki is a popular design among many fine woodworkers for its ability to make razor-thin cuts. The ability to do so enhances the finish of the final product and may eliminate the need to run through cuts with a chisel. Like a western backsaw, this design features a rigid back rib to reinforce the thin blade. Speaking of which, the blade on this particular model is just .012-inches wide. In combination with the 25 TPI, it can make highly detailed cuts rather quickly. And while the blade may only measure six inches, the long handle provides total control.
Japanese blades are wonderful, but they are delicate. If you’re not careful or not adept at using one, you will likely break the teeth in a hurry.
- 6-inch blade
- Dozuki blade
- Ultra-thin profile
- High TPI
- Brand Suizan
- Model D-003
- Weight 5.6 ounces
Perfect for high-detail work
Reasonable price point
Delicate blade can break easily
If you’re looking for a really affordable saw you can use to cut dovetails, this is it. It may be a “universal” saw, but a few characteristics make it a great tool for learning the basics. For one, it can perform rip cuts and crosscuts, and because it’s a pull design, it pushes the sawdust away from the workpiece. With a blade length of just 6.5 inches, it’s extremely easy to handle, and the straight-on grip may be a little easier to use for some folks. Beyond being something to learn with, you can throw this saw in any tool box and take it to any job site. It is great for cutting wood, but you may also use it to chew through copper and other soft metals.
Is this a fine woodworking tool? No. It lacks the delicacy and design to make a perfect cut. But it’s affordable and something you can use to learn a few things with.
- 6.5-inch blade
- Straight handle
- Universal cutting
- Brand Zona
- Model ZON35-550
- Weight 3.2 ounces
Can perform a variety of cuts
Not a professional’s choice
Suizan makes the list again with this Ryoba saw. This time, it’s for the Best Premium model, and you can rest assured your money is going to the right place when you invest it in this bad boy. A Ryoba saw is as close as can get to a double-edged sword when it comes to hand saws. That’s because either end of the blade features teeth for a specific purpose. The crosscut end is excellent for trimming down the length of wood, while the rip cut allows you to make joints such as a dovetail. The overall size of the blade is 9.5 inches, so you can use it for making a variety of cuts, and the long handle makes it very easy to control.
Overall, the price isn’t that bad considering everything this saw can do. But the fact is that its length may put a limit on using it for high-detail work for some users.
- 9.5-inch blade
- Ryoba blade
- Can perform rip cuts and crosscuts
- Brand Suizan
- Model 01
- Weight 5.6 ounces
May be difficult to use for high-detail work
Going back to back with Ryoba type saws, this one takes the award for Best Compact saw. The Ryoba design maximizes versatility by providing the ability to cut with or against the grain. But the ability to do so often means the saw may be awkward to handle on small projects. This one changes things up because it measures just 15-inches long with a 7-inch blade. And though it might not be the smallest saw you can find to cut joints with, the two cutting edge makes it possible to take on more projects than you otherwise could with a standard dovetail saw.
As with all Japanese tools, there is a learning curve to using this saw. If you’re not careful, you can easily break the tool. Keep in mind that a Ryoba is thin and does not feature a rigid backing to protect the blade.
- 7-inch blade
- Ryoba blade
- Can perform rip cuts and crosscuts
- Brand Gyokucho
- Model NO.291
- Weight 4.8 ounces
Can break easily
Before you write this off as a carbon copy of the first Suizan saw to make our list, you should know that there are some differences. We will get it out of the way that this is a Dozuki blade, but the business end measures seven inches. Unlike other traditional Japanese hand saws, this particular model does away with the infamous bamboo handle. Instead, it features a synthetic frame with a soft, textured handle. The handle is something many people love in place, and many believe it to be far more comfortable. Another user-oriented feature is the easy blade interchanging system that makes quick work of swapping out dull blades for new ones.
As you can expect, the only thing to not love is the learning curve. Again, if you’re not used to using Japanese blades, you may experience teeth breaking and overall performance issues.
- 7-inch blade
- Dozuki blade
- Synthetic handle
- Brand Suizan
- Model N/A
- Weight 9.6 ounces
Great for high-detail work
Easy blade change system
Requires a learning curve
Those who prefer tool designs from the Western hemisphere can give a sigh of relief. While this model does feature a straight handle, it is a traditional Western backsaw. And while they denote it as a tenon saw, it can prove useful in the right hands to create dovetails. That said, it offers the versatility to create several joints. As a Spear and Jackson tool, the performance is there, and woodworkers will love the looks of this saw. In most other industries, looks aren’t important on equipment, but it’s something that can significantly improve your mood when tackling big jobs.
This is a professional-level tool, and its price reflects that. However, the quality and craftsmanship make it well worth the money for serious woodworkers.
- 11.8-inch length
- Traditional back saw design
- Brand Spear & Jackson
- Model 5410Y
- Weight 1.21 pounds
Can produce dovetails and tenon joints
Another Western tool manufacturer makes its way to our list and with a pretty good price tag too. This dovetail saw by Irwin is another multi-purpose tool that you can use for a variety of projects. Its 7.25-inch blade features a tooth count of 22TPI, making it possible to make the delicate cuts for dovetails. It is also rigid enough to perform flush cuts on a range of projects and is excellent for shaping trim. The overall length is just 14.5 inches, and you can easily store it anywhere or carry it to any location. One thing that sets this design apart from many others is the inclusion of a push-button release for the blade. That makes it extremely easy to make the switch when one dulls out.
This is not a dedicated joint-cutting saw, and while it can make a dovetail joint, it can’t contend with more prestigious options. But it’s versatility, and low price offset its shortcomings.
- 7.25-inch blade
- Multi-purpose tool
- Push-button blade release
- Brand Irwin
- Model 213104
- Weight 3.84 ounces
Great price point
Not ideal for high-detail work
We can’t talk about craftsmanship without involving some form of German engineering. After all, we car folk know how much German workers pride themselves on fine details. This saw may be the last to make it on our list, but we suspect it’s the one most will take home. A Gent’s saw, or Gentleman’s saw, is just like a traditional backsaw but with a turned handle in place of a pistol grip. The blades are also typically a little narrower from top to bottom. This design, combined with the 15 TPI tooth count, makes for a high precision tool necessary for creating dovetails. And who can turn down those show-stopping looks?
Some feel the design is dated, but the only real issue you may have is with the handle. It’s just around four inches, and in large hands, it can be a bit awkward.
- 10-inch blade
- Gent saw design
- Brand Two Cherries
- Model 520-6020
- Weight 8 ounces
Perfect for high-detail work
Best Dovetail Saws Buying Guide & FAQ
We can spend a lifetime telling you what our favorite tools are, but you shouldn’t limit your scope to our point of view. A dovetail is a hand tool and, depending on your skill level, and how often you perform woodworking projects, you’re going to spend many hours using it as an extension of yourself. That means you should take the time to do a little research to find which one best suits your needs.
Spending your money on high-quality tools will enhance your working experience, but money will only take you so far. So, let’s take a look at some of the things you must consider when shopping for dovetail saws. And before we go much further, you may want to check out our review of the best scroll saws if you’re interested in beefing up your shop.
Why Do You Need a Dovetail Saw?
Most of the saws we highlight in our top picks aren’t true “dovetail” saws. They are simply saws you can use to create dovetail joints. What makes it possible is the fact that they are thin rip saws that use a proper set.
We’ll come back to saw types in a moment, but for now, let’s focus on why you need one. For one, you can’t use a panel saw, coping saw, or hack saw to create a good joint. You may come close, but ultimately they lack the necessary details to produce a high-quality final product.
And while you can use a router and jig to do the job as well, it’s a much more expensive means of getting the job done. Not only that, it detaches you from the project. Many pick up the art of woodworking to create something that has a piece of themselves in it. Joints made by hand tools may not be perfect like those a piece of machinery can produce, but the small flaws and slight imperfections give it character. And when you can create a near-perfect dovetail, there’s more to admire and take pride in.
- Dovetail saws are necessary to create clean and effective joints.
- Using hand tools is more engaging and allow you to master your craft.
- As you improve your skills the pride you have in your workmanship increases.
- Dovetail saws are more affordable than machinery.
Types of Dovetail Saws
We must establish that not everything we are covering today is pertinent to actual dovetail saws because there are many ways to skin the cat. To create any joint in a piece of wood, in this case, a dovetail, the saw you use must have a few features. It needs to have a thin profile, a sharp and effective set, and can create rip cuts. It also needs to have a design you are comfortable with using. Let’s take a look at some of the saws you can use to get the job done.
Dovetail Saw/Tenon Saw
Maybe we’re cheating by featuring two types under one subheading. But highlighting both at once allows us to get a better understanding of them. A tenon saw and a dovetail saw are variations of a backsaw. They’re similar because both feature a rip cut pattern and feature thin blades with a rigid back for reinforcement.
The primary difference between the two is that a dovetail saw is much shorter to make it easier to handle. Dovetail saws also feature a thinner blade and higher TPI (tooth per inch) count than tenon saws.
The design of either has a specific purpose in mind, but the tenon saw’s size and design features do give it the flexibility to create dovetail joints and others. Many woodworkers opt to use a tenon saw to create dovetails, and the flexibility to do more is why many recommend it to beginners.
A Japanese Dozuki saw is very similar to a western dovetail design in many ways, but there are some differences. When it comes to their similarities, a Dozuki features a rigid back and a very thin blade for making cuts. But while both capitalize on this aspect, the Dozuki’s blade is typically much narrower and quite a bit sharper. This characteristic gives Japanese handsaws something of a mythical presence among woodworkers. But we should state that you want to be careful when selecting one because many feature a cross-cut design.
Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of a Dozuki, and most other Japanese woodworking saws, is the handle design. Unlike the popular pistol grip design, the Dozuki features a long straight handle. Mastering the tool can be a challenge because of this, but many believe it has a more natural feel and better control.
The last type we’re going to highlight is the Japanese Ryoba saw. This design shares some similarities with a Dozuki. It too features a long, straight handle in place of a pistol grip, sticking to traditional eastern design.
But unlike the Dozuki, this design does not feature a rigid back. In its place, there is a second set of teeth, making it a dual-purpose tool. The Ryoba features a set of cross-cut teeth on one end and rip cut teeth on the opposing side. It might not be ideal for creating a dovetail, but the versatility and the ability to do so make it a popular choice for woodworkers looking to begin using Japanese handsaws.
What to Look for When Buying Dovetail Saws
Woodworking is a craft that relies on patience, attention to detail, having the proper tools, and the appropriate skill set to use them. It’s a form of art that expects you to put an equal amount of care into every aspect, and if you do not, the results will show it. That said, there are some key things to keep in mind when you are selecting a saw to create dovetail joints.
The Most Important Features of Dovetail Saws
So, what features must a saw you’ll use to create joints have? In truth, that can be hard to say because each craftsman will have a set of skills and preferences that shapes their decision. But there are a few things beginners will want to keep in mind.
Out of the gate, we will throw versatility to the side. While it is desirable, it isn’t an essential feature. Consider it a bonus if the saw you choose can do more than one thing, but don’t prioritize a saw with this feature over a superior design for the intended purpose.
The first thing you want to ensure is that the blade is thin and has an appropriate TPI count. What TPI is ideal does depend on the material you are working with. Something like 14 TPI is good for 0.5-inch to 0.75-inch material and 20 TPI is good for 0.5-inch and smaller. You may want to invest in a couple of different saws because of this, or do some homework and make an educated decision.
Furthermore, you want to avoid selecting a cross-cut saw. There are many options with a cross-cut design that claim to be good for making dovetails, but the most you’ll likely use them for is trimming. This design is for cutting across the grain and you want a rip cut saw to cut parallel with the grain. Otherwise, you won’t have a clean product.
Easy to Handle
If you’re a novice, it’s essential you pick a model that’s easy to handle and feels comfortable in your hand. While you can learn to use any tool, it’s wise to start with something that feels natural to use when learning a new craft. Otherwise, the learning curve might be a little more complicated.
This can be a tricky thing to sort out, mainly because you can’t take saws for a test ride like you can cars. But if you have a family member, friend, or acquaintance that is also in the craft, you may be able to ask them to let you use their saw to see what feels right to you. Just be respectful and don’t break anything. Saws can be expensive, and inherited tools are irreplaceable.
Saws of Similar Designs
It’s always worth buying tools that are a part of a series that share similar design features. When it comes to saws, if a series exists, they typically feature similar handle designs, and this can be an invaluable feature.
Why? Because it eliminates the amount of time, you have to spend thinking about what you’re doing. Something like switching between a straight handle and pistol grip may throw you off. And even if it’s only for a brief moment, it can wreck your train of thought. But do note that you still need to be aware of the blade you are using to prevent the destruction of a workpiece.
Availability of Blades
Saws, like all other cutting tools, dull with time. If you are using a western backsaw or a Japanese Dozuki, you may have the ability to replace the blades when they wear down. Therefore you must select one that has replacement blades readily available to you or tools to resharpen them if not.
For replacement blades, you want to think beyond current standings. There are many one-off brands out there, and in the tool industry, cheap knockoffs tend to stick around for short periods. That means it’s worth looking at a long-standing company or one you trust to stick around for a while before you invest.
Care and Maintenance for Dovetail Saws
Proper care starts with forward-thinking. Like we say, it’s wise to ensure there are means to do so by ensuring replacement blades are available or that you can sharpen the blade ahead of time. But the task of caring for the tool doesn’t end with swapping the edge.
Saws that create joints feature thin blades, and you want to be mindful of that. It’s worth establishing or building a dedicated storage area to keep them safe. You also only want to use the tool only as intended to prevent ruining the workpiece or the saw.
You also never want to be forceful with a saw. Let the teeth do the work, and you’ll see it’s astonishing how fast a proper saw will cut. If it’s chipping, dragging, or isn’t easy to use in any way, it could be a sign that the blade needs replacement.
- Take the time to provide a dedicated storage area for your saws.
- If the tool isn’t functioning properly, it may be time to sharpen or replace the blade.
- Only use joint saws to create joints to protect the tool and the workpiece.
- Don’t rush the job, otherwise, you can damage the workpiece or the tool.
Best Dovetail Saws FAQ:
We’re coming to the end of our buying guide, which means it’s a good time to review some FAQs. More often than not, this section provides readers with a single bit of information they need to make an educated decision. But, it also serves as an excellent opportunity to review some vital information or cover topics we left out.
Q: What is the difference between a dovetail saw and a tenon saw?
While they are similar, a dovetail saw is shorter and has a higher TPI than a tenon saw.
Q: How do you sharpen a dovetail saw?
Sharpening a dovetail saw is made simple with dedicated blade sharpening tools. They function much like a file and only require you to run through each tooth a few times.
Q: What makes a good dovetail saw?
A thin blade profile and high TPI usually boast proficiency, but experience and personal preference can shape the decision you make when selecting one.
Our Top Pick
To recap, the Suizan 6 Inch Dozuki Saw takes our top pick because it’s an affordable Japanese saw that can make razor-thin cuts. The level of detail you can put into a workpiece with this tool is second to none, and it helps back the rising praise of eastern hand saws.
While we can’t speak on the same level of authority a dedicated woodworking publication can, we think that many will agree the Suizan 6 Inch Dozuki Saw is the best saw for the money. But we do foresee many beginners leading toward the Zona Fine Razor Saw because of the price.
But what are your thoughts? We want to know which saw you’ll be using to make dovetail joints!
- Backsaw – Wikipedia