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What Is A Coping Saw Used For?

Updated on July 14, 2015

It can be used to cut out complicated shapes from the centre of a workpiece and you can cut curves. And, of course, you can cope a joint which is what earned this saw its name. It's a simple tool, just a thin blade stretched within a C-shaped frame. But, simple as it is, if you equip it with the right type of blade then you can cut curves in wood, tile or metal.

What's the history of this saw?

Frame saws were probably invented by the Romans but the delicate bow saws needed for intricate work didn't appear until the 16th century when veneered marquetry was developed.

During the 18th century this type of saw was typically called "Morris saws" and were used for intricate cuts by jewellers and cabinetmakers. By this point the blades had also been designed to cut not only wood, but also brass, tortoise shell and other materials.

By the 19th century they were known as "bracket saws" and there was quite a fretwork craze during the middle of the century.

By the early 20th century, the saw had earned its modern name as carpenters found it handing for coping within mitres when cutting moulding.

So how do you cope a joint?

First of all, why would you want to do this? Inside corners of a room are rarely square so just putting two mitred pieces together in the corner always looks rubbish. Any woodworker with an ounce of pride in their work will end up trying to cope a joint at some point. In order to get a great finish inside corners you need a well-fitted coped joint. This is a very simple process but takes practice and patience to get it right.

There are 4 steps to coping a joint.

  1. Choose one of the pieces and cut it flush to the wall then tack it into place.
  2. Bevel the end of the second piece at a 45 degree angle. You're aiming for the side of the moulding that sits against the wall to be longer than the side in the front.
  3. Using your coping saw, cut along the edge of the profile of the moulding. Most people would say to cut perpendicular to the piece, but you will often find the joint fits better if you cut at a slight angle towards the back of the piece.
  4. Test fit the coped piece. You'll probably find that it doesn't fit perfectly on the first try. You'll need to trim a few edges using either sandpaper or a file. Just be careful not to go to far, or you'll have to start again.

As I said, this a straight forward process but it will take a few tries before you feel comfortable with it. However, please keep going with it as a well-fitted coped joint is a sign of a good woodworker.

If you would like to learn more about the humble coping saw then visit the Woodworking Tool Guide for more information.

- Pete

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