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There are two ways to cut a board: with the grain
and across the grain
. A cut that's made with (in the direction of) the wood's grain -- or down the length of the board -- is called a rip
. A cut that's made across (perpendicular to) the grain is aptly named a crosscut
Stanley Crosscut Saw. Photo: Amazon
You can't (or shouldn't) make these cuts with any old saw. A rip and a crosscut each require their own tools: a rip saw
and a crosscut saw
The difference between these tools boils down to the way the saw's teeth are designed. If you think of a piece of wood as a bundle of fibers, you start to get a feel for the needs of each saw. The rip saw's teeth are perpendicular to the blade and act like chisels, actually shaving wood away during the cut. Crosscut saws, on the other hand, have angled teeth which are made to cut through the fibers.
So how do you buy just the right saw? There are a lot of options on the market, from an inexpensive Stanley crosscut ($15-$20) to a wallet-crushing Wenzloff & Sons rip saw ($250-$300). The best thing to do is ask around about which saws people like. As anyone who's ever shopped for tools knows, there's also a lot to be said about getting the saw in your hands before purchasing it. You just might find that the $25 saw has a better feel than the $150 version.
The more expensive saws will likely have a cleaner cut and longer life. However, as long as you keep your saw out of the rain and protect the teeth, any one out there should last a number of years. It's also a good idea to give the blade a light oil rub every now and then.
If you're interested in a little history on these saws, the Disstonian Institute
is an obsessively complete catalog of the wonderful and arcane saws that were produced by one of the best known manufacturers of the tool.