The process of hand cutting dovetails and tenons requires many skills. Central among them is the ability to accurately make rip cuts with a handsaw. Your ability to precisely cut to the exacting lines of your layout are key to your success. In some ways, it all seems like a dark art, but with clear guidance, the mysteries can be unraveled.

Whether you are a beginner or have years of experience behind you, I think you’ll enjoy this quick video tutorial on the fine points of using a rip cut hand saw. Master cabinetmaker Craig Vandall Stevens demonstrates some of the secrets to cutting straight and accurate dovetails and tenons, including how to align and start the saw. Craig is not only a master craftsman, he’s also a master teacher who shares some of the tips and tricks to make a handsaw sing. Watch this short video and you’ll be rip cutting like the pros. (4.5 Minute Woodworking Video).

NOTE: With the exception of the saw tooth direction, these techniques apply to both western style backsaws and japanese dozuki saws.

(7) Comments   


This is great! I love my ryoba, and a dozuki is next on my wish list.

Would be great to see how to accurately make long rip cuts (resawing) using a handsaw as well!


Eric – glad you are enjoying. I’m noting our interest in the hand re-sawing topic and welcome ideas and suggestions on topics.

It seems simple enough, but I think one gets validation and insight in seeing and hearing someone go through the steps of using the saw properly.

It looked like, through the video, that the end of the dovetail cut was only delimited by the line itself and not a secondary line normal to the cutting line?

Keith’s Note: That’s what’s great about this topic. It seems that making a saw cut is easy, and it is at the most basic level. But to get the accuracy that Craig gets consistently, it takes some thoughtful technique. What makes Craig’s approach so interesting is his explanation of how to sight the saw blade with the pencil line.

Keith —

After seeing this and Craig’s demonstrations on cutting dovetails I wouldn’t mind if there was a detailed one about tools for marking the dovetails.

Did you buy the marking gauge or make his own Japanese style gauge? Did he make that tiny square?

Keith Note: Craig’s marking gauge is “shop-made” but very nice. Top drawer like everything Craig does. I’ll have to ask Craig about the square.


Are there specific tips to avoid the horizontal swaying/pivoting motion the arm-hand-saw-system wants to do all of its own? Using the thumb, and going slowly, is helping to some degree, but it would certainly be nice to get rid of it in the first place.

Thanks for the great site, and the wonderful videos!

David N

This is a very helpful video but I’m still not quite clear on how to sight the cut accurately. If I have my line of sight so the 2 lines form a 1 continuous line as shown, how can I also align the saw blade in the same plane without obstructing my view of the line, in particular when using the dozuki where the back reinforcement gets in the way.

Keith’s Note: In a way, think of that initial sighting as the starting position for your body and sight-line. Then as you lay the saw to wood, you’ll almost look “through” the blade during the cut. So you say, how is that possible? Well, remember that your left and right eye will give you some offsetting perspective on the sight-line. This is the three dimensional space that is hard to visualize, but as Craig says, once you have the initial orientation lined up and you begin your cut, the saw will cut straight (with practice). Just keep at it and I think you’ll see success.

Mike Loshe

Thanks for the share. Another tip I would like to toss in would be to make sure you have some work gloves on whenever using a handsaw. Not only will it save your hands but it will also give you a better grip on the saw.