Coping Saw vs. Fret Saw: Which to Use?

Coping Saw vs. Fret Saw: Which to Use?

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If you are planning on doing relatively intricate work on pieces of wood, then there are a variety of handheld saws that you may want to consider using. Two very popular handheld saws include the coping saw and the fret saw.

They are relatively similar tools, but they do have some major differences between them that affect their overall functionality and usefulness. Let’s figure out what both of these tools are, what makes them different, and which one is best used for specific circumstances.

Coping Saws and Fret Saws: The Basics

Before we get to talking about similarities and differences, let’s first figure out what both of these tools are.

What Is a Coping Saw?

Coping Saw First, we have the coping saw, which is a relatively small type of handheld, manually powered saw. No, this type of saw does not have any kind of motor or power behind it. A coping saw features a C-shaped or U-shaped frame made out of steel.

There is then a very long, thin, narrow, and fairly fine-tooth blade spanned in between that frame. The blade is held on the frame with a set of pins, and in most cases, the blade can actually pivot to certain angles.

One defining feature is that the coping saw can be used to make interior cutouts because the blade can be detached, put through a hole in a piece of wood, and then reattached to the frame. The coping saw is generally used for woodworking, although it can sometimes be used for other materials.

With this tool, there are blades that can cut on the pull stroke or the push stroke, although it’s usually on the pull stroke. One of the main uses of the coping saw is to make a cope joint, a reliable way to join together two pieces of wood. Besides making interior cuts and cope joints, this tool is also ideal for making relatively tight curved cuts.

What Is a Fret Saw?

Fret Saw We then have the fret saw, which is somewhat similar to the coping saw in terms of its design. This is also a relatively small handheld and manually powered saw that does not have any kind of motor. This device also has a large U-shaped or C-shaped frame in between which the blade is spanned.

With that being said, on the fret saw, this U-shaped frame is not all that long, although it is very deep, thus allowing this tool to get access to the interiors of large panels with its deep throat. The blade on this saw is held on by a series of clamps, therefore making it very easy to change blades.

Moreover, on a fret saw, the blade is extremely thin and fine. It’s actually one of the thinnest and finest blades of any handsaw out there. For this reason, a fret saw is ideal for extremely delicate, intricate, and precise work. It’s ideal for making extremely precise interior and exterior cutouts, especially when it comes to shapes and tight curves.

Similarities of Coping Saws and Fret Saws

Now that we know what both of these tools are, let’s determine what makes them similar.

1. Same General Design

Both of these saws have the same general design. Both saws feature what you might call a C-shaped or U-shaped frame in between which a long and thin blade is spanned. They also have a fairly comfortable handle to make them easy to hold and control.

2. Thin and Fine Blades

Although they are not quite the same, both of these saws do have relatively long, thin, and fine-toothed blades.

3. Handheld and Manual

One of the most basic similarities shared by these two saws is that they are both completely manual and handheld. The only thing powering these saws are your arms.

4. Detachable Blades

Another similarity that both saws share is that they both feature detachable blades. This means that you can attach a variety of blades for different cutting styles and for cutting various materials. This also means that both of these saws can cut interiors without having to cut through the perimeter of a workpiece.

5. Ideal for Intricate Work

The other similarity shared by both coping saws and fret saws is that they are relatively good at performing fine and intricate work, such as curves and shapes.

Differences Between Coping Saws and Fret Saws

Now that we know what makes coping saws and fret saws similar, let’s determine what makes them different.

1. Ideal Material Thickness

Coping saws have slightly longer blades combined with slightly thicker teeth, therefore making them better for thicker materials, whereas fret saws are better for very thin and delicate materials.

2. Throat Size and Interior Cuts

One thing that is important to note is that with a fret saw, the throat is much deeper and shorter, whereas, with the coping saw, the frame is much longer, yet not quite as deep. Therefore, if you need to reach deep into the interior of a panel, it is the fret saw that you need. However, with a coping saw, you can perform a much longer stroke.

3. Blade Attachment Style

With the coping saw, pins hold the blade in place, and the blade can often be adjusted for angle. With a fret saw, a series of clamps holds the blades in place. Some fret saws allow you to adjust the blade angle, and some don’t.

4. Applications

Fret saws are best used for making extremely delicate and intricate shapes and tight curves, especially on thinner materials. On the other hand, coping saws are best used for making larger interior cutouts as well as relatively delicate exterior cuts.

Coping Saw vs. Fret Saw: Which of the Two Should You Use?

What it really all comes down to is exactly how delicate your job is. If you’re working on a relatively large and thick piece, and you need precision, a coping saw is best. However, if you are working on a thinner workpiece, and you need extreme precision and accuracy for very fine details, then it is the fret saw that you will want.


You should now have all of the information you need to know whether you need a fret saw or a coping saw for a variety of tasks.

How Do Coping Saws Compare with Other Tools?

See how coping saws compare with: hacksaws | jigsaws | scroll saws