A coping saw isn't quite the most delicate saw you can use -- a fret saw would probably win that competition -- but it isn't a crude tool, either. Its delicacy can lead a woodworker into a state of complacency while using it, and this may be its most dangerous characteristic. Even though it has a small blade that's easy even for novices to control, a coping saw can inflict injury if used improperly.
Coping Saw Basics
The essence of simplicity, a coping saw consists of an ultra-thin saw blade stretched between the ends of a deep frame that has a cylindrical wooden handle. It's the go-to tool for cabinetmakers, wood inlay artists and trim carpenters who need to cut curved shapes. Traditional coping saw blades are usually about 1/4 inch wide, with thicknesses in the order of 2 hundredths of an inch and 15 to 20 teeth per inch. Contemporary blades resemble lengths of wire with raised spiral edges that do the cutting. Adjustable pins hold the blade to the metal frame.
Guard Against Blade Breakage
One of the dangers inherent in using such a narrow blade is that it can snap, and coping saw blades frequently do. For this reason, it's essential to wear protective eyewear when using a coping saw and to keep your head away from the work surface. Instead of moving closer to the work to improve accuracy, make sure there is adequate lighting so you can see. You might even consider wearing a headlamp while cutting. Avoid overtightening the blade to prevent blade breakage -- stop adjusting the blade as soon as it's tight enough to stop sagging.
Clamp Your Work
Whenever you're using any saw, you should keep your hand out of the path of the saw, and it's easy to remember this when you're cutting with a larger blade that is obviously dangerous. Coping saws, in contrast, appear innocuous, and because the work is usually thin and delicate, the temptation to support it with your fingers is great. The blade can cut your finger, though, if you hit a void while sawing or the blade snaps. The best way to avoid this scenario is to clamp your work securely to a workbench.
Don't Force Things
Like any good tool, a coping saw works best if you let it do most of the work, applying only the force necessary for it to do so. Putting forward pressure on the blade to hurry the job not only ruins accuracy, it's a good way to break the blade. Put the bulk of your force into the lateral back-and-forth motion of the blade, not into helping it move forward. Similarly, don't try to force the blade around sharp corners, especially if you're cutting through hard wood. It's safer and more accurate to make a series of intermediate notches to give the blade room to turn.