Monday, March 14, 2022

Saws for Modeling

Let us look at one of the basic tools we find in every railroad modeler’s tool drawer, the saw.  A basic cutting tool we may use when building freight cars.  There are many kinds of saws consisting of a blade, wire, or chain with a toothed edge. In the hobby our saws are normally the blade type only with or without a stiffener on the back of the blade. I use the saw to cut heavier materials for the saw will cut thicker materials faster than making repeated knife cuts. And, if you cut metals the saw is one of the better tools to use.

What type of saw do we buy?  Well take a look at one of my tool drawers that I have filled with various saws. How did I accumulate the number you see?  It began when I decided to purchase my first saw.  I headed for the local hobby shop and thought I would grab one until I looked in the tool section and found that a variety were available.  At the time the manufactures I found at my local hobby shop were  Xacto and Zona. I decided to buy a Xacto saw since I had bought their knives and they worked well. Another good reason to purchase Xacto saws was they needed handles and would fit in the Xacto handles I had purchased for the knives.

Tool drawer holding saws.
(Click or tap on this or any image to enlarge.)

Looking at the blade variety I found a saw could have a fine, medium or coarse toothed blade which is defined by the number of teeth on the saw blade. The most common measurement of the frequency of teeth on a saw blade is teeth per inch usually abbreviated TPI. At the time I thought I did not need three saw types. I would buy one as I had planned. But wait there was more to decide before making the purchase. You could buy the saw blades with different depths: shallow, medium or deep.  Well I decided to buy a medium blade with a shallow depth.

I soon found the medium blade with a shallow depth did not solve all my cutting needs. One example, the shallow saw blade may not reach the bottom of the slot in a miter box as only the deep blade can. As I built more kits and rolling stock I purchased one of each saw types.

Saws wit various teeth and blade depth.

Not done yet, one more item to consider.  Next to the saw types I saw there were miter boxes that would guide the saw when making straight cuts and were also made to assist with angle cuts. The miter boxes came in wood or metal. I chose the least expensive, a wood one which I soon would find out was a mistake as the slot for the saw in a short time will not stay true and soon you are making poor cuts.  Therefore, over time several metal miter boxes were purchased.  When buying a metal miter box one feature I suggest it have is a lip on its bottom side that catches on the edge of your work surface to help hold it in place when making your cuts. 

Several miter boxes.  Note the one on the left has
 lip to place against work surface when cutting..

As time went along I found the miter box to have another neat use.  I could cut multiple items of the same length when needed.  You clamp a stop block in the miter box at the length desired, slide the material to be cut up against it, and make your cut.  Repeating these steps you can cut any number of pieces needed to the same length.  However, this method soon was rarely used when I discovered the NorthWest Short Line (NWSL)  tool - “The Chopper.”  The chopper is a great tool; however, I find times I still prefer to use the miter box for certain cutting tasks.  One example of such a task is cutting metal tubes.

Miter box showing two examples of added stops
using clamps.

"The Chopper"

Even purchasing one of each saw type did not solve new problems encountered when building various kits or rolling stock.  One example, I could not use the blades I had to cut out windows in a structure kit-bash or certain cuts I wanted to make in reworking rolling stock. The normal Xacto saw blades were of no use. I needed a much smaller saw blade.  I found you could purchase a Xacto blade that was the shape and size of a number eleven blade and fit the same handle.  I soon added them to my saw collection along with a few other small shaped blades and saws I found.

Various small saw blades useful for modeling tasks.

Another of my later finds is a saw with a blade shaped liked a razor blade with very fine teeth that fits into a comfortable handle. I purchased one from MicroMark with a plastic handle (no longer found in catalog).  At Trainfest, a train show held in Milwaukee, I found one with a wood handle and better construction.  It is the "micro combo" saw available from UMM-USA (see internet site).   And, hence the nickname “UMM saw” in my modeling community.  It was well worth the purchase and has become one of my favorite saws.  If guided correctly it will make a cut that needs no or very little sanding.  After the saw was on the market for a time, a mini miter block came out for it.  The micro miter block is available from MicroMark.  The mico, and two larger sizes of the miter boxes or as a set are available from UMM-USA.

UMM saw and plastic handle saw.
Note website address on card in case.

UMM saw used to cut off ends on freight car.

UMM saw in micro miter block designed for this saw.

One more saw blade I use almost ever modeling session is a saw blade with very fine teeth mounted on a mandrel in a Dremel tool to provide me with a motorized saw.  As the razor type blade in the hand UMM saw, it makes a very fine cut that like one made with the hand UMM saw requires very little sanding.

The use of this saw blade requires a steady hand and continued focus when using it as the blade can easily bind in the material you are cutting. One slip and you will have a very nasty cut that could require a trip to the hospital emergency room. You can purchase a guard to use with this saw to protect yourself when using. I purchased my saws blades from the Tool Man (no longer in business due to retirement) so I am not sure of a source at this time.

Saw blade with mandrel in Dremel Tool with collet.

Note Dremel #4486 chuck replacing collet.
Allows quick and easy change of accessories.

Side view of saw blade with mandrel in
 Dremel tool with #4866 Dremel chuck.

We have now explored the contents of the tool drawer near my workbench.   My saw drawer filled with saws with various toothed blades is one reason I have my friends calling me a “tool junkie.”  Remember “Modeling is Fun” and I believe “Modeling is Fun at a higher level with the right tool”.

Thank You for taking time to read my blog.  You can share a comment in the section below if you choose to do so.  Please sign your comment with your name if you choose to leave one.  Please share the blog link with other model railroaders.

Lester Breuer



  1. That is a sweet tool that I must have now! Thanks for the review!

  2. You are welcome. Glad to be able to help.