Crosscut saws have teeth that are designed to cut wood at a right angle to the direction of the wood grain. The cutting edge of each tooth is angled back and has a beveled edge. This design allows each tooth to act like a knife edge and slice through the wood, in contrast to a rip saw, which tears along the grain, acting like a miniature chisel. Some crosscut saws use alternating patterns of the cutting teeth along with others, called "rakers", designed to scrape out the cut strips of wood. Cross saws have much smaller teeth than rip saws, which are used to make straight cuts going along with the grain. Some saws, such as Japanese saws, are designed to cut only on the pull stroke. Western saws, on the other hand, are designed and sharpened to also cut on the push stroke.
"Crosscut saw" is a blanket term that can include both buck saws and felling saws. A bucking saw generally has a straighter back and less of a pronounced curve on its cutting surface. Since bucking saws are more often used on trees that are already downed, the greater stiffness and weight aids swift cutting, and allows two-man saws to also be used by one person, pushing as well as pulling.
A felling saw is generally less stiff than a bucking saw and the backside, as well as the cutting side, is usually curved inward. Felling saws are more often used to cut down standing trees, so the thinner, lighter design is easier to use without gravity holding the blade against the cut. The concave back of the saw makes it easier to place wedges, preventing the kerf from closing on the saw.
As described above, saws will have cutters, rakers, and gullets. As the saw is pulled toward the operator, the cutters along the saw's surface scores the wood to the left and right of the width of the blade, cutting a channel downward into the wood. In many saws there are four cutters, one which cuts left, another which cuts right, then another pair of left and right cutters.
After the cutters there is generally a raker followed by a gullet. A raker is what does the actual removal of the wood that is being cut. The raker follows the cutters, scraping the bottom of the kerf being cut. As the raker scrapes the bottom of the channel being cut, the wood is peeled back and stored in the gullet which follows the raker.
As the saw is drawn out of the log, the accumulated wood being stored in the gullets in the saw are allowed to fall out onto the ground. A way to determine whether a saw is working well is to examine the noodle shaped wood that gets scraped out of the log being cut. Fairly long strings of wood coming out of the log being cut indicates that the side cutters are doing their job and that the raker is slicing out the wood cleanly.
In many areas gasoline powered saws aren't permitted, either because the area has been designated as a Wilderness Area or because fire restrictions or other restrictions are in effect.
Depending upon the skill of the operator and the types and width of the wood being cut, crosscut saws can be faster to use than chainsaws.
One of the reasons why crosscut saws are safer to use than chainsaws is that crosscut saws don't continue to cut after they're dropped. Another reason is that using a crosscut saw requires more time to size up the situation and think about the lay of the land and the direction in which bucked log sections might fall or travel than is taken by a typical chain sawyer, who usually likes to move quickly from downfall to downfall.
Many areas of the National Forests of the United States are designated as Wilderness Areas and as such the use of mechanized and motorized equipment is prohibited except by special circumstance. Because of this, the United States Forest Service (USFS) organizes the crosscut saw training of US Forest Service employees and Forest working volunteers in an effort to maintain skills and proficiency among those who need to use such saws.
Training within the Angeles National Forest consists greatly upon the safety of the USFS employees and forest volunteers, the safety of animals in the area, and the safety of the surrounding environment.
Training also includes an examination into the differences and benefits of vintage saws compared against modern saws which are created with modern materials. Vintage saws are those saws which were manufactured over fifty years ago, being made of with a high carbon steel content instead of the exotic alloys which are typical of contemporary saws.
Crosscut saws are used with a variety of other small hand tools. Wedges are usually used to keep the sections of the log being cut in place as the saw is worked through the rest of the log. Wedges are placed to keep the sections apart but tie wedges may also be applied across the cut to hold sections together until the sawer is ready for the sections to roll or drop out of the way.
Also covered in typical training sessions is the safe use of the common ax. To keep the saw from cutting through rocks and dirt, the bark of the tree around the area to be cut is often removed with an ax.