Saturday, February 23, 2008
Handsaws…Where to Begin?
Five essentials for the beginners shop
Walk into most woodshops today and you’re likely to see a table saw, a band saw, cross cut and scroll saw, circular saw, jig saw and maybe even a reciprocating saw; but where are all of the hand saws? Amateur wood workers can feel overwhelmed when it comes time to purchase or even use a handsaw. With all of the horsepower out there it can turn into the road less traveled. There are so many to choose from, where do you begin?
Rip saws, back saws, dovetail and fret saws, Japanese and Western style, pistol grip or straight.
This is my pick for the five essentials.
First off is a Panel Saw
When we think of handsaws the first image that comes to mind is someone’s Grand Daddy leaning over a saw horse; one knee set firmly on a board cross-cutting it to a specific length. This is because that’s usually the first step when starting any project and a Panel saw is the tool for the job. A good Panel saw can range from about 22” up to about 26” in length. The blade should be good quality steel, and show about 10 tpi. (Teeth per inch) filed in a cross-cut pattern. It should have a comfortable grip and feel balanced in hand. There are a few new companies that have started making high quality hand saws again and once you start using one for cross cutting your work, you’ll never reach for your chop-saw again.
Second, a Dovetail Saw
Dovetails have become almost the signature for fine woodworking and the Dovetail saw is really the only way to achieve great results. I’ve used Japanese style as well as Western and have settled on the Western style for a couple of reasons. Moderately priced Japanese style saws seem to have really fine teeth that break when used in a lot of our Western hardwoods, as well the Japanese style saws have straight handles that never seemed to sit properly in my hand. The Western style pistol grip Dovetail Saw, with a 14 or 15 tpi filed Rip tooth pattern is in my opinion the second saw to purchase when starting out.
Third is a Small Carcass Saw
A Carcass saw is a useful tool when making cuts across the grain. When not actually cutting dovetails I use this saw the most in my collection. For small jobs like sawing Tenon shoulders and trimming pieces to fit with a Bench Hook, this is an irreplaceable tool in the wood shop. The model I use is 16’ long with a 14 tpi filed cross cut blade.
Fourth, a flush cut saw
A flush cutting saw I find quite useful in my shop for cutting plugs or dowels in furniture as well as on through Tenon joints. Anytime you have to make a flush cut, this is the tool of choice. I use a Japanese style with 22 tpi which cuts on the pull stroke.
And Finally, a Fret Saw
The last saw to make my top five is a Fret Saw. The Fret Saw, commonly used in Marquetry is another valuable tool when cutting dovetails. Once the sides or cheeks of the dovetails are cut with the Dovetail Saw, I use my Fret saw to cut out the waste as opposed to chopping it out with a chisel. This is not only a real time saver but tends to be a safer, more consistent way of achieving great results.
I think this could have easily become a ‘top-ten list’ but for the beginner who wants to use Hand saws this seems to be a good starting point. After you go through this list and do a lot of your sawing by hand you may want to expand to a Carcass Saw or a Half Back. Perhaps even a rip saw, but that’s for the true traditionalist. It’s still hard to beat a good table saw for ripping a whole lot of wood. Hey, you’ve got to embrace the technology sometimes.
23 February 2008
I find it almost always interesting to learn the individual tool choices of others. Can you comment on your particular choice of a brand/model of panel saw you use, and why?
tom fidgen said...
Thanks again for the question. First off, I have two very old Disstons, one is filed cross-cut with aprox. 8 tpi ( teeth per inch ) and the other is a Rip with a 5 1/2 tpi. Both were in my family and I've been lucky enough to get them and use them. A well made hand saw will indeed last for generations. My most commonly used Panel saw is one I purchased; it's a Pax Panel Saw made in England. The blade is 22' long and it's filed cross cut with 10 tpi. You can mail order these through Lee Valley Tools. When it came in the mail the first thing I noticed was the size of the handle. It was huge...so I replaced it with a cherry handle I carved myself. A nice touch having one custom fit for my own hand. I've noticed the Wenzloff & Sons saws are getting some great reviews and as soon as I can, I'll be ordering one. I'll let you know what I think.
February 25, 2008 9:41 AM
Custom Made Cherry Handle next to Original Pax