Friday, August 15, 2008

The good, the bad and the...

New Hand Saws

I ordered a couple of new hand saws a few weeks ago from Tools for Working Wood, a great company with a nice web site. I've ordered a few items in the past and have never had an issue, professional across the board. Since relocating here in Toronto, I've been using only hand tools for my work. Great. No worries, until I needed to cut a curve in the base of a small set of night stands I was working on. Oh-how I longed for my band saw, back in my old shop on the coast. It would certainly make quick work of this small project...So what did I do? I ordered the Gramercy Tools 12" Bow Saw; a sweet little saw, made in the USA. "Ah, just the thought of it brings a tear to my glass eye..."
So while I'm at it I decided I also needed another Rip saw. Seeing as my two old antiques are just that, old antiques, I felt it to be a just purchase. ( I'm actually on the waiting list at Wenzloff & Sons for a custom Cross-Cut and Rip saw; I think they'll be ready sometime in the year 2053 but that's a whole other story. )
So in my despair to get a new rip saw I ordered the 28" Pax saw from TFWW. So two saws arrived and I tear into them. If you read my earlier blog on making new tool handles you'll know that I don't particularly care for the Pax saw handles. I find them large for my hand and to be frank, rather unattractive. So I take out the Rip saw and put it aside to get into the Bow saw. A nice little box within it a well made hand tool, nicely wrapped up in green tissue it was like someone had given me a Christmas present. All it needed was a cute little bow on top. So here I am admiring my new saws and decide the first thing in order, to make a new handle for the Pax...and what better tool to use to cut out the shape? Yup, the bow saw.

Cutting out the Shape

So to make a new handle I selected my wood, walnut in this case, and traced the handle from my old Disston. I did a quick read through the instruction booklet that came with the bow saw and after tightening the tension on the blade (which was loosened for shipping) I went at it. What happened next in my mind was really incredible; this fine little saw cut so fast, clean and effortless I wondered why it took me so long to ever get one. Beautifully balanced, no chatter or binding, just gentle strokes through the 4/4 walnut. The entire saw handle took no more than 10 minutes at most. So now here I am, a familiar place where I know the process. I took out my brace and 1" auger bit to complete the curves of the handle. No problems so far. Some filing and shaping, a little sanding and carving, voila! Done except to cut the kerf and drill the screw again, I turn my attention to the Pax. At this stage I think back when I was making a new handle for my Pax cross cut saw.I simple took the handle, not at all unlike this one, and unscrewed the Pax handle, removed it, lined up the two and with my awl, marked the screw holes...easy right?

Oh Pax...what have you done?

So just to recap and get things clear in my own mind, I'm standing there with my newly made walnut handle, I take hold of my screwdriver and gently start to back out the brass screws. At this point I notice the Medallion on the side of the Pax handle is sitting big deal I thought, must be something underneath...I'll clean it up when I remove the handle. So first screw, second screw; down through to five all of the screws come out. I squeeze the blade of the saw into my shoulder vise and make my first attempt to remove the handle. No luck..? I get a little more aggressive and try the whole wiggle-waggle-back-and forth approach...still nothing, not even a squeak. I place a wood block on the heel of the blade and gently at first try tapping to loosen the handle. O.k. at this point I'm starting to realise something is not right. Did they glue it on? No, couldn't be. That would be just plain ignorant. Some more prying, some hitting and then on to some down home whacking! Come on, this should come off...what if I just wanted to do a quick tune up, cleaning or sharpening? Saw handles are meant to be relatively easy to remove, no?
Then it happens, you know the blinding white light, ears start ringing, sweaty palms...I grab the biggest, meanest, ugliest chisel my tool box had to offer and split this thing open like a fresh brook trout in August. I didn't like it in the first place, but admittedly didn't want to destroy it either. So there I am, cracking and splintering the shiny new handle off of my nice new Pax rip saw...
(that's Pax right? I did mention it was a Pax right?)
So like Indiana Jones discovering artifacts under the sands I see the problem. It seems this saw, during manufacturing must have assembled the wooden handle onto the blade and then drilled through the whole lot with a dull bit. The metal burned and charred through creating a kind of sleeve that mated into the opposite side of the wood.!@$%^&*(!!!"":{
If you look closely at the pics you can see what I mean...bad, shotty workman ship....that's just the way it is. Now I have to get out some files and flatten out the dimples of burnt metal left behind to irritate me to no end. (At least this was how I felt at the time.)
All calm and clean now, me and the saw that is, ready to trace the screw holes onto my new handle, drill them out and install the screws. No worries, at least the metal is un-damaged and seems to be well sharpened and straight. I breeze through these steps and give the handle a quick coat of oil. I didn't spend too much time on the sanding this time due to the fact that I have work to do! Boards to rip and kids to perhaps a little rough I'll get to it sometime in the future when I don't have four orders to finish. So here I go, putting things together, first screw, second screw...then I get to the medallion; I had forgotten about the way it had been sitting on the original handle. hmmmm.....crooked as a cats...again, the light starts to come back....I'm having an incredible hulk moment and want to throw the whole thing into a dumpster somewhere. How could this happen? The shiny little medallion, like a signature, carefully placed into the finished saw to say
" made with pride by..." I just don't get it at all. What happened in the two years between saws? My cross cut I purchased from Lee Valley Tools seemed like a nicely made hand tool, other than the handle simply didn't suit my hand...two years later, this poorly made piece of...I digress. I put the handle on and went to work.
It cuts pretty good and my new handle is comfortable. I left the crooked medallion sitting proud of the side to remind me to call Mike Wenzloff again...You really do get what you pay for.
Hey Schwarz, I guess you're having an 'I told you so' moment right now...Cheers!


  1. That kind of shoddiness is really unforgivable. It should never happen, but I am guessing that given how your saw was made, that it is likely that many saws are having problems.

    Several smaller tool makers are now making some wonderful backsaws. Hopefully, over the next few years, some of them will step up and start to offer some really nice rip and crosscut saws in the larger sizes. I know I would like to get my hands on a couple.

    I have even thought about making one, but I really don't like working metal by hand and I don't have the power tools to do it any other way.

  2. Luke,
    Thanks for the comments; I couldn't agree with you more. I have the utmost admiration for people making their own saws. Metal work is metal work, if your not set up to do it, it can be challenging indeed. I wonder if the person making the Rip saw I purchased used a wood bit or a metal bit to drill the holes.?


  3. Tom, First off let me tell you how much I enjoy your blog! I've started down the same road your on as far as trying to use more hand tools and eliminating the noise and dust of machines so it's inspiring and helpful to see someone that is actually doing it. That being said. After fighting to get the handle off the new Rip,how did the saw perform? Were you happy with it? Like you I've thought of ordering one of their small panel saws but wonder if I should now.

  4. Stevie,
    Thanks for the comments. I should have included in my post that yes, I do like the saw now that I've put my new handle on it. I suppose most people could be quite satisfied with the original one that it came with; I'm just not one of those people...My Pax cross-cut saw is a daily user and again, besides the handle issue, I don't have a problem with this product.

  5. Great post! I have been admiring that bow saw for some time and it is great to hear it worked so well. Considering your penchant for making handles I am surprised you didn't go with Joel's make your kit. Probably that 4 projects and kids to feed issue again. You raised some questions in my mind about the Pax saws though. Have you communicated any of this back to Joel at TFWW? He has always been concerned about performance of his products and I am sure he would be interested to hear about this one.


  6. Thanks for the comments Shannon,
    I will indeed forward the blog along to him. Great idea! As for the bow saw...get one, you'll never regret it.