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

Mr. Fidgen:

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?


Phil Lang

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 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

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cherry and Maple Side Table

Reflecting the Shaker influence but displaying an original modern interpretation, this side table will complement any decor. Made from solid Cherry and Birds Eye Maple it features hand cut joinery that will last for generations. I chose a hand rubbed oil and varnish mixture for the finish, it brings out the wood grain without adding too much gloss. I use a safe, non-toxic finish from a small company out of New York. Tried & True Traditional Oil and Varnish finish is a combination of highly refined polymerized linseed oil and natural-resin varnish (modified pine sap). Its high resin content produces a durable water-resistant finish that buffs to a warm semi-gloss sheen. It strictly adheres to the standards established by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and qualifies as non-toxic and safe for food-contact surfaces in both their uncured and cured (wet and dry) states.
The hardware I chose for the piece are delicate cast iron pulls that have a nice traditional look. The table top really jumps out with it's wide panels and blond ribbon across the center. This piece I believe is one that would work well in a formal setting as well as perhaps as an entry table. The five drawers make for ample storage in a small foot print.Anyone interested please feel free to contact me for any additional questions.
The dimensions are : Depth: 22" Width: 39" Height: 30"
The unit is priced at $2550.00 CAN


“Stunning piece! Love the modern interpretation of a familiar form and the scale of the whole piece. Gotta love those hand cut half blind dovetails. Going to add this to my favorites. “

“Tom a great design and interpretation on your part. A stunning piece of furniture.”

“Unbelievable! Your craftsmanship and attention to detail are outstanding.”

Monday, February 18, 2008

Making a Pull-Out Shelf Tray

Classic Joinery Highlights this Modern Kitchen Aid

This Arts and Crafts Style kitchen I'm building has a lot of great design features. One small detail is in the interior of the door cabinets. Instead of having a shelf which you have to bend down and reach into to access the interior, this design acts like a drawer and pulls out as well as adding to the over-all appeal of the cabinets. I shaped the shelf fronts so you can easily grab hold eliminating the need for any kind of after market drawer pulls. The box is built in the traditional style using through dovetails on the front and rear. It's made out of solid Cherry and will be finished with a hand rubbed oil suitable for kitchen use. I go through the dovetailing process in an earlier blog, so once I have the basic box complete, I shape the front.

Cutting the Sweep

A gentle curve compliments the lines of the cabinets and I simply draw in the desired shape with a pencil. If you have a few of these to do, make a template off of this first one for continuity among the others. To simplify the cutting out process I take a Forster style drill bit and on my Drill press I drill out the two bottom corners of the sweep.Once the two corners are cut out I clamp the face in my shoulder vise and using my Tenon Saw I cut down the two outside angles. I follow with a Fret saw and cut across the bottom, carefully following the pencil line. I leave about 1/8" of material that will be removed later.


Now that the main area has been rough cut out, I bring things a little closer using a Spokeshave. I use Canadian made VERITAS Spokeshaves, the three models they manufacture are flat, round and concave; each being designed for smooth, effective, chatterfree shaping of panel edges, paddles, tool handles, and all freehand work. The flat and round bottom spokeshaves are the general workhorses in my workshop. These are the tools you will pick up for practically every kind of woodworking activity. The round shave has a 1-3/4" radius. After shaping the drawer front with the spokeshave I fine tune the inside curves with a cabinet scraper. These are great tools for a wood shop, simple yet effective for smoothing difficult grain patterns, rounding over sharp edges or any other shaping you may do.

Assemble and Finish

Once the front is shaped I assemble the Shelf Trays using the method I described in the Dovetailing a Drawer Blog. Once the boxes are glued up I install the 1/4" Cherry bottoms. These are strong trays designed for generations of use as well as adding a nice touch to this kitchen; when you open up the lower doors, instead of seeing a couple of crowded shelves, you're able to pull-out a custom build tray enabling full access to the bottom and back spaces within.