Matt Cianci’s initial forays into woodworking were as a luthier but his introduction to handsaws was born of necessity. “I had to furnish my house and I couldn’t afford to,” Matt says. “I made guitars, so I thought, ‘Hey! I can make furniture!’” So he learned to use a saw and other tools, and was off to the races.
His first forays into sawmaking and sharpening his saws came about the same way. “About 10 years ago, I saw a beautiful Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw and I couldn’t afford it,” he says. So Matt bought some aluminum bar stock for the back, cut the sawplate from a cheap home-center miter saw, shaped a handle and made his own dovetail saw.
He also began to acquire inexpensive vintage saws and taught himself how to tune them up and sharpen them – though he says he wasn’t terribly successful at first. “It was shameful what I did to some of them,” Matt says. “I want to slit my wrists when I think about that Disston No. 9 with a rare secondary etch.”
It was in 2008, though, he started to get serious about saws. “I was rebuilding my life after a failed relationship, and wondering what to do with my time. I kind of got into all the stuff that Chris [Schwarz] was writing about, and what Roy [Underhill] was talking about on TV.” Matt realized he missed working with his hand tools – in particular, his saws. “I woke up one day and just decided I was going to master saw sharpening. Every night for, like, a year I went down to my shop after work and just sharpened saws. I bought [vintage saws] en mass and just filed,” he says.
“It took a year or two to understand how to do it well, but after hundreds of hours of doing it over and over, I got pretty good,” Matt says.
Matt started a blog to document his work (The Saw Blog) and began to garner attention. Mark Harrell, owner of Bad Axe Tool Works, asked to see an example and was impressed. So Mark began sending him some business in vintage saw tuning and sharpening. “From there, things kind of took off,” Matt says. He worked with Mark for about a year, and started his own business, The Saw Wright, in 2010.
Based in Warwick, R.I., The Saw Wright offers sharpening and repair services (you can mail your saws to Matt from anywhere; he’ll sharpen – and tune them as needed – then send them back) and refurbished vintage saws (when he has them – they sell out quickly). He also teaches classes in saw sharpening, repair and sawmaking at several New England woodworking schools. (Information on all of this is available on his web site).
About 18 months ago, Matt decided to take the plunge into full-time self-employment, so he quit his job as a social worker and began making and selling saws; his goal was to make a sell replicas of every saw in “Smith’s Key” (the usual moniker for the 1816 “Joseph Smith’s ‘Key to Manufactories of Sheffield‘” – and do click that link; very cool stuff), as well as make contemporary saws, and grow his sharpening and repair business.
“I hated it,” he says. “My shop is in the basement; the walls were closing in.” Plus, he and his wife, Angie, had a newborn, which also meant a lot of at-home demands on his time, “I was busy all the time,” he says. “Sometimes I didn’t leave the house for days, and had no human interaction outside my family.”
After three months, Matt had had enough. “I went back to work last summer, so now I’m enjoying saws again.”
Matt is still making replica period saws, but only what he wants, when he wants. Instead, he’s focusing his energy on his (now part-time) sharpening and repair business, and teaching classes.
“There’s something about sharpening that is like therapy for me,” he says. “It’s Zen-like to create order from the chaos of a badly set saw.”
While Matt Cianci isn’t making (many) saws to sell, he’s still eager to teach other people how to make them. And he was in our studio a few months ago (which is when I shot the image at the top) to film a video on the same: “Build a Custom Backsaw with Matt Cianci.”
On this almost two-hour DVD, Matt shows you step by step how to make a saw that’s customized to your sawing need and – perhaps more important – to fit your hand. He shows you how to form and shape a custom tote, fit and fasten the sawplate and back to your handle, set and sharpen the teeth and more. Matt suggests you start off your sawmaking career with an easily available kit of parts (and you’ll find a link for a kit on the disk), but you can also source your own parts and truly customize your build on all fronts. Order your copy of “Build a Custom Backsaw” now and get started!
We also filmed a video with Matt on sharpening; look for it late this year or early in 2014.