Bowsaw Basics


An ancient European tool that still has a place in the modern American shop.
By Frank Klausz
Pages: 42-44

From the November 2008 issue #172
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Why should you own a bowsaw? Why not? You have many other tools that you use only when you need them. Seriously, if you make 18th-century-style furniture, or you make furniture with hand tools, you should own a couple of bowsaws.

In my shop, which has all the machines you can imagine, I use bowsaws. If I cut dovetails in material thicker than 1/2″, I reach for my bowsaw. I keep my material behind my shop in a pole barn. If I have to crosscut a board for one piece, the fastest way is with a bowsaw.

I put the board on a couple horses, cut it, put the leftover back on the rack and take the piece in the shop. There’s no extension cord or machine to put away.

In my native Hungary, I grew up without electricity. Therefore in the shop, the bowsaw was the main tool used for crosscutting, ripping, dovetailing, for mortise-and-tenon joinery and more.

My father came for a visit to the United States in 1974, and he spent some time working with me in my shop. He started looking for the frame saws. I told him, “Sorry Dad, this is America; we cut wood with machines.”

A year later he came for another visit and brought a dozen different bowsaw blades: Five teeth per inch (tpi) for ripping, 4 tpi for rough crosscutting, 12 tpi for joinery and a dovetail cutout saw – which is a blade with a 90° twist in it. He made frames, handles, stretchers and toggles and used upholstery twine (look for “Ruby Italian” twine from an upholstery supplier) for tensioning the blades with toggles. He kept a saw close at hand, sometimes hanging it on a peg next to the bench. We did furniture restorations, and he used the saws very often.

He said to me: “By the time you walk to the band saw, before you start it, I am done with the cut, very comfortably without going to the middle of the shop. For a corner block or a 3/8″ dowel rod, you don’t start a machine.The corner block you cut with a bowsaw; the 3/8″ dowel rod you cut with your small dovetail saw.”

This year I am the same age as my father was in 1975, and I truly agree with him.


From the November 2008 issue #172
Buy this issue now