Understand & Use a Bowsaw


These traditional tools are woefully misunderstood by modern craftsmen. Here’s a primer.
By Michael Dunbar
Pages: 34-37

From the October 2010 issue # 185
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In the 1970s when I was the young, innocent and naive chairmaker at Strawbery Banke, a museum in Portsmouth, N.H., 50,000 tourists passed through my shop each summer. It never failed that when I was cutting out a chair seat with a bowsaw some wag would quip loudly, “You need a band saw!”

While these comics guffawed at their own cleverness I was puzzled by the comment’s inanity. I knew I was doing just fi ne and didn’t need a band saw. I did my work quickly and effi ciently with two different sized bowsaws – large and small. The saws did all the work I required. I cut out two chair seats a week and four scrolled hands. If the chair had a crest, I cut that too.

The saws had cost very little, relative to a band saw. When I was done, I hung them on the wall, where they took up no floor space in my cramped shop. I was perfectly happy working this way.

After I had grown up and started demonstrating at woodworking shows, I continued to get the same comment from woodworkers who, carried away with their own wittiness, could not stop themselves from blurting, “You need a band saw!” It was then that I realized everyone thought I should have a band saw because they didn’t know about bowsaws. It was their loss. They missed out on the enjoyment of using a very efficient tool that has been around since the Bronze Age and was used in Europe and America to produce the great 18th-century furniture masterpieces we go to museums to admire.

Video: See a video of Mike Dunbar using a large and a small bowsaw.
Article: Read Frank Klausz’s article on the bowsaws in his shop.
Web site: Visit the web site of The Windsor Institute.
To buy: Purchase bowsaws and accessories from WoodJoy Tools.
In our store: “Handtool Essentials” teaches you critical hand skills.


From the October 2010 issue # 185
Buy this issue now