By Andrew Lunn
You don’t have to be a saw maker to think about saws like one. Some of the most important decisions made when making a saw get surprisingly little attention from those who buy them.
Take hang angle, for example – that’s the angle formed between a saw’s grip and its toothline. I don’t think hang angle is discussed as much as it should be or in sufficient depth. Some explanations of it just plain miss the mark. Far more attention is given to how hang angle has evolved historically.
That’s interesting, but what about hang angle as it pertains to you right now making things in your shop? How much do you really know about it? Do you understand it well enough that you could determine a saw’s hang angle if you were told to calculate it from scratch?
The truth is, it takes little to make a saw that is functional. The earliest saws were little more than rocks with serrated edges. The real artistry in saws is in their refinement. The ultimate test of any saw is not whether or not it functions, but how well it functions.
You can (and should) evaluate that simply by using a saw. But the better you understand saws, the better you will understand what you are experiencing when you use them. You’ll know why they feel the way they do. Let’s examine hang angle from the saw maker’s perspective.
Understanding Hang Angle
Simply put, hang angle is the deepest piece of architectural geometry a saw possesses. When you push a saw, the force travels in the direction the grip is facing. That angle has a profound effect on how well a saw cuts. If the grip is angled downward too steeply, the teeth at the toe do not have enough energy behind them, and teeth farther back are pushed down into the wood instead of forward through it. The teeth at the rear will stick or perhaps even jam in the work if the angle is severe enough.
If, on the other hand, the grip is at too shallow an angle, the energy you apply will not be balanced behind the saw’s cutting action. Getting the energy directly behind the saw’s teeth is not the same as putting it behind the saw’s cutting action. More on that momentarily. The net effect of a saw with too shallow a hang angle is a saw that feels strangely disconnected from the sawyer and that lacks power.
In either case, the saw does not cut its best by simply pushing the handle forward. The sawyer will instinctively apply different types of body English to correct for the poor geometry.
For example, when the grip is angled too shallowly, you’ll find you rock your wrist forward with each stroke to create a more aggressive cutting action at the toe. When the grip is pointed downward too steeply, you will find you subtly keep track of the pressure you apply at different points along each stroke in order to keep the saw from jamming.
Even if you don’t consciously realize it, your skill and attention are being diverted from the work itself in order to overcome the saw’s shortcomings.
You could posit a general rule from this: lack of thought when making a tool results in distraction when using a tool.
To remedy either hang angle problem, the solution is the same. The force applied to the saw must be balanced behind the cutting action of the teeth. What exactly does that mean, though?
Article: Read “Understanding Western Backsaws,” by Christopher Schwarz.
Blog: Christopher Schwarz teaches you “How to Saw.”
In Our Store: “Handsaw Essentials,” by Christopher Schwarz, a collection of 15 years of his articles and blogs on the subject – Available November 2013.
To Buy: “Super-tune a Handsaw,” a DVD by Matt Cianci – Coming in January 2014.
From the October 2013 issue, #206
Buy the issue now.