Bowsaw Basics

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.

A sum of all parts. A bowsaw is made with simple parts and basic joinery, but when assembled, you have a workhorse of a saw.

A sum of all parts. A bowsaw is made with simple parts and basic joinery, but when assembled, you have a workhorse of a saw.

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.

Japanese Teeth; European Frame

<b>A great saw for detail work.</b> A 12" bowsaw set up with a fine blade increases your control and produces a finer cut, such as when you are cutting dovetails.

A great saw for detail work. A 12" bowsaw set up with a fine blade increases your control and produces a finer cut, such as when you are cutting dovetails.

Recently, I got a classic frame saw from Highland Woodworking. They put a Japanese blade onto a classic European saw frame. This German-made classic frame saw’s ergonomically curved cheeks and handles are made from plantation-grown tropical hardwoods, and the stretcher is made from cedar, which makes it lightweight.

The frame is beautifully sanded and finished. Tension is applied through a stainless steel rod and thumbscrew, which works very well. However, I changed mine to the traditional twine and toggle. This looks and feels better and is very easy to tension and to relieve the tension before hanging it up. The saw is light and fits in your hand very comfortably.

The heart and soul of this saw is its impulse-hardened Japanese blade. The tooth profile allows fast, clean cutting in any direction with very little set to the teeth. The 12 tpi “Turbo- Cut” blade cuts faster than my 5 tpi blade. I cut a 10″-wide, 1″-thick mahogany board very easily and with a comfortable pace in less than 10 seconds with 10 to 11 strokes. This frame saw, called the “Classic 700” is 39″ long ($160). They also make a “Classic 400,” which is 26 1/2″ long ($125). I recommend the 700 for ripping and crosscutting and for large tenoning, and the 400 for all other joinery.

A Smaller Bowsaw
I also got a 12″ bowsaw from Gramercy Tools ($140). It is beautifully made and has a small frame. Three different blades are included with the saw. There is an all-purpose 18 tpi blade. For rough work or thick material, change to the 10 tpi blade. The 24 tpi blade will be the most useful on thin stock and fine, slow cuts.

To change a blade, loosen the tension on the saw by unwinding the toggle, then simply unhook the blade and hook on another. Position the blade so that it will cut on the push stroke. Because the blades have cross pins they are easy to change and great for swinging in and out of pierced work. After changing blades, re-tension the saw by twisting the toggle.

I use the 12″ bowsaw instead of a coping saw. It cuts much faster. I use it to cut out my pins and tails close to the marking-gauge line when I am dovetailing and I clean up with a chisel.

Whatever saw you are getting, be patient and cut with a gentle push and long strokes. With a little practice, it becomes part of you and much easier to control than other saws. PW

Frank owns and operates a cabinet shop in Pluckemin, New Jersey. Find more about Frank and see photos of his work at frankklausz.com.

One thought on “Bowsaw Basics

  1. No_Chatter

    Watching Frank cuts his dovetails with two frame saws was very enlightening! Are the saws described here the same ones used in his video from your online shop classes? I would like to get a set, and/or build my own. Much appreciate the fine info you all provide. Thanks

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