Veritas Rethinks the Dovetail Saw

The handle of the Veritas dovetail saw attaches to the spine using a single long stud with a nut on the end. It should be robust.

The handle of the Veritas dovetail saw attaches to the spine using a single long stud with a nut on the end. It should be robust.

If you’ve ever bought an old saw or have used a new saw for more than a couple years, then you know the primary weakness of the traditional design: The handle comes loose.

No matter how snug you tighten the nuts that secure the handle to the blade, the nuts and screws work loose. And while it’s not that big a deal to retighten the screws, over the long term the screws wear until the nuts have to be replaced.

A second weakness of old saws is that the blade tends to come loose from the folded metal spine of the saw. Then the blade drops down, the sawplate loses some rigidity and the tool becomes difficult to impossible to use.

Veritas has just unveiled a dovetail saw that incorporates many of the great advantages of traditional saws, such of the curved shape of the handle, and has done away with many of the long-term maintenance issues. I think they have created the Honda of dovetail saws.

The resulting package has shocked traditionalists – there’s a lengthy conversation over on WoodNet this week titled: “Veritas – Ugliest saw ever?” I, however, see the saw as a clear extension of the company’s brand of handplanes. The look is modern, Veritas designers like to combine black and bubinga, and function is paramount. Because function begins at the teeth, let’s take a look there first.

Easy Starting Teeth
When you choose the shape of your tooth for your saw, you have many trade-offs. One of the most important trade-offs is the angle that the tooth leans forward or back – it’s called the rake. If the tooth is filed at 90° (zero rake, or straight up and down), the saw will be aggressive but more difficult to start. If you lean the tooth back (called “relaxing the rake”) the saw will be less aggressive but easier to start.

The handle of the Veritas dovetail saw attaches to the spine using a single long stud with a nut on the end. It should be robust.

The handle of the Veritas dovetail saw attaches to the spine using a single long stud with a nut on the end. It should be robust.

Many dovetail saws are filed at 90° – a traditional rip-tooth rake. Veritas decided to relax the rake of this 14 tpi by 14°, which indeed makes the saw easy to start but a little slower in the cut. How significant is it? I compared the Veritas to a few saws I have in our shop: The 18 ppi Gramercy, the progressive-pitch Lie-Nielsen and the 15 ppi Wenzloff & Sons.

The Veritas cut through a ¾” poplar board to a depth of ¾” in seven or eight strokes. The Wenzloff, which also has a relaxed rake, was about the same. The Gramercy (which is tuned for ½” material in my opinion) clocked in at 10 strokes. And the Lie-Nielsen came in at 4.5 strokes.

But is the Veritas significantly easier to start? We’ll see. It starts easy now, but I’ll be interested to see how it goes after the initial burrs left over from manufacturing wear away. In my experience, it should become even easier to start.

Traditional Handle
When the saw first came into the office, I asked Senior Editor Glen D. Huey to close his eyes. Then I put the saw in his hands. He smiled. The point here is that the saw handle has a traditional shape. In fact, Lee Valley President Robin Lee told me that they based the handle shape on an old no-name backsaw from the company’s extensive collection. And that their choice was made by blind testing.

The Veritas saw handle is attached to the spine the same way that plane totes are attached to plane bodies – one single and robust bolt that runs through the entire handle with a nut on the end. I’ll be very interested to see how this design holds up on a saw – it works quite well on a plane.

The company encourages you to shape the handle to your liking, however I suspect most woodworkers won’t take the bait. So how does the stock Veritas handle compare to those on other saws?

I think it’s most like the Lie-Nielsen handle. These two handles are almost the exact same thickness. And the widest point of their totes (which is that bump that nests in your palm) is almost the same. And the amount of open space between the totes’ horns is fairly close – though the Veritas is just a wee bit more open.

In contrast, the Gramercy handle is narrower and has a lot more open space for large hands. And the Wenzloff saw is thinner, narrower and tighter between the horns. 

Also worth noting: The spine of the Veritas is also high-tech: it’s made using stainless steel powder, glass fiber and polymer resin.

And a Note on Weight
While I don’t get too worked up about weight in a saw – a wide range of weights can work – the Veritas is the heaviest of the bunch at 12 ounces. The Gramercy is a bantam-weight at 6.3 ounces. The Wenzloff comes in at 10.2. And the Lie-Nielsen is 11 ounces.

About the Looks (and Price)
Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick just walked up to my desk, took one look at the Veritas and said: “What is that? It looks freaky!”

To be sure, the Veritas is unusual compared to traditional saws. But I won’t call it ugly. I reserve that word for the plywood- and plastic-handled pieces of junk masquerading as saws that clog our stores. Those saws are uncomfortable, and many of them cut poorly.

I applaud Veritas for the courage to change the bones of a traditional backsaw. Company officials said knew they would be pilloried for the decision, but they went ahead because this saw has the potential to be a good long-distance runner.

And I applaud the price. At $65, this is the best entry-level Western saw by a mile. And it will be competing with Japanese saws as much as premium Western saws. Woodworkers who thought they could afford only an entry-level Dozuki will have a Western choice in that price range.

And now that I think about it, those Japanese saws look pretty freaky to my eye. PW

Christopher Schwarz is the editor of Popular Woodworking and Woodworking Magazine.

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Christopher Schwarz

About Christopher Schwarz

Chris is a contributing editor to Popular Woodworking Magazine and the publisher at Lost Art Press. He's a hand-tool enthusiast (though he uses power tools, too).

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