Chris Schwarz's Blog

A Nest of Saws

When it comes to saws, aspiring sawyers have two basic questions: What saws should I own to build furniture? And where can I get them?

During the last couple years I’ve been teaching a few classes on sawing, with more classes on the horizon. So I’ve been asked these two questions a lot. Below is my basic set, which is based on the furniture I build (casework, chairs, tables, general stuff), my personal preferences (I like longer, coarser saws) and established historical practice.

In other words, if you have a problem with my list, make you own list and post it below in the comments. Perspectives from other sawyers are useful and interesting.

1. Crosscut handsaw: I like an 8-point crosscut handsaw for breaking down rough stock and general dimensioning of material. It cuts quickly (yea!), and the resulting surface is easy enough to clean up on a shooting board. Some woodworkers like 12-point saws, but I think they are slow and the resulting surface isn’t significantly cleaner. My personal saw is a 24″-long panel saw (most handsaws are 26″ long). It’s a private-label saw made by Disston & Sons for an old Boston hardware store.

2. Ripsaw: I don’t rip a lot by hand, but when I do, I want to be done with it. So I like a coarse ripsaw. The one shown in the photo is a 6-point Disston D-8. I also have a Wenzloff & Sons 5-point saw. Both are good workers. Some day I’ll be man enough to use something even coarser.

3. Tenon saw: I have a few tenon saws. I prefer a saw that is about 10 points, though saws that are as fine as 13 points are OK by me (as long as the rake isn’t significantly relaxed). Tenon saws start at 12″ long, though I recommend the longer ones. Shoot for 14″ at least; they make them as long as 19″, which are surprisingly easy to wield. All tenon saws should be filed with rip teeth. They are designed to rip tenon cheeks.

4. Carcase saw: This is the backsaw I use more than any other. I like something that is 12 points to 14 points, filed crosscut, and about 14″ long. The long sawplate helps improve my accuracy. The carcase saw shown in the photo is a sweet Wheeler, Madden & Clemson XLCR saw.

5. Dovetail saw: This is perhaps the most personal saw, so ignore my recommendation completely. If you like a 23-tooth Japanese crosscut dozuki, stick with it. Or a hacksaw. It doesn’t matter. I like a 15-point Western saw with rip teeth. Shown is my Lie-Nielsen progressive-pitch saw, which has 15 points at the toe and about 9 at the heel. This is a love-it-or-leave-it saw for most people, so I recommend you try before you buy.

The names of saws are confusing. The types of saws overlap with one another in size and tooth configuration. I’d ignore the names in the catalogs and just buy them based on their specifications. It’s much less confusing that way. Also, I use a lot of other specialty saws, including a flooring saw, jeweler’s saw and a flush-cut saw. But those aren’t necessary for all furniture-making.

Where to Buy Saws
There are lots of places to buy new, sharp backsaws, but buying a sharp handsaw or ripsaw is more of a challenge. However, there are three gentlemen I have bought handsaws and ripsaws from that I can recommend. Sometimes they also have backsaws in stock, though vintage backsaws are a lot more rare than handsaws.

Daryl Weir (weir@gallatinriver.net): 781 S. Market St., Knoxville IL 61448. Daryl sharpens saws and sells saws on eBay on occasion.

Steve Cook (SharpeningGuy01@aol.com): 1160 Taxville Road, York, PA 17408. Steve also sharpens saws if you have an old saw that you need toughed up (or completely refiled).

Tom Law: 62 West Water St., Smithsburg MD, 21783, 301-824-5223. Tom no longer sharpens saws for hire, but he will sell you a saw that he has rehabbed and sharpened.

If you know of other reliable sources for buying sharp handsaws, add a comment below.

– Christopher Schwarz

12 thoughts on “A Nest of Saws

  1. AAAndrew

    I’ve got a few 24-inchers that I turn to time and time again.

    There’s the two Disston D-8 crosscuts, 7 and 10 tpi. Both have nice blades, but the 7 has a newer handle (40’s?) and while it cuts faster, if I have a lot to do, it’s just not as comfortable.

    Then there are my favorites, both by Simmonds. The quality of the steel is excellent and the very subtle taper on these makes them a joy to use, even the 6-tpi rip saw. They both have the quality handles of yore that allow you to saw a lot without as much fatigue or blisters.

    And I won’t bother adding to the already high praise that you’ve given Adria, but suffice to say I love my small tenon saw from them.

    I have an all-hand-tool shop. Not out of some "purist" ideology, but more from necessity. The only place I have for my shop is a spare bedroom and large, screaming power tools are definitely not welcome in the house. This has taught me to optimize my lumber purchases to minimize the number of cuts, especially ripping. I also have them do as much as possible at the great lumber yard I go to. But this does mean that I don’t do as much yellow pine 2×12’s as I should. 🙂 But when I do have to saw a great deal, like what I’m doing now as I size my boards for my Ruobo bench, I’m glad I have this trusty group of friends like my Disstons and Simmonds saws.

    AAAndrew

  2. Joel Jackson

    I have a quesation to add to the discussion, too. What werw (are) the advantages of a 36" (or even slightly shoirter) miter saW? I see disstons that long and a little less all of the time. They must a)have made a lot of them or b) have so worthless that they were not used.
    I know a good Galoot never has too many (fill in the blank)…saws; so, I’m just curious.
    Joel Jackson

  3. Bill

    David in Raleigh wrote:

    >The handle, for example, has no sharp arrises anywhere – it
    >is a smooth oval shape, and is raked back so that the lower
    >horn will not quite touch the wood’s surface if the saw is
    >stood on it’s edge.

    This may be sacrilege, but after some wrangling with my conscience I recently took a rasp (Nicholson 50) to one of my backsaw handles. It wasn’t the sort of thing that a collector would give a second glance to, so I decided that I’d rather have the handle comfortable, instead of’original’. I worked on the areas that my hand touches, and left therest pretty much alone. It also had a chipped horn, which I filled in with wood putty and reshaped.

    To some extent, I look at this sort of thing as accelerated aging. IfI’d left things alone and just used the saw for twenty years, it would
    have slowly worn to fit my hand anyway.

    Bill.

  4. Jay

    Plywood I also cut happily with a panel saw. (I was playing purist’s advocate ya see – ho ho ho). My good handsaws have been told not to talk to chip or fibre board.

    I Have to say, I really like my handsaws and tend to get all enthusiastic about them, perhaps more than any other tool. They’re all old and of all the tools I’ve bought (some of which have been junk) I’ve been most careful choosing the saws, being prepared to spend a little extra for something a bit nice rather than being an out and out cheapskate – it’s definitely a more fruitful tactic.

    I took a photo, I’m a hapless saw nerd, right? (http://www.jaypettitt.co.uk/images/handsaws.jpg)

    The little dovetail saw is a steel backed Buck & Hickman – Whitechapel, London. It’s much smaller and lighter than most and a real pleasure. I’ve assorted small backed tenon saws filed to cross cut that were prospective dovetailers before I found the B ‘n’ H. My tenon (carcase?) saw is by old Sheffield maker Tyzack – it’s a stunner; the original owner not only stamped it with his name, but also with a date – 1907. 10 tpi Panal saw (which I tend not to use so much, prefering the tenon/carcase) but which I might try and look at a bit more enthusiastically) is by Spear & Jackson and features silver steel and other niceties ~ 1920s ish I’d guess (it’s a mermaid branded saw – a line introduced in 1915 or there abouts). I’ve a big 6tpi crosscut saw, again by Tyzack and again it’s another stunner. My Rip Saw is by Groves & Sons, looks every bit it’s age and tears through wood as though possessed by a row of chomping demons.

    I’m looking forward to making a couple of bow-saws next – one filed for ripping tenon shoulders and the like, another for turning.

  5. David

    You asked for a list –

    20" Disston D12 10 tpi Crosscut circa 1890s
    26" Atkin & Sons 8 tpi Crosscut circa 1910
    10" Drabble and Sanderson ~15 tpi brass back-saw circa 1880
    26" Disston D12 6 tpi rip saw circa 1915
    11" Lie-Nielsen 14 tpi crosscut brass back carcass saw
    12" Lie-Nielsen 10 tpi rip brass-back tenon saw
    12" Lie-Nielsen 13 tpi crosscut brass-back tenon saw
    6-3/4" Shark corp Takumi Kugihiki flush-cut saw

    Probably the part that might interest other woodworkers is the Drabble and Sanderson brass back-saw. Though I have a Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw and a Pete Tarran Independence Tool dovetail saw on which the LN line is based, neither can match the performance of the Drabble and Sanderson saw. I cannot explain why, precisely, because the saw is filed "wrong" for a dovetail saw – somewhere in between a rip tooth and a cross cut tooth profile. It is also very heavy for a small saw, as the back is a traditional style folded brass that is nearly 3/8" thick. It would seem that back-saw making reached its zenith with these small independent Sheffield firms before Disston put them out of business in the late 19th century, as the attention to detail in the saw is phenomenal. The handle, for example, has no sharp arrises anywhere – it is a smooth oval shape, and is raked back so that the lower horn will not quite touch the wood’s surface if the saw is stood on it’s edge. It’s still possible to find these sorts of saws for about $100, but in my opinion it’s best to go through a dealer like TheBestThings that will accurately describe whether the handle is tight, the blade is sharp and the blade is straight. Otherwise, you may have to spend another $50-$75 to get a saw expert to straighten the blade and set and file the teeth.

    Finally, the Kugihiki I have is one that escaped your review in the Woodworking Magazine issue that tested flush-cut saws, perhaps because it is a new line of high-end japanese saws from Shark (www.sharkcorp.com) branded "Takumi". This particular saw flush-cuts dowels and splines better than I could ever hope for; the blade is wide so it’s easy to hold tightly to the surface, but thin enough to flex readily. The cut, however, might be a bit fine for your tastes at 24 tpi.

    David in Raleigh, NC

  6. Joel Jackson

    I have had a great experience with Jim Bode (Jimbodetools.com) on sharpening saws. He took a decent Atkins 10" dovetail saw and resharpened it into my ideal saw for dovetails. It now has a small nicker at the tip to start the cut, and 15 TPI rip the rest if the way. He also sells antique tools, so old saws show up on his website, or eBay frequently (user name of 2Lshark)

  7. Old Baleine

    Chris,
    The only quibble I would make with your list is that it is too short for those of us who are toolfools.
    I have a couple of old D-12 panel saws that are just a joy to look at, hold, and use. I often rip thin stock with one of Good King Wenzloff’s 20inch Seaton saws; it cuts through short lengths of half-inch hardwood like a laser, and is far preferable to throwing the switch on the t-saw and filling the shop air with fine particles just to make a 12 inch rip. It would be hard to omit from any list the old, steel-backed Disston dovetail saw I refurbished years ago, even though my favorite (judging by how often I go to it) is my IT saw from over a decade ago. I’m just getting to know the Gramercy saw, and I really like it. Lately I find myself just looking for something to cut with Wenz carcase saw, it just feels so right. That little flush-cutting Kugihiki you recommended a few issues back is a huge improvement over what I had been using.

    I would say that a basic set is important, but once you get to know them, each saw has a character that is suited to different *situations* as well as *applications*. Another way of writing this list might be to ask what saws you would get rid of first? For me, that probably would be a few of the "newer" (post WWII) Disston x-cuts, but my old Milwaukee circular saw would not be far behind, and I would give up (practically have, anyway) the table saw before I parted with the key handsaws. I like to get up early and do a little work, and the Sweet Woman has never objected to my sawing (or woodworking) because I so seldom turn on a switch.

  8. Christopher Schwarz

    Lyle and Jay,

    Sheet goods (such as plywood and mdf) can definitely be cut with a handsaw. I generally use a crosscut saw. The only downside is that the glue tends to wear the teeth faster than normal.

    I cut a *ton* of CDX plywood with a Craftsman handsaw growing up on our farm.

    Chris

  9. Lyle

    Okay, here is a question that might make the "purist" flinch; but; can you rip sheet goods with handsaw? If yes, what handsaw will you use?

    Thanks

    Lyle

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