Chris Schwarz's Blog

Andrew Lunn's Super-tuned Dovetail Saws

There are so many fine Western sawmakers today that it’s hard to believe that there were virtually none in 1996 , the year Independence Tool was founded.

New sawmakers are cropping up so quickly that it’s tough for me to keep track (and heck, it’s my job). I do try to stay on top of the market as best I can, and during the last couple years I’ve gotten to use saws from almost every maker , thanks to the handsawing classes I’ve taught in Michigan, Kentucky and Oregon.

I’m telling you all this because I’ve been working with a dovetail saw these last two weeks that has blown me away. It is, compared to its peers, the first among equals.

The dovetail saw from Andrew Lunn’s Eccentric Toolworks is a super-tuned jewel of a saw. It starts easier than any Western saw I’ve used , much like a Japanese saw. It flies through Ã?½” and Ã?¾” stock with ease. It is extraordinarily balanced. It leaves a whisper of a kerf behind.

And on top of all that, the saw has handmade touches (such as carving on the tote and engraving on the brass back) that make it as nice to look at as it is to use.

The price of all this amazingness? As of Jan. 5, 2009, it’s $350.

So who the heck is Andrew Lunn? And where did he come from?

Denizens of the discussion groups, such as WoodNet, have seen Lunn’s work. And if you were at the Woodworking in America conference, you might have seen some of Lunn’s saws in Mike Wenzloff’s booth (Wenzloff graciously agreed to host a couple toolmakers in his booth).

But Lunn is not a professional toolmaker. He’s a 37-year-old 911 paramedic who lives in Worthington, Ohio, and makes saws in his spare time. He describes himself as “obsessed” with saws, and that’s not an overstatement.

His dovetail saws are different than other premium saws in several significant ways. The blade is thinner than any other Western saw I’ve used at .015″ thick. Other saws use steel that is .018″ or .020″ thick. One criticism of this thin steel is that it will kink more easily if the saw is abused. Perhaps. But I think the saw’s blade feels very steady.

The teeth are minimally set , Lunn sets them with a special hammer that he forged himself. As a result, the saw removes very little wood and produces a razor-thin kerf that looks like a kerf from a Japanese saw. This is one of the other factors that makes the saw plunge through wood.

Also different: The saw’s rake. Most commercial saws have a consistent rake on every tooth. Relax the rake and the saw is easier to start but slow. Tighten it up and the saw becomes more aggressive but harder to start.

Lunn has relaxed the rake at the toe, which makes the saw easy to start. In the middle of the blade the rake is almost zero, which makes the saw aggressive once you start it. And he’s relaxed the rake at the heel as well, which prevents the saw from sticking there. It really works.

A criticism of this filing is that it is going to be a challenge for the user to replicate. Perhaps, but you can always get Lunn to resharpen it.

Another interesting difference is the folded brass back. The back is narrower at the toe than at the heel, which reduces weight at the toe. Also, the saw’s blade is “canted,” which means it’s narrower at the toe than at the heel. Both of these tweaks help give the saw its excellent balance.

And finally, the tote is thicker than those on other saws. When I first picked it up I thought the tote felt too thick (so did Senior Editor Glen D. Huey). But after working with the saw a bit, we changed our minds on that score. It’s a very comfortable handle.

The handmade touches only add to the whole package. The saw uses traditional split nuts, with a hand-engraved medallion. The tote itself feels very handmade with no sharp edges for your hand and has the subtle toolmarks of good hand work. The engraving is just cool.

All in all, I’m profoundly impressed and recommend this saw without reservation. Lunn loaned it to us to try, but it’s not going back. I am buying this one personally for my shop at home.

To contact Lunn about making a saw for you, visit his web site at Eccentric Toolworks.

To download a chart comparing the saws in our shop right now, click the file below.

Dovetail Saw.pdf (23.5 KB)

– Christopher Schwarz

11 thoughts on “Andrew Lunn's Super-tuned Dovetail Saws

  1. heytraveler

    Nice looking tool. When you review these things put lots of pixels in the pictures. I saw them to inspire me!

  2. Mark Bush

    Chris,

    I agree with your comments about the pricing and profit of the handmades. Few craftsmen have the luxury of working their passion to become profitable without destroying that passion over making a living.

    The comments by James are interesting. The reason so many low priced, apparently dumb feature tools make the market is inherant to mass production. The creativity and precision of designing the mass production machines to make fine tools is more daunting than the tool itself. Ergo, much of the fine, innovative tool design is lost to cost and feasability of making the production equipment.

    I am grateful for craftsman like Andrew who returned to handmaking fine tools. Actaully, if we all adopted the practice of our ancestors, we’d be making every tool in our shop not buying them.

    Thanks for finding and profiling Andrew Lunn for me. He’s practically located in my backyard. I hope to get one of his tenon saws soon.

    Mark

  3. Christopher Schwarz

    David,

    I have found that most custom toolmakers start with their prices on the low side — Wayne Anderson used to make planes for $100 an inch. And then the prices increase as the maker figures out his or her market and the best target price that keeps them busy, eating and happy.

    It’s the same thing that happens in the custom furniture business.

    I think Andrew’s entry into the marketplace is tremendously good news because he is experimenting with filings that will cascade through the community.

    Chris

  4. David

    Chris – In a way, this is actually bad news. It’s great for the end user, but tool making has never been a very profitable business for the artisan. Stanley and others made a fair business of mass-producing hand tools, but I’m not aware of any of the "little guys" that ever rose above lower middle class exclusively making tools, including those in the age of handwork, before steam-powered factories, and later, electricity.

    It doesn’t take a genius to know that Andrew is making very, very little on a $150 dovetail saw with this sort of detailing. If he does it purely for the love of doing it, God bless him. But in a market this shallow (high-end hand tools) it only takes a handful of people willing to do this in their spare time to bankrupt the small family businesses that do this for their living.

    And that would be sad. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

  5. James Watriss

    Well, some are bad, as in defective.

    Some are bad, just in terms of poor quality, like a set of drill bits (or "dyiu bits," to quote the package) that were hideously dull, to the point where the cutting part was bent or mangled, but were then dipped in the Ti stuff to turn them gold, and theoretically make them more resistant to the kind of damage they’d already suffered. God bless harbor freight.

    But there are a few I’ve seen that were bad, as in just dumb… like drill bits that were painted in 1/2" increments, to let the user know how deep he’d drilled, over-engineered/overthought/overworked honing guides, and various and sundry plastic jigs that were real head scratchers… as in "how did someone think this would be a good production item?

    Seems like some of the best and coolest hand made tools are crafted to fit a specific function… and it seems like some of the worst store-bought stuff comes from a similar idea pool… and they just fall short in every category, from performance on the job, to sales in the store.

    Very cool post though.

    Hope your holidays have been good, and that the new year is fun.

  6. Christopher Schwarz

    James,

    I have discussed the issue of bad tools in the past. But I’ll try to gin something up for a blog post this week. Most of the bad tools I’ve seen have had cords. Though not all.

    Chris

  7. James Watriss

    I agree with the others. You really have to see if you can get a spot in the "dirty jobs" series on TV.

    But I have to say, now that I’m out of the headlock put on me by the lady of the house, that I have a question/suggestion/musing…

    It’s pretty clear that you see a lot of tools come through. And yours is a singular wit.

    I’d love to read a post where you open up and roast all of the tools that you’ve sent back to their manufacturers. I don’t know if you’d actually be allowed to, what with the need to keep sponsors happy and whatnot. But I think it’d be a very amusing read.

  8. Marv

    Hi Chris,

    I’ve been watching Andrew’s work and his progression for quite a long time now. He just keeps getting better and better and better. It seems that his penchant for perfection and uniqueness equals his ability to make changes and improvements that are always right. Everytime I think he’s made a saw as good as it can get, he surprises me with a saw that is even better. It’s time for his name to show up on all the best saw makers lists among all the woodworking environments. He is not only a craftsman, but an artist.

    Well done, Andrew….a beautiful saw!

    Marv

    PS…whatever you do, Andrew, don’t lose the embellishments.

  9. Alan

    He does beautiful work, would love to try one of his saws out, they really look nice.

    I love that scroll work he does for the handles, very tasty.

  10. Luke Townsley

    Already ordered a tenon saw from Andrew. He has been great to work with.

    It is amazing that there is even a discussion about the finer points of western handsaws. Who would have thought 15 years ago that more than three people would even be interested?

  11. Rob Porcaro

    Gee Chris, this work must be a living hell for you, huh? Done without regard for your own safety and well-being. Wow.

    Seriously, though, what a great time to be doing hand tool woodworking!

    It seems there is a convergence of concepts with some Western and Japanese saws: the canted blades (in opposite directions of course), lighter weight, minimal set, and a tuned cutting feel. Even Lunn’s engravings are reminiscent of some Japanese makers.

    Also, with the variable rake on this saw and L-N’s progressive pitch, saw sharpening may become more likely to be done by a specialist than by the woodworker, at least for overhaul work. This would be much as is traditionally done in Japan by the metate man.

    Thanks for the tool updates.

    Rob

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