Chris Schwarz's Blog

At Long Last: New Panel Saws from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

About eight years ago, when I was still a clean-shaven, short-haired senior editor, I took a trip to see the huge woodworking show at Woodstock, Ontario. There I saw some amazing things:

1. Rob Cosman, then a Lie-Nielsen tool dealer, ate an entire chicken and a two quarts of mashed potatoes one evening after the show.

2. The most dangerous woodworking machine ever , a steam-powered shingle-cutting machine that had no guards and could slice a man’s arm off , slamming out huge shingles like they were butter instead of cedar.

3. The prototype for the Lie-Nielsen panel saw.

At the time, Cosman explained that the saw was in development and should be available “soon.” I used the saw during that show and it was OK, but it wasn’t in the same league as my vintage Disstons at home.

The prototype was heavy and the sawplate wasn’t taper-ground. A taper-ground sawplate is thicker at the tooth line and gets thinner along the top. This reduces the weight of the tool and allows you to use less set when you sharpen the teeth. I think it also makes it easier to follow a line with the saw.

This winter, Lie-Nielsen Toolworks finally delivered on its promise to make a set of panel saws for making furniture. Were they worth the wait? Let’s take a look.

The Lie-Nielsen panel saws are 20″ long at the tooth line and are available with three different forms of teeth: a 7-point rip and an 8- and 12-point crosscut. The sawplate is .032″ thick at the toothline and .026″-thick along the back. The teeth are hand-filed and set, which makes them smooth-cutting out of the box.

The tote is well-made and comfortable, with a crisp lamb’s tongue detail at the bottom and an attractive medallion , just like the saws of old. The blade has a nice etch and stamp and even has the much-discussed “nib,” virtually guaranteeing that our children’s children will continue to discuss this decorative feature of saws.

Like any well-sharpened saw, the Lie-Nielsens cut smooth, true and quick. As someone who uses traditional 26″-long saws, the panel saws took some getting used to. The short sawplate would fly out of my kerf on the backstroke (thanks to my long, simian-like arms). And these panel saws are extraordinarily light. They weigh 15 ounces, as opposed to the 1 lb. 11 ounces I’m used to with my Disston No. 12 handsaw.

After breaking down all the drawer-bottom boards for a five-drawer chest, however, I got in the groove and appreciated the lighter weight of the saws.

These saws are best used with a traditional sawbench (click here to read about sawbenches). I am not fond of panel saws or backsaws at workbench height.

So let’s talk about the price of the tools like adults might do. These saws are $225 each. Traditionalists will balk, naturally, especially if they have supped at the barrel of $5 saws at the local flea market. I’ve bought a lot of good saws from those barrels, but most of the saws at flea markets are utter dogs. They are bent, rusted and dull with loose totes. And panel saws are hard to find. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you’ll find a decent panel saw with a shiny sawplate that is worth buying. I’ve seen maybe two in my journeys.

So here are your choices. Learn to hunt for saws (start here at the excellent Disstonian Institute; I like D-23s). Then learn to clean and sharpen the tools (at the excellent VintageSaws.com site). None of this is rocket science or voodoo, but it will take time and effort. Then order your triangular files, make a saw vise, watch the free Lie-Nielsen videos on saw sharpening and scare up a suitable saw-set tool (I recommend the Stanley 42x).

And, I’m being honest here, buy a dogmeat saw to practice on. Then go to it. Hunting, bagging and restoring old saws is a valuable skill.

Or you can pay your $225 for an 8-point crosscut panel saw (the one I’d recommend starting with) and be done with it. You still should learn to sharpen, however.

– Christopher Schwarz

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27 thoughts on “At Long Last: New Panel Saws from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

  1. Christopher Schwarz

    Auguste,

    Do you have a Lie-Nielsen saw? Do you have a Flinn? Do you have an old Disston? Do you use a bowsaw?

    You don’t discuss. You attack and do not provide your own experiences or advice. I don’t know what you stand for. I only know what you stand against. You post anonymously. You call me intellectually dishonest and yet you hide.

    Comments are closed for this post. And Auguste, I wish you well trolling on some other blog. Your time here is finished.

    Chris

  2. Christopher Fitch

    I handled one of these saws at last year’s WWIA conference in Berea and it was excellent.

    However, the price is far too high given the alternatives. There is one alternative that no one has mentioned: buying a $10 Disston and having it serviced by someone else like I’ve done. I have 3 Disstons that I paid around $10-15 for each and then I sent them off to a saw service that sharpened them for about $15-20 (I can’t recall the exact amount). They all work and cut very well and I’m very satisfied.

    I have a another Disston panel saw that I bought from Darryl Weir on ebay and I paid around $35 for it. It’s a saw that directly compares to the LN saw. It’s the best cutting saw I have.

    I did not go through a long painful process for finding these saws. I did purchase a group of 3 saws on Ebay for $10 that were old but still very serviceable. I cleaned them up myself, sent them off to be sharpened and gave them as presents. They all work well. I think the total cost for these saws ends up being around $30-50

    Chris I just can’t agree completely with what you are presenting as the list of options to choose from. There’s another option that works well that is very viable.

    Just an aside here, I did not know who Daryl Weir was until you told me about him.

  3. Auguste Gusteau

    Ah that sadness the translations: listen how sounds better tout le monde in comparison to anyone.

    By the way, Christopher, I’m not a troll, my comments are always precise and punctual and usually in topic.
    But I understand that is more convenient label me as troll instead of discuss with me.

  4. Christopher Schwarz

    Actually it was, "Anyone can cook." And the meaning was not "everyone can cook." That’s different, as pointed out by the writers of "Ratatouille."

    And anyone can be a troll on a blog.

    I ask this about once a week now: Please talk about woodworking or please bite your tongue.

    Thank you in advance.

    Chris

  5. Auguste Gusteau

    the answer to your question is more banal than you may think: I simply enjoy.

  6. Anton Ego

    Auguste, Si vous continuez à harceler l’ecrivain de cette blog, je vais déduire une étoile. Vous savez de qui est prochain.

  7. J Nelson

    I noticed the comment that old Disstons are hard to find and expensive when you find them. I just walked three blocks to an antique store and bought two Disstons for $19.95 each. One is a well used and often sharpened 26" rip. The other is a 20" rip. The totes are good. There are no kinks. The only visible problem is a very slight curvature in the 20" saw blade – it should be easy to fix.

    I look forward to restoring and using these saws.

  8. Ratatat ptooey

    Auguste – can I ask why you bother reading a blog you so consistently disagree with? Just enjoy the anonymous pestering or does it fulfill some deep psychic void?

  9. Auguste Gusteau

    Christopher, you must however add $50 in sharpening equipment also to the choice 1.
    $225 + $50 = $275

    P.S.
    $50 in sharpening equipment? Where do you buy your triangular files? From Lie-Nielsen?

  10. Mike Siemsen

    All saws can only be as good as the last person who sharpened them,and how dull they have gotten since then. As to not being able to find old panel saws to use I find that a bit hard to believe. Especially if you include 26" saws that have been sharpened down to a point, just snip the end off and you have a very serviceable 20 inch saw. If you want finer teeth they can be re-toothed. I am sure that these are fine saws from L-N.
    I like new stuff out of the box ready to go and I like old stuff that I fix up and learn the history of, I enjoy thinking about all of the other guys that have stood in my place with that saw in the last 100 years. I also like being first in line. Enjoy your tools! Enjoy each others company!
    Mike

  11. David

    Chris – One comment about the length of the L-N saws. Perhaps one of the reasons that Tom came out with these in this length is because short-length high-end (i.e., a #12) Disstons are very difficult to find, and very pricey if you can find them. Think over $250 if you can find one in good condition – good being not bent and the tote not chipped, not necessarily sharpened, ready to go, and with a bright sawplate and clear etch.

    Personally, I find these short saws to be incredibly useful in the shop, not so much because of their short length, but because of their fine tooth pitch. Most of the Disston #12s, #8s, and #7s that were made in a 26" length were intended as carpenter’s saws, where speed was considerably more important than the quality of the cut. Thus most rip saws of this length have 4 or 5 tpi, and the cross-cuts are usually 7 or 8 tpi.

    The shorter saws were generally intended as cabinetmaker’s and homeowner’s saws, where speed is less important than the quality of the cut, thus many of these saws are 8 or 9 tpi rip, and 10 or 12 tpi cross-cut.

    My guess is that Tom might have talked to a few folks from the dedicated hand tool user and antique collector’s world, and been told that finding an 18" or 20" Disston #12 from before 1917 is very difficult – and very expensive.

  12. Kevin Kuehl

    If you say the "Thomas Flinn & Co. and Spear & Jackson" handsaws are just as good as the Lie-Nielsen panel saws at half the price, you either haven’t used the Lie-Nielsen saws or have saws from those companies that are nothing like those I’ve owned and seen. Out of the delivery box, there simply is no comparison. The only quibble I have with the Lie-Nielsens is their short length takes some getting used to. Now that I have, there isn’t anything else I’d use for cutting 5/4 stock and thinner.

  13. Luke Townsley

    Just to be clear, the $5 saw Chris is referring to is NOT a new saw, but a very old one that was made to high standards and needs a bit of care to make it good again. The $5 price tag is not the real cost, but just meant to represent those old saws sold at flea markets and estate sales.

    There are ultra-cheap saws out there from your favorite local retailer that are considered disposable. None of us here are recommending those for shop use.

  14. J Nelson

    I’d want to test a $225 saw before I paid for it (or make certain it had a money back guarantee).

    For $5, I’d take a chance on a beat up Disston and try to fix it up. That’s my personal preference.

    Either way, I think it makes sense to learn how to sharpen, it’s part of the craft.

  15. Old Baleine

    I can speak to the quality of the new high-end English handsaws. I have a Thos. Flinn/ Garlick & Sons "Lynx" 26-inch 12pt handsaw and a 12-inch tenon saw.

    I never use them, and wish I had not bought them. The totes are clunky and uncomfortable. Yes, the totes are spacious. But they do not fit my hand at all. And they are ugly.

    As for the sawplate itself, they are alleged to be taper-ground, however, they do not have anything like the balance of my Wenzlof Kenyon handsaws or my old saws. As is often said to be the case with English-made saws, the Garlick saws have waaaaaay too much set, making them hard to start and jerky to saw with. I guess I could send them off to TechnoPrimitives and have them reset them. Add $35-45 to the cost….

    I have a couple of Disstons from around 1910-1920 that smoke the Garlick saws. I paid about $150-175 for the old Disstons. L-N’s price for these panel saws seems about right to me, especially since his main competitor in this category is going to be Wenzlof, and Mike can barely keep up with demand.

  16. Christopher Schwarz

    I’m saying you need to sharpen and reset both a Flinn saw and a beater saw before it will cut like these Lie-Nielsens.

    So here are your choices:

    1. Buy a premium saw, use it for a long time, then learn to sharpen it. Spread out the equipment costs over a long time.

    2. Buy a $90 saw and $50 in equipment and learn to sharpen a saw before you use it.

    3. Buy a $5 saw and $50 in equipment and learn to sharpen it before you use it.

    Chris

  17. Not convinced.

    So what you’re saying is that you still need exactly what you need for the $5 saw… just not right away. hrrmmmm… not sure that is solid logic. I’m not arguing that a LN isn’t worth it, or that its not a great saw that you’ll love for 50 years, compared to a saw you never were quite in love with, but got a deal on all those years ago.

    I used to gauge items I purchased by how good of a deal I got on it, and I would tell everyone about how great a deal it was.

    Nowadays though, I’m more happy thinking that if I get $1 worth of joy each time I pull out that item, it pays for itself well before it wears out, and I can tell everyone how great it is.

  18. Christopher Schwarz

    Auguste,

    I have owned and used saws from Flinn and other modern makers and would be happy to compare them to the Lie-Nielsen tools.

    The Flinn handsaws and backsaws I have used were not as nicely sharpened, they were poorly set and the handles were rough and uncomfortable.

    So you need to buy the sharpening equipment noted above and pay $90 for the saw. And sand the handle.

    So I would prefer to buy the $5 saw and learn to sharpen it.

    Chris

  19. Auguste Gusteau

    Erik, if you can’t speak to the comparative quality of the saw plates between the Lie Nielsen and English saws, please refrain from speaking.
    What cut wood? Saw plates or handles and screws?
    Thomas Flinn & Co. and Spear & Jackson, just to mention a couple of names, make panel saws as good as Lie-Nielsen ones but for less then half of the price.

  20. Erik von Sneidern

    To Auguste’s point about $90 saws:
    Clearly the workmanship in the Lie Nielsen saws is of higher value than what has been on the market for the last 50+ years. I can’t yet speak to the comparative quality of the saw plates between the Lie Nielsen and English saws, but the handle and hardware on the Lie Nielsen is much better than what has been available new.

    Erik von Sneidern

  21. Auguste Gusteau

    Comparing Lie-Nielsen panel saws with $5 saws is intellectually dishonest.
    There are excellent 22" taper ground, hand filed and wooden handled panel saws for $90.

  22. Christopher Schwarz

    Luke,

    If you like full-sized saw, then no. Lots of people find the full-sized saws too big for a shop environment, their tool chest or for their reach. Other than that, they are saws.

    Chris

  23. Luke Townsley

    I’m glad to see them out, and am sure that some people will find them really dandy. However, I have a really long reach and find 26" saws about right or even a bit short, so I don’t think they will end up on my "to buy" list.

    Am I missing something here? Is there a reason I should be looking at this type of saw?

  24. Mark Rine

    I feel like I’m traveling into the future to comment on this blog that is dated for tomorrow. Is the lie-nielsen taper-ground?

Comments are closed.