I have three favorite jokes. One of them starts out with, “What’s brown and sticky?” The second one is from journalism school. It goes like so:
“People complain about bias in newspapers. That they never tell the truth. To that I say: What the heck do you want for a (expletive deleted) quarter? The truth costs at least $10.”
In other words you get what you pay for, which is probably not a good aphorism to repeat on a blog.
In any case, my e-mail box has been deluged during the last few months about handsaws. People want to know which saws to buy because (if you haven’t noticed) there are more kinds of saws on the market than there are planes or chisels or rasps.
I’ve tried to help the individuals, but it is frustrating. Why? Because people don’t like the same saws as I do. When I teach sawing classes, I load up my car with every distinct saw I have and offer them freely to the students. What is surprising is how often they disagree with my preferences and the excellent results they produce with saws that give me trouble.
I have concluded that there is a good reason that there are so many darn saws out there.
So let’s say that you were to e-mail me today and ask what you should buy if you wanted to dip your toe into the world of saws but didn’t want to spend a lot of coin. I would pause thoughtfully for a few minutes (actually I probably would be going to the little editor’s room; coffee is a diuretic).
And here’s what I would say: Start with one saw with little teeth and one with big teeth. Get comfortable with them. Then you’ll know where to go.
My first “little-tooth saw” was so bad that I don’t think it would be able to cut spoiled ham. It was a miter-box saw I bought from Furrow’s hardware in Lexington, Ky. I cut everything with that saw and hated its guts. The kerf was wide enough for a sloppy drunken llama to spit through. The black plastic handle was as slippery as an eel working at a payday-loan store. And the teeth were too tiny. But what the heck did I know?
Then I bought a cheap dozuki and it was so awesome I wanted my wife to start calling me Chris-san. Wow. Cheap dozukis can change your life. What was the tpi of my saw? I don’t know and don’t care. Every single dozuki that I’ve used that was made in Japan and cost more than $30 has been a world-class saw , for some joints.
You can cut dovetails or any joint in thin stock with a dozuki. But try to cut a decent tenon and you’ll be eating a sandwich with one hand while you saw with the other. They are slow in cuts that are deep and wide, especially in dense woods.
There are other Japanese saws that are good for these types of cuts, including the ubiquitous ryoba, but I haven’t been as successful with these forms of saws. So if you want to cut bigger and deeper joints, you need a bigger saw with bigger teeth and deeper gullets. Hence…¦
A bigger saw for bigger joints, such as tenons, is a good thing. A typical dozuki is too slow to cut American hardwoods and American tenons in face-frame stock. I had a student once with a very nice dozuki who took hundreds (no lie) of strokes to cut a cheek that was 3″ wide and 2″ deep in yellow pine. I think he went out for a bite to eat in the middle of the cut.
You need a coarse saw to make deep cuts. But which saw? Well, I’ve recommended a few saws in my post on the new Lie-Nielsen 16″ tenon saw, but there other options. If you like that cheap dozuki, you probably will like the Multiwindow 240 mm saw from Japanesetools.com. This $55.50 saw has a stiff sawplate but lacks a back. Ignore that fact. It’s a great saw for cutting all joints bigger than a drawer dovetail. I was able to cut almost any joint with immense speed and accuracy. We bought one five years ago and recently sold it. I miss that saw.
If you have a yen for Western saws, that’s OK. I do, too. Get on over to Technoprimitives.com and talk to Mark Harrell about getting a dovetail saw and a tenon saw. Get the dovetail saw filed for 15 ppi rip. Get the big saw (14″ long or longer) filed for 10 or 11 ppi rip. Mark is a fair guy and his saws are very sharp and well set.
And here’s the final option: Go to a woodworking show and try all the saws you can get your mitts on. In about 1998 I had a day where I learned more about saws than any other day. It was a Friday, and the whole staff of the magazine was bored and in the shop. So we started swapping saws and trying out all manner of different forms with different woods and different joints. I used at least 10 different dozukis that day, plus a passel of Western carcase and tenon saws.
After trying all the forms side-by-side, I knew that I preferred Western saws with a coarse tooth and a long (but thin) sawplate.
If you have a chance to try out the saws in someone else’s collection, do not pass up the opportunity. The right saw in the right hands can do incredible work. It’s just a matter of matching the right saw with the right woodworker.
– Christopher Schwarz