This year I’ve taught a lot of people to saw by hand during woodworking classes, shows, seminars and club meetings. Here’s what I’ve found: People struggle when starting a cut to make a tenon cheek.
That makes sense. Good tenon saws are fairly coarse , 10 points per inch is typical. The saw is quite large, so you’re focusing on balancing it. And the kerf begins on a corner, which further complicates things.
(And if you have a brand new tenon saw, it needs to be broken in a bit before it will cut smoothly.)
When Mike Wenzloff built a large-scale 18th-century-style tenon saw for me, he relaxed the “rake” of the teeth at the toe of the saw to make it easier to begin the cut. The rake is how far forward or back the teeth of the saw lean. The more the teeth lean backwards toward the handle, the easier the saw is to start.
Mike’s solution works great, and I’ve found that this 19″-long beast of a saw starts like my grandfather’s Mercedes 240D: real smooth.
However, several weeks ago, Thomas Lie-Nielsen sent me his solution to tenon saws that typically start like a 1970 AMC Gremlin: a progressive-pitch tenon saw. The “pitch” of a saw is how many teeth are in an inch of the saw’s blade. The more teeth you have, the easier the saw is to start (but the slower the saw cuts).
Progressive-pitch saws have small teeth at the toe that get bigger all the way to the heel. The Lie-Nielsen has 13 points in the first inch of its toe. At the heel, there are seven points in the last inch of the blade. This is the same technology that the company has employed on its successful progressive-pitch dovetail saws. After some fumbling with the dovetail saw at first, I’ve switched permanently to this style of dovetail saw and couldn’t be happier.
Here you can see the small teeth at the toe of the progressive-pitch tenon saw.
And here you can see the coarse teeth at the heel (same magnification).
For the last few weeks, I’ve been using the new Lie-Nielsen progressive-pitch tenon saw here at work and at home, and I like it. It is the easiest-starting tenon saw that I’ve ever used. And the coarse teeth at its heel make it just as fast as my Wenzloff saw.
I do think the Wenzloff is a bit easier to push (despite its size) because it uses a thinner sawplate. The plate on the Wenzloff measures .025″ thick. The Lie-Nielsen is .031″ thick (according to my calipers). The difference in thickness is also a factor in durability. A thicker sawplate is less likely to get kinked by its user, though I haven’t had a problem with my Wenzloff.
I’ve been testing the larger version of the Lie-Nielsen tenon saw, which has a 14″-long blade and about 3-5/8″ of blade under the brass back. I prefer larger-size tenon saws because the extra length helps you saw straighter.
The progressive-pitch tenon saw should be available soon, according to Thomas Lie-Nielsen, and will add an extra $10 to the regular price of $155 for the 12″ rip tenon saw and $165 for the 14″ rip tenon saw. I think it’s $10 well spent.