Chris Schwarz's Blog

Coping Mechanisms for Gizmo Lovers

I’ve never had a drug dealer, but I’m starting to know what it might feel like.

Lately, woodworker and tool collector Carl Bilderback has been dangling some interesting tools before me, and I have been snatching them up. Carl has found my two weaknesses: edge plane a la the Stanley No. 95 and coping saws.

On the edge planes, I now have a decent collection. There, I said it. I collect edge planes. In addition to the well-known ones, I have a couple that were craftsman-made that Carl dug up for me. One is aluminum. The other is a jumbo-sized model made in brass or bronze.

On coping saws, my interest is in finding blade mechanisms that really work. Most of the coping saws you buy today at the hardware store are as useful at sawing wood as a sturgeon. Most coping saws are flimsy and the frame won’t hold the proper tension for work.

Also, the blade mechanism will rarely prevent the blade from twisting.

These three saws deal with the problem in three different ways. None is perfect. But if you see one of these in the wild it will be worth snatching up. These are far better than your hardware-store coping saw.

The Millers Falls No. 42
I’ve written about this saw before. But I like it so much I’m going to write again. What’s great about this tool is that the tubular steel frame is beefy, so you can tension the blade quite nicely. The mechanism that locks the blade in position is bullet-proof. Take a look at the photos. Both the toe and the heel of the tool have deep detents. When you lock the saw on one of these detents, it stays. And the handle is a very comfortable shape – not like the billy club handles of modern saws.

What’s the downside to the No. 42? It’s a little complex. Adjusting the blade takes a little fiddling. It’s not like changing the knives on a jointer, but it does take a little work. Also, the No. 42 that I have takes an old style of coping saw blade that doesn’t have the modern pins. It takes blades that have a round “eyelet” at each end.

You can modify a modern pin-ended blade to fit the saw, but that’s an annoyance.

Finally, I dislike the fact that these saws are hard to find. And collectors seem to like them, too. So good luck finding one.


The Jones’ Ratchet Coping Saw
This is a fairly robust saw that was patented in 1901. It takes the “eyelet” blades (good thing I have a box of those), like the Millers Falls saw above. This saw also has deep detents that allow you to position the blade at six positions.

What’s cool about this saw is that you can adjust to the different angles quickly. You just give the handle a twist. Then twist the knob at the toe. Takes a couple seconds at most.

The downside is that there is no mechanism to tension the sawblade. If you want more tension, you need to bend the frame open. The frame is fairly thick 1/4″ wire. I’ll be interested to see how it holds up. The second disadvantage is that you really have to use the saw with the blade installed to cut on the pull stroke. This tensions the blade during the cut. If you install the blade to cut on the push stroke, the blade can buckle.

The Jones’ Cable Coping Saw
This is the second-most gizmo-tastic coping saw I’ve ever seen (the Fenner patent saw wins that race, but I don’t have one). The Jones’ Cable Coping Saw gets its coolness from that fact that is has a hemp cable running inside the frame. Each end of the string is tied to a knurled cylinder. Rotate the handle and the string rotates the blade at both the toe and the heel. Very cool. So cool I made a little movie!

It actually works and is fun to use. Of course, I worry about the string breaking.

I tried to impress Megan with it so I could write “and the ladies will love it.” Two problems: Megan’s not a lady. And all she said about the saw was “meh.” So it’s not the chick magnet I hoped for.

But I bet if I get a Fenner-patent saw I’ll be fighting off the foxes.

— Christopher Schwarz

More Coping Saw Insanity
Coping Saws: From Bricks to Fretwork Frogs

FatMax Coping Saw Update: Grrrr

Frame Fight! Coping Saws vs. Fret Saws

16 thoughts on “Coping Mechanisms for Gizmo Lovers

  1. Jay Downing

    I have a Buck Brothers coping saw that I bought at Home Depot. It has a really rigid frame made if 5/16" diameter steel rod with the ends flattened perpendicular to the axis of the blade. The end opposite to the handle has small serrations in it and the blade holder has a couple of ridges on it.

    The threaded blade holder is long enough so that there is 3/4" of draw when the handle is loose which gives a really high tension to the blade. There is little or no springiness when the blade cuts on the push stroke going through 1 1/8" Red Oak.

    There is a flat washer between the handle and the saw frame, and I found that putting it between the blade holder and the frame improved the bearing surface between the handle, blade holder, and the frame so that the handle stays tight. Also greasing the threads allows more torque in tightening the handle.

    Jay

  2. Bill Rittner

    A friend has a Fenner coping saw and it is an amazing tool. They were made here in Mystic, CT and that is where he purchased it from a collection.

  3. James

    Coincidentally, Clarence Blanchard just had a Jones type for sale in his FTJ quarterly tool sale email today. But don’t try buying it – it is no longer available ;). It also has the cable missing, but I won’t fret, I’ll just put a vacuum cleaner over one end to draw the replacement cable through.
    While Chris’ saw fails to impress the chicks, the FTJ one might since it is advertised as 12.5" deep.

  4. Steve in Thunder bay

    Always love your articles, but the last couple of included videos have not worked for me. I just get a black video box even if I give Flash Player unlimited memory. (Your videos before then used to work.) Same problem in Opera or IE6, and both have the latest Flash Player and show Flash videos from other sites perfectly. Advice would be appreciated.

  5. Dean

    Tony, that’s been done. Here are some bow saws that can use a coping saw blade. Also, a video of Frank Klausz using a bow saw to cut “3 minute dovetails”.

    http://www.wkfinetools.com/contrib/bSmalser/art/copingSaw/copSaw1.asp – Bow Saw using a coping saw blade.

    http://www.popularwoodworking.com/article/klausz/ – Video “3 Minute Dovetails” using a bow saw featuring Frank Klausz.

    http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?14573-It-s-Finished!-Coping-Saw-sized-Japanese-Pull-Type-Bow-Saw-(for-Dovetails) – Need to be a member to see jpg.

    http://www.toolsforworkingwood.com/Merchant/merchant.mvc?Screen=NEXT&StoreCode=toolstore&nextpage=/extra/bowsawdesign.html – Discusses using a 12” coping saw blade in a small frame saw. Gramercy sells the 12” coping saw blades to go with their 12” bow saw.

    http://www.woodworkersworkshop.com/cadfiles/jigs.htm – Click on “Bow Saw” Link. Just a drawing. No instructions. Bowsaw7 file contains the handle profile, and Bowsaw7B contains the whole saw profile. Can be printed out to use as a template. You can open the files directly (no program needed). Uses a Coping saw blade.

  6. Devin

    I was following your links about other coping saw articles and it got me to thinking about something. I have zero experience with dovetails, so please forgive my ignorance. When you cut out the waste with a coping saw it still looks pretty rough do you clean it up with a file or with a chisel?

  7. Dave Knapp

    P.S.- I’d pay good money to see you re-thread the string on that Jones Cable saw if (when) it breaks. Extra dough if you do it without enough obscenities for an NC17 rating.

  8. Dave Knapp

    Alright, Schwarz, I’ve had it. I know what’s going on here. You’ve actually come upon huge stockpiles of the "must-have" tools you feature on your blog, and you just wait for Ebay to drive up the price. ( I figure you’re in cahoots with your buddy Patrick Leach. Yeah, I get his monthly list. I’m on to you two.) Listen, if you don’t want your little secret to get out, I suggest you hook me up with first dibs on the goodies. There might be a case of nice, bottle-conditioned Belgian-style ales in it for you.

  9. JP Lee

    Chris –

    Since you’ve got a finger on the pulse of such things, what are our modern quality tool vendors thinking about offering a high-quality coping saw? Is there a pulse to feel? What are the barriers? I am sure the demand is there, especially if you keep writing about them…

    regards,
    JP Lee

    PS I just completed my version of the big dual-screw vise in the latest issue of PWW, in metal (no lathe) and oak, and am most pleased – thanks for the enlightenment!

  10. Christopher Schwarz

    I’ve not replaced a handle, but it should be easy and a great idea!

    The photo on the previous post is a dresser without drawers. There are some contemporary tables built that way….

  11. www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawm4UjJ-_4xUg7q9-jlvhBj9ikzGUZLVvCw

    Do you have any experience replacing the handles on newer coping saws. I never thought of it before reading your complaint about the handles but it seems like it shouldn’t be too hard. If I remember the two (two is not a collection… yet) I have right now they both have a press fit ferule and a pin driven through them.

    Also props for supporting your fiend in your other post today, I totally agree with you. The picture did leave me wondering though. I had never seen a tabletop joined to the carcase with through dovetails. I like the look. Do you know what era it is from?

  12. neinfil

    Is US Patent #297365 the saw? You wouldn’t really stumble upon this "horse-cleaner" coping saw design eh?… but man would that is quite the gizmo…

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