Chris Schwarz's Blog

Hardly Obsolete: Benjamin Seaton's "Pannel" Saw

While learning to saw with a handsaw on our farm in Arkansas, I had one fond wish: Please Santa Claus, bring me a Skil saw for Christmas. (He never did.)

So it surprises even my fellow hand-tool enthusiasts how deep my affection is for full-size handsaws. And I don’t just hang them on the wall; I use them. With a handsaw and a shooting board, I can get a lot of work done quickly. (One confession: My affection does not extend to rip saws. That feels a lot like working. Hand me a hatchet or a drawknife.)

I think the reason I really like my big 26″-long handsaws is that they are excellent practice for dovetailing with my little backsaws. The more I saw with a handsaw, the easier it is for me to follow a line with a backsaw. The handsaw helps develop my skill for sawing both square and plumb , which is the real trick to accurate dovetailing.

I have a lot of handsaw models that I like (the Disston Nos. 7 and 12 in particular), but I’ve always had a thing for 18th century English saws. The problem here is that old saws are hard to come by, they’re expensive and they usually are less than ideal for use. After years of sawing, I’ve found that a shiny sawplate makes the sawing easier. Lots of rust or patina just seem to add to the friction. There are other advantages to a shiny sawplate, but I’ll leave that revelation for carpenter Carl Bilderback to make in the October 2006 issue of Popular Woodworking.

So I asked custom sawmaker Mike Wenzloff to make me a handsaw that was as close as possible to the specifications for a “pannel” saw made by John Kenyon in “The Tool Chest of Benjamin Seaton.” It was a lot of extra work for Mike, but he came through. The saw arrived this week, and I’ve been sneaking off to the shop all week to mess with it. Here is my preliminary report: wow.

OK, here’s some more. The saw is massive and heavy. My heaviest saw, a Disston No. 7, tips the scales at 1 lb. 11 oz. The Seaton saw is 2 lbs. 2 oz. And you really can feel those extra seven ounces. Like the original, the sawplate is taper-ground, meaning the saw is thickest at the toothline and gets thinner toward the spine, just like on the original. The taper is not dramatic: The plate is .045″ thick at the tooth and .040″ up by the spine. But combined with the set of the teeth, it helps prevent binding and allows a little more steer.

Like the original, the saw is filed crosscut , the original was 7 tpi, this one is 8 ppi (very, very close). The toothline is slightly breasted, meaning it has a slight curve from toe to heel. The rounded toe on the blade is very nice to look at, but it makes it tricky to set the saw up on its toe. The nib slants forward a bit. It’s unusual and interesting.

The performance is, quite frankly, extraordinary. I’ve made about 50 cuts with it in a variety of really easy woods (sassafras), OK woods (curly maple), and PITA woods (Lyptus). The saw just soars through everything and hugs the pencil line , I’ve been splitting my mechanical pencil lines with the saw with little difficulty. The saw is probably the easiest-starting 8-point saw I’ve ever used. Part of that must be the sharpening, part is the weight and part is the balance of the saw. Though the saw is heavy, it handles easily.

We’ll see how I feel about the saw in a few months. But from my first impressions, this handsaw is dead-nuts equal to the finest handsaw I’ve ever used , a super sharp and pristine Acme 120 that alone was probably worth more than any of my other hand tools.

Christopher Schwarz