Chris Schwarz's Blog

Report Card: 6 Months Without a Chop Saw

When I reorganized my shop last Spring, I sold a lot of stuff. I sold so much stuff that I was afraid that I was cutting into the bone.

I sold my routers. My router table. My sliding compound miter saw. And lots more (a biscuit joiner, sanders and shop vacuums to name a few).

Of all the tools I sold, I thought I would miss the chop saw the most. This particular saw saved my bacon when I needed to process 160 linear feet of 2x8s for a sawbench or several hundred linear feet of 2x12s for a workbench class.

But here I am six months without a chop saw, and I don’t miss it a bit. Honestly. For knocking down rough stock I’ve been using my 8-point crosscut handsaw and two sawbenches. As a result of switching to the handsaw, I’ve greatly increased my endurance when handsawing – not to mention my accuracy.

After six months of sawing – and I have been sawing a lot – I am a much smoother sawyer. My sawblade never makes that awful “bwrang!” sound when you are misaligned in the kerf. I thought I would hate processing the harder woods, such as maple, but they really don’t give me any trouble.

A sharp saw fixes everything.

For miters and precision crosscuts, I’ve come to rely on my Millers Falls miter box. It’s noticeably more accurate than an electric chop saw when cutting miters. And it saws stock to length with exactly the same accuracy.

Yes, it is slower, but there are advantages to the slower pace.

For one thing, I’m less likely to make a mistake. When cutting out all the stock today for an 18th-century-style table I made a small mistake in calculating the length of one apron. But because everything was happening in comparative slow motion on my sawbench, I had time to adjust my plan because I was actively thinking during each cut.

It’s like the difference between a hayride and a roller coaster. During a roller coaster ride all I can think about is hanging on so I don’t die (I do enjoy it, truth be told). When I’m on a hayride I can watch the moon rise, hear the crickets and feel a fall breeze.

As I was sweeping up my shop today I noticed how my cabinet saw was starting to become a dedicated sharpening station. Most of my long rips are made on a band saw; the table saw hasn’t seen much action this year.

Could it be next?

— Christopher Schwarz

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36 thoughts on “Report Card: 6 Months Without a Chop Saw

  1. andrewr79

    Chris,

    Nice to see you are living by what you write about.

    I’ve just finished restoring some nice old handsaws myself and I’m about to build a pair of saw benches to use them with. I haven’t managed to read all your books yet, does one of them cover a good design for a set?

    Cheers
    Andrew

    1. Jim Tolpin

      I never cut plywood on a standard (i.e. not a sliding table-type) table saw anymore. Instead I simply lay the plywood down on a sheet of 2-in. foam (which sits on a piece of 3/4-in. plywood set on sawhorses) and cut it with a circular saw guided by a clamped-on fence. You can make any angle cut you want with this method and you never have to worry about the offcuts falling to the floor. Oh, there’s one more thing: I never cut plywood anymore period!

  2. alexmoseley

    I finished reading ATC in early September. Before I’d finished reading, I new what had to be done: I had to ditch the chopsaw and the RAS.

    My RAS is set up on a dedicated platform that’s a good 8′ across. In my one-car garage, that’s such a waste, especially since I only use it for square crosscuts.

    Since then, I’ve used handsaws for all of my crosscuts. I’ve sourced my first Millers Falls miter box and I can’t wait for the saw to arrive.

    I’ve also considered ditching my 6″ jointer. I’ve had good results flattening with my jack plane, and as often as not I’m working with stock wider than 6″ anyway.

    Thanks, Chris, for challenging our assumptions.

  3. renaissanceww

    I can’t remember when I got rid of my chop saw but I know that I like having the extra space. I actually just sold my table saw last week but they buyer can’t pick it up for several weeks. I drooling over the extra space that will give me. Perhaps a treadle lathe will fit there nicely.

  4. Kenny

    Chris,
    I scored on a Millers Fall Langdon 1124 miter box. I’m not happy with the saw that came with it though. It is a 24″ Stanley Mitre Box saw with an E.C. Atkins handle. My question is what saw would you recommend?

    1. shadowfax001

      I know enough about saw sharpening to be dangerous. I recently purchased a custom Lie Nielsen 28×5 miter saw. I figured, since Lie Nielsen will sharpen their own saws for a nominal fee, the $195 price tag was a solid deal. It arrived this past week and I am very pleased with the saw.

      Best,
      Christopher

  5. Dave Pearce

    Hi Chris,

    Nice talking with you for a few moments at WIA, by the way. I disassembled my table saw a year ago, now it’s just a switch and a motor. I haven’t missed it once. Like you, all my rips are performed on the band saw and I find it plenty capable. As far as the chop saw, I haven’t used that in over a year. I do plan on replacing all of our baseboard with solid oak (I’m half way there already), so it’s not leaving the shop just yet. Although I’m tempted, I could use the space for something else.

    We’ll see how it goes, I’m currently building a pair of saw benches. If they work out, and I’m sure they will, that will be the icing on the cake.

  6. miathet

    I regret having spent a lot of money on a decent table saw. It takes up a lot of space and doesn’t feel as flexible as the alternatives. I have not decided which would be a better option the Festool circular saw for flexibility and ability to break down sheet goods anywhere or a money on a band saw for its ability to resaw, cut most of the wood I use,curve cutting and smaller footprint.

    For now I mostly use a couple of antique Disston saws as I can use these while my daughter is near the shop.

    1. zackdog

      miathet,

      My thinking was along your lines: I’ve replaced my table saw with a 16-inch Laguna bandsaw (very nice machine) and a Festool track saw (and router for long dados). After a few more months of not using the table saw, I’m going to give it to my bro-in-law (which will get me many points in return!) Of course I’ll continue to develop my handsawing skills on the “fine” jobs. The Hitachi slide compound still has a place in my shop.

  7. John Griffin-Wiesner

    To start I’ll admit that I’ve never liked table saws, and I really like band saws. After switching to cross-cutting by hand and ripping on the band saw, my Unisaw went several years being used only to plow some dados. A friend helped me haul it (and the stationary jointer) to a consignment store almost a year ago and I haven’t missed it a bit.

  8. CessnapilotBarry

    I haven’t used my miter saw in the shop in years. It’s not even stored in the shop…

    I have a handsaw at the stock rack for rough length cuts. If I need to do a bunch, I’ll grab my Bosch jigsaw. Almost all of my precison end cuts are cut with a table saw and sleds, or handsaw and shooting board.

    I find the jigsaw very handy with rough wood, as there is no risk of kick back or jammed blades, and it’s easy to hold the stock. New blades are cheap, so dirty or gritty stuff isn’t an issue, either.

    The miter saw is handy for portable applications, but I haven’t recommended one to a newbie lately.

  9. docwks

    After spending all day playing with computers and suits, I really enjoy my little shop. My 20″ lathe makes all kinds of shavings. Forgoing power to this and my band saw is not going to happen anytime soon. I have 3 miter saws which I use, my favorite being the Stanley; it has made all the cabinets in the wash room and my shop. I prefer power carving my pieces especially for detail work. The other day after spending a week assisting at a woodturning class in NC, drove over to my brother-in-law’s an hour away to help bring down some trees, as we were clearing some old roads as well, we came across a downed tree that was blocking our intended path. While cutting it up I noticed the grain and color and said to Ken this would make some really pretty hand hewn bowls. Now I have all the power tools to do this, but thought it would be nice to make it look hand hewn, so picked up some gouges and just for fun tested them on the cut surface of the wood. Oh, man that was fun. Karma kicked in and the next day a buddy brought over some Oak logs for me to turn, I don’t turn much oak, but they do make great outdoor carving benches! Let’s just say I’m not willing to give up my power toys, but I really like the feel of cutting the wood by hand. Now I have to dig out the forge and make an adze. Yes I do love the toys!

  10. hopper1

    Mr. Schwarz, getting rid of the table saw would be pure folly. I’m afraid you would have to be taken to the asylum if you sold it off. That would be like me selling off my impact wrenches and working purely with a breaker bar (I’m a diesel mechanic by trade.)

  11. nateswoodworks

    Great post as usual. I am not ready to part with mine and may never be as I am not in the shop near as long as I want now and it does speed up the process but do sure admire those of you that do.
    Nate

  12. thiel

    As soon as I got a wider table saw table, I bagged the chop saw. I only regret it when my friends ask me to come over and help them install crown!

    Not sure I could do without the table saw…

  13. billlattpa

    I made my first completely by hand project last month.(95%, I did use the table saw to rip the stock.) I found that not only is it much more fun working by hand but it’s easier. I got into hand work for a many reasons, one being that I like sharp chisels, and also because I feel much more at ease with my 4 year old daughter coming in and out of the shop with no power tools plugged in ready to mame.
    I’ve decided as well to invest in a band saw(when I have the cash)but will not forsake my miter saw and table saw. I hope that they soon leave my woodworking permanently, but they are handy to have around when doing home improvement projects.

  14. schenher

    Chris,

    I have experienced much of the same thing over the past year myself. Though I only have a table saw(as far as large power tools go) , I feel that if I was given a choice between it and a bandsaw. I would sell the table saw and get a bandsaw. Takes up less room and is much safer. Everything I use a table saw for can be done by hand or with a bandsaw with less set up and a lot less noise.

    Only problem, every once in a while I am asked to make cabinets, that involves plywood. So, I think I will have to keep it around for a while longer.

    Bill

    1. tsstahl

      I think I would feel too constrained if I dumped my table saw.

      Maybe it is a reflection of my ignorance in woodworking, but my projects have flowed from tool to tool for periods of time.

      After a several month hiatus, I just returned to the table saw with careful abandon on my current build. The last two projects were all bandsaw and hand tools.

      I still give kudos to anyone who can make do with less. It is no secret that skill makes up for a lot of modern tooling.

  15. Ben Lowery

    I took the plunge and sold my table saw last week. It too had turned into an oversized granite plate and in my smallish shop, it was mostly in the way. So far, I don’t miss it. But I’m not breaking down stock for a class, just for furniture for the house.

    Then again, might be time to start looking at band saws.

  16. chewie136

    Chris,

    What Millers Falls miter box do you prefer? I’m starting to switch over to hand tools mostly and I see the miter saw as an easy power tool to get rid of. I’ve been looking for a miter box at garage sales and estate sales and wondering which ones to look out for and/or avoid purchasing.

    Maybe that would be a good blog post!

        1. thiel

          I have sawing fundamentals. When watching it, I was a little surprised that it wasn’t longer…. but when I’m at the bench, I often think about the lessons included. Recommended.

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