Chris Schwarz's Blog

Sawing Franco-Prussian Style

Ripping boards by hand is a lot like working. And so I’m always looking for different techniques (other than buying a Bowflex machine and steroids) to do it with less effort.

This weekend I was re-reading Fred T. Hodgson’s amazingly opinionated book on saws: “Hand Saws: Their Use, Care and Abuse.” You can download the 1909 version for free from Gary Roberts’s excellent archive at Toolemera.com. Have you been to that site? I highly recommend it.

Back to the point, I stumbled onto a passage on ripping by hand on page 31 that I had forgotten. Here it is:

The French workman sometimes places his plank on the sawhorses and starts his saw in the usual way, and then he gets behind the saw and sits astride the stuff, and cuts the plank with the saw-teeth pointing away from him. He grasps the saw with both hands, and follows up his work by keeping moving forward after the saw. I have seen Germans use the rip-saw this way with success, and have tried it myself with satisfaction.

Let’s see, I get to sit down while ripping? What could be better? (Aside from someone feeding me Ho-Hos during the operation.) This morning I gave it a try. You need to get the saw fairly far into the plank before you get to sit down. I went about 12″ and then assumed the French position. Steering the saw is a little different, but you catch on after a few strokes.

All in all, I quite like the technique.

However, I wasn’t too fond of ramming my soft bits into the wedge shown in the photo above. I wonder if Lee Valley Tools sells athletic supporters.

– Christopher Schwarz

21 thoughts on “Sawing Franco-Prussian Style

  1. Gary Roberts

    Ok, the notion of splinters, much less saw teeth or wedg(ies) is quite painful. I wonder if Mr. Hodgson tried this out in person?

    I pulled the 1883 edition of Hodgson just to check. Sure enough, this dangerous seeming practice was not a 20th Century idea. I’ll stick to standing while ripping.

    FWIW, you would need an athletic Cup for proper protection. Sort of a steel tipped shoe version, perhaps.

    Gary

  2. Shannon Brown

    I rip on my bench and I never had a problem. I mean to each their own and it’s always good to learn different techniques, but I honestly believe people make ripping by hand out to more difficult than it really is.

  3. Richard Dawson

    Regarding the probability of self inflicted injury, I have no experience in this matter, so I can’t say for sure. Would Depends help protect the naughty bits?

    Richard

  4. Christopher Schwarz

    It’s a 5-point saw with the rake relaxed by about 5°.

    This was in seasoned yellow pine (which is like maple).

    Chris

  5. Bob Rozaieski

    Chris,

    What kind of pitch & rake do you have filed on that saw? I’ve tried ripping overhand like this before but never had much success with it. My saw always wants to grab and stop. I have a relatively aggressive rake on my saw, (about 3-4 degrees) and it is relatively coarse toothed (5½ PPI) so I’m thinking that might be part of the reason. I would think sawing like this would be easier with a less aggressive rake angle and a higher number of PPI.

    Bob

  6. ChrisF

    I lived in Zaire (now the "Democratic Republic of Congo") for a few years when I was younger.

    They used a similar technique to that described by Dan Pope, with the thumb of one hand through the hole in the handle.

    They also used some ridiculously dense local wood that they called "mayi-mayi" for some construction purposes (trim, rafters, etc.) because the termites couldn’t eat it. I’ve no idea what species it was…it was dark, almost black. I’d love to get my hands on some of it now.

  7. Christopher Schwarz

    Just to be clear: The sawteeth face away from the reproductive organs. Try this technique tonight. I like it.

    But then, I also like Saison and choucrute….

    Chris

  8. John Cashman

    I’d be really careful about the direction of the saw teeth. But, I don’t want to split hairs.

  9. Chris Norman

    Seems like Peter Follansbee’s ripping method may be safer for your soft bits.

    Seriously, I spewed coffee on my computer screen when I read this blog entry.

    Both methods seem very similar to ripping or re-sawing with a frame saw, but I’ve never seen this method with a standard handsaw, very interesting.

    Going to have to go read Hodgson’s Handsaw book.

    Thanks for the morning laugh,

    Chris

  10. Lee Laird

    Yeah, when I first saw the picture, I zoomed in to find which way the teeth were pointed. Whew, glad they were heading away. I’ll leave all the ba-dump-bump jokes alone. I, too, will get a copy of Hodgson’s. Sounds interesting.

    Thanks,

  11. Bjenk

    Wow, this is interesting, I didn’t know this was documented. I was taught to do this by my grand father. Actually, I do it often when I get to about half into the plank. Its a good way to recuperate when your shoulders, back and arms get tired in long ripping sessions.

    I’m going to get a copy of Hodgson’s now. Thanks Chris!

  12. Dan Pope

    When in Ghana several years ago, this is the way construction workers sawed timber in the building trade. They held the saw with the thumb through the handle and the fingers wrapped around the base of the handle. That way the hand was in a more anatomical position. I tried it and it made sense but would take some practice. Their saws were much smaller and shorter. I did not see them ripping but only crosscutting so I cannot comment on the need for protection.
    Dan Pope

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