1. The students had to cut a lot of dovetails in 7/8”-thick material.
2. Coping saws are uncommon on the Continent.
So I packed an extra coping saw blade in my luggage, which turned out to be either a stupid or brilliant mistake. By the second day of the class, the students had snapped both of my blades. I’ve never snapped a coping saw blade. So then we had two choices:
1. Bang out all the waste with chisels (the European way).
2. Use the school’s fretsaws with spiral blades.
Half of the students opted for the banging; the rest picked up the fretsaws. I was building a tool chest along with the students that week, so I also had to make the choice. I’m already pretty good at removing waste with chisels, so I decided to use the fretsaws and see if I could do two things:
1. Stop breaking so many fretsaw blades.
2. Cut so close to my baseline that I could simply pare out the waste without any chopping.
After a week and 50 honkin’-big dovetails I did master the fretsaw with a spiral blade. By the end of the week I was almost splitting the baseline in half with the spiral blade. So all I had to do after that point was drop a chisel in the baseline and push down. Nice.
But this accuracy comes at a price.
Spiral fretsaw blades – at least the ones I could find – are slow. The Dictum school had coarse, medium and fine spiral blades, but I wanted ones that were even coarser. In fact, I got to the point that while I was sawing out the pin waste I could take a sip of coffee while sawing. That’s how slow it was.
But I had almost zero chopping to do. So my gut feeling is that it was a wash for time.
I’ve prepared the following short video that demonstrates the two blades in 1/2”-thick pine for a drawer side. The coping saw blade is an Olson 18-point skip-tooth blade – the best coping saw blade I know. The spiral blade is a Ryobi 41 tpi blade – the only spiral blade I could get at the home center.
So here’s another tool to add to my wish list: an aggressive spiral coping saw blade with pin ends – or perhaps just a more aggressive spiral fretsaw blade. There is a spiral coping saw blade on the market already (see the details here), and they had some of these at Dictum, much to my surprise. But they clogged quickly with sawdust and resin.
If y’all know of other blades I should be looking at, leave a comment below.
— Christopher Schwarz
Other Dovetailing Resources
• Glen Huey’s “Cheating at Hand-cut Dovetails” DVD is an excellent group of tricks to help you get faster at dovetailing while preserving the hand-cut look. Check it out here.