Chris Schwarz's Blog

The 12-Cut Program

When you buy a handplane (even a Veritas or a Lie-Nielsen), it’s not going to work well out of the box. You really need to hone the iron to do decent work.

However, with saws, it’s more complicated.

If you buy a cheap Western handsaw or backsaw, chances are that the teeth aren’t sharp or properly set. So you need to either learn to sharpen your saw or send it to somebody who already knows.

But if you buy a premium Western saw , Lie-Nielsen, Adria, Wenzloff & Sons , the challenges are different. The premium saws are set up and sharp, but I think you need to break in the saw before it will cut smoothly. Most new Western saws are too grabby at first, especially for beginners. But after about a dozen tenons the saw will be easier to start and will run more smoothly in its kerf.

I was reminded of this when I was teaching a class in precision sawing this weekend at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking. Many of the students brought new premium saws to the class, and several of them brought their new saws up to my bench and asked the question: “Could you try my saw and tell me if it’s cutting well?”

On a couple saws, the teeth were set too strong on one side. We stoned those teeth (a couple strokes on a #1,000-grit stone) to help straighten out the way they steered.

But with most of the students’ saws I tried out they cut true, but they were harder to start than my saws or they didn’t run as smoothly in the kerf. In fact, one student, Glen Koopmans, had a heck of a time with his new tenon saw. It was hanging in the cut and just not working well at all.

He stayed late into the evening trying to figure out if it was just him or just the saw.

The next morning, we cut a few tenons with his saw and then lubricated the blade with some paraffin wax (I use canning wax from the grocery). By the end of the weekend class, Glen’s saw was running as smoothly as mine, which has logged a couple hundred tenons by now.

What happened? Three things. One: The wax helped lubricate the blade in the cut, which helped reduce the grabbiness of the new teeth. Two: the dozen or so joints that Glen cut with the saw helped ease the freshly filed edges on the teeth. And three: After about a dozen tenons, Glen was a much better sawyer.

At the end of the day Sunday, Glen was cutting the cheeks of massive half-lap joints in resinous yellow pine for the sawbenches we were constructing. Even all the way across the room, you could hear how smoothly his tenon saw was cutting. And the resulting cheek looked as good as the cheek of a table-saw tenon.

So before you send your new saw back to the factory, put some wax on the blade and cut some tenons first. You might just be surprised how nice your saw is and how easy it is (really!) to saw.

– Christopher Schwarz

2 thoughts on “The 12-Cut Program

  1. Christopher Schwarz

    Shannon,

    Not silly. I wax the teeth and about an inch up the blade. You don’t have to write words on the blade….

    Chris

  2. Shannon

    Chris,

    This may seem like a silly question, but where do you wax the saw? Do you just run the block of wax across both sides of the teeth or the whole blade?

    Shannon

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