Skelton Dovetail Saw – Part 1

Skelton Dovetail Saw

In life there’s a first time for everything and in this case it’s my first time with a woodworking tool custom-made by a small family business. Shane Skelton is the person behind the saw and I was eager to find out what he’s come up with. Just for the record Shane has be lending his saws out to anyone who wants a go, for free. A few UK tool sellers are offering this and I hope it continues. I feel it means a greater breadth of experience is applied to any “review” and helps cut through the “wow look at the new shiny thing” that we can all suffer from. Also, I’ll just make one further thing clear: You don’t need this saw to cut great joinery. Comfortable and sharp, the two key ingredients for great work, can be found in humble tools. I should know; my normal DT saws of choice are a Zona and less-than-pretty Spear & Jackson – but that is not the point of tools like this. The reason that someone wants to purchase the work of someone like Shane is for the attention to detail and the appreciation of craftsperson. So then let us focus on that, as it is those factors that will set it apart.

Skelton Dovetail Saw Medallion

The design inspiration for the saw is from the 18th century, a wise place to start. The finish and presentation are of the highest order, and the saw is very nicely packed with a useful guide for those who need one. The medallion is attractive and features a peacock with a beak full of oak leaf and acorns; sounds odd, looks cool. I think I need a coat of arms, perhaps a cream tea, or a pint of cider, anyway…..The split nuts are dressed and fit perfectly with the rosewood grip. I’ve become aware that my assumed “medium-sized” hands are more like medium/small. No matter; the saw is comfortable and would take a larger hand than mine. It invites a proper position of all the digits. The grip is completely handmade from Rosewood and is a tribute to the care that has gone into making it.

Skelton Saw

Skelton Saws

Although very comfortable, the only area I felt could have been improved was the transition from the sides to the of the grip into the curved areas. The transition is just a little to obvious. If it was one of my daily users I would rub it with a rasp – but that’s not something I would want to attempt on a custom-made saw, More likely, I’d discuss it with the maker so they could maintain the flawless look. The image below might just help illustrate what I mean. I know I’m being critical, but comfort is such a key factor for me. See if you can spot it when contrasted with my Dad’s tenon saw.

Skelton Dovetail

 

The sawplate is high quality Swedish steel and is brilliantly sharp. The back is solid brass rather than folded, and stamped with the Skelton name. One lovely aspect of the handle is how it flows into the brass back, which terminates into the handle with intended and perfect union.

I’ll hold off from too much of the how it in use until next time, but there will be no surprises. Due to its substantial back and super-sharp teeth, you saw by the book: light to virtually no pressure and simply steer it.

After my short time with the saw I did further appreciate that for those who do buy tools of this nature, there is in addition to proper function a degree of art and appreciation that is very enjoyable. As I alluded to at the start, it will not cut your joinery any better or make you a master woodworker – but it won’t make your joinery worse and potentially you’ll be enjoying the journey all the more. Next time, the important stuff: making something with it.

Brass Skelton Saw

— Graham Haydon

CATEGORIES
PWM Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs
Graham Haydon

About Graham Haydon

Graham Haydon is a Joiner based in the UK, working in the same woodworking business his great grandfather started in 1926 alongside his father, brother and a small team of craftspeople. The business makes custom architectural joinery, simple furniture and custom kitchens along with a variety of other woodworking projects. He served an apprenticeship in both Joinery and Carpentry and also gained a National Certificate in Building Studies. During his spare time he enjoys woodworking mainly with hand tools.

30 thoughts on “Skelton Dovetail Saw – Part 1

  1. Sawdust

    Food for Thought: Given the saw is a hand crafted tool. I would suggest that as you use it as is, the handle wear patterns will guide you in fitting the tool to your hand.

    1. Barquester

      I thought the whole point of buying a custom saw is perfection! If the Veritas will cut as well and is more comfortable, i’ll take the Veritas every time and view works of art at the Louvre.

  2. Yenshee

    Mr. Haydon
    I must say I did enjoy reading your article. But I’m not sure I will live long enough
    or be able to cut enough dovetails to warrant owning a Skelton saw.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Thanks Yenshee,

      If you ever find yourself at a show where this saw or other ones mentioned in the comments are set up to try please take a test run. It’s great fun giving them a try.

      Best

      G

  3. progpen

    I don’t get involved with the debates related to garage sale finds vs. custom tools because they are apples and oranges.

    I will be considering this saw because it is designed with such an eye to the 18th century saws and craftsmanship. Great article and I also look forward to part 2.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      A wise move, it’s a unique item. I’d encourage you to drop Shane a line and discuss.

      Cheers

      G

      1. benchdogged

        Graham, have you bought one yet? If not, since you love it so much when are you planning to purchase it?

        1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

          Hi benchdogged,

          I already have a dovetail saw I’m happy with. I’ve appreciated the chance of trying it out and I like it, really like it. However I don’t feel compelled to buy everything I like or love.

          Cheers

          G

  4. lindhrr

    I would also suggest,,,Cosmans saw…I have them or tried all the best mentioned here,except the Skelton…and find the Cosman the best to my liking.

  5. Matt_Rob

    It looks to be a very nicely finished and well built tool from the pictures and information on the Skelton Saws web site. The price at about $380 American is not extremely out of line for a hand crafted saw of this quality. I think it gives those who wish to own the very best another option.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Hi Matt_Robb

      You have hit the nail firmly on the head! Thanks for the comment.

      Cheers

      G

  6. jimi43

    A balanced review as always Graham.

    I have to say up front that I have reviewed this saw and had I not already got a fine dovetail saw (Two Lawyers Tools)…then I would be snapping one of these up.

    To put the price into some perspective, the material cost, hours of hand crafting and general research and presentation actually make this saw underpriced in my honest opinion.

    If you want to cut dovetails and have no interest in the heritage of the tool that does the job then you will be very satisfied with a lot of production saws. If you appreciate bespoke tools as art forms which also have the advantage of being heirloom pieces fit to pass onto future generations as they were of old…then this is a great candidate.

    Sadly…Great Britain had all but lost the many skilled saw makers so prevalent in earlier times and it heartens me to see a new maker come along who not only understands these historical skills but does so with a flair not seen in England since those times.

    I look forward to seeing other saws from this stable…I shall be placing an order for another style once they are made..and I’m sure they will.

    Well done Mr Skelton..and thanks for keeping the tradition going.

    Jimi

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for your thoughts. As a tool maker you have an acute awareness of how much needs to go into these types of offerings. I’ll also be watching with interest to see what other saws are added in the future. Thanks for the comment.

      Cheers

      G

  7. Skelton Saws

    Good Evening, Shane Skelton (Saw Maker) here. Glad to see our saw appearing on Popular Woodworking’s blog. Now and again I do come on and leave the odd comment on such blogs / forums, however I do feel that it is important that people say what they want about my tools without too much interference from me – everyone has their own opinion.
    Having read Graham’s initial review, I did feel however that a few points made need to be clarified. The dovetail saw is made entirely by hand to an original 18th century design. The handle is shaped traditionally using a selection of rasps. In fact all the details of how the saw is made is on our website -take a look if just even for clarification and interest.
    Yes Graham a saw needs to be both sharp and comfortable, but to make a dedicated saw do it’s job there are quite a few more factors that need to be taken into account -such as the rake angle / hang angle / TPI / weight and balance to name but a few…
    For a quick reference we have several professional cabinetmakers who have been reviewing the saw. Reviews can be seen on the UK Workshop Forum – ‘Skelton Saws Dovetail Pass around’ This also includes a good array of photographs of the saw and some well cut dovetails.
    Nice to hear your comments, feel free to ask questions – I look forward to seeing Graham’s dovetails in Part 2

    Keep sawing Folks!

    Shane

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Hi Shane,

      Thanks for adding a bit more background. Part 2 will indeed cover more of the factors involved in how the saw works such as the weight, balance and how it is sharpened. As I mentioned to benchdogged below I would recommend anyone reading Part 1 should also click the link in the text and visit your site for more info. Thanks also for mentioning the thoughts of others who are trying this saw, well worth checking out their expert feedback too! I will be very reluctantly sending this one back to you!

      Best

      G

  8. Bill Lattanzio

    That is a beautiful saw. I’m always impressed with the shape of a saw handle, and how it can almost be used to distinguish a high quality saw from a “regular” saw. Good quality saws are of course expensive, but I feel that if you are going to spend the money, in particular if you are a new woodworker, you are much better served buying a top quality hand saw rather than an expensive hand plane. The opposite line of thinking usually seems to be the case. But a good saw is a much more important handtool, IMO, than a hand plane.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Bill, it is a lovely item for sure and I don’t think spending good money on a high quality saw is a wrong move. The focus for many is the plane but ignore the need for a good saw at your peril! I would be very happy to own and use one of these saws. Thanks for the comment.

      Best

      G

  9. benchdogged

    Looks like a lovely bit of kit but I can’t even afford to look at the website. I might be tempted if I do. Alas, I shall stick with my old flea market find. It’s a bit on the rough side but does the job just fine.

    1. benchdogged

      To add to the previous I don’t think it’s being a bit picky to criticize the handle transition. It appears to be cnc made and not all that well at that. For the price they’re charging I would expect better. I can’t afford either but to me Bad Axe saws appear to be a much better value, highly customizable, and at least equal in quality at a lower price.

      Now if you’re a wealthy collector type who loves this type of product it looks great. Get three of them and send one to me and another to Graham. I won’t be at all concerned with shaping that handle to suit my hand. For the average woodworker who does it as a hobby and has budget constraints it’s not a good value at all.

      1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

        Hello benchdogged,

        I suggest that Shane’s site would be worth a visit. It has a nice overview of what and how he does it. The handle is most definitely not a CNC item and the camera highlights the transition more than it is there, I personally just noticed it a touch. It was the only thing I could comment on. I personally feel that Shane’s saw is good value on the basis you are providing a commision to an individual artisan and allowing them to express themselves. Any saw will work if comfortable and properly sharpened but this kind of tool is “more” than that. Thanks for the comment.

        Best

        G

        1. benchdogged

          Graham, I’ll stand my statement that for the average woodworker on a budget it is not a good value. If you have plenty of money to spend and don’t mind spending it then by all means support this company if you wish. I’m sure it’s a fine saw and I wish him well. If I choose to spend a bunch of money for a premium saw I’ll go with Bad Axe and have it made my way and have money left for something else.

          1. gumpbelly

            I don’t know about this maker, but it is a rarity a maker will allow you to TRY his saw. To me that is a great endorsement. I do own a Bad Axe saw I paid extra for an XL grip. It doesn’t come close to being XL, and does not fit my hand, so I cannot agree with your statement. Mark Harrell fitted me in person at WIA, so I can take no credit for a poorly measured hand.

            I did have another saw made by Don Bontz, where I did send in measurements of my hand to Ron. He nailed it first try.

            http://www.bontzsawworks.net/

            It is XL, and fits me perfectly, and yes I do have money left in my pocket.

            1. gumpbelly

              I can’t type, sorry Ron Bontz. I guess the r and the d are close enough I’ll blame that, and egg nog.

            2. benchdogged

              This saw maker is sending his saw around to various internet woodworkers so they will publicize his new company. Nothing rare or special about that strategy. Bontz makes great saws too. I read today that he’s not taking orders at the moment though. Can’t speak for your handle size problem. I measure average or normal or whatever he calls it and a friend’s saw handle that size fits me perfectly. I would imagine that Bad Axe took care of the problem for you?

            3. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

              gumpbelly,

              I’m sure, I think it is reasonably rare for tools to be passed around to the extent Shane has done. It’s not without risk. It’s not just sent out to folks with an audience of sorts to gush about but to anyone who wants to try it and share some thoughts. There is risk to them as it’s not done with direct control of the outcomes. If anyone is interested the thought of a few others can be found here http://www.ukworkshop.co.uk/forums/skelton-dovetail-saw-pass-round-t85358.html . And Mr Bontz has some wonderful saws!

              Best

              G

          2. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

            benchdogged, of course you should stand by your statement. And you illustrate perfectly the lucky situation we find ourselves in. From flea market to custom artisan makers, it’s all there for us to choose from.

            Cheers

            G

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