Skelton Dovetail Saw – Part 2

Skelton Dovetail Saw Part 2 a

 

It’s been pretty much a month now since I first laid hands on this saw, and it’s only because of an encounter with a saw very different to this one that I managed to get what I feel is the right perspective. I purchased a set of Gyokucho Japanese saws with some Christmas tool vouchers and I’ll discuss those soon enough – but as is often the case, they led me off on a small tangent.

I did some basic searching about Japanese tools. As I am sure you’re aware there are some individual craftspeople in Japan making very special tools using traditional methods and they are rightly celebrated and sought out for their individual flair and skill. Seeing images of those tools snapped into focus what I should have gotten the first time around.

Although the Skelton saw is brilliantly made and perfect for the task at hand, it is more than that and it goes a bit beyond dovetails. It’s more about the person behind the tool – the person or people who creates them. I could set up a “race” between the Skelton and a dozuki, but that would miss the point. (I most likely missed the point with a “3-Minute Dovetail” challenge, too – but hey, I was on a journey to the real point.)

Skelton Dovetail Saw b

What I came to realize is that without people like Shane something would be lost from our cultural landscape. Without people being inspired by classic designs, craft and further to that, making a superb end product to be used we would be much the poorer. I feel lucky to of had and used this saw, I would almost compare it to the feeling you might get if you had a piece of unique artwork for a Month and could admire it before passing it back. I thought this second part of the article would be on the nut’s and bolt’s of how well it cuts, but whichever way I dress it the saw cuts and feels great. If you want to learn more about the facts and figures on the saw I suggest visiting Shane’s website to learn about what he does and how, there is no need for me to copy and paste a spec sheet for people to compare, I almost feel it would be insulting to do so.

Skelton Dovetail Saw c

Instead think more in terms more widely of  America, UK and World where there are many people preserving, innovating and creating. People like Shane Skelton – wherever they are found – make things happen because they want to do something special and put part of themselves into what they create.

I’m not in a situation to buy this saw, but one day perhaps I will (more likely it’ll be a carcase saw a few years from now). If I do, I will know I did so to do more than just have a “posh” saw. It’ll be because I get the point – something perhaps I didn’t fully get before the saw arrived. If you can bear my ugly mug, watch the video below. It  includes a set OK dovetails and a brief chat similar to the  above. (I promise, the lighting is much better on this one.)

— Graham Haydon

Editor’s note: If you’re interested in all things handsaw (including a look at and reviews of saws from some other specialty makers) check out “Handsaw Essentials” by Christopher Schwarz.

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.

32 thoughts on “Skelton Dovetail Saw – Part 2

  1. Great Grey

    One thing that been ignored is how long it expected to last. If I have to buy a cheap saw every few years or one that still usable after 50 years which one the better buy? There is something to have a tool you know well do the job right every time you grab it v one that maybe behaves. Not saying you should buy the high priced one but, the low priced one could cost you more in the long run. Still if you need one now or rarely use it the lower priced one may be the better buy for you.

  2. eldredma

    This is a debate that could be had about any object someone purchases. It comes down to personal preference and desire. People pay $1000s of dollars extra over the course of the year because they prefer one brand or type of objects over others for countless pointless reasons – but that is their preference, and no one debates them about it. Beer, clothing, even our homes could almost all be obtained cheaper. Why are we doing it now?

    I had a ’98 Subaru for over a decade instead of buying a new car (though I could have). It got me from point A to point B in basically the same comfort as any other car would have (much the same way a fiberglass-spined Veritas saw would saw dovetails basically just as well as the Skelton saw – especially when accounting for different skill level). Now, I drive a BMW and freely admit I could have bought another second-hand Subaru for 1/4 the price. But, I imagine the same could be said of everyone except for the cheapest of cheapskates or the poorest of the poor. We want what we like, and we have to pay (usually) the going price to obtain it. No one argues that Chevrolet should not build cars because Toyota builds cheaper ones. It’s up to the company to decide if it should exist or not. And diversity makes people happier (look at the USSR).

    You were right, Graham, you were looking at it from the wrong angle before. Debating the apparent speed at which a saw can cut a line is pointless as you noticed when you found all of the other things that slowed you down when making your dovetail video. Besides, none of us work in a factory where seconds on a cut means substantial money on a job (if we even sell our stuff), and any saw will cut straight if the sawyer is skilled. After those points, and edge durability perhaps, what else is not personal preference? Even comfort cannot be “reviewed” objectively.

    So, this saw is just like any other marketable product. Those that like it should buy it if they are inclined to do so. I am sure the fact that it is being looked at as just a tool pushes people towards the opinion it can’t possibly be “x” times better than (“x” brand) cheaper saw, but that’s not the point – it is no longer a utilitarian evaluation, nor was it when turn of the century craftsman could choose between a Disston D-12 or a “Warranted Superior” saw if metallurgical analysis is to be believed. I spent $40 for my #5 Stanley. I would not trade it for a bedazzled Bridge City anything – I just love it that much. Same with my current car, just as it was with my Subaru. Debating price is foolish in almost all contexts.

    This begs the question though: what is the point of reviewing hand tools? Honestly, if they pass a benchmark for quality, a performance evaluation is wasted breath, and I think a review should focus on those traits that might cause someone to subjectively prefer that product over others. I would rather read about all the background info than alleged performance. Company and manufacturing process details (like those on the Skelton website) are more interesting, and therefore more likely to create a preference, to me.

    Everyone should feel free to like what they like and not have to justify it as some sort of corporate economic business decision, but price can certainly be considered when deciding if one likes something. A wise hand tool woodworker once said: “The things I make are for others, but the way I make them are for myself.” I would suggest that the tools are too.

    1. Skelton Saws

      Hello it’s the SMW here again! (Shane is busy making saws) Thank you for your comments, Shane does usually late on a night read all the reviews etc, but we don’t tend to comment too much as we want people to have their say without our biased opinion! Like you say it is pointless discussing the price as due to its handmade nature it is what it is. I am pleased to see that some of you have understood what the saw is about. It is about much more than performance and beauty (though it excels in both) it is about one man’s story to create something from past and to put England back on the map with great British Saw Makers ….I shall stop bigging Shane up now 🙂 ! I loved your quote – so much so, I stuck it on The Saw Maker’s Wife Twitter page this morning!

      Thanks again all for your best wishes

    2. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      eldrema,

      Your comment is worthy of publication as an article within itself. In addition you are right, I was wrong how I started out with this. Thanks for very constructive comment.

      G

  3. 7-Thumbs

    I seem to have started a somewhat contentious conversation thread; that was not my intent. Like others here, I too am glad to see that there are high end craftsman out there making really fine tools and I too wish them all the best in their endeavors. What I was trying to get at was more along the lines of cost benefit. For example, would it be worth it for someone to improve on the Skelton Dovetail Saw, or any other premiun tool, by some minor amount and then sell it for $700; even if that price were justified by the time and materials it took to produce that minor enhancement? Why wouldn’t the maker, considering his/her potential market size, say the slight improvement isn’t worth the extra cost. Presumably, the maker would like to earn enough to eat. Basically, they could sell more tools made to a high quality where the cost to benefit ratio makes it worth purchasing and hopefully at a price were larger numbers of woodworkers could and would buy them. Would the maker rather sell a few tools for an exorbitant price or a lot of high quality tools at a more reasonably affordable price. I guess I’m asking what is the maker’s motivation; to prove he/she can make an exceptional tool without compromise or that they can make a good tool that many will end up using? Again, I’m probably asking a question that is none of my business and is solely the business of the toolmaker. As has been pointed out quite rightly, no one is forcing me to buy a premium tool; even if I could afford one.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      7-Thumbs,

      Nothing wrong with starting a good conversation and that’s what you’ve done. It another interesting point, keep it coming.

      G

  4. AeroClassics

    Ah, thank you one and all. For umpteenth time I read the same basic drivel. I do not mean to be harsh here, I really don’t. My first reaction to the article was one of annoyance. I reread it again and I mellowed some. Maybe it is the Brazilian beer? Anyway, having subscribed to Popular Woodworking for some years now I see a trend in the support of high end craftsman and their wares or in projects that truly will stretch the amatures skills. This is a mixed blessing to me. While I sincerely hope that every tool maker making their wares the old fashioned way is rewarded. I truly do. But I must admit many of the vendors that get highlighted in PW are way out of my reach, regardless of how magnificent the wares are. But I am glad they are out there. Our societies have become to enamored with cheap and throwaway. There is a market out there for custom made solid wood wares just as there is a market for beautiful hand crafted tools. Though I would guess that these hand crafted tools probably find their way into the hands of hobbiests more so that professionals. It would be interesting to know.

    Bridge City planes were mentioned. I will never have one. Not that they are not amazing. Nor will I probably ever have a LN plane. I find my Krenov style wood planes do an excellent job without costing me a fortune. Thereare ways to have a wonderful saw without dropping $400. There are kits available from recognized saw makers that bring you a top quality blade. You just have to fashion the handle. Something that is not out of the skill level of most seasoned hobbiests.

    So please save me from the same old stuff. I can’t afford it, I can afford it, whatever. Bless those who endeavor to make a living this way. And PW could we not find some middle ground occasionally? Something “regular” folk might have a prayer of owning? I am not asking you to stop reporting on those good folks who produce amazing tools just give us who cannot ever have such a tool something to shoot for. If you are to be believed no one can do anything of any quality without a toolkit well into 4 digits! And that’s just that nonpower tools!

    Thanks,
    Doug

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Hi Doug,

      Thanks for your thoughts on this. I’ve also discussed $12.00 chisels and found them great value also I’ve started to talk about wooden smoothing planes that can be found via ebay etc and offer high levels of performance with a little work. These are in reach of most of us should we feel we want to try them. It was great to try the saw, it’s a very special item and I hope people can enjoy it if only through an article. Keep enjoying the Brazilian beer!

      Best

      G

  5. Bill Lattanzio

    I think a lot of things can be chalked up to wants vs needs. I frankly hate the minimalist mentality that has somehow invaded the world of woodworking, in particular the hand tool world. I have much more of a problem with woodworking writers perpetuating myths of planes they found for $5, and saws they purchased for $3, than an honest go goodness assessment of what a high end tool costs.

    The saw appears to be a beautiful and highly functioning tool. I may not be able to afford it, but I would find no fault it somebody who could. The fact that another maker’s saw will also do the same for less money really only affects the person putting out the money in the first place. If you want a high quality saw, or any tool for that matter, and you can afford it, then it is nobody’s place to tell you otherwise. I’m just happy that there are people still willing to make them in the first place.

    1. martysmith

      I think the main point of minimalist woodworking is to show people that they can do nice things with a minimal set of tools that do not include expensive, loud machinery. It’s meant to teach and to introduce new people to the hobby for minimal entry fee.

      The same way the guys over at Flite Test build RC planes out of foam board and inexpensive controllers as a means for introducing people to the RC hobby. They are sharing their experience and love for their craft or hobby. Flite Test also provide free plans and build videos for each RC plane. I’m not an airplane guy but watching skilled professionals who love their work is compelling.

      Undoubtedly, there are handtool snobs who wouldn’t dream of anything less than bronze numbered edition handplanes and jewel encrusted chisels of the finest damascus steel. And of course there are power tool guys who wouldn’t eat a sandwich out of a plastic container if it didn’t have a green lid and say Festool. Extremes aside, both practices of power and hand tools have their place.

      As for 5 dollar saws and planes, I guess it depends on where you look and whether you want to take the time to learn to sharpen them, or have a saw sharpener guy nearby. I have a couple 2 dollar Disstons I picked up at the Pumpkin Run car show and swap meet in N.J. 2 years ago. 7 dollars each for sharpening at an oldtimer’s place near me. They aren’t beauties by any stretch but they cut well enough. This past Nov at the same show I picked up a real mess of a wartime Stanley No 5 1/2 for 25 dollars. I spent another 10 on sodablasting and maybe 20 dollars for engine paint. Not exactly 5 bucks but still 1/3 rd the cost of a new one, if Stanley even makes a 5 1/2 these days. Now if only sumer will come or my wife will let me paint in the kitchen.

      I’ll agree that if you measure by eBay and antique dealer sales then those 5 dollar deals are mythical, but if you go by craigslist, yard sales, fleamarkets, and swap meets, then those deals are availble if you want them. Plus you’ll save some cash whcih you can put towards a real nice dovetail saw.

      1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

        martysmith,

        Thanks for your perspective on this and your feedback to Skelton Saws. It’s interesting you mention the time spent hunting around for tools. That can be fun but it’s not for everyone and thanks to a diverse marketplace we can make an informed choice on what suits us best. If you ever find the chance to try one of these saws please grab it! In the meantime I think you’ve enjoyed seeing the pictures and are positive that people like Shane are contributing to something very worthwhile.

        Cheers

        G

      2. Bill Lattanzio

        I have no doubt that at some point, somebody managed to find a valuable tool at a ridiculous price like $5.00. I’m not saying that those stories are lies, I’m saying they are a completely ridiculous as a practical method to gathering a woodworking tool kit, and worse, they can actually disillusion prospective woodworkers, and tool sellers for that matter.

        If a writer wants to print an article saying how lucky he or she was to pick up a tool for such a low cost that is one thing, but most of the time they are implying that EVERYBODY should be able to do the same. It also creates a false market that degrades the true value of used tools. A guy may stumble upon an old plane in his grandfather’s garage or what have you, and sell it for a song on Craig’s list, but that is by far the exception and not the rule. Then, an uninformed buyer goes to a real tool dealer and expects Craig’s list prices. It does not work, on any level. It is complete pie in the sky nonsense when more practical, real-world advice is needed.

        1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

          Bill, I’ll be sure to include costs, including postage fees within the article on the wooden planes.

          Cheers

          G

          1. Bill Lattanzio

            I’m sure you will, Graham. Everybody loves that amazing tool “find”, we’ve all experienced them at some time or another. Whether or not one could practically fill a tool kit in a somewhat reasonable amount of time with those “finds” is another matter. I’m sure that most professional woodworking writers have many more connections in the world of swap meets, tool dealers, barnyard sales, etc. than the average hobbyist. I’m also sure that they more or less get paid to make some of those amazing tool discoveries.
            For my part, I would rather spend the money up front for a high quality tool and make furniture rather than spending months at a time scouring garage sales and internet listings hoping to find a diamond in the rough tool just so I can brag about how little I paid for it. That’s just me.
            I’m not discounting used tools; every woodworker I know has at least a few-or more-, including myself. I’m just saying that your review of a high quality saw is far more relevant to me than somebody bragging about their $5 jack plane. Thanks

    2. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Thanks Bill,

      These couple of articles have stimulated some interesting feedback. Your thoughts have a nice balance, I’ve been lucky to try it out and it’s been great fun and I’m more than grateful that folks are willing to make things like this saw. It’s almost a shame that it boils down to money as the big topic rather than enjoying great workmanship. The item gives me no pressure or worry, just enjoyment whether I own it or not. As always thanks for the comment.

      Regards

      Graham

  6. kfashbur

    I don’t really understand the purpose of this thread. If the article was attempting to convince that buying something other than an exotic saw was somehow silly, then I would understand the criticism and comparisons to less costly saws. Just because I cannot afford or justify purchasing an Aston Martin does not mean I cannot appreciate it, and the fact it exists is not reason enough to criticize its existence. Why purchase or build a piece of hand-built Greene and Greene furniture when I can buy a different style of hand-built furniture for half the price? Seems like a ridiculous waste of time to argue the point. I doubt I will ever purchase one of the Skelton saws, but if I ever have the excess funds I would consider it and couldn’t care less if someone else thought me stupid for it. I just hope there are still Skelton saws and other such wonderful handtools on the market by the time I might have those funds.

    Best of luck to you Graham!

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Hi kfashbur,

      Thanks for totally getting my point! I hope people don’t assume it’s a recruitment drive for high end only purchases, that’s not my job and not any of my business. Appreciating something and or enjoying something does not have to mean buying it. Really grateful for the comment.

      Best

      G

  7. Skelton Saws

    Good Morning Everyone (It’s actually The Saw Maker’s Wife here!) I was just reading some of your comments and thought I’d just come on and say a few words. Firstly thanks for initially watching Graham’s video and for taking an interest in our saw – it does appear to spark lively debate! Shane is completely motivated by his passion to create some of the best saws in the world, whilst employing only traditional methods. He is a one man band working in his workshop / garage, with me sat in our kitchen on the computer (can’t get much smaller than that!) This will never ever change as it is against his ethos. I noticed that Bernard referred to the Pax Saw Makers, I’m not that sure that they are in fact such a small business anymore, especially as they’ve just bought out Clifton Planes which in itself is a sizeable company. Shane could never ever compete with the likes of any of the bigger saw companies to be honest his craft is far too time consuming. Likewise he has no intention of doing so. The cost of the dovetail saw reflects the amount of hours that goes into hand crafting each individual one, about 20hrs per saw broken down that’s barely minimum wage once the cost of materials are deducted. The materials in themselves are well sourced and are the best – hence expensive! Shane in his dedication to create a saw harking back to the saws of the 18th Century has not only managed to create a high performance tool, but a thing of beauty (as you say a jewel…in the English crown maybe?!) He is a perfectionist and uncompromising in his efforts. He could easily set a machine going and make a cheaper tool, but that is not what he is about. We understand that the price tag may be a little out of grasp for some people and are sorry about this, but like you say there are cheaper alternatives that will do the job. A saw made by a machine or from the heart and skill of a man? You decide…Keep talking, we do like to see all your comments. Have a great day!

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Hello SMW (if that is appropriate :-)? )

      Thanks again from for putting the saw out there for a trial, it’s been a pleasure. Many are fortunate enough to do the same and try it for themselves via the UK forum, whether they have a soap box or not. I hope the saw makes it back safe and I hope you and Shane continue you unique and valued contribution.

      Best

      G

    2. martysmith

      Hi and thanks for your post in the thread. It’s always nice to see makers paying attention to the market they make for. One thing I might mention regarding the cost of your husbands fine saw.

      The cost of his saw in on par with a doevtail jig and router bits. And could be less expensive relative to the size of the jig. So perhaps it is not as expensive or unattainable as it appears at first glance. Plus the saw gives you options for layout that I believe jigs don’t easily accomodate.

      Best of luck

    3. ReyTal

      It is very comforting to hear from the wife of the creator. I am one of those guys that looked at the tool that is the best in it is class. I just purchased a $150.000 framing hammer Stiletto. If you need the tool buy it.

      1. Skelton Saws

        …and if you actually buy a saw, you hear a whole lot more from me! Thanks guys for your comments. I do write on a few things providing I have the knowledge and am confident in doing so! If not Shane dictates and I type!

  8. Bernard Naish

    I am glad we are seeing some English tool makers coming on to the market and I wish Mr.Skelton well in his enterprise. Thomas Flinn of Sheffield is a small familly business who make saws. The Pax dovetail saw is their equivalent, I almost said identical product at well under half the price. . More and more tools have exotic prices attached and I worry that this trend is discouraging people from taking up the craft of hand woodworking. We need tools not jewels.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Hi Bernard,

      I’m not sure I’d worry that this saw would put anyone off taking up the craft. Hopefully they would be inspired by the fine workmanship and dedication that is put into this item. Hopefully my article on wooden smoothers will tick your “tools” box. Thanks for the feedback.

      Regards

      Graham

    2. gumpbelly

      Bernard, a person could buy a set of golf clubs off the rack or have a set custom built so that it is essentially an extension of their arm. Both will hit golf balls. Saws are the same way, some of us prefer to have the custom fit in their saw. Again your Pax saw double will cut wood, as the higher priced custom saw will. It is fine that off the rack type saws fit you. I’m just glad custom hand tool builders exist so I have that choice. You see, I’ve used Pax saws, and wasn’t impressed. I wish Mr Skelton all the best in his endeavor.

  9. 7-Thumbs

    I get that it is a well made saw. BUT, unless you’re a professional who can write off the cost of the saw, $369.98, by charging your customers to cover it how does a normal woodworker justify buying this tool or any other premium tool made by other craftsman? Is buying such a tool just a way to satisfy an ego or make other envious over what you have? At what point does the added cost not really add any significantly to the improvement of a tool? It might be interesting to see an article comparing reasonably priced tools that get the job done with their high priced premium counterparts.

    1. martysmith

      @7-Thumbs
      I agree with you. When I saw the price of the saw I thought Wow! Is that expensive or what?!
      I mean, how much can 300 plus dollars cut that 50 or 60 dollars cannot cut? And then I thought about bench planes, and how they can be very expensive too but then the cost of bench planes doesn’t necessarily put me off for some reason. It makes me feel a bit sad for saw makers when I think about it.

      For example, I would love to be in a position to buy that 1,700.00 dollar Bridge City plane. It’s like functional sculpture to me, it’s so beautiful. But a “new” 370.00 saw, not so much. It’s strange isn’t it?

      There is no value in that Bridge City plane if your goal is peeling off layers of wood in order to make the wood smooth. There are plenty of other planes that can do that task just as nicely with a lot less cost and with no fear of dropping them. Still I love that plane. Like I love that dumb Sears aluminum 4 sided blade plane from the 60’s. It’s like someone at Sears said “make it sexier and more like an astronaught tool!”. Call me crazy.

      So to that end, I guess it’s all relative, and there will be people who make fine projects with average tools, and people who make fine projects with expensive tools, and people who make terrible projects regardless of the tools at their disposal. And then there are people who love to just collect tools, especially rare and exotic tools.

      Sadly there are few saw makers around and I imagine there are even fewer people who want to read about a Transformers cartoon looking saw with a plastic handle and induction hardened teeth you throw away when it’s dull becasue the saw plate is terrible and not worth re-toothing when compared to those steel plates from 60 to 100 years ago.

      In that light, I’d say continue to write about high end or super premium tools and hopefuly a little bit of that will trickle into mass manufactured tools so at least we can hope for a somewhat comfortable and more elegant looking handle on the big box store saw we sometimes need in a pinch. You should hand deliver those editions to the decision makers at the big box stores.

      But then I guess we’d just complain that while the handle is better, it’s still throw-away made in China and still doesn’t cut as nice as our faithful Disston, Tyzek, Atkins, etc..

      1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

        Hi Marty,

        Very interesting comparisons there. I’m not fully aware of all that Bridge City do but again, without the variety in the market we would collectively be poorer. I just hope that Bernard is not right and people take inspiration from, rather than being excluded by Bridge City, Skelton Saws etc. Thanks for the feedback and thoughts.

        Regards

        G

    2. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Hi 7-Thumbs,

      If I did what you propose and I nearly did we would find nearly all saws if sharpened properly would cut dovetails or any other joint very well. Being honest that is where I am, my kit is very practical affordable stuff that does the job perfectly and is sourced from ebay or the like with a few news bits here and there. It’s kept sharp and in good condition. From a business perspective our workshop has to make the right choices to provide the right service to our customers. In our situation buying all the guys a custom dovetail saw would not help that. I don’t feel any pressure to buy this saw or a similar tool unless I want to. When and if I do it will not be because I want to cut a joint better or faster. It’ll be because I respect the person behind it, what motivates them and their skills. I don’t feel anybody should feel that the road to high quality projects is paved with expensive tools. It’s paved mainly with practice and time. Thanks for the comment, it’s very much appreciated.

      Best

      G

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