Chris Schwarz's Blog

My Strategy for Going Deep

When I am deep into a sawcut, you could walk into the shop totally naked, on fire and covered with leprous monkeys, and I probably wouldn’t notice.

Accurate sawing is tantric. It’s a rhythm. It is meditation.

Today I was sawing the legs to length for this Roubo workbench and I was surrounded by mahem. We had a photographer in the shop shooting photos. All the overhead lights were out and there were wild flashes and beeps every minute or so. We had a guest in the shop learning woodworking. Router. Circ saw. Benchtop table saw. Jigsaw. Animated conversation. And we’re trying to close the June 2010 issue of the magazine and there is a lot of torn hair on the floor.

I finished cutting a 5″ x 5″ leg to 33″ with a handsaw. I split the line on all four faces. I was feeling no pain, and I was hearing the sound of one hand clapping. But then I heard this:

“What are you doing working so hard?”

I looked over at our guest, who was learning all the hand-held power tools today. I opened my mouth to explain, and then I knew what it must feel like to wear a saffron robe and live in a cave without speaking for a decade. I couldn’t explain it.

But for you, dear reader, I can explain a couple things.

1. My block plane was not cleaved in thrain by epoxy yesterday. That staged photo was my sick sense of humor leaching through my training as a journalist. I’d apologize for the misunderstanding, but we Midwesterners apologize for anything at the drop of a hat. So it would be meaningless.

2. Here’s how to saw a 6×6. Start sawing on a corner as per usual. Immediately lay down the saw to cut at a low angle across the uppermost face. Saw until you have traversed the face. Rotate the stock 90Ã?° away from you. Put the saw in the kerf and advance on the face that is now uppermost. After a few strokes, lay down the saw again and traverse the line facing up. A low sawing angle is less aggressive, but it is more accurate.

Flip the work 90Ã?° away from you again. Do the same routine. Start at the corner. Lay down the saw. Traverse the face. When you finish that face, move the saw to 45Ã?° and saw like crazy. Throw the handle like you would a baseball pitch. Don’t use much downward pressure. Let the tool do the work.

When you have sawn from corner to corner, flip the leg 90�° away from you one last time. Connect the saw kerfs by laying down the saw. Then return to 45�° and finish the cut.

If you take your time, I think you’ll find this technique crazily accurate and weirdly fast.

– Christopher Schwarz

15 thoughts on “My Strategy for Going Deep

  1. Phil

    Chris,

    I’m relatively new to hand tools although I did just flatten my first workbench top (2ft x 7 ft) a few weeks ago. Used a #8 and #4.

    Anyway, what handsaws would you recommend I get to start with? I have a L-N dovetail saw. I want to hand cut tenons so I assume I need a crosscut saw to go along with the dovetail saw.

    Should I get another saw, separate from the DT saw, for ripping tenons? What would you recommend for general use?

  2. Shannon

    Chris,
    This post has good timing as I spent the weekend in Williamsburg and I was visiting the Anthony Hay shop. I got into a conversation with (name drop time) Mack Headley and he was full of tips on how to saw square and plumb. His number one tip was to mark all sides of the board and lay down a shallow "starter" kerf on 2 sides. We were talking about normally sized 4/4 stock for your average furniture piece but I can see the same principle at work here with your deep cuts. Great post!

  3. Roger

    Chris, isn’t it true that the only reason you have a beard is to be accepted by the millions of facial haired woodworkers out there?

  4. Clay Dowling

    For those of you not accustomed to hand sawing, prepare for very sore shoulders. It is fast, it is relaxing, but if your muscles aren’t ready for it yet, it’s gonna be an experience. I’ve worked in an office job for a dozen years, and only recently got addicted to hand tools. Ibuprofen has been my friend.

    But pain of developing new muscles aside, hand saws are really amazing for accurate cutting in situations where power saws just don’t work or are inconvenient.

  5. David

    I’m confused (definitions and use of tantric from the same dictionary:

    Tantra |ˈtəntrə; ˈtan-| noun: a Hindu or Buddhist mystical or ritual text, dating from the 6th to the 13th centuries.
    • adherence to the doctrines or principles of the tantras, involving mantras, meditation, yoga, and ritual.

    tantric: adjective

    Tantric (band), a hard rock band from Louisville, Kentucky

  6. david brown

    Ryan,

    Don’t forget to rotate in the other direction if you’re in the southern hemisphere.

    cheers,
    Dave

  7. Christopher Schwarz

    Ryan,

    I updated the explanation above. You rotate the work 90° away from you at each stage.

    Does that help?

    Chris

  8. Joe McMahon

    Funny, I was doing some deep cutting just yesterday sawing a 4" half lap on a 2 X6 and I was using the same technique as you did for the first time. I was absolutely amazed at how flat and accurate my board face was. I have never before done this well handsawing. Chris, your method is dead spot on!

    Thanks for yet another good tip.

    Joe

  9. Ryan M

    I am confused. So after the first traverse across the face that is up, when you rotate 90* clockwise, the kerf is on the corner nearest you?

    You wouldnt want to rotate 90* counter-clockwise such that the kerf is in the opposite corner (where normally I start my saw cuts)?

    Thanks for the clarification!

  10. Charles

    Brings up a point I’ve always pondered… if you are covered in leprous monkeys, are you technically naked?

    You clearly have a well-developed ability to zone out distractions of which I am envious. Maybe I’ll develop such skills one day… probably when I get married.

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