Chris Schwarz's Blog

The Fenner Patent Frame Saw. Crazy.

A close-up photo of the gearing on the Fenner Patent frame saw.

And you thought yesterday’s posts about Estonian workholding was obscure? Bah, that was amateur hour.

Let’s talk about the Charles Fenner Patent frame saw, a fairly rare bird among collectors. Usually “rare” means “didn’t work or sell too well.” But the Fenner is so wild that I had to try one out. The thing has gears, a chain drive and an awesome tensioning device. All it’s missing is a compass in its stock.

The idea behind the saw is that the chain-drive mechanism keeps the two ends of the blade parallel at all times, which is a nice thing for marquetry, according to the saw’s 1884 patent papers. (Read them here.) What isn’t so nice for marquetry is a saw with five points per inch. That’s a wee-bit coarse for thin materials.

If finally got my hands on a Fenner thanks to Carl Bilderback, my Midwestern tool pusher, carpenter and all-around nice guy. This week I finally got to play with the saw a bit and see what makes it tick.

The chain mechanism is surprisingly robust. The blade, however, was too dull to even execute an earthworm. So I sharpened it up, which is easier said than done. There’s only about 1/8” of meat beyond the gullet to clamp into a saw vise. Oh, and the blade was curved, so I had to clamp it in sections.

I put the blade in the saw and tensioned it up using the knob at the rear of the handle. The metalwork and turned handle of this saw is beautiful, much nicer than most modern stuff.

With the blade sharpened, the thing flew through 1” cherry and walnut. It actually didn’t much care for pine and got stuck several times. After fooling around with it for an hour I had Megan and Glen give it a try.

Check out the short video that shows me sawing, followed by Megan. A 5-point saw is a tricky beast to start and keep under control.

The Fenner is a beast, and I don’t think it will become a part of my tool kit – until I start making life-size unicorn puzzles.

— Christopher Schwarz

12 thoughts on “The Fenner Patent Frame Saw. Crazy.

  1. Dean

    Any way to cut up a bandsaw blade to mount on this frame? I’ve seen some pretty high TPI/PPI counts on some of them in the 1/4″ width size (and wider) as well as 1/8″ width, but the 1/8” may be too narrow. Any other options?

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author


      I’m sure that band saw blade stock would work fine. I’ve made bowsaws using the stuff. You can file it to your liking. You can even get CARBIDE.

      Which is great for cutting unicorn horns….

  2. tsangelltsangell

    I need a t-shirt with a silhouette of the Fenner Patent Frame Saw, captioned: “Great for Unicorns, bad for Dovetails.”

  3. Andrew Yang

    Is this bumming around the office on a Thursday afternoon at PW?

    Do you use the block at the end of the triangular file to aid in alignment or just to keep the delicate (and bandaged) fingers intact?

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author


      Ahem. This is very serious work don’t ya know.

      The block on my saw file helps me maintain my rake angle when I sharpen. I thought I was a wussy because of this, but Ron Herman still uses one….

  4. John Cashman

    Life-size unicorn puzzles? Have you tried green alligators, long-necked geese, humpty backed camels or some chimpanzees? How about cats and rats and elephants? Still, the loveliest of all was indeed the unicorn.

      1. thompmj

        I was sort of thinking the same thing…the size of the saw seemed like it would be difficult to use for fine work.

        BTW, thanks for the great pop culture references. I usually get stupid looks when I make them…good to know I’m not the only one who can’t resist making them.

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