In Chris Schwarz Blog, Sawing Techniques, Saws

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During my first story on coping saws this week I lamented it was difficult to trace the saw’s genealogy. And I cussed the modern form.

Thanks to some readers, I have some more leads on the history of the coping saw (coming soon), and a new coping saw from Stanley that locks down pretty damn good. It’s not perfect, but I can help you get it working better than the other junk on the market.

The Stanley FatMax coping saws come in two sizes. They both take standard coping blades but have different throats. The big one has about a 6-1/2″-deep throat. Little buddy has 4-3/4″ between the frame and blade. Both have handles with soft plastic grips, like a lot of the FatMax stuff out there.

The ridges on the connector are small and hard to see. But they are there.

Where these saws stand apart is that you can lock the blade in one of eight positions. How does it work? The blade is grabbed by two “connectors” (Stanley’s name for the part) that pierce the saw’s C-shaped frame. Each connector has four ridges cast into it that nest into eight notches at the toe and the heel. It works like the detents on a miter saw. You loosen the connectors and rotate the blade until the connectors snap into the next detent. Then you retension the frame.

The eight notches on the saw frame. These are at the toe and heel.

I took the saw for a test drive and found that the blade held its setting far better than my Olsen or Craftsman saws, which lacks this feature. However, I’ve been fooled by pot metal before, especially with some woodworking machinery. I wonder how well these little ridges will hold up. We’ll find out.

I think this mechanism could be improved with better machining and deeper notches and ridges. But I’m willing , thrilled really , to have the saw working this well. It’s head and shoulders above other coping saws I’ve used.

Last night I went out and looked at other new coping saws (date night, honey!) to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. It was interesting to see that the new coping saws from Craftsman and Pilot/Do-it-Best lacked these notches. But the saw from Kobalt (Lowe’s house brand) had the notches at the toe of the saw but not the heel. Huh? Some one please wake up the engineer.

About the Blades
The four 18ppi blades that come with the Stanley FatMax are OK…for cutting soft cheese. Pitch them. Really. OK, give them to a neighbor. Go to Tools for Working Wood and buy yourself a package of the 18 ppi skip-tooth blades (a pack of 12 is $5.95). I have yet to find any better blade.

Both the Stanley and Olsen blades are made using .018″-thick steel. Both have the same ppi. But the Olsen has far less set , only about 3.5 thou per side. The Stanley blades are ridiculously over-set , 10 thou per side.

The stock blade (left) and the Olsen (right).

The difference is dramatic. The Olsen saws cut faster (about three times faster) and splinter a lot less. And they are easier to push. It’s no contest.

And the Handle
After the first article on coping saws, several woodworkers fell in love with the handle on Roubo’s marquetry saw and turned a handle like it. I have to admit I experienced a bit of lust for the little dongle on the end of the handle.

Yet, I’m not going to replace the handle on the FatMax. It’s comfortable, even after 20 or so cuts while dovetailing.

The FatMax saws are available at home centers (I got mine at an Ace hardware for $10.99). Both sizes are also carried by Jamestown Distributors. Nice work Stanley.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 7 comments
  • Wilfred

    I will get one. While on the subject of saws…I hold the firm belief that the FatMax 15" 9tpi Sharptooth saw is one of the best innovations in hand tools in the last century. This little saw is a workhorse. It cuts on the push AND the pull, it stays sharp, it rips and crosscuts, in green wood and dry. I have not tried it for dovetails and probably never will, but if you need to cut your wood down to size, make a jig, trim a tree, this is the saw.
    In the summer of 2007 I built a 9’x12′ two story workshop at our lake cottage in Canada. I think that 50% of the cuts were made with a FatMax. Instead of taking a piece outside to the chop saw or the circular saw I used the FatMax.
    If Stanley used the same innovative approach to the new coping saw, I will get myself one this week.
    Chris, have you tried one?

  • Christopher Schwarz

    I’d say the frame is plenty stiff. We’ll see how it holds up in time.

    As to filing these notches yourself: Yes you could file the notches. But making the nesting part on the connectors is another thing. Also, they need to mate snugly, otherwise the blade trembles as you use it, which is weird feedback.


  • Jerry

    Perfect, start the new year right. I’m buying another tool. *<]:o)

  • Dano

    Seems to me you could easily cut (most of) those indents deeper with a tri-angular file.

    I have my fathers old wooden handled coping saw. For a bent wire frame it sure manages to keep pretty good tension on the blade (even in push-stroke orientation).

    It was no doubt purchased from a "home center" in its time. Among the half dozen coping saws I have, it is the "go-to" tool.

  • Chris,

    I’m glad someone else mentioned this saw. I tried to add a comment to the other blog about it was having trouble with the entry. I’ve had mine for about two months now and had no issues. The gripe I do have is the plastic washer. It’s more like a shim really. The washer has become deformed but still seems to help keep things snug.

    Does yours have one?

  • Andy

    I think that my 3-4 year old Stanley coping saw, with wooden handle, also has these detentes. I’ll check this afternoon.

  • gdblake

    How stiff is the frame. Other coping saws I’ve tried with a bent rod for the frame were very springy. Useable only configured to cut on the pull stroke. Over time the frame gives out and can’t keep the blade under tension.


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