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Today I got the magazine’s staff involved in evaluating carcase saws for the Autumn 2009 issue of Woodworking Magazine. But before I could cut the staff loose on the saws, I had to make sure the tools were all dull.

Yup. Dull. When new saws come into the shop, the burrs left behind by filing the teeth can make the saw difficult to start and grabby in the kerf. Before I ever decide if I like a saw or not, I try to give it a workout to wear those burrs down a bit.

I’ve found that after about 20 or so cuts through 3/4″ x 2″ in hardwood, two things happen: Most of the burrs have been reduced to where the saw will start to float through the work. And two: I know if the tote is going to maim my hand.

So this afternoon I broke in all our carcase saws by making cuts in cherry until their cutting action stopped improving.

With many tool reviews, the differences between the tools or machines are slight. Try testing cabinet saws and you’ll see why some people resort to pseudo-science with dial calipers, made-up testing machinery involving a coke-addled albino rat and lab coats (nothing says “official” like a lab coat).

But I suspect this test will be different. All of the saws cut well, but boy do they feel different. Some are nose-heavy. Some feel full in the hand. Others cut as smooth as duck butter. Stay tuned.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 12 comments
  • Christopher Schwarz


    I have stoned a saw before – mostly to remove set from one side or the other.

    The stone only gets at the burrs on the tips — not down into the body and gullet of the tooth. Plus, you can radically change the way a saw cuts (in a bad way) if you stone it with more than a few strokes.

    So I break in my saws the old-fashioned way — by sawing.


  • Wilbur Pan

    Have you ever tried to speed up the break-in process of a saw by taking a waterstone and running it along the sides of the teeth? I’ve heard of people using this technique, with new saws and after sharpening, but have never tried this myself.

  • Brian R. Callahan

    From my experience, the older saws have been manufactured very well and in many cases have a life of 30 or 40 years. If you have the opportunity to invest in an older saw at the right price, you can do quite well.

    Brian Callahan
    Forest Hills, New York

  • Christopher Schwarz


    Including a vintage saw wouldn’t tell us much because there are so many brands available with different totes, backs, plate thicknesses etc. Too many variables to control with a vintage tool.

    And the sharpening would depend on who we picked to do the job.

    As someone who has used vintage saws for years, I can tell you they are all over the map. From great to crap.


  • Allan Campbell


    If possible, please include at least one relatively common vintage saw in the comparison. That’s what I currently use, and I often wonder how much better, if at all, the new saws are.



  • David B.

    duck butter? Is that what I kept stepping in the Popular Woodworking parking lot? Now that I think about it, I think that was goose butter.


  • Jim Linn

    Last year I restored an old Disston back saw and after recutting (crosscut) and sharpening the teeth, I tried using it before putting the set on, just to see what would happen. Predictably, it only cut about 10mm before tightening up in the kerf. However, it did give a useful benchmark from which to gradually increase the set until it felt right. That turned out to be not much set. My LN dovetail saw has the merest of set and cuts perfectly – until you get past about 25mm where it starts to bind. I think you need some set.

    I recently tried Chris’s (and Tage Frid’s) thing about using rip saws across the grain. I went through all my rip saws (all four of them) – including the 4.5 pt hand saw – and found to my surprise that there wasn’t much difference. Why have I not thought of this before? All those hours trying to perfect crosscut filing wasted. It’s rip only for me from now on.

  • Dan Barrett

    Are the saws in question just from the big boys or are you including the custom guys? Obviously there is quite a price difference between the two camps. Oh ya DUCK BUTTER? room temp or frozen?
    Take care,

  • Dan Sayler

    . . . well where I’m from duck butter comes from the yard and not the kitchen and is a major reason why country boys and girls don’t go barefoot nearly as much as a Norman Rockwell illustration might have you believe . . .

  • Chuck Nickerson

    "Duck butter"? I’m left assuming you consumed a *lot* of your favorite brew before you milked a duck.


  • Christopher Schwarz


    I’ve never done this nor used one that has the set removed. So I can’t say much about it.



  • Lee Laird


    Wow, I look forward to reading the team’s review. Regarding the methods you use to bring the saw up to full potential, there is a woodworking school North of Austin TX that rumor has it asks their students to remove the set from the Lie-Nielsen DT saws, before they begin their training. I own one of the aforementioned saws, but have been too chicken to modify mine knowing it could potentially destroy the usability.

    Have you ever heard of this before or actually used one that has been modified?


    Lee Laird

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