In Shop Blog, Techniques, Tools

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How many saws does it take to cut giant dovetails? In my case, three. Sure, those of you with mad saw skills might simply whip out the panel saw and go at it. But I’m not that brave.

Instead, I started with my wee Gramercy dovetail saw, which has a usable cutting depth of less than 1-1/4″ at the toe. Frankly, it looks more than a bit ridiculous atop this honkin’ big chunk of wood. But, the thin sawplate (.018″) and the many sharp teeth (it’s 19ppi) allowed me to track my lines with ease as I started each of these critical cuts.  And I’m pretty pleased with my work up at the top of the tail; the cuts don’t look half bad (the true test will come this weekend, though, as I try to fit things).

Then, I switched to Chris’s vintage Garlick & Sons sash saw (at least I’m pretty sure it’s technically a sash saw), and tracked the vertical line at a sharp angle, using my small kerf across the top to help guide the cut. And I came dangerously close to cutting into Chris’s vise chop a couple times (awfully glad I noticed before it was too late!). Once I reached my baseline, I switched to a perpendicular cut and cut down as far as the saw could go before the spine stopped me cold (3″ at the toe).

That meant it was time for the scary saw…¦the panel saw…¦with no back to help keep me on the straight and narrow. Chris has a plethora of panel saws from which to choose, but like a magpie, I went for his shiny new one, the Lie-Nielsen 12ppi (he has an 8ppi one, too, but I’m not that aggressive , at least not when it comes to sawing). This marks my first time as a panel-saw user, and my fears were a bit overblown (of course, it helps that I already had a 3″-deep kerf to follow).

The only “problem” I ran into is that with each saw, the plate got a little thicker, so I was perhaps working a little harder than I had to. But that’s a good thing, really. By the time I got down to the bottom of each cut, I was so tired that I couldn’t possibly make an unnecessary saw stroke. This is, I think, the first time ever I’ve not overcut my dovetail baselines.

– Megan Fitzpatrick

– If you want some real sawing instruction from an expert, check out Chris’s new DVD from Lie-Nielsen: “Sawing Fundamentals.” It’s available now through our Woodworker’s BookShop. (All of Chris’s earnings will be donated to White Water Shaker Village; you can read more about this Ohio Shaker community here.)

– I just got notice that our first-ever poster is in the store and available for pre-order (it should ship to buyers next week). And what, you may ask, would we put on a poster? Why, Plate 11 from AndrÃ?© Roubo’s “L’Art du Menuisier,” of course! (The plate that shows the bench we’ve built in several iterations , including the one above.) It’s 18″x24″ on heavy cream stock, suitable for framing. So after my bench is done, I guess I know what I’m building!

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Showing 7 comments
  • Manuel Cardoso-Lopes

    The only 12ppi panel saw Lie-Nielsen makes is filed crosscut, your using it to complete a rip cut (their only Panel Saw filed for a rip cut is a 7ppi)
    Did the crosscut teeth work Ok in this instance because of the earlier guiding cuts you made with the 2 smaller saws?

  • Jerry Olson


    You are doing a great job of filling in for Chris. Those of us who need our almost daily FIX of the Schwarz thank you.
    Having said this why not a blog of your own? That would allow for twice the FIX.

    Keep up the GW & see ya at WIA.


  • Damien

    I recently saw someone solving that problem by having a backsaw (tenon saw) followed by a backsaw without back. Strange, but then the whole cut can be done with the ‘same’ type of saw.


  • Graham Hughes

    I generally don’t take well to bow saws used for general cutting, but when I did the same thing with my bench legs, I found them very very useful for making those cuts. The same attributes that make it awkward to cut a wide board with one work fantastically for tenon cuts in the large. I just wish I could figure out a way to hold it that didn’t make my wrist ache.…

  • 家具職人

    You are brave, Megan (but we al already knew that, didn’t we?). Doing such cuts by hand and hoping they will all fit well at the last moment. Gotta be confident in your abilities!

    On the other hand, nothing farther from my intention than to start a "religious" war here. I know how this things polarize opinions but, have you thought how easy would have it been to do the cut using a good Japanese panel saw?

    A nice and big "Ryoba"—with two cutting edges rated a different TPI and progressive pitch in both—would have been sweet to start tracking the lines and, later switching to a more fast and aggressive cut. Not to mention the ultra thin kerf. With that much wood to remove that is something to take in account.

    The problem is, I know, that you got to get used to the different technique and this is not the proper moment to try it if you aren’t already doing it habitually.

    In any case, I’m looking forward do seeing the whole thing put together. It’s being very fun watching you handle these big bad boys alone and you are doing a fine job.


  • Doug F.

    You ended up with the cut you wanted. That’s the main thing, not how many saws it took to get there.

    If I were you, I’d hide the new panel saw and see how long it took him to notice; then blame it on Glen.


  • Clay Dowling

    Don’t fear the panel saw. As I’m sure you worked out, they are quite accurate when used properly.

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