In Shop Blog, Techniques

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I like a good carcase saw in the same way I like to eat most parts of the pig. I like the way that its well-tuned crosscut teeth slice into the grain and leave behind a glassy smooth cut. I like how easy the saws are to start. I like the fact that they don’t tear the face grain up.

But like fried pork skins loaded with triglycerides, I’ve been trying to give up carcase saws lately. Why? Well it’s for a future book that I’ll be able to tell you about in a few weeks. What counts here is that I’ve been building furniture lately with just two backsaws , a dovetail saw and a sash saw that are both filed with rip teeth.

How do I handle crosscuts? With a chisel, of course. If you first create a V-groove with a chisel you can get away with almost anything. When cutting tenon shoulders, I’ve been making a V-shaped trench with a chisel before cutting the shoulder. (Author Robert Wearing calls this a “first-class saw cut.”)

Then I drop the sash saw into the trench and cut the shoulder. The chiseled trench makes sure the shoulder is clean.

I’ve been doing the same thing when crosscutting the ends off my tail boards when dovetailing. First make a trench with a chisel, then drop the saw into the trench.

And what about cutting rails and stiles to final length? In those cases I’ve been cutting a hair long and removing the ragged end on a shooting board.

All in all, it works well. And while it sounds like the chisel work is an extra step, I think I’m making up that time by the fact that I’m not having to switch saws so much. I have one saw for tenoning and one saw for dovetailing.

Will this experiment stick? I cannot say. I was always lousy at giving up jelly doughnuts for Lent as a kid.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 23 comments
  • Doug Fulkerson

    I’m pretty sure it was in Anthony Guidice’s book The Seven Essentials of Woodworking that I read his contention that you don’t need a crosscut saw to make good joinery. He contended that crosscut saws are for cutting green wood while rip saws are for cutting dried wood. If you are doing joinery your wood should already be dry and you don’t need a crosscut saw. I don’t know enough to say if he is right or wrong but it always sounded like an intriguing idea to me and I have always wondered if he had determined this himself or learned it from someone else. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the subject when you are done Chris.

  • Graham Hughes

    What I’ve gathered is that in eras on which people hand filed their saws, a pure rip saw with no fleam is basically unobtainable. So they’ll all crosscut to some degree. The modern crosscut saw, as such, seems to be an Industrial Age invention, and the ones we see on hand saws are quite a bit simpler than those on big saws; no rakers, simple gullets, etc. They seem to be adequate, and honestly I can’t remember the last time I did a long crosscut in real wood, where the added speed and gullet clearing abilities of a classic two-man crosscut would be useful.

    Now, all that said I would not want to try to down a tree with ripsaw.

  • Ryan M

    I am a Neanderthal due to living space so I own an extra #7 blade that is sharpened straight across for match planing glue-ups (my regular blade is cambered).

    Since this blade is out of the tool 99% of the time, I use it to cut my v-grooves for first class cuts – I’m lazy and it’s like one giant chisel.

  • Samson

    Thanks, Chris. I don’t question the efficacy of any of these methods. At base, I just find it weird that the idea of paring to a knife line at the edge (while slightly undercutting the rest) of a tenon shoulder, for example, post sawing is seen as a flawed strategy and chiseling a "V" at the incised line to guide the saw (which probably takes almost the exact same amount of time) is seen as a "first class cut." Here’s a pic of the amount I typically pare (note that you can see where the knife line is already chipping away – i.e., very little material is being removed and the knife line easily guides the chisel):

    Have a great weekend.


  • Christopher Schwarz


    Everything is a balancing act. Using the knife or chisel to lay out the joint makes for little or no clean-up afterward.

    I lay things out carefully so I can cut them cleanly and be done with it. I have most of my problems when I tweak a joint *after* cutting it.

    I hope this makes sense to more than just me….


  • Wilbur Pan

    "I think I’m making up that time by the fact that I’m not having to switch saws so much."

    With a ryoba, all you have to do is rotate the handle to switch from rip to crosscut and back. :@)

  • Peter C. Tremblay

    I’m interested to see what you will be coming up with on your experiment, Chris. I have often wondered why the Seaton Chest has only one crosscut saw and that was a 26" hand saw for dimensioning lumber not for doing joinery.


  • Samson


    How does all this square with your March 13 post about "splitting the line?" You explained in that thread that:

    "I have found that the more you mess with a joint the more likely you will ruin it. The more steps you add to an operation, the more chance that one of them will be faulty."

    And really, how is the grooving step not just the equivalent paring to the line post sawing; here, you just do it to start rather than to finish?



  • Bill

    I think you should stick with the experiment. That way it will take you out of the running for "he who dies with the most toys wins" contest, which I for one am still trying to win. Now, where did I put that lottery ticket?


  • Dave Anderson NH

    hi Chris,

    As Rich Yoachim has alluded, the Hays shop at Williamsburg only uses rip filed saws. I and others have asked about this over the years at the January conferences. The responses from both Mack Headley and Kaare Loftheim is that there was no historical evidence to support the use of cross cut filed saws in North America in the era predating the the American Revolution. Of course, that does not mean they didn’t exist and weren’t used. I just means that out of the few extant examples available for study, none were found. Probably 90% or better of the tools of all types from that era have disappeared for one reason or another, just like that period’s furniture.

    Best regards,

    Dave Anderson NH who if he’s in a lazy mood uses a rip filed backsaw on occasion to make a cross cut.

  • Ray


    I seem to remember Tage Frid in his books said that he re-filed all his handsaws as rip saws. I guess people have been down this road before.

    I look forward to reading the results of your experiments.

  • Christopher Schwarz


    That filing (and many others) has been done. I haven’t tried it so I cannot comment on its effectiveness.


  • MikeH

    An idea!

    We all know that circular blades have combo grinds with a raker for every couple of ATB pairs. How about filing a hand saw similarly, alternating a pair of fleamed teeth with a chisel twooth or two. Is this something to consider, or am I nuts?

    Rick: You really think Schwarz is going to give up beer of anykind, be it cheap (especially if it’s free) or otherwise (darn good thing the office isn’t in St. Louis say, or do I dare suggest, Milwaukee – at least in Cinci we still get a magazine once in a while) or are you trying to join me in the nuts (and I’m not talking about beer nuts here either) department?

    And as for all you folks who are moaning about Lenten deprivations, hey guys, it’s only for forty days you know. Where I come from, I just touch any of that stuff even once all year around and I get to fry forever in the fiery fleams of hell.

  • Dean Jansa

    Fleam! We don’t need no stinkin fleam!

    I’ve just recently added fleam to a backsaw, I’ve gone years without fleam. I don’t think you even need the V-cut, just a deep line from a striking knife.

    To be fair, I file my own saws, and there is little chance I have zero fleam on any tooth. I guess you can call it "progressively random" fleam.


  • Rick Yochim


    Glad to see you’re again going boldly where others have gone before. Saws filed rip lived long before the crosscut saw was *invented*, I suspect, so I’m glad you’re putting this bit of historical practice to the test.

    Now some pooh pooh the historicity of Colonial Williamsburg, but they do try to get it right and one aspect of that as relates to this post is that they have no saws filed crosscut in the Hay shop. All are ripsaws. Call me madcap, but I think those guys do pretty fair work with their fleam-challenged saws.

    Good luck with this. Looking forward to reading your observations.

    Oh, and Lent is over so if the jelly doughnut thing is still a problem, you’ve got another year to think about petitoning the Almighty for help.

    (Ok, not jelly doughnuts. Cheap beer then.)

    Rick Yochim

  • Mike Siemsen

    Will the book mention how the application of pork grease helps the saw slide through the wood?
    Keep it up!!

  • Matt Vanderlist

    You big tease!

  • Robert

    "Well it’s for a future book that I’ll be able to tell you about in a few weeks."

    The heck with the saw…what’s important here is figuring out which book is on the horizon!

    Hmm. Smells like a maybe a wholesale rewrite of something classic. I’m going to have to start pulling down and dusting off a few in order to hazard a guess.

  • Tom K

    Is this experiment related to the fact the Hay shop in Williamsburg does not use any crosscut filed saws?

  • Tom Fidgen

    This is an interesting technique although I have a hard time believing you’ll make up ‘the time’ by not having to switch saws…When making a cross cut do you continue this chiseled ‘v’ cut down the edges or only across the face? I’m all for saving some time in the workshop but think readers may be a little confused on this one. If start up costs are an issue and a worker can only afford to purchase one saw then yeah, this is a valid technique for using a rip tooth for cross cutting. I think beginners would be better off with as you mentioned a dovetail saw and for a second, a carcass saw filed x-cut, not a second rip saw.
    Just another opinion.

  • MikeH

    Thanks Chris. Your sage advice is much appreciated.

  • Christopher Schwarz


    Sorry to sound contrarian. A carcase saw is a long and established part of a traditional woodworking kit. Until I embarked on this experiment, the saw never sat idle.

    Can you work without one? Yes, you can. Of that I am sure. Do I want to work without one? At this point, no.

    To your point, any of the three essential saws will serve you well.

    And yes, that’s a Wenzloff tenon saw.


  • MikeH

    Hi Chris,

    Once you wrote:

    "As far as picking your next saw, I think most people find the carcase saw indispensable. It is the smoothing plane of the saw world. However, you really can’t cut tenons without a tenon (or sash) saw. Eventually you really need all three. But I’d get the carcase first."

    I’m just wondering, given your latest post, if you’ve changed your thinking on this, or is this new idea still in the experimental stage? I’m a hair’s breadth away from making a major purchasing decision, so your post couldn’t have been more timely, and I would really appreciate some clarification with regard to the direction I ought to be heading in.

    Do you think then that I should forego the carcase in favour of the sash/tenon, or would you still advocate getting all three?

    Many thanks.


    BTW, in the picture above, is that a Wenzloff? It sure looks like one.

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