I’m confident with most hand tools, except for the saw. I can go months without using a plane or chisel, pick one up and get the results I want. Not so with the saw. I don’t get enough practice to begin with so I make warm up cuts before making a critical cut, and then sweat my way through it. More often than not, I deliberately cut wide and then adjust with a chisel, shoulder plane or rasp. I envy woodworkers who can put joints together right off the saw.
Kevin Drake, of Glen-Drake Tool Works tells me I’m not alone, and that the problem isn’t with me, it is with the design of most woodworking saws. Kevin is no stranger to reinventing the wheel. His Tite-Mark marking gauge and line of hammers are evidence that many of the tools we take for granted can be improved.
When I visited Glen-Drake last February, I saw a prototype of this saw and was sworn to secrecy. I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it at the time. This is such a radical change from what I’m used to that it’s going to take a while to decide if this is the saw for me. I can say without reservation that it is extremely well made, a tremendous amount of thought has gone into it, and it works as advertised.
The teeth on any saw do the work, but on conventional saws they also cause some problems. The first issue is in getting the cut started. The set of the teeth tend to pull the saw blade off the line, and the resistance of the teeth makes it difficult to gain momentum without straying from the target. At the end of the stroke, the teeth tend to grab. This slows things down and is another opportunity to get off course.
Glen-Drake’s solution is to eliminate the teeth at the very front and very back of the saw. This radical approach solves both the problems mentioned above. Instead of starting a cut tentatively at the back of the blade, you start at the front. A line from the marking knife helps, but using the Glen-Drake Kerf-Starter is even better. The Kerf-Starter is the same thickness as the saw blade, and as its name implies it establishes a slot for the blade to ride in as the cut begins.
The teeth are also filed progressively, finer at the front and back, and more aggressive in the middle of the blade. If you think about the physics of a saw stoke, you start, speed up and then slow down to make the return stroke. The peculiar grind of this blade makes each of these actions easier and more natural. The brass back is also heavy enough to provide all the downward force you need. The old saying is to “let the saw do the work” and this saw has been designed to do just that. Making a cut with the Wild West Joinery saw is almost effortless, just push, hang on and steer.
What you hang on to is the most radical feature. Instead of one handle, there are two, and the saw is used with a two-handed grip, standing directly behind it. This makes it easier to push the saw and to control it. It is much like steering a motorcycle by leaning, a little pressure from one thumb makes a big difference. After lining up the front of the saw, it is pushed forward one complete stroke. At the end of the stroke, the back edge of the saw is compared to the layout line, any needed corrections to course made, and then the saw is drawn back and pushed forward for another stroke.
After a few strokes, I started to get the hang of it and began to saw continuously, stopping now and then to check my progress. The technique works well and the only real problem I had with it was unlearning old habits. I imagine that someone just starting out might be able to significantly shorten the sawing learning curve. It is very easy to get this saw started on the right track, and once started it is easy to continue. Momentum, gravity, body position and movement are all on your side.
Glen-Drake has a free video available (call 800-961-1569) that details using the saw as well as the company’s other tools. It’s worth taking a look and giving some thought. This is a premium quality saw, and an interesting new method.