5 Bowsaws Later
I leave for Germany in a couple weeks to teach classes on making Roorkhee chairs (piece of pie!) and bowsaws.
Yup. Making bowsaws. You’ve probably seen my international treatise on bowsaws: “Bowsaws: An Anthropological View of Three Sticks and Some Cat Innards.”
No? Well that’s because I haven’t written it. I’ve used and owned many bowsaws and frame saws since I started with Popular Woodworking in 1996 – we had a big one powered by a band saw blade – but I’d never made one from scratch. Until last week.
My German hosts at Dictum GmbH asked if I could teach a weekend class on making a bowsaw. As I can drill holes, cut wood and rasp corners, I said yes.
But last week I panicked. I didn’t want to copy one particular design (like the one from Tools for Working Wood) and I wanted the saw to be easy and fun to build. No wacky blade keepers or kooky curved stretchers.
So I threw myself into finding a design that I really liked and tried to work out the kinks in construction. Now, five bowsaws later, I am close.
Thanks to sawmaker Andrew Lunn, I found some curved cheeks that I really liked from a vintage saw he loaned me. Thanks to Tools for Working Wood, I got some simple hardware that is easy to install. And thanks to my little offset gauge, the saw’s frame is easy to make.
What’s an offset gauge? It’s a shopmade tool I’ve had in my kit every since I made my first Welsh stick chair. It’s a way of scribing a line a certain distance away from a curved edge. The real magic to the gauge is the fact that you have two 1/4” dowels that follow the curvature of your work and keep your pencil steady and on one point as you move the gauge. It’s a fantastic way to draw in curved chamfers on a chair or saw frame or anything shapely.
You can make these marks by eye, but a little offset gauge makes the process foolproof. And you then have crisp (not vague) lines to work to with your rasp.
Tomorrow I have to turn handles and make a toggle for this saw. But now that I have the frame roughed in (after five attempts), it should be no problem.
— Christopher Schwarz
Want to build the coolest bowsaw I’ve ever seen? Check out the article by Willard Anderson on his reproduction bowsaw in the November 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. It’s available for download here.