A Nest of Saws
When it comes to saws, aspiring sawyers have two basic questions: What saws should I own to build furniture? And where can I get them?
During the last couple years I’ve been teaching a few classes on sawing, with more classes on the horizon. So I’ve been asked these two questions a lot. Below is my basic set, which is based on the furniture I build (casework, chairs, tables, general stuff), my personal preferences (I like longer, coarser saws) and established historical practice.
In other words, if you have a problem with my list, make you own list and post it below in the comments. Perspectives from other sawyers are useful and interesting.
1. Crosscut handsaw: I like an 8-point crosscut handsaw for breaking down rough stock and general dimensioning of material. It cuts quickly (yea!), and the resulting surface is easy enough to clean up on a shooting board. Some woodworkers like 12-point saws, but I think they are slow and the resulting surface isn’t significantly cleaner. My personal saw is a 24″-long panel saw (most handsaws are 26″ long). It’s a private-label saw made by Disston & Sons for an old Boston hardware store.
2. Ripsaw: I don’t rip a lot by hand, but when I do, I want to be done with it. So I like a coarse ripsaw. The one shown in the photo is a 6-point Disston D-8. I also have a Wenzloff & Sons 5-point saw. Both are good workers. Some day I’ll be man enough to use something even coarser.
3. Tenon saw: I have a few tenon saws. I prefer a saw that is about 10 points, though saws that are as fine as 13 points are OK by me (as long as the rake isn’t significantly relaxed). Tenon saws start at 12″ long, though I recommend the longer ones. Shoot for 14″ at least; they make them as long as 19″, which are surprisingly easy to wield. All tenon saws should be filed with rip teeth. They are designed to rip tenon cheeks.
4. Carcase saw: This is the backsaw I use more than any other. I like something that is 12 points to 14 points, filed crosscut, and about 14″ long. The long sawplate helps improve my accuracy. The carcase saw shown in the photo is a sweet Wheeler, Madden & Clemson XLCR saw.
5. Dovetail saw: This is perhaps the most personal saw, so ignore my recommendation completely. If you like a 23-tooth Japanese crosscut dozuki, stick with it. Or a hacksaw. It doesn’t matter. I like a 15-point Western saw with rip teeth. Shown is my Lie-Nielsen progressive-pitch saw, which has 15 points at the toe and about 9 at the heel. This is a love-it-or-leave-it saw for most people, so I recommend you try before you buy.
The names of saws are confusing. The types of saws overlap with one another in size and tooth configuration. I’d ignore the names in the catalogs and just buy them based on their specifications. It’s much less confusing that way. Also, I use a lot of other specialty saws, including a flooring saw, jeweler’s saw and a flush-cut saw. But those aren’t necessary for all furniture-making.
Where to Buy Saws
There are lots of places to buy new, sharp backsaws, but buying a sharp handsaw or ripsaw is more of a challenge. However, there are three gentlemen I have bought handsaws and ripsaws from that I can recommend. Sometimes they also have backsaws in stock, though vintage backsaws are a lot more rare than handsaws.
Daryl Weir (firstname.lastname@example.org): 781 S. Market St., Knoxville IL 61448. Daryl sharpens saws and sells saws on eBay on occasion.
Steve Cook (SharpeningGuy01@aol.com): 1160 Taxville Road, York, PA 17408. Steve also sharpens saws if you have an old saw that you need toughed up (or completely refiled).
Tom Law: 62 West Water St., Smithsburg MD, 21783, 301-824-5223. Tom no longer sharpens saws for hire, but he will sell you a saw that he has rehabbed and sharpened.
If you know of other reliable sources for buying sharp handsaws, add a comment below.