About eight years ago, when I was still a clean-shaven, short-haired senior editor, I took a trip to see the huge woodworking show at Woodstock, Ontario. There I saw some amazing things:
1. Rob Cosman, then a Lie-Nielsen tool dealer, ate an entire chicken and a two quarts of mashed potatoes one evening after the show.
2. The most dangerous woodworking machine ever , a steam-powered shingle-cutting machine that had no guards and could slice a man’s arm off , slamming out huge shingles like they were butter instead of cedar.
3. The prototype for the Lie-Nielsen panel saw.
At the time, Cosman explained that the saw was in development and should be available “soon.” I used the saw during that show and it was OK, but it wasn’t in the same league as my vintage Disstons at home.
The prototype was heavy and the sawplate wasn’t taper-ground. A taper-ground sawplate is thicker at the tooth line and gets thinner along the top. This reduces the weight of the tool and allows you to use less set when you sharpen the teeth. I think it also makes it easier to follow a line with the saw.
This winter, Lie-Nielsen Toolworks finally delivered on its promise to make a set of panel saws for making furniture. Were they worth the wait? Let’s take a look.
The Lie-Nielsen panel saws are 20″ long at the tooth line and are available with three different forms of teeth: a 7-point rip and an 8- and 12-point crosscut. The sawplate is .032″ thick at the toothline and .026″-thick along the back. The teeth are hand-filed and set, which makes them smooth-cutting out of the box.
The tote is well-made and comfortable, with a crisp lamb’s tongue detail at the bottom and an attractive medallion , just like the saws of old. The blade has a nice etch and stamp and even has the much-discussed “nib,” virtually guaranteeing that our children’s children will continue to discuss this decorative feature of saws.
Like any well-sharpened saw, the Lie-Nielsens cut smooth, true and quick. As someone who uses traditional 26″-long saws, the panel saws took some getting used to. The short sawplate would fly out of my kerf on the backstroke (thanks to my long, simian-like arms). And these panel saws are extraordinarily light. They weigh 15 ounces, as opposed to the 1 lb. 11 ounces I’m used to with my Disston No. 12 handsaw.
After breaking down all the drawer-bottom boards for a five-drawer chest, however, I got in the groove and appreciated the lighter weight of the saws.
These saws are best used with a traditional sawbench (click here to read about sawbenches). I am not fond of panel saws or backsaws at workbench height.
So let’s talk about the price of the tools like adults might do. These saws are $225 each. Traditionalists will balk, naturally, especially if they have supped at the barrel of $5 saws at the local flea market. I’ve bought a lot of good saws from those barrels, but most of the saws at flea markets are utter dogs. They are bent, rusted and dull with loose totes. And panel saws are hard to find. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you’ll find a decent panel saw with a shiny sawplate that is worth buying. I’ve seen maybe two in my journeys.
So here are your choices. Learn to hunt for saws (start here at the excellent Disstonian Institute; I like D-23s). Then learn to clean and sharpen the tools (at the excellent VintageSaws.com site). None of this is rocket science or voodoo, but it will take time and effort. Then order your triangular files, make a saw vise, watch the free Lie-Nielsen videos on saw sharpening and scare up a suitable saw-set tool (I recommend the Stanley 42x).
And, I’m being honest here, buy a dogmeat saw to practice on. Then go to it. Hunting, bagging and restoring old saws is a valuable skill.
Or you can pay your $225 for an 8-point crosscut panel saw (the one I’d recommend starting with) and be done with it. You still should learn to sharpen, however.
– Christopher Schwarz
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