Coping Mechanisms for Gizmo Lovers
I’ve never had a drug dealer, but I’m starting to know what it might feel like.
Lately, woodworker and tool collector Carl Bilderback has been dangling some interesting tools before me, and I have been snatching them up. Carl has found my two weaknesses: edge plane a la the Stanley No. 95 and coping saws.
On the edge planes, I now have a decent collection. There, I said it. I collect edge planes. In addition to the well-known ones, I have a couple that were craftsman-made that Carl dug up for me. One is aluminum. The other is a jumbo-sized model made in brass or bronze.
On coping saws, my interest is in finding blade mechanisms that really work. Most of the coping saws you buy today at the hardware store are as useful at sawing wood as a sturgeon. Most coping saws are flimsy and the frame won’t hold the proper tension for work.
Also, the blade mechanism will rarely prevent the blade from twisting.
These three saws deal with the problem in three different ways. None is perfect. But if you see one of these in the wild it will be worth snatching up. These are far better than your hardware-store coping saw.
The Millers Falls No. 42
I’ve written about this saw before. But I like it so much I’m going to write again. What’s great about this tool is that the tubular steel frame is beefy, so you can tension the blade quite nicely. The mechanism that locks the blade in position is bullet-proof. Take a look at the photos. Both the toe and the heel of the tool have deep detents. When you lock the saw on one of these detents, it stays. And the handle is a very comfortable shape – not like the billy club handles of modern saws.
What’s the downside to the No. 42? It’s a little complex. Adjusting the blade takes a little fiddling. It’s not like changing the knives on a jointer, but it does take a little work. Also, the No. 42 that I have takes an old style of coping saw blade that doesn’t have the modern pins. It takes blades that have a round “eyelet” at each end.
You can modify a modern pin-ended blade to fit the saw, but that’s an annoyance.
Finally, I dislike the fact that these saws are hard to find. And collectors seem to like them, too. So good luck finding one.
The Jones’ Ratchet Coping Saw
This is a fairly robust saw that was patented in 1901. It takes the “eyelet” blades (good thing I have a box of those), like the Millers Falls saw above. This saw also has deep detents that allow you to position the blade at six positions.
What’s cool about this saw is that you can adjust to the different angles quickly. You just give the handle a twist. Then twist the knob at the toe. Takes a couple seconds at most.
The downside is that there is no mechanism to tension the sawblade. If you want more tension, you need to bend the frame open. The frame is fairly thick 1/4″ wire. I’ll be interested to see how it holds up. The second disadvantage is that you really have to use the saw with the blade installed to cut on the pull stroke. This tensions the blade during the cut. If you install the blade to cut on the push stroke, the blade can buckle.
The Jones’ Cable Coping Saw
This is the second-most gizmo-tastic coping saw I’ve ever seen (the Fenner patent saw wins that race, but I don’t have one). The Jones’ Cable Coping Saw gets its coolness from that fact that is has a hemp cable running inside the frame. Each end of the string is tied to a knurled cylinder. Rotate the handle and the string rotates the blade at both the toe and the heel. Very cool. So cool I made a little movie!
It actually works and is fun to use. Of course, I worry about the string breaking.
I tried to impress Megan with it so I could write “and the ladies will love it.” Two problems: Megan’s not a lady. And all she said about the saw was “meh.” So it’s not the chick magnet I hoped for.
But I bet if I get a Fenner-patent saw I’ll be fighting off the foxes.
— Christopher Schwarz
More Coping Saw Insanity
• Coping Saws: From Bricks to Fretwork Frogs