How Tool Tests Begin - Popular Woodworking Magazine

How Tool Tests Begin

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Sawing Techniques, Saws, Woodworking Blogs

With so many excellent hand tools on the market, it’s hard to find the space in the magazine to take the mediocre ones to task as much as I’d like. During the last six months I’ve been struggling to use a Stanley 20-331 flush-cutting saw in my shop without scarring my work and cursing like a pirate. Today the struggle ends.

The story begins in May when I was teaching at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. As I packed up all my hand tools to leave the school, somehow my flush-cutting saw disappeared. It wasn’t particularly nice or expensive (I paid $7), but it worked well and had lots of years left in it.

I didn’t realize I’d lost the saw until I was in the middle of a project a few weeks later and had to cut a bunch of drawbore pegs flush. A deadline was looming, so there was no time to order the saw I’ve had my eye on for some time from Lee Valley Tools.

So I went to Home Depot and picked up a Stanley 20-331 Contractor Grade Flush-cut Saw. The saw looked good in the package. The teeth looked about the right pitch (23 tpi). The handle looked rugged. The blade was replaceable. Plus I needed it. And I figured I was actually upgrading my equipment because the Stanley was $12.

I put it to work and immediately got ticked. The teeth of the tool are set to one side, so you can use only one face of the tool. If you flip the tool over it’s going to chew up your work, as I quickly found out. Why did they set the teeth? It’s unnecessary for a flush-cutting saw because they aren’t used for deeps cuts where binding becomes an issue. (Note: the photo at the top of this entry shows how the saw cut before I stoned the blade to remove the set.) Also, the saw cuts quite slowly compared to my old, somewhat dull flush-cutting saw.

The handle isn’t comfortable. There’s an octagonal section up by the tang that prevents the tool from rolling off the bench. But that section of the tool is uncomfortable to grip as a result. After six months I’m ready to admit I made a $12 mistake and just buy a new saw.

There is a bright spot in all this. I started looking around at all the flush-cutting saws available in the marketplace and have resolved that we need to test a group of them. And I’ll claim the winner as my own.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 11 comments
  • Mattias Jonsson

    I got this saw as a gift and immediately found your blog entry about how bad it is. Oh well. Anyhow, I think it works all right as long as you can identify which side the teeth are set to. Writing "UP" with a sharpie on the side that goes up does the job. It’s nice that the blade is replaceable although the whole thing is so cheap that there is almost no point. I used it the other day to cut a door jamb when installing a floor, and it works great for that. It cuts a lot better than a saw with no set. I’m sure I would be happier with a more expensive saw but I’d rather spend that money on good clamps. My lesson is probably to be more specific on my wish list. Thanks for a great blog. / Mattias

  • scott

    I guess I’ll check out Lee Valley myself, but I eagerly await the results. I have two, one from each of the Big Box stores, and I hate one, don’t care for the other. I’ve had better luck using a much larger pull saw, than with these little ones! Glad to finally know it isn’t me!

  • paul morin

    I’d have to agree. I picked up one of the Stanley’s dirt cheap at a used tool place I frequent – no wonder why after using. It lives in my garage and is used on things other than fine woodworking.

    I use a Veritas flush cutting saw, and have pretty good results with it.

    I picked up a tip somewhere – someone was using a worn out orbital sander sheet – slip the hole over your peg, and it helps to keep the saw from marking your work. The paper thin protrusion can then be cleaned up with a chisel or block plane. I found it left more protrusion then I liked, so I switched to old business cards.

  • David Charlesworth


    I bought a delicate one from the Japan Woodworker, many years ago. It does not scratch (no set), saws slowly and is suitable for fairly small pegs (up to 1/2" cut).

    I like it, but will be fascinated to see what you come up with.

    best wishes,

  • Wendell Wilkerson

    You must be talking about the Japanese Flush-Cutting Saw available at Lee Valley. The cheaper Veritas version clearly has set in the teeth. They even highlight the set in the catalog. The Veritas version seems to cuts pretty fast. I don’t really have anything to compare it with, but it didn’t "feel" slow to me. I have been burned by the set marking up the work when I used the wrong side of the blade against the work face. I also had an issue where the cut wasn’t perfectly parallel with the face. Sometimes the cut would angle into the work and mark up the face even though I was using the correct side of the saw. I am not sure if this was user error or the cut wandering. I eventually started make the cut the above the surface and cleaning up with a sharp chisel.


  • John Hanlon

    Although there might not be enough space in the magazine to cover all of the poor or mediocre tools you come across, it’s nice that the Blog exists to share those "finds" with us. Not only do we get to learn about the latest and greatest in the print version, but now we get to learn about your frustrations as well. Thanks a million for saving us some valuable time and money. The Weblog is great.

  • Christopher Schwarz


    Thanks for the tip.

    I first became enamored with the Lee Valley one while attenting a Galootapalooza. One of the attendees had both the flush-cut and the dozuki saws and I got to use them a bit. That’s always a crack-like experience.


  • Christopher Fitch

    I have the Lee Valley saw and it’s quite nice. When I got it, I was impressed by how well it’s made for such an inexpensive saw. I had one of the cheap flush cut saws from Lowe’s. It was ok but it’s not as nice as this one. I liked it so much I considered buying the Dozuki as well.

  • Will Highfield

    By golly that’s the one I have. You are right that it scratches the work and cuts too slowly. Now I know why. Another problem is that it is too thin. I’ll be waiting for your test results, and if I find a good one on my own I’ll let you know.


  • Christopher Schwarz


    We had some of those in the shop. I think we gave them away. Or paid someone to take them away.

    Also, I forgot to mention: The photo at the top of the blog is how the saw cut before I stoned out the extra set. I’ll make a note of that in the text. Blogs make revisionist history easy!


  • Keith Mealy

    My nomination for most useless tool is the Woodchuck chisel-rasp combo. I can’t imagine anything less user-friendly to the hand and definitely designed for the person that never sharpens anything.

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