Morris Saws and Coping Saws
I never knew how lame my cordless Skil drill was until I used a Makita. With a clutch. And the distinct absence of flames. So these last few weeks I’ve become frustrated and obsessed (frusessed?) with my coping saws , their blades just don’t hold their angle.
Luckily, there are already a lot of patented mechanisms out there (patents that have long expired, by the way), plus lots of antique examples of coping saws that have blades that really lock tight.
This week I got my hands on one of the Stanley FatMax coping saws that has a pretty good blade-locking mechanism. You’d think this new saw would calm my locking lust, but it has only inflamed it. That’s because I’ve been using the FatMax quite a bit to clear dovetail waste and it works brilliantly.
After a couple sets of dovetails I found that I could saw even closer to the baseline because:
1. I wasn’t afraid of the blade twisting and me sawing off line.
2. I knew the exact angle of the blade (45Ã?Â°) and as I got used to that angle I knew exactly how to twist the saw to skim the baseline. In other words, I’m hooked.
So why am I blogging about this today? While I think the FatMax is great (skip three lattes and buy one), I think the form could be improved a bit. Here’s what I would do:
1. Make the locking mechanism tighter , perhaps by copying the early 20th-century Simonds coping saw or one of the other expired patents out there.
2. Improve the machining on the blade connectors that grab the pin-end blades. Have you seen the connectors on the Gramercy bowsaw? They’re excellent. I’d like something like that.
3. Please give me a wooden handle. The FatMax handle is surprisingly comfortable, but industrial-looking squishy handles just don’t do it for me.
What would they look like? Well thanks to Joel Moskowitz at Tools for Working Wood, I fell for some 18th-century forms shown in “A Catalogue of Tools for Watch and Clock Makers by John Wyke of Liverpool” (1758-1770). This catalog, reprinted by the Winterthur Museum, contains a lot of tools used by cabinetmakers to build the cases.
Plates 27 and 28 have what are called “Morris Saw Frames.” These frame saws come in a variety of sizes (some are coping saw sized) and have elegant handles. And the cool saws for jewelers on plate 27 have a nice ornamental scroll at the midpoint of the frame (which seems to serve no purpose, according to the book , another “nib”).
The origin of the word “Morris” is in doubt, according to the modern text accompanying the catalog. The term might be a bastardization of “Moorish.” Or it might be related to a game from the Middle Ages known as “Nine Men’s Morris,” which used a marquetry gaming board.
The Morris saws for cabinetmakers in plate 28 look a lot like modern coping saws or fretsaws , you’d only need to make the handles plastic and change the blade-holding mechanism to accept pin-ended blades.
What does all this prove? That a small metal frame saw sure was handy in the 18th century and still is today.
If any of you out there have old coping saws with mechanisms that lock the blade tight, I’d sure appreciate a photo. Perhaps the chatter will inspire manufacturers to improve the locking mechanism.
As to the handle, well, I’m sure that most of us can handle that. Take a look at the coping saw handle turned by reader John Borgwardt of Wisconsin, who was inspired by the handle on the marquetry saw shown in Andre Roubo.
– Christopher Schwarz