In all hand aspects of hand-tool woodworking, how you begin an operation with a hammer, plane or saw greatly influences your chance of success. Maintaining a proper strike, stroke or slice is far easier than trying to recover from a botched one.
So it makes sense that a tool should be designed to be easy to begin an operation. That’s why some hammers have a cross-pane, some joinery planes have long fences and some saws have specially shaped teeth.
With saws, the simplest way to make them easier to start is to put some fine teeth at the toe of the tool and coarse teeth at the heel. You begin the cut with short strokes using the fine teeth and then lengthen your strokes to unlock the speed of the coarse teeth. And that’s exactly what Lie-Nielsen Toolworks has done with a customized version of its dovetail saw that is now available for a $10 upcharge.
This special saw with its progressive pitch begins with 16 teeth per inch (tpi) at the toe and ends with 9 tpi at the heel. Otherwise, the saw is the same as the stock Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw , the teeth are filed rip and the brass back and handle are unchanged.
Thomas Lie-Nielsen loaned me a prototype of one of these saws about 18 months ago to test, and to be honest I didn’t take a liking to it at first. I’ve never had difficulty starting a dovetail saw (everyone learns this with practice) and for some reason found the progressive-pitch saw a bit harder to control than the stock Lie-Nielsen I’ve been using for years.
The fine teeth at the toe of the progressive-pitch dovetail saw.
But I kept using the progressive-pitch model, part out of stubbornness and part out of the knowledge that all freshly sharpened rip saws are a bit grabby and jerky in the cut. After a few months of use, the saw began to break in and I began to , grudgingly , see its merits.
The coarse teeth at the heel of the saw. (This photo was taken at the same magnification as the one above.)
Now it’s my favorite dovetail saw. Not because it starts easy (it does) but because it will fly through a cut thanks to the ravenous coarse teeth at the heel. Now that the saw and I understand each another, each cut goes something like this: Two short strokes at the toe to begin the kerf, followed by three long strokes along the entire toothline, followed by a short stroke or so to just touch the baseline of my joint.
These last little strokes to hit my baseline can be made anywhere on the toothline of the tool , so if I’m really close to my baseline I’ll use the fine teeth at the toe. If I have a little ways to go I’ll use the faster teeth in the middle. I started doing this out of instinct (not cleverness) and didn’t realize I was doing it at first.
This week, Thomas sent me an e-mail saying that his company is ready to start making the progressive-pitch saw for customers. The price is $135. The saw isn’t yet on the company’s web site, but if you call and ask, they will be happy to take your order.