Planes are Stupid; Saws are Smart
I am married to a very smart woman. This has its advantages – life is never boring. It also has its disadvantages – she does not suffer fools (such as myself) lightly.
What the heck does this have to do with woodworking? Plenty.
In the world of woodworking tools there are two overarching varieties: the planes and the saws. They are quite different – not just in how they cut wood, but in how they are handled by you, the woodworker. Let’s start with the planes – the nincompoops of the hand tool world.
Yes, I know you love your planes. I like my planes, too. But they aren’t very intelligent tools. If you push them across a board and don’t try to manipulate them every second of the way they will ruin your work. Don’t believe me? Try it. Apply consistent pressure to your block plane/bench plane/joinery plane/moulding plane as you dress a board and you will fail to create a flat surface. You will create a banana.
Planes are like Play Doh. They need to be coaxed along to create the flat surface we desire. That means placing all the downward pressure on the toe of the tool at the beginning of your stroke. Placing equal pressure on the toe and heel in the middle of the stroke. And placing all the downward pressure on the rear tote at the end of the stroke.
This, in essence, tricks the plane into producing flat work.
Saws are different.
With saws, you are the problem. Saws want to make a straight cut, but all the little things that you do force the saw away from its goal. By gripping the saw too tightly you force the saw off line. By using too much downward pressure you force the saw off line. By holding the saw with all four fingers you tend to force the saw off line. And on and on.
The best way to saw is to minimize the sawyer. In other words, the best sawyer is the one who isn’t there.
When I teach people to saw (like I am teaching them this week in Germany) I am mostly trying to eliminate their influence over the tool. To allow the tool to do its job. To make them patient observers.
This week, my job has been easy. The group at the Dictum workshop in Germany is a bunch of open-minded Europeans and American ex-pats. We moved more quickly through the lesson plan than any class I have ever taught.
Is it Europe? Or is the hand-tool woodworker finally ready for this lesson?
— Christopher Schwarz
• Sawing is an important hand skill that few people can teach. If you want to become a good sawyer and cannot take a class, we recommend our DVD “Build a Sawbench with Christopher Schwarz,” which is a video of a class on sawing we shot last year.