Using a Sawbench
The traditional English sawbench looks a bit like an alligator with really long legs. This curious appearance has left some readers a bit curious themselves about some of the features of the sawbench and how exactly it should be used.
But before I launch into some of the basic techniques for using the sawbench, I’d like to answer some of the most common questions we’re getting from readers about the sawbench featured in the Autumn 2006 issue.
Question: I’m X-feet tall, should I build my own sawbench taller than 20″ (or shorter than 20″)?
Answer: I’m 6’4″ and have 21″ from the bottom of my kneecap to the floor. I really like a 20″-high sawbench. I recommend you build it at 20″ and then cut it down if you have trouble kneeling on the work as it sits on top of the sawbench , your knees are the clamps and all those peanuts you’ve been eating are the clamping pressure.
Some traditional sources put the sawbench at 18″ high. That works, too. Any lower, however, and you risk hitting the floor of your shop with the toe of your handsaw.
Question: Why are the legs splayed in only one direction? I’ve seen ones with the legs splayed in two directions.
Answer: I splayed the legs as shown to make the project easier to build. Splaying the legs in two directions makes the sawbench a bit more stable, and a bit more complicated to construct. My first prototype and the finished version are both incredibly stable, even without the double splay.
Question: Do I have to use Southern Yellow Pine? I cannot find any in my area.
Answer: Use any construction-grade lumber that’s heavy and clear. This can be fir, poplar or hemlock in some markets. I think white pine or sugar pine would also be quite acceptable. Don’t spend a lot of money.
Question: How do I use the thing?
Answer: OK, here are the basic strokes. Let’s start with crosscutting. You can crosscut short boards (36″ and shorter) with one sawbench. Longer boards require two sawbenches.
Start the saw at a low angle to the face of the board.
With one sawbench, lay the work along the top and crosscut off the end , out of habit I do it by the ripping notch. Your two legs are the clamps. If you are right-handed, then your right leg should be on the floor with your workpiece butted up against your shin. Your left leg should be bent 90Ã?Â° and resting on top of the work. Make sure your right arm swings free over your cutline. (If you are left-handed, reverse these directions).
The saw at working angle.
Finishing the cut.
Then you make the cut: Start with the saw at a low angle (20Ã?Â° or so to the face of the board) and work your way up after four or five strokes to 45Ã?Â° , that’s the working angle. As you finish up the cut, reach around the saw with your left hand and support the unsupported part of the board to avoid the last splinter ruining your finished piece.
Use two sawbenches and lay the work across the tops. You can work with the boards either across the width or the length of the top of the sawbench. In either case, you’ll use the same two legged footwork above to clamp the work for cutting.
The body position for an efficient short rip down the entire length of the board.
Short Rips and Notches
Use one sawbench. Lay the work along the top of the sawbench. I’ll hang the waste side of the rip off the top and work from the side of the sawbench as shown in the photo. Use the same two-legged footwork as above. The only difference is that you won’t be able to use your shin to keep the board in place.
With rip cuts, start the cut low (20Ã?Â°) but move up to 60Ã?Â° for the working angle.
For notching the corners out of pieces (such as the bottom of a chest), put the waste side over the ripping notch to support the entire piece around your planned notch , especially in thin material. The notch supports the work during the violent pushing of the handsaw.
This is a lot like working.
Fire up the table saw. You think I’m joking. I’m not.
OK, OK, here’s how to do it if the power is out: Use two sawbenches and lay the work across the skinny part of the tops. Begin the rip on the short end overhanging one sawbench. When you’re about to saw into the sawbench, move the work forward and continue ripping. To keep the board balanced on the sawbenches, then move the board backwards and work between the sawbenches (shown above). I usually finish up the long rip by rotating the sawbench so it’s in line with the board and finish the rip with the waste hanging off the side, like I do with short rips.
Sawbenches are not just for sawing. I use mine all the time for assembly and holding stock as I work on my workbench. Even if you rarely do a lot of handsawing, it’s a useful workshop appliance.