We Don't Need No Stinkn' Backsaws
There is great debate among the Saw Nerds (I’m a card-carrying member) about when the backsaw came into this world, kicking and screaming and whipping its lamb’s tongue to and fro.
Historic documents have been read. Great thoughts have been thinked. The Internet was clicked many times.
But what gets little attention is actually why the backsaw was ever developed.
In the mind of veteran carpenter and tool collector Carl Bilderback, you don’t need a backsaw.
“You can cut any joint you want with a 16″ panel saw,” he said. “It’s more than stiff enough for the job. So why do we have backsaws?”
Bilderback didn’t have the answer to that rhetorical questions, but he did offer up some other thoughts. The late Cecil Pierce cut his dovetails (beautifully by the way) with a hacksaw. You can read all about that in his short book “The Precision Handcutting of Dovetails” from Astragal Press. And the book “Modern Practical Joinery” by George Ellis shows experienced joiners cutting tenons with handsaws. “Look ma, no back.”
“Why do we even have $200 dovetail saws to do something you can do with a $15 hacksaw from Ace Hardware?” Bilderback asks.
Bilderback has cut lots of joints with a panel saw and recommends that if you want to try it yourself that you use a saw with little or no set.
This afternoon I gave it a try and cut dovetails with a crosscut panel saw. I was laughing the whole time I did it because it was extremely easy to switch from a backsaw to a panel saw. The tool leaves a big kerf in its wake, but that actually made it easy for the coping saw to drop in there to remove the waste.
– Christopher Schwarz