Tenon saws are one of the three essential backsaws for building furniture (the other two are the carcase saw and the dovetail saw), but until recently your choices were limited to:
1. A vintage tenon saw that you resurrected from the dead
2. A Japanese saw that may or may not be suited to cutting tenons
3. The excellent Lie-Nielsen tenon saw
4. Some other frustrating new English-named saw.
A couple years ago, sawmaker Mike Wenzloff started making tenon saws, including my freakishly huge Kenyon-style tenon saw that I have waxed on about so endlessly that you’d think that Mike must be washing and waxing my car every weekend. (He’s not, though he’s offered; it’s a long drive from Oregon to Cincinnati.)
And now Wenzloff, his sons, his lovely spouse and probably the family dog all make thousands of Western saws for Lee Valley Tools. It’s a lot of work for the Wenzloff family, I know, but it’s an absolute boon to woodworkers because now we have more choices in the marketplace. (Also, as noted in the comments, I don’t own an Adria tenon saw, another new premium brand. I’ve used the Adria carcase and dovetail saws and they are good. I have no reason to suspect the tenon is any different.)
At issue here is not which brand of saw cuts better tenons. That point is honestly and truly moot. Both the Lie-Nielsen and Wenzloff brands come sharp, accurately filed and well-set. They both cut well once the saw has been broken in with some work and wax.
Instead, what’s important is the handle of the saw and the number of teeth. These factors will help you determine which saw is right for you. I’ve had a Lie-Nielsen tenon saw since the day the company started making them. I’ve had the Kenyon tenon saw for a couple years, and two weeks ago I ordered the Wenzloff Large Tenon Saw from Lee Valley. After a weekend of breaking in the new saw during a sawing class at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking, I have a good feel for the Wenzloff tool and how is compares to the Lie-Nielsen version and the Kenyon tenon saw.
Let’s start with the teeth: The Kenyon tenon saw sold today is 10 points per inch (ppi). On my unit, Wenzloff filed the first couple inches with progressive rake. These few extra degrees of rake in the starting teeth make the saw easier to start, though not as easy as a progressive-pitch saw. Wenzloff says he’ll add this rake (no more than 4Ã?Â°) to custom saws by request.
The Wenzloff & Sons Large Tenon Saw has 12 ppi. And the Lie-Nielsen has 10 ppi.
I was surprised how the difference in the number of teeth made a difference in the tool’s cutting speed. The Kenyon tenon saw was the fastest because it was the longest, heaviest and (tied for) coarsest. The Lie-Nielsen was the second fastest, and the Wenzloff Large Tenon was a bit slower.
I prefer fast and coarse saws, but not everyone does. Beginners like finer saws, and people who do work in thin stock really like finer saws. So don’t judge a saw on its speed. It’s not a race. But if you work with thick stock, think coarse. Thin stock? Think fine.
The handles are also different. The Kenyon tenon saw has the most curves and feels more “made by hand” than the other saws. But the Lie-Nielsen is the most comfortable handle to my hand overall. I’m told that I have “girl hands,” but these girl hands seem to like slightly larger saw totes.
The Wenzloff Large Tenon Saw has a tote that appears to have more hand work than the Lie-Nielsen. The flats on the sides of the tote have been well-faired into the curves, and I suspect it is a process done by hand or with an inflatable drum on a sanding machine.
The tote of this Wenzloff saw feels good in my hands, but it’s just a little on the small side for me.
The other differences are aesthetic. The Lie-Nielsen comes stock with a maple handle (usually curly maple) and it looks like a 19th-century Disston. The Kenyon tenon saw is traditional European beech and reeks of the late 18th-century aesthetic. The Wenzloff Large Tenon Saw is bubinga, which matches Lee Valley’s house line of Veritas planes, and looks quite old school.
If you’ve read this far, you probably feel like I owe you a solid recommendation. I’m going to let you down. I’m delighted with all three saws and wouldn’t sell a single one. (Yes, Scott, I’m talking to you.) But what delights me even more is that we have a choice about what to buy. Not as many choices as the 1808 furniture-maker, but it’s a start.