Wenzloff & Sons New Kenyon-style Dovetail Saw - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Wenzloff & Sons New Kenyon-style Dovetail Saw

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Sawing Techniques, Saws, Woodworking Blogs

While I was poking around the Blue Spruce Toolworks booth at Woodworking in America and trying to figure out how I could escape without spending money (and failing), something curious caught my eye on the workbench. It was a beech-handled dovetail saw that looked familiar.

It was a Wenzloff & Sons saw that was modeled after the early Kenyon dovetail saw that surfaced at the Woodworking in America conference in Berea, Ky., last year. (Read about the saw here.) Wenzloff said he was going to make them for sale and even showed me a prototype, but this was the first time I’d seen the finished product.

Dave Jeske of Blue Spruce let me take the saw for a test drive. As far as I could tell, the saw felt exactly the same in my hand as the vintage one (which I got to borrow for a while after the conference). The only difference was that the blade wasn’t kinked and the beech wasn’t covered in 200 years of patina.

Like all Wenzloff saws I’ve used, this one cut beautifully and left just a whisper of a kerf behind. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone can choose a new dovetail saw these days with all the outstanding makers. Because there are so many good choices, you can make decisions based on what feels best to your hand, what looks good to your eye and what tooth filing suits your work.

This early Kenyon saw has some interesting characteristics. I think this saw is well-suited for a woodworker who builds a lot of drawers for casework because of its fine pitch. Here are the details supplied by Wenzloff:

– 8-3/16″ blade length
– Usable depth is a nominal 1.25″ (toe) to 1.5″ (heel)
– 0.018″-thick saw plate
– 20 ppi filed rip
– 5/8″-wide brass back
– European Beech handle–Oiled and shellac finish
– The saw is $140 plus $15 shipping to the continental United States.

And here’s some more saw news for you: Wenzloff says he will be reproducing early versions of the Kenyon carcase, sash and large tenon saws from the same era (benefactors loaned Wenzloff some originals so he could take accurate measurements. Wenzloff will be taking orders for these saws directly. And look for a secure order form to appear on his web site this fall.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 15 comments
  • Michael Brady

    Just when you whetted my appetite, Ifound that Mike has discontinued taking saw orders due to his backlog. Bummer.

  • Rick Lasita

    Tapered or not, this looks like a fine saw and would be a great addition to my saw collection

  • jacob

    OK I’m now convinced (mainly by Joe above) that the tapered blade is intentional!

  • Woodatouille

    "in pratical woodworking, tapered, parallel or reverse tapered blade are the same"

    Well, heavens. Since a dead animated chef says so, who are we to differ?

  • Auguste Gusteau

    I’ve tried a copule of tapered backsaws (tapered because of years of resharpening, of course) and the change of the barycenter position was insignificant, in practice.
    Indeed, if you think well about it, more weight on the opposite side of the handle improves balance (think at the balancing pole of a tightrope walker) and improves the sinking in the material.
    I remember a cabinetmaker who added a piece of lead on the opposite side of the handle, but look also at the back of many dozukis that even protrudes out of the blade.
    But anyway, even in this case I think that the weights in game are insignificant in practice.
    However remember that if you want to improve balance you have to distribute mass away from the pivot point and moves the center of mass out. This reduces angular velocity because the center of mass swing through a longer arc and it takes longer to sweep out the same angle because the center of mass has a longer distance to go.
    In few words, forget that backsaws with tapered blades are better.
    But I repeat, in pratical woodworking, tapered, parallel or reverse tapered blade are the same.

  • Joseph Sullivan

    I suspect they were canted intentionally, too. Not only do the old illustrations and the existing old saws have canted blades. but there isn’t a good alternative explanation. For example, why would years of sharpening cause a canted blade instead of just a narrow one? If sharpening were to wear unevenly (an unlikely thing at best), it would do so in odd curves, like some of the badly done old saws I have picked up that had to undergo serious jointing. It would not wear unevenly in a straight line.

    Just as an aside, I have two old Atkins back saws, from different eras. Both have canted blades. The blades themselves are nicely rectangular, but the backs are attached at an angle and the handle is placed to clear that angle. The fold of the back touches the tow of the plate, but then rises about 3/8s (I guess, the saws are not at hand as I write this) over the 12 inch length.


  • Tom Dugan

    OK, so this looks to be marginally different from the Seaton chest repro that I have. I guess the new sash, tenon and carcass will have similar differences. I would think that releasing the Seaton repros individually would also be good marketing, and I’m just wondering why he doesn’t do that as well.

    The Seaton repros are ca 1797. Any idea of a date for the original to this saw?

  • Sean

    I agree with Mike that the canting helps the sawer avoid overshooting the baseline on the unseen side of the cut. You have to willfully move the back out of paralle (to the ground) on the last couple strokes to finish the backside cut. That has been useful to me at least. i use the Gramercy.

  • Mike

    Hello Auguste,

    I am uncertain of the weight difference. Might not even be a few grams. I have a scale that can read that accurately so at some point I’ll weigh the slight tapered strip that would come off.

    I am of the opinion that it isn’t weight gains/losses that is a difference. If one experiences a difference, I think it is the visual act of sawing. For myself, it is difficult to overshoot the baseline with a canted saw.

    One look at much of the older furniture, though, shows many/most makers were not too concerned about overshooting baselines on the insides of furniture parts.

    So I myself remain ambivalent about the canted/parallel issue. Except when I am trying to not overshoot baselines [g]…

    Best wishes,

  • joel

    yip they do. Saws are light, the handle is a constant – not so light bit. So changing the brass changes the centerpoint of the saw. – BTW it’s easy enough to find out for yourself – just do a test.

  • Auguste Gusteau

    Let me understand: do you really think that few grams of metal change a lot the balance of the saw in the handsawing movement?

  • Christopher Schwarz


    This is a matter of some debate, but my opinion is that they were made this way. The first illustrated woodworking catalog I know of – Smith’s Key – shows all the backsaws in a woodworker’s kit with the blades canted (the plate is narrower at the toe than the heel).

    Smith’s Key was sort of like a Sheffield clip art service that all the sellers used to illustrate their catalogs. So the images were somewhat generic. It seems unlikely they would show that feature on a new saw if it didn’t exist.

    But others disagree.

    Personally, I think it has some functional benefits, not the least of which is taking weight off the toe.

    Thanks for the comment.


  • jacob

    I always assume that that tapered shape of blade on an old saw is the result of years of use and sharpening . Surely they were not made that way from new?

  • Robert Kirkby

    I have one of Mike’s Kenyon saw’s on order from when he first indicated he would be making them for sale.

    Hopefully I won’t have to wait too much longer for it to be delivered because I can appreciate the time and effort involved in bringing a project of this nature to fruition

    Thanks Chris for the preview and rekindling the anticipation.

    I don’t as yet own one of Mike’s saws but somehow I don’t think the Kenyon saw will be the only saw I purchase from him now that I know other Kenyon saws are on the way.

  • Rob @ Evenfall Studios

    I have one of Mike’s Dovetail saws. It is the Molson Handle in Cocobolo with a solid brass back. It was one of the last Mike and his sons were able to make in Cocobolo before their allergies to the stuff got the best of them and ended the use of that wood in their line up. Mine is 15 ppi and it cuts without giving much thought. Just put it on the waste side of the line and go.

    I know this Reproduction Kenyon will make a great drawer saw, the saw plate is thin and at 20 ppi, even the thinnest board won’t argue much. My Hat’s off to Mike, He did a great job on these, and when you consider he has to file 20 ppi on by hand on hundreds of saws, wow!

    Thanks for giving us a look Chris!

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