Skelton Dovetail Saw – Part 2 | Popular Woodworking Magazine
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Skelton Dovetail Saw Part 2 a

 

It’s been pretty much a month now since I first laid hands on this saw, and it’s only because of an encounter with a saw very different to this one that I managed to get what I feel is the right perspective. I purchased a set of Gyokucho Japanese saws with some Christmas tool vouchers and I’ll discuss those soon enough – but as is often the case, they led me off on a small tangent.

I did some basic searching about Japanese tools. As I am sure you’re aware there are some individual craftspeople in Japan making very special tools using traditional methods and they are rightly celebrated and sought out for their individual flair and skill. Seeing images of those tools snapped into focus what I should have gotten the first time around.

Although the Skelton saw is brilliantly made and perfect for the task at hand, it is more than that and it goes a bit beyond dovetails. It’s more about the person behind the tool – the person or people who creates them. I could set up a “race” between the Skelton and a dozuki, but that would miss the point. (I most likely missed the point with a “3-Minute Dovetail” challenge, too – but hey, I was on a journey to the real point.)

Skelton Dovetail Saw b

What I came to realize is that without people like Shane something would be lost from our cultural landscape. Without people being inspired by classic designs, craft and further to that, making a superb end product to be used we would be much the poorer. I feel lucky to of had and used this saw, I would almost compare it to the feeling you might get if you had a piece of unique artwork for a Month and could admire it before passing it back. I thought this second part of the article would be on the nut’s and bolt’s of how well it cuts, but whichever way I dress it the saw cuts and feels great. If you want to learn more about the facts and figures on the saw I suggest visiting Shane’s website to learn about what he does and how, there is no need for me to copy and paste a spec sheet for people to compare, I almost feel it would be insulting to do so.

Skelton Dovetail Saw c

Instead think more in terms more widely of  America, UK and World where there are many people preserving, innovating and creating. People like Shane Skelton – wherever they are found – make things happen because they want to do something special and put part of themselves into what they create.

I’m not in a situation to buy this saw, but one day perhaps I will (more likely it’ll be a carcase saw a few years from now). If I do, I will know I did so to do more than just have a “posh” saw. It’ll be because I get the point – something perhaps I didn’t fully get before the saw arrived. If you can bear my ugly mug, watch the video below. It  includes a set OK dovetails and a brief chat similar to the  above. (I promise, the lighting is much better on this one.)

— Graham Haydon

Editor’s note: If you’re interested in all things handsaw (including a look at and reviews of saws from some other specialty makers) check out “Handsaw Essentials” by Christopher Schwarz.

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Showing 32 comments
  • Great Grey

    One thing that been ignored is how long it expected to last. If I have to buy a cheap saw every few years or one that still usable after 50 years which one the better buy? There is something to have a tool you know well do the job right every time you grab it v one that maybe behaves. Not saying you should buy the high priced one but, the low priced one could cost you more in the long run. Still if you need one now or rarely use it the lower priced one may be the better buy for you.

  • artiep2

    Enough of this. All that can be said about Skelton Dovetail Saws has been said. More is irritating.

  • eldredma

    This is a debate that could be had about any object someone purchases. It comes down to personal preference and desire. People pay $1000s of dollars extra over the course of the year because they prefer one brand or type of objects over others for countless pointless reasons – but that is their preference, and no one debates them about it. Beer, clothing, even our homes could almost all be obtained cheaper. Why are we doing it now?

    I had a ’98 Subaru for over a decade instead of buying a new car (though I could have). It got me from point A to point B in basically the same comfort as any other car would have (much the same way a fiberglass-spined Veritas saw would saw dovetails basically just as well as the Skelton saw – especially when accounting for different skill level). Now, I drive a BMW and freely admit I could have bought another second-hand Subaru for 1/4 the price. But, I imagine the same could be said of everyone except for the cheapest of cheapskates or the poorest of the poor. We want what we like, and we have to pay (usually) the going price to obtain it. No one argues that Chevrolet should not build cars because Toyota builds cheaper ones. It’s up to the company to decide if it should exist or not. And diversity makes people happier (look at the USSR).

    You were right, Graham, you were looking at it from the wrong angle before. Debating the apparent speed at which a saw can cut a line is pointless as you noticed when you found all of the other things that slowed you down when making your dovetail video. Besides, none of us work in a factory where seconds on a cut means substantial money on a job (if we even sell our stuff), and any saw will cut straight if the sawyer is skilled. After those points, and edge durability perhaps, what else is not personal preference? Even comfort cannot be “reviewed” objectively.

    So, this saw is just like any other marketable product. Those that like it should buy it if they are inclined to do so. I am sure the fact that it is being looked at as just a tool pushes people towards the opinion it can’t possibly be “x” times better than (“x” brand) cheaper saw, but that’s not the point – it is no longer a utilitarian evaluation, nor was it when turn of the century craftsman could choose between a Disston D-12 or a “Warranted Superior” saw if metallurgical analysis is to be believed. I spent $40 for my #5 Stanley. I would not trade it for a bedazzled Bridge City anything – I just love it that much. Same with my current car, just as it was with my Subaru. Debating price is foolish in almost all contexts.

    This begs the question though: what is the point of reviewing hand tools? Honestly, if they pass a benchmark for quality, a performance evaluation is wasted breath, and I think a review should focus on those traits that might cause someone to subjectively prefer that product over others. I would rather read about all the background info than alleged performance. Company and manufacturing process details (like those on the Skelton website) are more interesting, and therefore more likely to create a preference, to me.

    Everyone should feel free to like what they like and not have to justify it as some sort of corporate economic business decision, but price can certainly be considered when deciding if one likes something. A wise hand tool woodworker once said: “The things I make are for others, but the way I make them are for myself.” I would suggest that the tools are too.

  • 7-Thumbs

    I seem to have started a somewhat contentious conversation thread; that was not my intent. Like others here, I too am glad to see that there are high end craftsman out there making really fine tools and I too wish them all the best in their endeavors. What I was trying to get at was more along the lines of cost benefit. For example, would it be worth it for someone to improve on the Skelton Dovetail Saw, or any other premiun tool, by some minor amount and then sell it for $700; even if that price were justified by the time and materials it took to produce that minor enhancement? Why wouldn’t the maker, considering his/her potential market size, say the slight improvement isn’t worth the extra cost. Presumably, the maker would like to earn enough to eat. Basically, they could sell more tools made to a high quality where the cost to benefit ratio makes it worth purchasing and hopefully at a price were larger numbers of woodworkers could and would buy them. Would the maker rather sell a few tools for an exorbitant price or a lot of high quality tools at a more reasonably affordable price. I guess I’m asking what is the maker’s motivation; to prove he/she can make an exceptional tool without compromise or that they can make a good tool that many will end up using? Again, I’m probably asking a question that is none of my business and is solely the business of the toolmaker. As has been pointed out quite rightly, no one is forcing me to buy a premium tool; even if I could afford one.

  • AeroClassics

    Ah, thank you one and all. For umpteenth time I read the same basic drivel. I do not mean to be harsh here, I really don’t. My first reaction to the article was one of annoyance. I reread it again and I mellowed some. Maybe it is the Brazilian beer? Anyway, having subscribed to Popular Woodworking for some years now I see a trend in the support of high end craftsman and their wares or in projects that truly will stretch the amatures skills. This is a mixed blessing to me. While I sincerely hope that every tool maker making their wares the old fashioned way is rewarded. I truly do. But I must admit many of the vendors that get highlighted in PW are way out of my reach, regardless of how magnificent the wares are. But I am glad they are out there. Our societies have become to enamored with cheap and throwaway. There is a market out there for custom made solid wood wares just as there is a market for beautiful hand crafted tools. Though I would guess that these hand crafted tools probably find their way into the hands of hobbiests more so that professionals. It would be interesting to know.

    Bridge City planes were mentioned. I will never have one. Not that they are not amazing. Nor will I probably ever have a LN plane. I find my Krenov style wood planes do an excellent job without costing me a fortune. Thereare ways to have a wonderful saw without dropping $400. There are kits available from recognized saw makers that bring you a top quality blade. You just have to fashion the handle. Something that is not out of the skill level of most seasoned hobbiests.

    So please save me from the same old stuff. I can’t afford it, I can afford it, whatever. Bless those who endeavor to make a living this way. And PW could we not find some middle ground occasionally? Something “regular” folk might have a prayer of owning? I am not asking you to stop reporting on those good folks who produce amazing tools just give us who cannot ever have such a tool something to shoot for. If you are to be believed no one can do anything of any quality without a toolkit well into 4 digits! And that’s just that nonpower tools!

    Thanks,
    Doug

  • Bill Lattanzio

    I think a lot of things can be chalked up to wants vs needs. I frankly hate the minimalist mentality that has somehow invaded the world of woodworking, in particular the hand tool world. I have much more of a problem with woodworking writers perpetuating myths of planes they found for $5, and saws they purchased for $3, than an honest go goodness assessment of what a high end tool costs.

    The saw appears to be a beautiful and highly functioning tool. I may not be able to afford it, but I would find no fault it somebody who could. The fact that another maker’s saw will also do the same for less money really only affects the person putting out the money in the first place. If you want a high quality saw, or any tool for that matter, and you can afford it, then it is nobody’s place to tell you otherwise. I’m just happy that there are people still willing to make them in the first place.

  • kfashbur

    I don’t really understand the purpose of this thread. If the article was attempting to convince that buying something other than an exotic saw was somehow silly, then I would understand the criticism and comparisons to less costly saws. Just because I cannot afford or justify purchasing an Aston Martin does not mean I cannot appreciate it, and the fact it exists is not reason enough to criticize its existence. Why purchase or build a piece of hand-built Greene and Greene furniture when I can buy a different style of hand-built furniture for half the price? Seems like a ridiculous waste of time to argue the point. I doubt I will ever purchase one of the Skelton saws, but if I ever have the excess funds I would consider it and couldn’t care less if someone else thought me stupid for it. I just hope there are still Skelton saws and other such wonderful handtools on the market by the time I might have those funds.

    Best of luck to you Graham!

  • Skelton Saws

    Good Morning Everyone (It’s actually The Saw Maker’s Wife here!) I was just reading some of your comments and thought I’d just come on and say a few words. Firstly thanks for initially watching Graham’s video and for taking an interest in our saw – it does appear to spark lively debate! Shane is completely motivated by his passion to create some of the best saws in the world, whilst employing only traditional methods. He is a one man band working in his workshop / garage, with me sat in our kitchen on the computer (can’t get much smaller than that!) This will never ever change as it is against his ethos. I noticed that Bernard referred to the Pax Saw Makers, I’m not that sure that they are in fact such a small business anymore, especially as they’ve just bought out Clifton Planes which in itself is a sizeable company. Shane could never ever compete with the likes of any of the bigger saw companies to be honest his craft is far too time consuming. Likewise he has no intention of doing so. The cost of the dovetail saw reflects the amount of hours that goes into hand crafting each individual one, about 20hrs per saw broken down that’s barely minimum wage once the cost of materials are deducted. The materials in themselves are well sourced and are the best – hence expensive! Shane in his dedication to create a saw harking back to the saws of the 18th Century has not only managed to create a high performance tool, but a thing of beauty (as you say a jewel…in the English crown maybe?!) He is a perfectionist and uncompromising in his efforts. He could easily set a machine going and make a cheaper tool, but that is not what he is about. We understand that the price tag may be a little out of grasp for some people and are sorry about this, but like you say there are cheaper alternatives that will do the job. A saw made by a machine or from the heart and skill of a man? You decide…Keep talking, we do like to see all your comments. Have a great day!

  • Bernard Naish

    I am glad we are seeing some English tool makers coming on to the market and I wish Mr.Skelton well in his enterprise. Thomas Flinn of Sheffield is a small familly business who make saws. The Pax dovetail saw is their equivalent, I almost said identical product at well under half the price. . More and more tools have exotic prices attached and I worry that this trend is discouraging people from taking up the craft of hand woodworking. We need tools not jewels.

  • 7-Thumbs

    I get that it is a well made saw. BUT, unless you’re a professional who can write off the cost of the saw, $369.98, by charging your customers to cover it how does a normal woodworker justify buying this tool or any other premium tool made by other craftsman? Is buying such a tool just a way to satisfy an ego or make other envious over what you have? At what point does the added cost not really add any significantly to the improvement of a tool? It might be interesting to see an article comparing reasonably priced tools that get the job done with their high priced premium counterparts.

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