Saw Heresy

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    Emily Keene

    I’ve been sawing and hammer at things on and off for sixty-some years (my dad thought even girls should know how to do this). Mostly because I’m a musician, I’ve always been terrified of power saws and won’t use them, but over the years I’ve gotten pretty good with the old-fashioned general-purpose carpenter’s saw. I stumbled upon Paul’s videos and became very excited about expanding my woodworking abilities and knowledge and have gotten planes and chisels and such and am doing pretty well. But here’s my question/problem/issue/conundrum: For general sawing purposes I’ve found that the Stanley “Fat Max” works best for me, both because of its shorter length and its stiffer blade. I REALLY like Paul’s idea of not buying “throwaway” saws, and bought several old Disston panel saws on Ebay and I’ve gotten the stuff to sharpen them with and am building a saw vise of my own design, but in trying out these (still unsharpened) old saws, they just don’t seem to cut as aggressively as a dull Fat Max, and even though I’m really good at pulling a straight line (I played the fiddle for years), the Disstons seem to buckle. Do I need to wait until I actually get one of these used saws properly set and sharpened?, is my sawing technique flawed? or is this just the way things are? -Rusting in Seattle

    Alec Garner

    From my experience older ‘traditional’ saws, even when freshly sharpened, will not cut as quickly as modern sabre / alligator style saws; the tooth pattern of these saws is ultra aggressive. I’ve crosscut a 2” board of hardwood by hand quicker than the same board was cut with a chainsaw at the woodyard (admittedly the chainsaw was somewhat dull). But once they are blunt they are destined for the trash as their hardened teeth can’t be filed (although they can be cut-up to make very good cabinet scrapers!).

    I don’t believe you should expect to be getting results from dull, unset saws; it’s just not a fair test… sharpen them up and you’ll appreciated the difference. I find; if you’re used to powering through timber with a modern hand saw, you do have to tweak your technique to a more measured style to limiting buckling… Hope that helps.

    Michael Evans

    Modern “big-box” saws that have been manufactured with the Japanese style teeth are best for crosscutting and are considered “throw-away” tools due to the reasons already mentioned by previous posters. They are a “hybrid” style meaning that they copy some of the geometry of Japanese saws but are configured for a push stroke and use a thicker plate as a result. The teeth are hardened just to make the edges last longer but that makes them too hard for sharpening with traditional saw sharpening files. Most modern professional carpentry is conducted with disposable tools due to the “time-is-money” outlook. A new saw costs less than the lost production to properly sharpen a saw, provided one has the tools and the experience, and most modern “big-box” tools are produced either for the occasional homeowner or professional carpentry use and not for traditional western style woodworking. They have their place for rough crosscuts. Properly sharpened and tuned, a good older saw should not bind in the cut and will be as efficient, or nearly so, as a Japanese tooth style saw provided you are willing to learn to maintain them. Use the “big-box” saws for rough work and preserve your finer saws for finer work. Traditional western saws were developed over hundreds of years for their specific tasks and are still very well suited to the task or hobbyist and professional bench woodworking.
    Saw sharpening is a separate skill set that some woodworkers simply have no interest in but I have found it to be relatively straight forward and enjoyable. It allows me to take a $5 flea market find and turn it into a highly enjoyable and productive tool. Having said that, even I wouldn’t attempt re-sharpening a Japanese style saw due to the complicated geometry. Woodworkers should at least learn the differences in saw types, and if you don’t want to learn to sharpen, then find someone who can sharpen them for you. Sharp tools are a joy to use and dull ones are a misery. Have fun

    Julia Wallis-Martin

    I managed to nab a Spear and Jackson brass-backed ‘Mermaid’ #266 on eBay. I feel a bit guilty as I’m such a novice it’s far too good for someone of my limited skills, but on the grounds that I need all the help I can get, I bought it anyway. However, the teeth are so worn I can’t tell whether it would originally have been a rip or crosscut. Can anyone advise me?

    Michael Evans

    I am not a Spear and Jackson history expert but I understand that the Mermaid saws were carpenter’s saws. A photo of the saw would help us but you should be able to tell from the basic tooth form and number of teeth per inch. If the teeth are relatively large (for a carpenter or panel saw) and if the front face of the tooth is generally perpendicular to the blade then it originally was a rip saw. Backsaws are a little less straightforward because of the probability of finer teeth in both saw types but if the teeth really are that worn (that you can’t tell) then you would really need to re-tooth the saw. That means you can put whatever tooth form you want on it.

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