The Big Rip…

So I’ve been in the shop every day this week moving from one side of the basement to the other and condensing and organizing in the process. Its been great to get rid of a lot of clutter and unused tools and make my shop more efficient and functional.

I mentioned a little while ago about my plans for this week, as I’m on vacation, and that I was going to be building a new Roubo bench using some reclaimed timbers (here). In the last few days however, I realized I don’t really need another work bench, but what I do need is a nice, massive saw bench. Don’t get me wrong, I love my current saw bench, ala Chris Schwartz, but I need something bigger, heavier and more stable. So, I devised (in my warped mind) a super saw bench using the 6 x 8 white oak timbers I referred to above. This new, super bench would be kind of a cross between a Japanese planing bench and a traditional western saw bench like I already have. The idea is it will be made with a top just like my Roubo so that I can use holdfasts and secure boards for heavy ripping. I’m thinking the top should be about 3 to 4 inches thick and about 20 to 24 inches high.

So, the first step in making this Super Saw Bench is ripping the 6 x 8 oak beam into two 4 x 6 slabs. These two pieces will then make the top of the bench.

Now, I know what you’re thinking….’This guy isn’t crazy or stupid enough to try and rip an 8 foot long, 6 inch thick white oak beam with a hand saw, is he?!?!?!’

The answer, of course, is yes, I am that crazy and stupid.

Here is the ominous beam in question…trestled up on my saw bench and ubiquitous Workmate…(you can also see my new shop layout)…

The first step in ripping this beast is marking the cut line, and since this oak has spent a good part of its life outside, its darkened and will need to be planed to remove the darkened skin and create a light background for my pencil mark. For this, I use my trusty Stanley #6 to roughly plane it down to fresh wood (Patrick Leach be damned, my #6 is the MOST useful plane in my shop!)

Planing at this height is surprisingly very comfortable (don’t I look like I’m having fun?)

The wood is much brighter now, and I mark out the cut line in the middle of the beam with a carpenter’s pencil. I make a series of hash marks 4 inches in from the edge and then connect them with a straight edge. You can use a panel gauge, marking gauge or other as well.

Now that the beam is marked, to start, I use my trusty Disston #7 (24 inches, 6ppi rip) to saw in the vertical kerf line on the end grain of the timber. The fine pitch of the #7 will help more easily cut the end grain here than a 4 or 5 point saw. This kerfed in vertical line will help me start the cut square as the saw will follow the kerf…

You can see the pith of the tree on the right side of the kerf as well. Once I finish the rip, I’ll evaluate if that half of the board is salvageable or not.

Now that the vertical cut line is kerfed in, I switch to my main rip saw. This saw is the latest addition to my stable…it’s a vintage Disston #9 handle mated with a replica saw plate that Mike Wenzloff made for me. The plate is 26 inches and 5 ppi filed rip with just a touch of negative rake…I figure its a perfect choice for this oak.

As I start the cut, I begin in the “corner” of the beam and lay the toothline at a very low angle to the wood sighting along the pencil line. At such a low angle, the saw is very easy to push (think low-angle planing) and establishes the kerf very cleanly. Now, its a simple matter of joining the vertical kerf line on the end grain with the horizontal kerf line on the face of the beam with even saw strokes. This is the slowest part of the rip, but the most critical….start square, end square! Check it out….

Now that our kerf is established, its go time!!!! Here’s where the real work starts, and boy is it fun! This is a real workout, no doubt, but I love this part! I keep my paraffin block handy and the plate waxed up, in addition to my water bottle…I’m defintiely gonna need it.

A foot or two into the cut I can really start to feel it in my shoulders and arms. I’m using a two hand grip here, and at this height, it’s very comfortable….great data for determining the height of the Super Saw Bench…

I keep my eye one the pencil line to ensure I’m staying true…..the saw tracks like a dream….a testament to Mike Wenzloff’s outstanding skill!

 I told myself when I started the cut, that I would take a break at the half way point, and I marked the pencil line four feet in so I’d know.

The fun thing about this rip is that it takes such a long time, that you can really experiment with different grips and body positions and immediately know if it works or not. I gave Schwartz’s Franco-Prussian seated rip style a go. And while I think he demonstrates it with the teeth facing away from you, I found it more comfortable with the teeth facing me and sawing directly towards me (though a comfortable few inches away!)…

I was surprised at how easy and efficient this method was….I ended up sawing like this for about two feet and it was much less tiring than sawing standing up.

So here’s the half way point…you can see the pencil line marking it and indicating to me i can take a break!!!!

Besides stopping a couple times to snap pictures and take a gulp of water I didn’t stop sawing until this point. I’d say that thus far, it took about 20 minutes or so. Like I said….a real workout, but very rewarding and fun!

After about a 5 minute break to rehydrate, it was back to work, and in addition to trying different sawing styles, I also switched saws at this point. I wanted to see how a saw with a more aggressive rake cut on this hard, thick oak, so I switched to my 5 and 1/2 point Pax rip saw with zero negative rake to the teeth. When I bought this saw, I immediately made a new handle for it out of some nice curly cherry, but I haven’t gotten a chance to really work it out. This was the perfect opportunity…

The saw definitely cut more aggressively….I could feel it being pulled into the cut much more than the Wenzloff, and it required a bit lower of an angle to cut smoothly. One of the reasons I love working with hand tools like this is for the feedback they give you about themselves and the wood….no power tool will ever offer you this kind of interface with your work.

Here’s a view from the kerf…It won’t be long now…

At this point I’m really sweating…you can see my shirt is drenched, but this beats the hell out of the treadmill at the gym!

You can also see that I switched back to the Wenzloff saw, and before I did, I had to switch the saw bench and Workmate. The jaws on the Workmate do a great job of securing the work, but its not exactly saw friendly with its wide footprint and steel body.

Here are the final strokes of the saw…at this point, I can’t tell if my heart is racing from the work or the thrill of almost being done!

With a few final thrusts, what was once one, now becomes two….

Voila! I can finally rest and behold the fruits of my labor. I’d say overall this probably took 30 to 40 minutes including my break and photo/water time. Not too shabby….I’m thinking with the second beam, I can improve on my time markedly. 🙂

This was definitely a do-able task for any able-bodied worker….while it was laborious, it was not difficult or requiring great skill. One saw, a little time, and a bottle of water….that’s about it. And once again, I can skip the gym!

Here are some more pics….

Published in: on November 27, 2010 at 12:05 pm  Comments (13)  

A little Tillotson saw…

A few months ago in the early summer I found a guy on craigslist getting rid of a bunch of old tools and decided to go check them out. I ended up getting a little cache of nice things, my favorite of which was a sweet gem of a saw that I noticed sticking out of the bottom of a box of rust. All I could make out in the darkness of this guys basement was the finely shaped upper horn of a small back saw….but that was enough for me. I quickly fell in love with it and took it home despite its sorry condition. Here she was as found…

As you can see, she is heavily rusted, the brass nuts are green with tarnish, and the saw plate was as winding as a New England country road. Miraculously, though, the handle is in very good shape, with only a small chunk missing out of the upper horn. You can see from the shape of the tote how I was immediately struck by this petite belle!

A quick cleaning of the steel back revealed the arching maker’s mark as “Thos Ti…..” and “Sheffield” which I soon deciphered into “Thomas Tillotson” thanks to my trusty copy of  ‘Handsaw Makers of Britain’ (a book I highly recommend to any and all saw nuts!  Get it here) It turns out this princess was over 150 years old…I can only wonder what she has seen in her long years, and how long she sat un-loved in that dark old basement box o rust.

Anyway, I set about fixing her up over the next few days and bringing her near as I could back to her original glory. I am very happy with how she turned out, and it was a challenging project…the saw plate was badly kinked and required hammering true, the spine needed straightening as well, and the original split nuts needed replacement (which I slyly refabricated from a pair of domed nuts cut down and flattened to look like split nuts). Here she is all fixed up…

I have been using this saw now for a couple months and really love the way it cuts and feels…it has a very delicate saw plate (0.02 thick) and since I found it with 14 points and filed with fleam, I kept it as such. I love filing up tiny little saws like this….the steel is so thin and they are a joy to tune. You can really make them fly through the wood with little tweaks! 

This saw has become my go to worker for my bench hook and its smooth as silk….very nice! However, I am very tempted to file the fleam out of this little lady and see how she does as a dovetail saw…her size would make her perfect for a ‘tweener of a true dovetail and small carcase rip saw. Plus, with such a thin saw plate and fine pitch, I doubt filing out the fleam would effect the cross cut quality noticeably. Anyway, we’ll see….she’s certainly doing well as is, but then again, in my shop, fleam is never safe for long!!!! Hehehehehehe…..

And in case you’re interested, here’s a pictorial of the full rehab. I posted this originally on Woodnet over the summer as well…

Removing the back.

Cleaning the plate and spine.

Reinstalling the spine.

Cutting the broken horn section away (you can see the hole where a previous owner had nailed the break in a repair attempt)

The beech handle patched and taped up while the glue dries.

The handle with the new horn sketched in.

Refining the new horn shape (yes, I use power tools when making or repairing hand tools…ironic, no?)

Shaping the new horn with rasps and files.

The new horn stained to match.

I used newer domed nuts with their heads lapped flat to mimic split nuts, and here I’ve chuck them into my drill press to turn them down to the required diameter (7/16 like most old back saws of this size)

The finished nuts.

A few coats of shellac for the tote…

…and a quick jointing and filing for the saw plate…

…And she’s back cuttin’ wood!

After I originally posted this on Woodnet, my buddy Josh Clark mentioned to me that he has this saw’s big brother….a gorgeous 18 inch Tillotson tenon saw with an equally beautiful tote. Coincidently enough, said saw is now in my possession and waiting for a similar rehabilitation!

To be continued….


Published in: on November 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm  Comments (5)  

Resawing by hand…

I often find myself needing to resaw large slabs of wood efficiently in my shop, and since I love my rip saws, its only natural that this is the tool I choose to accomplish that task.

Resawing is, technically speaking, sawing a piece of timber along the grain to reduce it in thickness. Common resawing operations are making veneer from a board, sawing a thicker board in half for book matching or, as in my case, cutting a single 2 inch thick chunk into two 1 inch thick slabs for handle blanks.

I selected a nice piece of bubinga, about 8 inches by 8 inches by 2 inches thick, so that  by resawing it, it becomes two very usable pieces…I could get two full size hand saw totes out of them, or, with efficient layout, maybe even four back saw totes (two from each piece). Bubinga is a realtively hard, dense, and tough wood….resawing it should be fun!

The first step before I start actually sawing is layout. And like all good work, the layout is critical. It’s very difficult to just clamp up the blank and start sawing, praying with each stroke that you stay square…that’s a real crap shoot (and I’m no where near good enough a sawyer to keep it straight anyway!) So, the trick is to use a marking gauge and scribe a line all the way around the blank along the center of its thickness to mark where your saw will cut.

Here’s the blank marked all the way around. I also darken the scribe line a bit with pencil…

Now I place the blank in my tail vise with one edge parallel to the bench top (it doesn’t matter which edge). In order to keep the saw tracking straight and square, you need to create a saw kerf all the way around the blank along the scribe lines. This will guide the saw blade as it cuts and ensure that it is tracking true in both dimensions. Without doing this crucial step first, as I mentioned above, it’s real crap shoot.

So, with the blank tightened up in the vise, I start with my 24 inch 6 point rip saw and begin to define the saw kerf along one edge of the blank. The key to remember as you start to cut is to use light preasure…don’t grip the handle tight and force it…hold it gently, letting the teeth do the work. At this point, the kerf is not defined, and taking it slow and easy to track the blade properly in the scribe line is paramount. If you force the saw, it will jump out of the line and cut off track. You should be gently holding the saw tote and only feeling the saw pushing back on your forward thrust…just in the palm of your hand. Keep the tooth line parallel to the face of the cut at this point… you’re aiming to create a saw kerf of even depth along the line. An 1/8th of an inch deep is plenty. Here’s my blank with the first kerf cut…

Next, I rotate the blank forward by 90 degrees and perform the same step all around the four sides of the blank. The fourth kerfing cut should join the first and third and each kerf should meet at the same point…right in the middle of the thickness of the blank.

With all four sides kerfed  in, now I rotate the blank 45 degrees in the vise and clamp it down so that one corner is pointing up….

The next step is to treat the blank like a giant mortise and ‘saw out the corner’ as Adam Cherubini likes to say. With the two kerfs started on each side, the saw plate will guide itself with little effort and cut true as a plumb bob.

I switch to a full size D-8 rip saw (thank you daryl!) at this point and start with, once again, gentle sweeps of the saw. I always let the saw do the work, especially at this point. The key here, is to align your eye so you can see the saw plate staying on line with the front and the back kerfs…that’s how you know you’re sawing true. Once I’m an inch or two into the kerf, I can start to really pump my arm back and forth to speed the cut….I always keep an eye on the front and back kerf to ensure I’m staying straight, but at this point, the saw pretty much stears itself.

Here I am about half way into the first ‘corner’…

Once I reach just shy of the half-way point, it’s a simple matter of flipping the blank 180 degrees in the vise, so that the other ‘corner’ is sticking up and repeat the previous step. Again, the key is just lining up the saw strokes with the two defined kerfs on each side and sawing away. You can see how easy it is to track the saw properly with the kerfed in corners….

When the blank is almost cut through, the two pieces start to feel loose and at this point, I switch back to the smaller saw and finish the cut…

A few more gentle strokes and the two pieces are free!

So there you have it….resawing the old fashioned way. The two blanks are nice and even in thickness…with a little planing, they’ll be ready for new lives as saw totes. I suppose you could say the more traditional way to resaw by hand would be with a frame saw, but I much prefer this method….I can’t see using a frame saw for much of anything (sorry Frank Klaus!).

All in all, this was probably five minutes or so of sawing….pretty quick. I’m not really worried about time in the shop though (and I’m a poor judge of it as well, I should add!)  My true motivation in resawing by hand is simply pleasure…I just love the feeling of mindfully sawing away. Call me crazy, but this is pure Zen (like Wilbur likes to say!). Plus, I probably burned about 20 or 30 calories, and that’s worth at least a bite from my cheeseburger from lunch…


Published in: on November 17, 2010 at 9:48 pm  Comments (7)  

The mother load!

Just a quick note this morning before work…I wanted to pass along to everyone a most impressive project recently completed by Jeff Burks. Its seems Jeff has spent the last few months compiling a 5 volume PDF file on US saw sharpening patents. It totals almost 16 thousand pages of drawings and text for patented American saw vises, sets, swages, filers, grinders, gauges, gummers, shapers, jointers, etc. The research covers all tools related to handsaw sharpening, but is not limited to handsaws. Check it out…

Also, Jeff completed what he called a “side project”…a similar compilation of all known US patents by Henry Disston…that’s some side project!!!! Def check this one out too…

I’ve just scratched the surface of these monumental works…you will be impressed, as I am.

Nice work Jeff!!!!

Published in: on November 15, 2010 at 10:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Lamb’s Tongue: The Verdict…

A few days ago I posted about a new way I tried making a lamb’s tongue on a traditional hand saw tote (here). Instead of carving the tongue with a chisel, I filed it using triangle files normally used for sharpening. My thinking was the files may be quicker, easier, and that this may have been the way Disston (and others) workers created the tongue detail originally in the factories of old.

Well, I finished up the tote this morning and installed it on that really sweet #7.  Take a look….

I stained the curly maple with analine dye and finished it with three coats of 1lb. cut amber shellac and a coat of light brown Briwax. I am very pleased with the results overall….I love the shape and curves of the handle. I may refinish the handle again, though…I have not been liking how my shellacked handles have been coming out lately…I may switch back to a hand mixed oil/varnish blend. Anyway, I digress.

So back to my experiment….the lamb’s tongue I am extremely pleased with. I think it came out much nicer than my carved ones and was much easier indeed. Here’s some more close-ups…

The transition from the bottom of the tongue to the front teardrop section is smoother and more shapely, and the geometry more consistent. The file helped make this idiot proof given that its cutting both sides of the detail simultaneously, therefore keeping them parallel. Blending the curves was also more straight forward than carving given the triangular file as well. And best of all in the ease department, you don’t need to worry about the chisel digging in and tearing out grain, or grain direction at all, for that matter as the file cuts well with little concern for grain.

I’m pretty convinced now that this was the way factory craftsmen would have shaped the lamb’s tongue’s on saw totes around the turn of the century. The learning curve for carving is much greater than filing wood, and given the immense operation Disston was running at the turn of the century, it just seems to make better sense production wise: faster, more consistent results with less skill and a readily available tool (Disston manufactured their own files, but did not make chisels) which all means lower cost and greater profit with no sacrifice in quality.

So there you have it….from now on I will most certainly be filing my lamb’s tongues instead of carving them. I would be very curious to know how others are making their tongues…

Published in: on November 13, 2010 at 11:43 am  Comments (7)  

My vacation plans….

In addition to my rampant obsession with all things spring steel and beech, I have a burgeoning affinity for reclaimed timbers, mostly because I’m cheap, but also because I abhor waste. In my recent travels, I have gathered some very nice timbers…..

The three smaller posts in the foreground are really nice old growth Douglas Fir that I have been saving for seven years….they were salvaged from my first house when i rebuilt the front porch. They are all about six feet long and 4 x 6 inches. These little ladies are sweet…the growth rings are amazingly tight…a hallmark of old growth timber. I counted one log at 32 rings per inch!!!! That’s tight, baby! Check it out…

The larger two logs in the rear I recently acquired in a trade from a friend (thanks Michel!) They are absolutely MASSIVE!!!! Solid white oak, both measuring over 8 feet long and 6 inches x 8 inches….needless to say, it took the two of us to unload them from Michel’s truck. They each probably weigh over 200 lbs. OUCH!

Anyway, I’m thinking that I see my second Roubo bench in these logs….maybe rip the two oak timbers in half and glue them up for the top, then use the fir for the legs and stretchers…what do you think?

And, of course, as you know, the ripping will be done by hand….and I’m very excited about it. I also recently acquired a gorgeous 28 inch D-8 with a thumb hole just begging to be re-filed into a 3 and 1/2 point MONSTER!!! (Its 6 ppi now, but not for long…hehehe) I’m thinking that would be a real fun project…the filing and the ripping!

So, I’ve got the week of Thanksgiving off and was going to be rearranging my shop and building a new joinery bench, but I will be tempted to start ripping this oak. I don’t think it will be acclimated by then, but I sure can file up the D-8 in anticipation. We’ll see….

I can hardly wait!!!!! So, what do you have planned for your vacation? ;o)

Published in: on November 12, 2010 at 1:17 pm  Comments (4)  

Filing a Lamb’s Tongue…

So I recently acquired a nice old Disston #7 in need of a handle from one of my Woodnet connections (Thanks Dave!) Judging from the medallion and etch, which is clearly visible, I’d say it dates from just before the turn of the century…

Prior to my taking possession, it seems that the previous owner out of spite, or perhaps a sick sense of humor, installed a tote on this poor old saw that more resembled an oven mit than a device to comfortably operate and control the saw blade. Thankfully though the devious bastard did at least retain the original nuts and said medallion in the installation.

Since I don’t happen to have a proper donor handle on hand, that means I have to make a new one….which is a fun project indeed.

I selected a nice piece of figured maple that was just big enough for the handle  pattern, which I sketched from another #7 and an old Atkins rip saw…its a hybid of the two and kind of has that old school vibe to  it…here it is roughed out and ready to be contoured…

I slotted the handle, drilled and counter bored for the nuts and installed it to take a look…

Looks good so far. Next I contour the handle and I’m ready to define the lamb’s tongue, which is the focus of this post.

The last time I made a handle with a lamb’s tongue I carved it in with a Two Cherries 1/2 inch carving chisel (coincidently given to me by the same guy that sold me this very #7…thanks again, Dave!!!) But this time I wanted to try a different approach, so I decided to use a triangle file to create the carved detail of the tongue. I do this because I’m curious if this is the way factory workers would have originally created the detail on the saw’s original handle way back in Philly where this saw was born. I’m not aware of the methods used to create the lamb’s tongue’s in Disston’s factories…no literature I’ve read reveals this point, but I’m wondering if files were in fact the way they did it.

I started by drawing a pencil line connecting the two points of the handle where the tongue will be defined….then I use a knife to define the line. This knife line will guide the first few strokes of the file by creating a trough for the file to follow…

I use two files to create the tongue detail….a six inch double extra slim, and a seven inch slim taper. I start with the smaller file and just make level, even strokes along the knife line with moderate pressure. The file cuts very quickly. As it does, I begin to rock the file by tipping the toe and handle end up and down as i stroke back and forth to round and define the separation between the tongue and the main handle section. Here’s a look after a few strokes…

Now I switch to the larger file and further refine the groove created at first. Now I tip the file into the finger cutaway and round that area away to create that oh-so-cool illusion that the tongue is just touching the rest of the handle and not actually attached.


A little more filing and here’s the tongue all filed up…

I’m pleased with the way it came out. It will need a little more refining with sand paper, but it was certainly much quicker and easier than carving it…from start to finish for both sides, it was about ten minutes. I think from now on, I’ll file my tongues. Again, not sure how they did it in the factory, but I like the results.

I’ll finish up the handle and get it installed soon….I’ll post the finished saw along with my thoughts on its mysteriously thin plate…..stay tuned!

Published in: on November 9, 2010 at 7:47 pm  Comments (7)  

Sharpening: An important lesson…

The most important lesson I have ever learned about sharpening saws, and about woodworking in general, came to me some time ago when I sent a saw out to be resharpened. I was still learning how to sharpen saws and wanted to see what a perfectly sharpened saw was like. I wanted to know how it felt, how it cut, and what perfect teeth looked like. I did some research and found a very well respected sharpener that was recommended to me by craftsman, hobbiests and even one very well known saw maker. I picked a nice old D-8 rip saw as my specimen for sharpening and sent is away with great anticipation. Soon after, it was returned to me all sharpened up.

As I unpacked the saw, it was like Christmas morning as a kid…I was excited to finally see what a classic saw was like when it was sharpened properly. And I was certainly not let down….the saw was indeed a dream to now use….it was sawing nirvana. Swift in the kerf, clean of finish and smooooooth. I was in heaven.

After a few test cuts, I cleaned off the teeth and inspected them under a magnifying glass…I wanted to see the perfect geometry of these sharp teeth.

Hmmmm….I was surprised. Why was I surprised? Because what I was expecting to see was absolute mechanical perfection in the gullets….every one filed to the micrometer-ensured exact same depth. But that’s not what I found. What I found was just a few gullets in the middle of the saw that were a little uneven. The tips of the teeth were of military precision, but those three of four gullets were a little uneven.

Wait a minute, I thought….this saw was so smooth and perfect to use….I thought all the literature i read….from to Disston’s Saw and File manual…said that each gullet must be of uniform depth? I checked the teeth both under the glass and with a straight edge…they were indeed of perfectly uniform height, but those gullets…I could see the three or four that were waivy. How was this possible? I was perplexed. The saw performed perfectly….shouldn’t those waivy gullets make the saw jump out of the kerf like a derranged meth head?!?!

The more i thought about this, the more I realized this one truth: Sharp is as sharp does. A well sharpened saw CUTS perfectly, though it may not look perfect. I realized that in my own sharpening efforts I was focusing far too much on how the teeth look while I was sharpening them….and in particular, the uniformity of the gullets. And this gullet uniformity thing had been plaguing me for months…I just couldn’t seem to get them to all line up perfectly. I was paying far too much attention to looks, and not enough on function.

 Now, before you speed down to the comment section to reprimand me and ramble on about the importance of gullet uniformity, let me be clear. I am not saying uniformity of teeth and gullets is not important. It is very important to maintain uniformity for each tooth to work evenly…but there is a practical limit to this. You can become far too focused on the LOOKS of a tool and not enough on its function.

This was such a revelation for me…I realized I was wasting poor ole saw plates away to nothing with jointing after jointing in pursuit of a goal that was practically unattainable, and more inmportantly, not necessary any way.

I was extatic! I now shifted my focus to leveling the teeth and getting them uniform in height instead of the depth of the gullet. I started sharpening quicker and sharpening more because it was taking less time. I sharpened more saws and used them more and you know what? I got better at sharpening. Why? Because I let go of the ridiculous notion that a tool should look perfect if it is going to perform perfectly!!!!

The definition of a perfect tool is one that performs its given task with perfection, not one that appears perfect. A revelation to me indeed!

The second lesson I learned from sending this saw away to be sharpened was that I could learn to sharpen saws as well as any of the well respected saw guys. This gentleman that I sent my saw to unknowingly showed me that you can sharpen your own saws if you allow yourself to make mistakes, learn from them, and discover where to demand perfection, and where to allow for error. I suppose you can liken this to another tool truth widely held…that in order for a hand plane to function perfectly, it must be flat in three areas….at the toe, in front of the mouth, and at the heel. Once these are attained, continuing to flatten the sole gives no improvement in function.

It is important to note that this gentleman who sharpened my saw was, and is, one of the most respected sharpeners today. His saws continue to demand the highest prices in all arenas. He continues to impress me with his work and I continue to recommend both his reconditioned saws and sharpening services, as do many well respected saw makers in the U.S. The fact that three of the gullets on this sharpened saw were out of alignment by a few micro-fractions of an inch did not then, nor will it ever, affect the functioning of a perfect saw.

I am thankful for this lesson….it changed my work forever.

Published in: on November 7, 2010 at 11:52 am  Comments (7)  

Toolemera: New (Old) offerings from Fairham

I recently acquired two new books from the wonderful Toolemera Press. If you are not familiar with Gary Roberts, founder and proprietor, or his work resurrecting out of print ephemera of our historic craft, then you are truly missing out. Not only does Gary make available an amazing selection of free downloads from his site, but he also reprints books long lost from our view. Visit his site and you’ll thank me…

Toolemera has recently reprinted two such works from the noted author, teacher and craftsman William Fairham. Originally printed in 1920 by a British firm, these books are indeed rich with the English tradition of woodworking. (As a side note, i am so fond of the woodworking culture across the pond….our brothers never lost their respect and reverence for hand tools, as we so quickly did in the post war boom to expand. One need only observe the work and habits of Ian Kirby, David Charlesworth and Alan Peters to see this marked divergence in our trades)

Anyway, enough of my social commentary……So, these two newly reprinted works, ‘Hand Tools and How to Use Them’ and ‘Woodwork Joints’, are self-explanatory in their subject matter, but do not be fooled…these books are chock  full of useful and entertaining info.

I found the ‘Woodwork Tools’ text to be the much more entertaining of the pair, as I love reading about the use of traditional hand tools, and of course, saws in particular. The author covers a range of hand tools, in addition to the new-at-the-time stationary powered machinery one may have found in use in a turn of the century British cabinet shop. One such machine, the automatic scraping machine, was a complete revelation to me….fascinating! Any woodworker will find this book a great pleasure….I read it easily in a few sittings over the course of a week. I highly recommended it.

The second book, ‘Woodwork Joints’ is a much more technical presentation of, well, woodwork joints, and while not quite as light a reading given the detail, it is most definitely worth having. This is a book I see myself keeping handy next to my bench and referring to while drafting out a project. The work is vast in its review of all types of cabinet making and carpentry joints from half-laps and dovetails, to miters and puzzles. Each joint is discussed in detail with practical and period correct instruction on how to cut them and which tools to use. A must for the technically inclined craftsman who wants to finally tackle that secret miter dovetail joint on his next project.

On a final note, if you are more interested in the free downloads available at Toolemera, then I would recommend ‘The Story of the Saw’ published by Spear and Jackson fifty years ago…a wonderful historical perspective on saw developments from the dawn of tools through the modern age….

Also of note, my favorite old book on saws, ‘Handsaws: Their use, care and abuse…’ by Fred Hodgson…

Check them out….you can thank me later!

And of course, if you are interested in purchasing either of the Fairham books, they are available through Amazon…

Happy reading!


Published in: on November 6, 2010 at 10:23 am  Leave a Comment  

Let’s make a saw….Finale (Part 4)

After much anticipation, the time has finally come to sharpen this little lady up and get her out on the dance floor once more…I think she’ll be a real delight! ;o)

Sharpening a hand saw is without a doubt a topic about which you will find much literature, both in print and online (relatively speaking of course….It’s not quite as popular a google search as Lindsey Lohan…well, not yet anyway!) Everyone has their own way of doing it (sharpening that is, not Lindsey Lohan) and I am no different…but all of us do share certain steps in common.

However, in stead of launching into a long post, I will briefly cover how i sharpen. I certainly will be posting an in depth tutorial on my sharpening and filing methods in the future, so look for that soon.

To start, of course, I select the appropriate triangular tapered file for the teeth, and my trusty mill file  for jointing. You can use a chart to match the pitch of the saw to the file (see below, curteousy of Tools For Working Wood) or you can match a file on hand to the height of the saw tooth (the saw tooth should be half the height of the width of the file face) Some use a smaller file than this…Mike Wenzloff asserts that you should use the smallest file that will work in order to give the deepest gullet. I have done both and not noticed a big difference…plus, I’m cheap so I use the traditional method to get three usable sides to every file.

For this saw, since its 8 points, I use a 7 inch extra slim taper file, and of course, a handle…I like the Skroo-Zon brand the best…comfy and they grip tight.  You can get good files and supplies here or here.

Here are the files I will use…you will note the mill file mounted into a block of wood to keep it square to the tooth line…

The first step is of course jointing. I run the mill file across the tops of the teeth to level them…a few passes and each tooth should show a tiny flat area on the top. The jointing is essential and ensures that each tooth be the exact same height and do its duty as required of a fine saw. I’m sure you’ve seen many old saws with tooth lines that look like a roller coaster track…these saws do NOT perform at their peak and are the result of not jointing teeth before sharpening.

Here she is mounted in my old Disston #2 saw vice after jointing…you can just see the tiny flats on the tip of each tooth from jointing…

The teeth on this old saw plate (now our NEW saw plate actually) are in decent shape…very straight and level so only a few strokes of the mill file and their all level. This saw was originally a cross cut saw, so the teeth have a good amount of fleam on them. Fleam is created by changing the file angle relative to the tooth line to create a more acute angle on the edge of the tooth, thusly making a knife point (you can see this in the illustration above). This edge, as opposed to a chisel like edge for rip teeth, more efficiently and cleanly severs the cross grain fibers of wood. Without launching into an extensive treatise on saw tooth geometry, those links above for saw files will also lead you to the websites of Joel Moskowitz and Pete Tarran, respectively, both of which contain great info on saw teeth geometry and function, as well as on sharpening.

So now I’m ready to file the teeth, but interestingly enough, I’m not going to keep any fleam on this saw. Why? Because lately I have been putting a theory of some to the test….namely, that fleam in not necessary on hand saws. Yes….I said NOT NECESSARY. So, this saw is going to be one of my “fleam free” experiemental saws. I’ll put her through her paces in both ripping and cross cutting and report back how she does.

As a note, interestingly enough, the greatest advocate of fleam free saws was Tage Frid….also a Rhode Islander like myself. Perhaps I feel some inclination to test his theory out of a geographic loyalty? Or state pride? Perhaps. Or perhaps, maybe i just like causing scandal in my tiny little cyberspace woodworking community. ;o)

Anyway, no fleam it is on this 8 point saw. I will use a somewhat relaxed rake though…I don’t measure…I just use a consistant angle to keep the theeth even. Also, this relaxed rake will help with cross cutting somewhat.

So now onto filing…it only takes a few strokes per tooth to get most of the fleam out. Here’s a pic…you can still see a bit of the bevels on the teeth….the last remnants of fleam…

Another light jointing, more filing and the teeth are just about finished.

Next, I always set my teeth and then sharpen…some sharpen first, then set, but to me, setting first makes sense because when the teeth are set, it changes the geometry of the tooth. If you set first, then joint lightly again and THEN sharpen last, you ensure that all the teeth are of even height and shape.

To set, I use my trusty Somax saw set on the #10 setting…

Now for another light jointing just to top the teeth and keep them even…and then the actual sharpening.

I sharpen my saws filing all teeth from the same side…I don’t flip the saw around in the vise for the alternately set teeth and here’s why: Good sharpening is about creating muscle memory and keeping consistent filing angles. When you turn the file around in the vise to file the alternate teeth, you create a whole new angle to hold your file at…and a whole new set of potential errors. By filing from one side, you only have to worry about the one rake angle of the teeth and keep it. Like I said, its about developing muscle memory in your wrists…why work so hard at creating that muscle memory if you’re going to turn the saw around and erase it? Interestingly enough, I think I just read on Andrew Lunn’s blog that he does the same thing. Smart guy! FWIW, I’ve never noticed any adverse effects from only having burrs on one side, as I stone them off anyway…

So after the final sharpening, I remove the saw from the vise and stone the sides of the teeth…this evens the set and removes the burrs noted above. Two swipes per side and she’s done!!!!

Now we can put this baby to wood! I have some birch ply next to my bench, so I fix it up and rip away….she tracks good out of the gate….take a look…

Not too shabby! Since I filed this saw as kind of a hybrid (8 points, relaxed rake, no fleam) I’m going to give it a good work out cross cutting 4/4 through 10/4 stock, some plywood work, and light ripping in thinner stock and see where she shines. It will be interesting to find out. I’ve been using more fleam-free saws in my shop, though this is the corsest pitch thus far…I’ll report back soon on how they do.

Here’s some more shots of our new saw….

I hope you enjoyed this project as much as I did…thanks for stoppin’ by.

And as always, more to come soon…!

Published in: on November 3, 2010 at 1:06 pm  Comments (8)