The Saw Blog has moved!!!

I’m very happy to announce that The Saw Blog has a new home in cyberspace! I’ve acquired a new domain for the blog and will now be at:

Other than the address, the appearance should be just about the same. So please update your links, browsers and favorites with our new address. Soon all traffic will be automatically diverted to the new address, but in the mean time you can navigate there manually.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be changing a couple of things to make the new blog a little easier to navigate…and adding some features as I’m able. Please notify me of any bugs or glitches, and please let me know if you have any thoughts, suggestions or questions. I can be reached at:

Thanks for all the support and for making The Saw Blog such a success!!!

Keep makin’ saw dust…


Published in: on September 15, 2011 at 11:32 am  Leave a Comment  

Dovetails a la Underhill….

It was my birthday last week, and despite being buried in saw work, I figured I deserved some woodworking time on my special day. So, I took a couple hours to make some new bookshelves I need for our living room. My collection of woodworking and history books is growing by leaps and bounds (when I’m not in the shop, I always have my nose in a book) and I’m running out of places to pile them up.

So, I came up with a quick and simple design for some dovetailed shelves that would also let me try out a dovetailing method I read about in one of Roy Underhill’s books. Roy is my absolute woodworking hero and I adore his work. Ever since I read about this particular method of cutting the tails for a DT joint I have wanted to try it. What struck me about his method, which I’ve never read or seen anywhere else, is that besides the base line, there is no marking involved for the tails. So all you need to make them is your board and a saw. No knife, no pencil, no DT gauge or bevel gauge and no dividers or rule to lay out the spacing. You don’t mark the tails at all…you just cut everything by eye. Cool, right???

So let’s get to it and you’ll see what I mean…

After I mark the baseline for the thickness of the stock on the tail board, I clamp it up in my Moxon twin screw vise. In my mind, for a 9 and 1/2 inch deep bookshelf case, I see three large dovetails joining each corner of the case. It’s with this layout in mind that I begin…

To start the first tail, I grab my saw and make a shallow kerf to define the edge of the first tail by drawing the teeth back along the end grain. As you can see, there’s no mark what so ever for the tail cuts…I just guesstimate about 3/4 to an inch in from the edge of the board and pull back to establish the cut line. And this is the great part of Roy’s method…you lay everything out by eye and don’t mark anything…

Then, I switch to the other side of the board to define the cut line for the edge of the opposite tail. Same thing here….eyeball about an inch in and draw the saw back to establish a kerf line….

The trick here is to use the shiny saw plate to ensure that this kerf line is square. You can see the reflection of the board on the saw plate, and once you line it up equally in the reflection, you know you’re square and you draw back the teeth to mark the kerf.

Next, I cut the kerf defining the size of the first tail. I estimate about two inches from the first kerf and draw back with the saw…

Now the same thing with the second tail…about two inches wide…

We’ve now defined the width of our two outside tails and can focus on the middle tail. I define the middle tail about 3/4 of an inch from the right side tail…

And the other side as well…

And here’s the tail cuts kerfed out and ready to be cut…

Now I’m ready to cut my tails…and here’s the fun part. Again, there’s no marking here…no definging the slant of the tail with a knife line or pencil mark. I just estimate the slant of the tail by eye and tilt my saw accordingly, then start cutting. And once you’ve cut a few dovetails, you’ll get to know how the saw should feel for the proper angle…in fact, there isn’t really a “proper” angle at all. Its more of an angle that can be too sharp or not sharp enough. As long as you stay inside of those outside parameters, you’re dovetails will be just fine. So here goes…

Place the saw teeth in the first kerf, angle it slightly to the right and start sawing…

I make all of the right slanting tail cuts together…1, 2, 3. Here you can see the angle I’m cutting at a bit better…again, I’m just going by feel here…

I make the last right slanting tail cut, then go back and make my left slanting cuts to complete the tails. Here they are all cut…

Not bad for no layout marks…and man was this quick!

Now its a simple matter of cutting the rest of the tails for the case, removing the waste and paring to the baseline. After that, I match up my tail board to my pin board to mark the cuts with a pencil, and then it’s dovetailing as normal. Of course, I don’t mark the pin cuts on the face of either board….I just mark the slope of the tail on the end grain and saw straight down. But like I said, that’s all standard dovetailing…its really the lack of making any initial lay out marks that makes this method so freakin’ cool!

Now I know what you might be thinking….your probably telling yourself that this is cazy…how can you ensure that all of the tails are even and spaced properly???  How can you ensure that your tails are going to be uniform and perfect and esthetically pleasing????

Here’s the thing…dovetails don’t have to be perfect. In fact, they are more historically correct and look better when they are not perfectly sized and laid out. You want machine shop precision in your woodworking? Get a Shopbot and make your furniture like a cyborg…lifeless and dead inside. Me…I like traditional and human. And once you see the finished product, I think you’ll agree…dovetails laid out and cut by eye are very pleasing. It’s all about letting go of your precise marking gadgets and letting your sense of natural proportion take over. Your brain is surprisingly precise without any guides. Plum, level and true are pretty well programmed inside you. Let go and allow yourself to know them and you’ll spend a lot more time sawing and chopping and less time marking and measuring.

Still don’t believe me? Here’s the case glued up and trimmed flush ready for planing…

I’m pretty pleased with this method…thanks Roy! 🙂

And since this was so much fun, I ended up making a second book shelf…and this one was even quicker. The whole thing went together from 8 foot planks to a  glued up case in about two hours.

After I finished the first one, I decided to dress them up a bit with some nice simple crown molding and base quarter round. Even though it covers up the dovetails, they were a little too plain for our living room…

‘Til next time!

🙂 Matt

Published in: on August 12, 2011 at 7:48 pm  Comments (11)  

Don’t Hang Yourself: Tote angles change your saw…

Lets play a game.

Look at these two pictures and see if you can find what’s different about the tote on each saw:

16 in. Tenon saw by Adam Cherubini

Model 77 Back SawWenzloff & Sons Disston #77

What do you notice?

Not sure? Lets try again….look at the totes on these two saws…

BA10_1Bad Axe 10 inch Dovetail Saw

Dovetail SawLie-Nielsen Dovetail saw

Are you starting to notice something?

The big difference is in how the saw is hung (no, not that way…get your mind out of the toilet). The “hang” of the saw refers to the angle of the tote in relation to the tooth line. And this is not simply an aesthetic detail….in fact, its one of the most important factors in the design of any hand saw. Why? Because it changes the way the saw cuts.

In each pair of pictures, the first saws shown (the Cherubini and the Bad Axe) both have tote angles more perpendicular to their tooth line; this is more “aggressive” hang. The second saws in each pair (the Wenzloff and the Lie-Nielsen) have totes that more approach a parallel with the tooth line; this is more “relaxed” hang.  

So what you say? Read on…

Imagine you had to push a 6 ft. tall wardrobe chest across a carpeted bedroom. If you stand behind the chest and push high up on the back, its likely to dig the feet into the carpet, be difficult to steer, and maybe even tip over. Not good. Now, imagine pushing from low down on the body of the chest. It moves more smoothly, the feet don’t dig into the carpet, and you can steer much easier with more subtle movements. Why? Because you’ve gotten below the chest’s center of gravity and you’re using its mass to help stabilize it as you push. Which method would you rather employ? The latter, of course.

Now what the heck does moving furniture have to do with sawing? A lot….its all physics. If you swap out the wardrobe for a saw, and switch the carpet for your cut line you’ve got the crux of this argument. And here it is: If you want more control over your back saw, then try a more aggressive hang angle because it will put the thrust of your stroke more below the saws center of gravity and BEHIND the cut instead of on top of it.

Get it? Good. Now lets take a break from physics and talk about history…

The first form of large back saws are much like the Cherubini shown above…very aggresively hung. Most of the 17th, 18th and many 19th Century tenon and sash saws have a similar form. In the mid 19th century however, Americans started messing around with traditional saw forms (a big no-no in England if you didn’t want your shop burned to the ground!) and in particular, they started making almost all of their back saws with more relaxed hang. Why? Some say it is because a more relaxed hang let the user leverage downward pressure with the tote and allow a dull saw to continue cutting, thus saving the worker time in needing to stop and sharpen his saw. It also may have been to make the saw more comfortable for use on benches of differing heights and in different locations outside of the shop. Another factor to keep in mind is that as machinery took over work previously dominated by hand tools, industry and craft work began to dismantle its attachment to effective tool forms in pursuit of mechanization and mass production.

But what relaxing the hang also accomplished was to make the saw more difficult to cut properly with, in my opinion. So, if you’ve ever been frustrated by sawing dovetails, tenons, shoulders, dados, or any joinery with a back saw for that matter, than this may be the reason why. Try using a saw with an aggressive hang and low center of gravity and your eyes will be opened to why traditional forms may be better.

Now I’m not trying to say that the more American pattern of back saws with relaxed hang angles are poor…they are great saws, and God knows I love Henry Disston, but how a saw is hung can make a HUGE difference. And I like aggressive hang on my saws…the control in the cut is unequalled. Try it and see. You can thank me later.


Published in: on July 18, 2011 at 10:13 am  Comments (19)  

An epiphany of steel and wood…

I just got this email from a customer and can’t help but share it. He recently sent me a saw to sharpen and let me know that he was new to hand saws and had no experience with them. Here is the email he sent after receiving the freshly sharpened saw…

Hi Matt,

Got the saw in the mail….    SWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEETT!!!!!!!!!!!!
I am honestly trying to get the f-word out of my vocabulary.  Two decades in construction makes for strong habits.  I’m actually doing pretty good with this effort, but the only way I can really convey anything in an email is to say:
That saw is f——— MONEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
WOW.  I had no idea a handsaw could do that!  I crosscut some oak and maple rough stuff I have lying around, and it’s really unbelievable!  And tracking?!  With no marks and just by eye the cut was straight and virtually square in both planes–NOT perfect, but WOW.  Fairly effortless too.  OK, I’m hooked.
I really want to thank you, Matt.  You’ve opened up a whole new world for me.  Just awesome!

On the surface, this may seem like a shameless plug (well…it is) but it’s also much more…..its the whole reason why I love saws and woodworking and hand tools.

The experience that Bill is describing above is a life changing moment. Every craftsman remembers the first time he used a well tuned hand saw…I certainly remember mine. This epiphany does not have to be an isolated incident….it is happening all over the world as we speak and more and more each day.

Boys and girls, put down your Skilsaw and step away from the power outlet.

Now pick up a hand saw and join the revolution.

Thanks for the kind words Bill…this is the reason why I love sharpening saws.

🙂 -Matt

Published in: on June 23, 2011 at 6:25 pm  Comments (5)  

Sharpening for Miter Box Saws…

Its been a hectic few weeks in the shop since I hung my shingle out to offer saw sharpening and restoration services. I am very happy to say the response has been strong and steady, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my extra time in the shop.

Strangely enough, I have been receiving a lot of miter box saws for sharpening. This is both encouraging–as it is wonderful to see this long neglected work horse of the wood shop return to a place of respect–and dismaying–because filing 350+ teeth that have been neglected since the Eisenhower administration is a tedious process. That said, I am going to establish a new rate for miter box saws….in stead of the regular rate of $35 for a basic sharpening, I’m now charging $50 to tune up one of these big boys.

And just so those of you who already have miter box saws already with me aren’t crying bait-and-switch, don’t worry….this new price goes into effect on any saws received by me AFTER TODAY.

Anyway, that’s about it for now….keep your saws coming. My turn around time is hovering around the 2 to 3 week mark right now and things seemed to have leveled off, so it should be right around there for a while.

And a brief thanks to all of those who have wished me well in the new business endeavor…I greatly appreciate it! 🙂


Published in: on June 20, 2011 at 11:20 am  Comments (2)  

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)