Recently, I’ve been asking myself, “Self? How many saws do you need, and why type of saws do you need?” Now, obviously, I’ll never have enough saws. However, there should be a minimum set that a hand tool woodworker who’s going “old school” should have, I’m sure we can all agree.
Now, I’ve got two crosscut hand saws, a Disston D-8 and a Norvell-Shapleigh’s Diamond Edge that looks like a Harvey Peace P-26 Crosscut. I also have my back saw, which looks to be a rip saw. I’ve also got a couple of Japanese saws, but they’ll be relocated eventually. I’m looking to go western just for the easy of sharpening them myself. Obviously, this will not be enough. But how many of what do I need?
Well, I may be able to get away with just one more back saw that can handle crosscuts. However, I’m not so sure that it would serve as a long term solution. While I have no problem with adding to the collection, I’d also like to put together a set for my son as well, and it be complete enough that, in time, he will be able to build all his own projects without having to borrow from dear old Dad. First though, he’s only 6, so I have time to put together a set for him, but when a question gets into my head like this, I really find the only thing I can do to stop the voices in my head are to answer their question.
Where should I go for an answer though? Everyone has their own opinions, including the idea that one should have two saws of each type, rip and crosscut. Sound reasoning to be sure. However, I read recently that the cabinetmaker’s shop at Colonial Williamsburg doesn’t have a single crosscut saw in house. Instead, everything is filed rip and just kept very sharp. Apparently, a sharp rip saw can make crosscuts. Something for me to think about. But that still doesn’t fully answer my questions.
Wenzloff & Sons, on the other hand, sort of does. For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, they are one of the finest saw makers alive today. Period. No discussion. Are they the best? Don’t know. However, their saws have been universally praised by everyone I’ve talked to who have used them. Now, how did they answer my question? Well, if you were to click the above link, you would find a section called John Kenyon – Seaton Chest Saws. These are saws modeled after the famous Benjamin Seaton tool chest. Honestly, they look pretty darn good too.
Now, as I look at the saws, one thing strikes me. There are three groups of saws: the dovetail and carcass saws, the tenon and sash saws, and the panel and half-rip saws. Why? Well, more or less, they are the same saw design within each group. The only differences seem to be size and the ppi (points per inch). Also, the panel saw is the only one filed crosscut!
The real trick is the ppi. The more ppi a saw has, the finer the cut. The fewer ppi it has, the faster the cut. This is a real important point to remember, because a couple of inches on a saw means you can handle bigger stock, but the ppi is the real determiner of a saw’s purpose. For example, the tenon saw’s ppi is 9. That’s a pretty fast cut, great for cutting out tenons, since you’ll have a lot of cutting just to get one. However, you’ll have to clean up the shoulder for a good fit. The sash saw, on the other hand, is 13 ppi. A much nicer cut, but slower.
Now, why go into the whole ppi thing? Simple. It seems to me that the ppi is what determines a saws purpose, not just the design. The Kenyon-style carcass saw is 14 ppi, while the dovetail is 16 ppi. Very similar. It could be argued that a carcass saw will cut decent dovetails all by it’s lonesome, but the dovetail’s size makes it a specialty saw (only 1 5/8” usable depth on Kenyon-style saw).
So, what are my takes on the minimal hand saws needed (also taking into account what I already own)? Here we go:
1. Carcass saw (14 ppi rip, 12” long blade)^
2. Large tenon saw (9 ppi rip. 19” long blade, 4 5/8” usable depth at the toe.[*per Kenyon-style saw)
3. Panel saw (10 ppi, 22 1/4” blade)^
4. Rip Saw (10 ppi, 22 1/4” blade) ^^
^ saw I already own
^^ own saw already, but will refile it to rip
Now, why these four saws? Well, the carcass saw can fit the niche of both the dovetail saw and the sash saw. Only 3 ppi separate the fine toothed dovetail from the larger sash saw, and the carcass saw is pretty well smack dab in the middle, with only one ppi finer than the sash saw and 3” shorter blade. Obviously, some folks will prefer the sash saw over the carcass saw, and I can see the point. The larger blade can make it easier for larger stock.
The tenon saw, however, was the one saw that I just didn’t feel there was a way around. The 9 ppi and 19” long blade made it unique of the Kenyon-style back saws. It cuts aggressive, which is good with all the cuts required for mortise and tenon joinery. While a panel saw might work from my newbie perspective, I just don’t think it’s the right tool for the job. A back saw seems more stable and therefore a better choice all around.
The panel and rip saws are obvious. The panel saw could be argued as unnecessary if a sharp rip saw will do the job as well, but they’re common and cheap, so why not?
Now, don’t get me wrong. This shouldn’t be the complete kit you die with ages from now. This is just a starting point. By all means, get the dovetail saw and the sash saw. Get a flush cut saw too! This is just a starting point that I suspect will get you through darn near everything you encounter, but in time you’ll want to add to it to make your jobs a bit easier.
I suspect some folks will disagree with this list. I can’t say that I blame you. Obviously, part of this is preference, and this was a list I came up with for me primarily, so it reflects my thoughts and opinions. If you disagree, please share why and what your list would be. I, for one, would love to hear from others on this one! The most important thing is to have a selection of saws that will do what you need them to do. Period. On that, we can all agree!
-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!