Ponderings #9: Saws Aplenty

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Tomcat1066 posted 01-28-2008 04:59 PM 1851 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 8: Woodworking for Women? Part 9 of Ponderings series Part 10: Does how bad you want it affect the price? »

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!

9 comments so far

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3986 days

#1 posted 01-28-2008 07:32 PM

I think there is a “Slippery Slope” with these saws. I’ll bet you have quite a collection when you’re through. We all are benefiting from you efforts. Thanks! I have a Diston CC panel saw, then 3 Garlicks, a dovetail, a tenon and a rip. I also use a double sided Marbles Dozouki. They all work.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3820 days

#2 posted 01-28-2008 07:44 PM

No doubt! I’m having a hard time passing up various deals I see, even though I really can’t afford them!

I’m glad I’m helping folks out with my ramblings. It’s good to know they serve a purpose :D

-- "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!

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 3898 days

#3 posted 01-28-2008 08:29 PM

I sure like my two japanese pull saws. I still think this is a neat project, however.

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 4020 days

#4 posted 01-28-2008 08:41 PM

I’ve gotten away with a fine toothed Western dovetail saw and some Japanese saws (fine and coarse flexible pull saws, a DT saw, and an azebiki) for a while now in addition to machine cutting. I’m planning on tuning two 10” Gent’s saws (one RIP and one CC in the 12-15 TPI range), and then locating and tuning two 12” backsaws (RIP and CC, in the 9-13 TPI range). I’ll put them into use and see what I need from there. The 19” backsaw seems a bit unwieldly; more like a miter saw that would be used in a box. I have a Disston made for Stanley in that range. I also have a 26” D-8 8TPI RIP saw that needs tuning. And another 26” POS that I’ll probably rehandle and tune to CC. That’s my story -

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3820 days

#5 posted 01-28-2008 08:52 PM


I’d agree with you about the19” back saw being unwieldy, but everyone I’ve read from folks who’ve actually used it (and not writing a magazine with advertising interests I might ad ;)) said they liked it. Besides, I just ripped off the stats from Wenzloff & Sons’ website. Any sufficiently sized saw with rip teeth would do the job. You’re plan of a 12” back saw with rip teeth will do the trick nicely on most any size of stock. The primary advantage of the 19”, as I can imagine it, is that you can get a full stroke on the stock’s width without the blade really leaving the wood. I’d imagine that would help in cut accuracy, though I honestly don’t know for certain ;)

-- "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!

View ChicoWoodnut's profile


904 posts in 3839 days

#6 posted 01-29-2008 03:20 AM

Hi Tomcat,

I think a panel saw filed for Rip should have less teeth. That makes the work go faster and you will be needing to take a jointer to that edge anyway. I am sure you have been here before but there is a great resource on the web for Disston saws. Keep at it. Before you know it you will have saws all over the place!

-- Scott - Chico California

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3820 days

#7 posted 01-29-2008 03:27 AM


You’re probably right. The only reason I’m going with so many teeth is because that’s the ppi for the saw I’m planning on refiling rip. I don’t know that I want to fool with changing the ppi. I’d rather just get a rip saw, but they are significantly more expensive than crosscut saws for some reason (rarity maybe?), at least on eBay which is currently my only source for vintage tools.

Yep…I’m a slave to availability ;)

-- "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!

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 3807 days

#8 posted 01-29-2008 06:13 AM

Wow, this is opening up a whole new world for me. I just went and measured my saws’ TPI because I had no idea. My cheapo Stanley is 10TPI, so I guess that’s for crosscut? And my Crown backsaw is 15 TPI (but the teeth are quite small).

A little more research and I’ll figure out how to sharpen each appropriately.

-- Eric at

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3820 days

#9 posted 01-29-2008 12:24 PM


It ppi doesn’t necessarily indicate rip or crosscut. It’s really more about the shape of the teeth. Rip saws have flatter fronts to the teeth. Granted, your Stanley is probably a crosscut, but you can’t go by ppi.

Also, your back saw being 15 ppi isn’t surprising in the least. IIRC, it’s a dovetail saw, so it would need that many teeth to to make a fine cut. It’s a slower cut though, but dovetails need a much cleaner cut than say rough cutting a board to length.

There’s a whole world of saws out there, and I’m just starting to get my feet wet :)

-- "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!

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics