Our National Anthem – that patriotic, soaring, inspiring opus that musically represents our great nation – is sung to the tune of an old English gentleman’s society song. The original was called the ‘Anacreonic Song’, and was an ode to a 6th Century B.C. Greek poet named Anacreon, who was known for writing about wine, women, and…..song.
Us silly ‘Murricans!!”
The reason The National anthem is being mentioned in this blog post is because tomorrow, September 13 is the anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore, the 1812 bombardment of Fort McHenry, of which Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner”.
There are two good reasons why the author of this blog has given himself the name ‘handsawgeek’.
First, I really am a geek. Always have been. And, quite likely, always will be!
And proud of it, mind you.
Second, hand saws are my favorites in the pantheon of hand tools.
I like hand saws of every shape, form, and style. And I thoroughly enjoy using them.
In reality, I’d darn well better enjoy using them, because just last week I took the plunge and sold off the table saw.
I can just hear the collective gasps….
That was an awfully big step for someone who, up until a couple of years ago, relied on that venerable machine to assist in building every single woodworking project that came through the shop.
It all began when I started picking up every hand saw that could be found at yard sales and flea markets, learned how to sharpen them, and how to use them. There are a lot of good resources on the Wonderful World Wide Web from which to learn this stuff.
I quickly found that one does not simply pick up a hand saw and a piece of wood and start making precision cuts. Far from it. In fact, the learning curve is substantial for even just making basic cross and rip cuts.
Cutting to a line and keeping things reasonably square takes a lot of trial and error, and practice.
There are a few essential tools and bits of knowledge necessary for one to become comfortable in the use of hand saws.
First and foremost, learn as much as you can about the different types of hand saws, their tooth pitch and configuration, and their primary uses. Knowing the difference between rip saws, cross-cut saws, tenon saws, dovetail saws, and so on, is very important to successful good old-fashioned Neanderthal sawing. Pick up a few decent ones at your nearest yard sales. They can usually be found very cheaply. Just make sure the ones you pick are not missing any teeth, and do not have a badly warped or kinked plate. There are quite a few Disston D-8 and D-23 saws floating around in the wild in both rip and cross cut configurations. Most of the ones you will find were manufactured in the early 1950s, but these are of good quality steel and make great users.
Build a Saw Bench.
This cannot be stressed enough. A saw bench is not a saw horse! It typically has a wide top and is knee-high to the user. This places the work at a level in which the sawyer can position his body and dominant sighting eye in the proper position for making straight, square, and accurate rip and cross cuts. The saw bench in the handsawgeek workshop actually started out many years ago as a standard height saw horse for power circular saw use. I found that whacking off about 6” of the legs, adding lower rails and a tool shelf, turned it into a splendid saw bench. The bird-mouth slot was added just for grins….but it does get used for rip cuts.
There are lots of good saw bench plans on the Wonderful World Wide Web.
Build a bench hook for doing precision sawing with tenon and dove-tail saws.
Three pieces of wood and a couple of screws is all you need for this indispensable accessory.
Learn how to sharpen a saw.
Tools required include a set of triangular files, a saw vise, and a saw set.
The saw vise can be built from scrap material. There are a lot of plans to be found on the Wonderful World Wide Web. Saw sets are a little harder to find, but do show up on eBay and in tool dealer sites. I found mine at a yard sale for $2. Primarily because the owner had no idea what it was!
One important point that I must stress in using hand saws is to not expect to make precision finish cuts with them. This goes against the mentality of using table saws which are capable of making very smooth, precise cuts when the machine is properly set up.
With a hand saw, the idea is to get close while keeping things square. A hand saw cut, no matter how sharp the blade, is always rough. I try to maintain a cut within 1/16 to 1/32 of the desired dimension, and clean things up later with planes, rasps, and files.
As proficiency with these tools increased, I found that the table saw was seeing progressively less action, until a point was finally reached where the machine sat idle for over 8 months, and hand saws were providing all of the shop wood cutting needs.
This made the decision to put the table saw up for sale a very easy one.
It must be said, however, that the handsawgeek work shop is still the home of both a chop saw and a band saw. The first is utilized mostly for cutting 2×4s for wall framing in the very slow-moving basement finishing project.
This geek may be a hand tool fanatic, but I do draw the line at wholesale framing work.
The band saw is used primarily for re-sawing as I have yet to add that function to my hand tool skill set. The machine is never used any more for making curved cuts in projects since that is now accomplished Galootishly (is that a word?) with coping, fret, and bow saws.
Even the process of cutting up the logs for preparation into blanks for Mrs. handsawgeek to turn on the lathe is done with an old buck saw I picked up last summer at an antique mall.
M’lady is still marveling over that one.
“You ARE serious about this hand tool stuff, aren’t you?”
A sampling of the hand saws in the handsawgeek workshop!