Oo-ooh, Say - Can - You - Saw?....

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Blog entry by handsawgeek posted 09-12-2014 01:38 PM 1919 reads 0 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

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…

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!

-- Ed

11 comments so far

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 2850 days

#1 posted 09-14-2014 01:45 AM

We are Americans. and we don’t like being called silly as a whole.

and your lack of respect for the National Anthem takes much away from your nice post.

If you researched it a little further, you’ll understand better the importance of that defining momemt described in that song.

View handsawgeek's profile


650 posts in 1570 days

#2 posted 09-15-2014 02:12 PM

Hi, reedman,
Thank you for visiting my blog and posting your comments and concerns.

I must respond, however to what I feel might just be somewhat of a personal attack. For the record, I have the utmost respect and love for our National Anthem. As a musician, I have played it many times in orchestral settings, and I understand the meaning behind the lyrics more than you might suspect.

In fact, the reason that I made mention of the National Anthem in the above post is because this past weekend, Saturday the 13th marked the 202nd anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore.

This of course was the action during the War of 1812 that included the bombardment of Fort McHenry, the event of which Francis Scott Key so eloquently penned his famous poem. The fort was the major obstacle for the British objective of capturing the town of Baltimore, using combined naval and ground forces.

Key, who was a lawyer, had traveled to Baltimore to negotiate the release of an American doctor being held by the British. He met with British authorities aboard the HMS Tonnant in Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, this was the time that the British fleet was set to begin their assault on Fort McHenry, so Key was detained on the ship until the bombardment was over.

It can only be imagined the angst he felt while watching as his fellow Americans endured such a fierce barrage as the warships unleashed, as well as the relief and joy that he felt when he saw that the fort held and the colors were not struck!

The poem was really a form of taunt to the British – sort of a “ Look at this! This is the flag you guys tried to capture! FAIL!!!”

Actually Key did not publish the poem until 1814, and it was originally titled “The Defense of Fort McHenry” It soon became very popular.

Shortly after, Key, and his brother –in –law Joseph Nicholson, found that the words fit a popular melody of the day, ‘Anacreon in Heaven’, a song composed by John Stafford Smith, for a London gentleman’s society of amateur musicians. The name of the new poem/song was changed to “The Star Spangled Banner”.

In that era, any existing copyright laws did not include music compositions, so it was common practice for popular tunes of the day to be ‘lifted’ and ‘repurposed’.

Such was the case with the ‘The Star Spangled Banner’.

I suspect, that if a recording industry had existed in the early 19th century, “The Star Spangled Banner” would have shot straight to the top of the pop charts, stayed there for decades, and gone multi-platinum, such was its popularity!

Fast forward to 1916….President Woodrow Wilson decreed that the “The Star Spangled Banner” should be played at every military occasion.

Faster Forward to 1931…..The “Star Spangled Banner” was officially designated by Congress as our new National Anthem. (Well over 100 years after its composition!)

It is purported that the song made its first appearance at a sporting event during Babe Ruth’s last post-season appearance with the Red Sox in 1918, but there are reports of it being played much earlier than that.

So much for my lack of research……..

I do not comprehend that presenting some factual history about our national anthem in a blog could be construed as disrespect.

As for the ‘Silly ‘Murricans’ quote. Strictly tongue-in-cheek – not meant to be offensive.

Anyway, reedman, I believe that it is the folks that built and maintain this great country, (of which Francis Scott Key is one), that gives us the freedom to write blogs and comment about them.

Also, for the record, I visited your profile page. Looks like you’ve done quite a bit of really good woodworking!

Take care and have a great day.

-- Ed

View handsawgeek's profile


650 posts in 1570 days

#3 posted 09-15-2014 03:45 PM

Hi, again, reedwood…
Egads. What’s wrong with me?
I don’t know how I got your online name wrong! reedman?
That’s actually a term used in the jazz music world to describe sax /clarinet players…...
My apologies!

-- Ed

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 2850 days

#4 posted 09-15-2014 03:45 PM

yes, I read the liberal LA Times article too… nice cut and paste, handsawgeek.

I see you edited your post too. You still misspelled Americans.

.... awful lot of Bill Maher style hit and run tongue and cheek on LJ lately. Getting real old, I guess.

and your timing sucked juust a little bit.

sorry if I misread your patriotism. glad to know we are on the same page, I think.

View handsawgeek's profile


650 posts in 1570 days

#5 posted 09-15-2014 05:44 PM

Here is an interesting short article about the Star Spangled Banner…..

-- Ed

View handsawgeek's profile


650 posts in 1570 days

#6 posted 09-16-2014 05:00 PM

Original post edited today…...

-- Ed

View summerfi's profile


4025 posts in 1861 days

#7 posted 09-16-2014 05:46 PM

Ed, I’d like to invite you to come visit the saw thread, where there are a bunch of guys as passionate about hand saws as yourself. We’re learning from each other all the time. You might enjoy it there.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works

View theoldfart's profile


10105 posts in 2625 days

#8 posted 09-16-2014 06:03 PM

Ed, I didn’t sell my tablesaw ( 1940-50’s craftsman). I use it as a stand for my oscillating sander! All that aside follow Bob’s advice, go over to the thread, ignore trolls, and do more hand saw posts. I need the info, I only have 25 -30 saws!

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View handsawgeek's profile


650 posts in 1570 days

#9 posted 09-16-2014 07:14 PM

Sheesh. That first photo on the saw thread got me to a-droolin’! Thanks for the invite.

‘oldfart…only 25 or 30? What a lightweight! Actually, I don’t think I’ve quite reached that number yet, because I am constantly gifting some of mine away to local buddies, or selling some at yard sales.

-- Ed

View theoldfart's profile


10105 posts in 2625 days

#10 posted 09-16-2014 07:39 PM

About 10 or so are sharp, the others are in various stages of resucitation.

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View handsawgeek's profile


650 posts in 1570 days

#11 posted 09-16-2014 07:51 PM

About the same for me. About half of my saw collection is awaiting refurb and sharpening as well. Occasionally, I’ll pick up one that hasn’t been worked on yet and use it to make a cut if I’m not near one of my ‘good’ saws. Many of the saws I find in the wild are still quite sharp. It’s as if they just hung around in someones garage for decades, got rusty, but were never used to make a cut.

-- Ed

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