This blog will document the making of two sets of heirloom saws. Each set will consist of at least 11 saws, but that number seems to change as progress is made. Originally I had planned to update this blog entry as additional saws are completed. The first saws completed were gent’s saws. The blog was later updated to include a pair of table saws. It was then that I realized I had made a mistake. If I continue updating this blog entry, by the time I get to 11 saws the blog will be so long that no one will read it. A better approach would have been to make this a “blog series”, and that is what I will now do. Unfortunately I cannot go back and include this entry in the series, but I will link future entries in the series to this original entry. The next saws in the sets will be 10” dovetail saws. That series entry will be titled Making Two Sets of Heirloom Saws #1: The 10 in. Dovetail Saw.
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Although I’ve been using handsaws nearly all my life, the saw bug bit me in a bigger way in the fall of 2013. That’s when I began learning as much as I could about saws, their makers, their history, the different saw types and their uses. Concurrent with this, I began restoring vintage saws. Since October, 2013 I’ve restored a total of 57 saws, including full size handsaws, panel saws, and backsaws. A little over half of these have been sold, a few were commissioned restores, and the rest I’ve kept.
In addition to the restoration work, I made four saws during this period, using components (either the plate or spine) that were repurposed from other saws. All this, however, was a prelude to what I’m now embarking on, which is the making of my own saws from scratch.
All the restoration work served as good practice and skill building for making saws. I learned to clean rusty saw plates, straighten bent plates, repair and make saw handles, make split-nut saw screws and medallions, etch plates and medallions, and cut and sharpen saw teeth in both rip and crosscut geometry ranging from 4 to 16 points per inch. That was a lot to learn in roughly a year and a half, but it was all necessary in order to begin making my own saws.
So now I’m starting on the adventure of making my own saws, but what sort of saws will I make? Well, to begin with I’m going to make two identical sets of 10 saws each. After completion, one set will be sold to pay for my saw making expenses. The other set will remain in my family as heirlooms to be passed to my children and grandchildren. The saws in each set will receive unique serial numbers. I will make a special storage case for the saws that remain in the family.
Each set of 10 saws will include a full range of saw sizes, from an 8” gent’s saw to a 28” rip saw. The table below shows the specifications for each of the 10 saws.
Saw Making: The Basics
Handsaws are not a particularly complicated tool. They consist of a plate, or blade, a handle, and some screws to hold the two together. For backsaws, you also need a spine. Even though saws are not complicated, there are a lot of steps involved in making one. I purchase #1095 spring steel shim stock for the plates. The thickness ranges from 0.015” to 0.042” depending on the size and type of saw. I cut the plates to size using an air powered cutoff tool and finish the shaping with a file. Handsaws usually have the maker’s logo etched into the steel. After experimenting with doing this with chemicals, I found it easier to have a local laser marking company do it for me. The final step in making the plate is cutting and sharpening the teeth. I learned to cut and sharpen teeth by hand, but now I have a retoother that cuts all but the finest teeth. The sharpening is still done by hand with a file.
Quality handsaw handles are made from quarter sawn hardwood. Beech and apple are the traditional woods used on American saws, but most any type of hardwood will work. My blog on making handsaw handles covers the entire process in detail, so I won’t repeat it here.
Saw screws come in a few different varieties. Until about 1870, the most common type of screw was held in place with a spanner-type nut. This type of brass fastener is usually called a split-nut screw. You can buy these from a few sawmakers, but I make my own by hand out of brass rod and brass threaded rod. Most saws have one larger screw head called a medallion. I’ve made these by hand too, but more recently I’ve started buying them from a fellow sawmaker. Medallions have the sawmaker’s logo cast, stamped, or etched on them. I use my local laser marking source for this.
Photo: An etched saw plate and two sizes of medallions.
The spines on backsaws may be made of steel, brass, or occasionally other materials. Brass is preferred, both for looks and for the extra weight. Brass backs can be made in two different ways. Most modern sawmakers use backs that have a narrow slot for the plate that is cut in a brass bar with a slitting saw on a milling machine. The blade is then held in the slot with epoxy or loctite. The traditional way of making a brass back, however, is folding brass sheets over like a book. The slot formed by the fold then holds the blade by friction. Both types work equally well. Being a traditionalist, though, I prefer folded backs, and I’ve made several in my shop. The halfback saw shown above and the gent’s saws shown below have backs that I made from sheet brass. Until recently, there was no source for buying folded brass backs. One source has now come on line, so I will likely be buying my backs from them in the future.
Photo: A pair of brass backs made in my shop using two slightly different techniques.
So now with the basics covered, let’s start making some saws.
Saw #1: The Gent’s Saw
A small saw with a round handle is traditionally called a gent’s saw. They are often used for cutting dovetails, so they can also be called dovetail saws. My saws have a 0.015” thick plate that is 8” long and 2” under the spine. The brass backs are made from 1/16” brass (1/8” after folding) by ½” wide. The turned handles are made from figured American walnut. The handles are attached with brass ferrules and epoxy. These saws are sharpened at 16 ppi in a rip pattern.
(Updated April 9, 2015)
Saw #2: The Table Saw
A few months ago I bought a group of several saws on eBay.UK, and this saw was in the bunch.
This short little saw is called a table saw for reasons that no one seems to know. One theory is that its narrow blade was useful for sawing out the profile of round table tops, but I don’t know if that’s correct. It seems like it would be a handy saw to keep on your workbench for quick utility cuts, so perhaps it should be called a bench saw.
LJ Smitty_Cabinetshop saw a picture of the saw and asked me to make him one like it. He sent me a piece of pecan for the handle and I supplied the rest. Here is his completed saw.
I hadn’t originally planned to include a saw like this in my sets of 10 saws, but I liked Smitty’s saw well enough that I figured why not? So now my sets of 10 saws have morphed into sets of 11 saws. I suppose I should come up with another saw design and make it an even dozen. Any suggestions?
Here are pictures of the pair of table saws I made for my matching sets. The blades are 14” and 11 ppi. They are filed to a hybrid geometry of 10 degrees rake and 12 degrees fleam to cut both rip and crosscut. I’m generally not a fan of hybrid filing, but in the case of a benchtop utility saw it makes sense. The handles are figured walnut like all the matching saws in the sets will be.
This blog will continue as a blog series from this point forward. The next saws to be made are 10” dovetail saws. They will be featured in the first entry of the new series in a posting titled Making Two Sets of Heirloom Saws #1: The 10 in. Dovetail Saw.
-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works http://www.rmsaws.com/p/about-us.html