Tag-Archive for ◊ east meets west: my saws series ◊

• Friday, May 03rd, 2013


These saws solve problems.

The Japanese azebiki saw, at the top in the photo, has curved tooth lines designed to start a cut in the middle of a board. One side is rip, the other crosscut. The neck is thicker toward the handle, which, along with the short cutting length, makes this saw fairly stiff for a Japanese saw.

The azebiki works well cutting against a straightedge wood guide to make kerfs for starting grooves and dados, including sliding dovetail sockets. Use a chisel to clear the waste and a router plane to true the bottom. I prefer an electric router for this work but sometimes it is too risky or awkward, so it is good to have hand tool options.

For all sorts of odd small-scale sawing tasks, the azebiki saves the day. It is inexpensive and worth having in the shop.

The Z brand 6″ keyhole/compass saw (S-150), at the bottom in the photo, has Japanese three-bevel crosscut-style teeth (17 tpi) with variations in the set to help clear waste. This saw cuts more smoothly than other Japanese and Western keyhole saws that I have tried.

At .035″ thick, it is stiff enough to maintain control when sawing curves, as long as the stock is not too thick. Of course, it cuts on the pull stroke, which occasionally is a disadvantage when jabbing into a small hole to start a cut.

I bought the skinny keyhole saw with the wooden handle many years ago, and it hangs around waiting for an odd situation where there is only a tiny hole or narrow slot to sneak into with the nose of the saw. It would be expecting a lot for a saw of this size to cut smoothly, and indeed, it does not.

The little guy keeps his place on the roster because, though infrequently, he continues to make plays when needed. And he doesn’t take up much space on the bench.

Second from the top in the photo is a Z brand flush cut saw (S-150). You might not need this type of saw if you use the trick I discussed in an earlier post, but I still like having it as an option. The .016″ thick plate is very flexible, so it can be bent to allow the handle to be lifted away from the work surface, as you use the fingers of your other hand to press down on the saw blade.

To prevent scratching the work, the three-bevel crosscut style teeth (21 tpi) have no set whatsoever. I prepped the saw by lightly working each side on a medium sharpening stone to ensure that any trace of burr would be gone. As discussed here, binding can be a problem with this saw but it works well enough for shallow cuts.

Z brand saws are well made. The replaceable blades are inexpensive, so there is no worry if you occasionally abuse them when desperately trying to do an awkward job.

This part 8 concludes the My Saws series. Or does it? Our current woodworking world has some great saw makers at work, modern technology, and an expanding appreciation of the woodworking wisdom of our forebears, so a new saw for my shop is always a possibility. The bottom line will always be: how the tool can help me make things that I so dearly want to make.

Note: The entire series, parts 1-8, of “East meets West: My Saws” can viewed on a single page via this link.

• Thursday, April 25th, 2013


This coping saw frame is an old one made by Eclipse in England. The handle, threaded stem, proximal blade anchor, and the yellow tabs are transplants from an otherwise poorly designed $8 Irwin saw. The handle’s rounded triangular cross section and comfortable grippy material make it less fatiguing to use than the wooden original.

Small frame-type saws like these lack the robust rigidity of their larger cousins and thus perform better cutting on the pull stroke, which also happens to be more natural and efficient when it is used vertically.

I like Olson CP304 blades for general work (.020″ thick, .125″ wide, 15 tpi). The CP301 blades are slimmer (.018″ thick, .094″ wide, 18 tpi skip tooth) and may fit into the kerf of some dovetail saws when used for removing waste, though the total set of these blades varies from about .002″ to .008″ in the ones I measured. CP307 (32 tpi) are handy for the inevitable metal cutting that woodworkers do.

In addition to “serious” work, the coping saw is great for very young kids who tend to dig in and stall with heavier handsaws. The coping saw seems to avoid this because the blade is under steady tension, helped along by the pull stroke. The blades, of course, are inexpensive.

Clamp the wood firmly for the little woodworker, who should use two hands on the saw. You will be the only one who cares if the cut is straight. Even at younger than four years old, my son and daughter played in the shop with me, sawing little wood pieces, building little things, and making big memories.


Knew Concepts takes coping and fret saws to vastly higher levels. I have an earlier model 5″ titanium frame fret saw. This style is currently available in aluminum, in addition to the newer “bird cage” titanium model. They also make a similar coping saw.

These saws are amazingly light and rigid, plus offer a convenient cam lever tensioning mechanism and indexed blade tilt adjustment.

This saw is excellent for inlay work using #2/0 blades (28 tpi skip). Again, the pull stroke setup is best. I wrapped the handle in black friction tape.

It is by far the best saw I have used to remove dovetail waste. You can get very close to the baseline using a single cut. This makes chiseling the remaining waste faster and, with less push back of the chisel, more accurate. The fret saw blade easily fits into the kerf made by most dovetail saws, and can be redirected sideways within one stroke.

After experimenting, I found #3 blades (Pegas brand) to be the best for this task (.0118″ thick, .038″ wide, 19 tpi skip) – faster, narrower, and cleaner than the #5 (.0145″ thick, .043″ wide, 16.5 tpi skip).

Knew Concepts saws are examples of tools for which we might otherwise have complacently accepted the limits of the standard designs.

Next: miscellaneous saws that solve problems.

• Monday, April 22nd, 2013


Why part 6? Parts 1-5 were posted in 2010, and cover the main Western and Japanese handsaws and joinery/backsaws that I use. I have since added the Bad Axe dovetail saw to that group and it has risen to the head of the class. This post will cover bowsaws. Part 7 will cover coping and fret saws. Part 8 will cover miscellaneous accessory saws. 18 saws isn’t a lot, right? Right.

The Woodjoy bowsaw, pictured above, is my bandsaw without a motor. Glenn Livingston produces this thoughtfully designed and beautifully made saw along with other excellent tools. It is a very sturdy tool with about 16″ between the stiles. The toggle system easily permits half turns, which is important in properly setting the blade tension.

The “Turbo-Cut” blade, listed at 400mm (15 3/4″) long but with a comfortable 13 1/2″ of tooth line, has super-hard (>Rc 70) Japanese-style teeth, 15 tpi. The pattern, which could be considered a modified ikeda-me, is seven three-bevel crosscut teeth followed by a pair of special rakers that have their end bevels cut in the opposite direction from those of the crosscut teeth. It crosscuts fast, and seems to rip even faster.

The blade is about 5/16″ wide, .024″ thick, with the teeth widely set to a .048″ kerf. This makes it surprisingly maneuverable following curves, though the cut is fairly rough across the grain.

For power, comfort, and accuracy, I prefer to use this saw with a horizontal push cut, and the frame is plenty rigid enough for that. Some may prefer a horizontal pull cut, or a vertical push cut, though the latter may be difficult at typical workbench height.


This is a fairly heavy saw, so here is how I hold it for cutting curves. I grip the handle with my dominant right hand, similar to holding a straight-handle dovetail saw, and align it with my right shoulder. This reliably steers the saw while my left hand provides passive support near the end of the rail. The saw works best when you let it do the work and use as much of the blade length as you can with every stroke.

This saw could quite reasonably be used in a hand-tool-only shop in place of a bandsaw for roughing out curved table legs and other heavy curved work. It has the moxie and the control to easily handle 8/4 maple.

I like this size saw for curved work. Woodjoy also makes larger sizes, and Turbo-Cut blades are also available in 1 1/4″ width.

I bought the bowsaw pictured below more than 30 years ago. It was made in Denmark by JPBO but, as far as I know, is no longer available. This is the model of saw that was preferred by the late great teacher Tage Frid. He used it with a horizontal push stroke for joinery and crosscutting, and vertically for ripping stock.


Not long after buying it, I replaced the original blade with one labeled “The K and P Saw, Western Germany,” also no longer available. An excellent blade, it is tapered in thickness from the teeth to the back, so it can be prepared with very little set. The blade is about 19″ long and has 10 tpi, which I file rip. Frid advocated a rip filing for both ripping and crosscutting.

This saw is surprisingly light yet rigid, probably due to the width and orientation of the frame members – unlike most bowsaws, the wide dimension of the rail is horizontal. The toggle system is less refined than on the Woodjoy saw, but half turns are still possible by loosening and reinserting the toggle stick in the opposite direction, then retightening it.

I find I get the best control and endurance by holding it by the lower part of the fairly wide stile.


This saw does not get a lot of use in my shop now but it is still handy to have for various ripping tasks. I find it is especially accurate and comfortable for cutting tenons, though I’m in the habit of using the ryoba for that.

Because I like using my bandsaw so much (“the hand tool with a motor“), I also don’t frequently use the Woodjoy bowsaw. Nonetheless, I still want both of these hand tools in my shop – they give me options and they’re ready when I want them.

Next: the fret saw and the humble coping saw.

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• Saturday, September 15th, 2012

It is tempting to judge this saw on its looks, and there it is certainly a winner. Moreover, the range of choices available in the handle wood, saw nuts, and back allow the customized aesthetics of this tool to be especially pleasing. More substantively, the fit and finish are magnificent; there isn’t a hair out of place. My Bad Axe 10″ dovetail saw has a .018″ plate, 16 tpi rip teeth, set about .002 each side, with a mesquite tote, blued steel back, and brass saw nuts.

However, a tool must be ultimately judged by its performance, which simply means how it can help you make things out of wood. I’ve used this saw for about nine months now, and, despite some excellent Western and Japanese alternatives to which I had become accustomed, the Bad Axe has become my clear favorite.

When I pick up this saw and approach the wood, it feels just right in my hand. Though relatively beefy for a dovetail saw, the handle contour, low hang angle, and especially the balance work together to impart eagerness to go at the layout lines. When the saw does bite into the wood, the truly superlative sharpening completes the functional integration. In many side-by-side tests with my other saws, I  have gotten the most consistent accuracy and feel the most confident with the Bad Axe. It is now the saw I reach for.

A bit of relaxed tooth rake toward the toe of the saw helps start the cut. The tooth line is canted about 1/8 from toe to heel. These are both helpful features, though, to find quibbles with the design, my preference would probably be an increase in both of these.

The Bad Axe Tools Works website gives detailed technical information on the saws, and, ultimately, you will have to get one of these saws in your hand to appreciate how well it works.

There is something more important that I want to tell you about this tool. I think of it similarly as my Japanese Daitei chisels and French Auriou rasps. The Bad Axe saw is a tool with a soul, but in this case it is a characteristically American one. This is born of the personal commitment of its maker, Mark Harrell, a man who has spent much of his life serving America. Mark understands saw making history, listens to the input of many woodworkers (disclosure: including me), and is passionate about innovation, refinement, and excellence in producing a saw that you will not mistake for any other. Further, he allows for a range of your choices in saw plate, filing, handle size, and materials.

Yes, the soul of the tool is meaningful and I sense it when I bring the Bad Axe saw to the wood.

• Friday, August 20th, 2010

My long journey around the world of saws has come full circle.

In my youth, I enjoyed basic woodworking with low quality, dull handsaws thinking power tools must be better. I wondered if any serious work was done with hand tools, and, at 15 years of age, bought a jigsaw from Sears. Later, while learning more skills, especially joinery, I was experimenting and struggling with poor quality Western saws, especially backsaws, and inexpensive Japanese saws.

I recognized that the Japanese woodworking culture, unlike most of the West’s, had retained without interruption its support of the production of high quality woodworking hand tools by small-scale makers. My choices in the 1980s consisted mostly of Japanese saws which I had learned to use well and which intrigued me, vintage Western saws which I did not feel ready to research and rehabilitate, some European middling quality saws, and Tage Frid’s good old Danish bow saw.

Look at what is available today. We are so fortunate! There are Wenzloff, Lie-Nielsen, Gramercy, Bad Axe, Adria, Eccentric, Medallion, and others making saws that are surely at least the equals of historical Western saws. Furthermore, there are now many sources for wonderful quality handmade Japanese tools while technology has given us remarkable quality machine-made Japanese saws.

Ironically, it was the recent addition of a good old American Disston that was the last step to reach a feeling of ease with my eclectic bunch of saws.

My aim in these posts has been to tell you why I use what I do in the hope that this can help you find your own way around the world of saws. I will certainly continue to explore, and I hope your saw explorations are enjoyable and productive.

Happy sawing.