Japanese Saws

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Making and Using Tools - Saws and Saw Tools

  A Craftsman-made Panel Saw by Andrew Lunn

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I have this dubious habit of becoming fixated on endeavors that most people I know would consider uninteresting at best, and downright crazy at worst.

It’s kind of like telling people that you write poetry.  Oh well, I tell myself, I probably seem fairly harmless to them - a toiler beavering away down in his basement; a mad scientist growing compulsions under incandescent lights.

So it was a real treat when Wiktor took an interest in my saw and asked me to write an article about it. I am honored to do so. Who knows, maybe it will get someone else to realize they can make tools too.


Andrew Lunn

 And I suppose that is the first thing I should have told you—I am not an expert in anything I have done here.  That is a big part of the story, in fact. 

It’s the story of craftsman-made tools more generally.  I think part of the reason people don’t make their own tools more often is because they are not experts at it, and it seems sensible to let the experts handle it.

Of course it is true, the experts make fantastic tools.  And yet there is something uniquely satisfying about making a tool yourself, especially one as subtly complicated as a handsaw.  It affords you the opportunity to express yourself, to learn a lot, and to make something that is tailored precisely to your liking.

That last part, though, the “tailoring” part, that requires a bit of understanding.  Not just any old arrangement of saw parts will do.  Research was a very important part of what I did.  I read what I could find, like Holtzapffel and Grimshaw, and pretty much any website or article I could find that pertained to saws. 

I also consulted people who have already made saws.  I wrote in to the Wood Central Hand Tool Forum and got some questions answered by the friendly people there - notably the professional saw maker Mike Wenzloff, Vlad Spehar of Spehar Toolworks, and Adam Cherubini.  I also consulted the Norse Woodsmith web site, where Leif Hanson has documented how he made a batch of dovetail saws.  I spent a lot of time sketching and mulling things over before I actually did anything.

Something I discovered early on was that the various design elements of a saw are like a puzzle in the way they interlock and influence each other.  Some of it is kind of subtle.  My saw plate, for instance, is on the thin side for a panel saw—.032”.  I liked the idea of making the saw more delicate, as opposed to beefier, but in doing so I was concerned that a thinner plate might kink. 

So I thought about ways I could minimize the amount of force required to push the saw through the wood—I used very minimal set and kept the pitch relatively fine (11 tpi).  The rake and fleam are then somewhere in the middle, 12 and 20 degrees respectively.  And I haven’t had any problems - if anything I think the thin plate has resulted in a saw that cuts through boards surprisingly fast, not unlike having a thinner kerfed blade on your table saw.

Making the saw required surprisingly few tools.  I used a circular saw freehand with a cutoff blade to rough out my steel blank, and then I refined and cleaned up the cut edge with files.  Using a circular saw for this job was a little harrowing and I wouldn’t recommend it.  You could probably cut out the blank using a hacksaw, with the metal sandwiched between a couple thin pieces of wood for bearing surface.  There was no step along the way that couldn’t have been done some other way.

For a handle I decided to use the basic outline of an old D-7 I’ve got that fits my hand just right, and to alter its decorative elements to my liking.  The hang of the saw and the ergonomics of the handle were elements in the equation I chose to play around with maybe next time. 

Learn how. Discover why. Build better.

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