Some Advantages of Working By Hand

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7 thoughts on “Some Advantages of Working By Hand

  1. Interesting observations. True enough that if one sawed true to the line, they “might” only have to do it once and it would be quicker as well as less wasteful. However, I think that there are at least two other factors at work here. First, you have to be prepared for having some movement in the wood after it has been planed or ripped. Thick stock oak is especially susceptible to some changes due to stress or varying moisture in the stock or in the building. The other is just that mental block that people have about cutting some stock and ending up with a product that is less than the minimum. Most consider the stock as unusable for the original project at that point and are concerned about inventory costs, etc. Just my thoughts.

    • The wood movement is something to consider, but if the wood is moving that much while you are sawing, then that board has some serious stresses in it that likely make it unsuitable for what you are trying do anyway. To add to that, if it moves that much when you saw it, it will likely continue to move when you plane it whether you saw it wide of the line and then adjust it with a plane, or saw right to the line.

      Sawing to the line for long rips and rough crosscuts is simply practice. If the stock moves when you are making these kind of cuts, it shouldn’t matter because they are typically rough oversized cuts anyway that are adjusted later. The line for these cuts should not typically be your final dimensions as these longer saws leave too rough a finish to be a final surface. The cutting to the line on these cuts is simply an exercise and good practice for the joinery. That way, once you get to the joinery, you can cut right to the line with your joinery saws and have more confidence doing so. I try to cut right to the line on all my dovetail and tenon cuts. I shoot for the joint to fit right from the saw. Typically, if the fit isn’t good right off the saw, then it doesn’t fit right even after some paring. I find it easier to make tight joinery when I make good saw cuts rather than sawing over sized and paring. In my experience, the paring always introduces unforseen error.

  2. Can you do a video example of what you mean by cutting to the line? I have a vague idea that you are trying to “cut the line in half”, but then i’m not so sure 😉

    I can totally see cutting along one side of the line and cleaning up later as being a way for power tool users to follow the line more easily.

    While we are at it.. do you have an opinion on whether a pull or push saw is easier to learn to use for a novice? My goal is straight cuts, not speed!!!



    • Dave,
      I can put something together. Give me a week or two. The thing is, cutting to the line can mean different things in different situations. For ripping, it means sawing as close to the line as you can while not going over it and still leaving a smidge to clean up with the jointer plane. For joinery, like dovetails or tenons, it typically means sawing right up next to the line so there is zero space between the line and the saw kerf; i.e. it should be a perfect fit right from the saw. I don’t “split the line” as cutting away any part of the line usually means a loose fit (i.e. you’re cutting away part of the the “keep” material). I’ll try to put together a video. It’s much easier to understand when you can see it.

      As for saws, it’s really a matter of what you get used to. There’s no “better” choice for a novice as far as learning to use the saw goes. There are great saws in both styles and there are junk saws in both styles. Regardless, both styles require proper form and practice to saw straight and precisely. So try both and choose whatever style is more comfortable for you to use. When it comes to using hand saws, comfort is the most important thing to consider when choosing a saw for you. If it fits you well (and is sharpened well) it becomes an extension of you and it is much easier to learn proper form. If the saw isn’t comfortable for you, you’ll fight it and have a hard time sawing accurately. So pick one that is comfortable for you, then practice, practice, practice, until proper form feels natural.

  3. Thanks Bob! I’m picking up some tools for myself over the holidays.. and a friend has offered (well, she mumbled, “any excuse is a good one”) to go with me out to a place called Woodsource, so I suspect it won’t be too long before I get a chance to put in some practice with a saw!

    I’m enjoying your podcast by the way, getting some good book learning from them, and look forward to finishing watching the existing episodes, and whatever you come up with next 😉



  4. Bob,

    Nice article. I’ve started doing more by hand, since it seems to require less set up and clean up is easier. The tools don’t throw as much dust everywhere.

    I started building a saw bench based on the one you have. I thought there was a podcast on it, but I couldn’t find it. So far, I got the legs off an old stool that I build, and wasn’t happy with. Cut them down and then trimmed them for a 15 degree angle. That was actually easier with a back saw than a table saw. (Did I mention I’m using scrap Douglas fir? Nasty stuff.)

    I was going to drill them out with a cordless drill/ driver, but the 1″ auger bit did a better job. Had to touch it up part way through, since the fir is hard.

    One last note, on sharpening, I highly recommend Ron Hock’s book , The Perfect Edge.

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