Episode #4: The Mechanics of Sawing

Note: All of my old podcast videos have been moved to my YouTube channel.  You can now watch this video here:



19 thoughts on “Episode #4: The Mechanics of Sawing

  1. Fantastically useful episode. It is nuances that can be portrayed in a podcast, yet few do it. Thanks!

  2. Great episode, Rob. When are we going to hear about that spring lathe in the background?

    • Eric,
      It’ll be awhile before I get to the lathe. Sad to say, I’m not a very accomplished turner. It’s something I had aspired to teach myself this year but time has been a limiting factor. I’ve not used it much to date due to other higher priority, non-turned projects. Fear not though, it will have it’s day, I just don’t know exactly when.

  3. Rob, all I can say is finally! I am a terrible sawyer and you’ve just brought up techniques and suggestions that many a book I’ve read just don’t mention. I know some, like scribing the line with a blade; but the subtle shift in your angle and position of viewing the saw makes so much sense.

    Thank you!

  4. Thanks for the mention of my podcast but truly your episode did the topic much more justice. This is clearly the difference between someone who has done some research and someone who has been hand sawing for projects for some time. I love the point of view angles and the tip to align with the saw blade is brilliant. I used it today while roughing some stock and I got square and plumb cuts without even trying. Thanks so much for another great episode.

  5. I got part of the way through the podcast (looking forward to the rest of it!) and just *had* to throw in a comment… the minimum height of a saw-bench is also dictated by the length of your saws. You do *not* want the tip of your saw to hit the floor while you’re sawing.
    Okay, back to the video…

    • Mike,
      You make an excellent point, you don’t want to hit the floor with your saws. However, with that in mind, I would suggest that one not let the length of their saws dictate the height of their sawbench, but the other way around. Let your height and the length of your saw stroke dictate the length of your saws. If you are using a really long saw and make a higher saw bench to compensate, but you are short like me, you are going to have a very uncomfortable time trying to saw.

      My rip saw is actually a little long for me so I have to lower my sawing angle slightly to compensate. However, if I made the bench higher (my old one was actually 2 inches higher because of my rip saw’s length) I cannot saw as comfortably. Lowering the bench was better for my posture and sawing stance. I’ll now be replacing my rip saw with a slightly shorter one as a result.

  6. Really good episode Bob. Most people forget that if even the simplest basic tasks are the most important ones. And this is really helpful. However it does bring some questions. What about using a marking knife to scribe a line for ripping and cross cutting, does that help as well?

    Secondly you recently showed something about the shiny saw, using it to keep you plumb, why didn’t you mention it here?

    And you always hear about keeping your shoulder in line with the saw, does that interfere with your new looking technique?

    P.S.: I’m really glad you are making these podcasts next to your blog.

    • Jeroen,
      Most of my saws aren’t shiny so I don’t use that method really. It really only works for square cuts and can’t be used for rip cuts so it has limited usefulness, though it is a viable method for the circumstances when it can be used.

      Regarding the marking knife, I pointed that out with the second tip in the video where I show the saw “jumping” into the scribe line. For crosscuts it’s the only way I mark unless I’m just rough sawing. For rip cuts I’m usually using a marking gauge of some sort to scribe with as it leaves a line to clean up to with the plane afterwards. If I just need to get in the ballpark with a rough cut, I’ll use a pencil but for precision cuts I always use a knife or gauge.

      Regarding my sighting over the back of the saw, I do still keep my shoulder in line with the cut. It’s a very subtle and slight shift, sort of like sighting a rifle. It’s just a slight change of position by opening up my stance ever so slightly so that the shoulder and elbow are still in line with the cut but I have better sight over top of the saw.

  7. Hi Bob,

    I followed a link from Mike Wenzloff’s blog to your podcast and am very pleasantly surprised to find another well done and informative resource on hand tool techniques. The sawing tips are very useful and I really like how you point out the small nuances in posture, etc. that make all the difference and yet are not always addressed in books, magazines etc. Keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing more. I’d like to echo the sentiment that I’d love to see that pole lathe behind you in action and maybe some plans too!

    • Thank you Jason! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I will eventually do a show about the lathe once I get a little better at using it. Regarding the plans for it, they are available in Roy Underhill’s most recent book, The Woodwright’s Guide. The lathe was based on these plans and sized appropriately for the space I had available to fit it.

  8. An alternative to changing your physical position, is to look at the reflection in the blade. If the reflection lines up with the actual board, you know that the saw is perpendicular to the edge.

    So long as you are making 90 degree cuts, this is a very reliable way to judge saw angle, as the reflection will double the apparent error in angle.

    • Thanks for the tip Peter! While I have no doubt this technique works (I have seen it in action), I have a few issues recommending or using it.

      First, it really only applies to crosscuts perpendicular to the edge of the board. The technique really doesn’t apply to rip cuts, which in my opinion are typically more critical than crosscuts.

      Second, it still doesn’t address the body’s natural tendency to want to line up the back of that saw with your eye. So because you are still sighting the side of the plate, your body is still going to want to pull the saw out of plumb. At least in my case, square to the edge of the board was never the problem (I strike a square line before sawing). My problem was keeping the saw plumb. Sighting the reflection doesn’t help as much with plumb.

      Finally, the technique assumes you have a bright, shiny new saw. While my backsaws that I made are new, the blades certainly aren’t polished to a level that they clearly reflect the board. And my long saws are old and have heavy patina on them so there’s no reflection going on there. I’m guessing that for most other folks as well, their long saws at least are also older and not shiny.

      For me, sighting right over the back of the saw addresses all of these issues and allows me to use consistent sawing mechanics for every cut. Of course your mileage may vary.

      Still, sighting the reflection in the saw, if your saw permits it, is a perfectly acceptable method if it works for you and I appreciate that you shared the tip as it certainly may help other readers improve their sawing as well, which is the ultimate goal of the post.

  9. Hi Bob,
    Thanks again for the great site. I cut some large (2×8) compound miters this weekend, and boy did they come out bad. I can normally handsaw fairly well, so I was surprised at how poor they came out. Do you have any tips on cutting compound miters? I tried to keep my body square to the cut horizontal cut line, but the vertical tip really got me off. The 2×8 was too large to tip to get a perpendicular cut line to floor.

    • Hey James,
      I know I emailed you about this already, but I got to thinking about it over the weekend and there is an easier way to do compound miters. It involves using a miter box, you know, the old wooden kind that the hardware stores used to sell but have now replaced with plastic. You can make one of these with a standard 45 degree miter angle sawn into it. But make it wide enough and tall enough that your stock can sit in the box at the angle that it will sit at in the finished piece (for example, most crown molding isn’t a 45 degree angle to the wall.) With the piece sitting securely at the angle it will be mounted at, you can simply saw a normal 45 degree miter (or whatever angle you need to mee the corner) without thinking about the second angle.

    • Sure, a fret saw will suffice for cutting curves in thin stock. But when you get much beyond 1/2″ or about 12mm thick, the small, fine toothed fret saw blades will really begin to bend and twist in the kerf and it will be difficult to saw accurately. In thicker stock, a 12″ turning/bow saw really excells. The cool thing is that they are easy to make yourself. You just need to buy the blade, and even that you can make yourself with a length of spring steel and a few files.

  10. I have highly benefited from your sawing tips. I used to go offline and never could figure out the problem. I am amazed at what a slight change in posture could do. Thanks Bob.

  11. Bob, I am incorporating more hand tool techniques into my woodworking, and the process has been frustrating at times. The biggest problem I am having is sawing consistent square cuts, and my cuts have a tendency to drift to the right. This video is perfect, and has improved my sawing significantly!! My cuts were all over the place, but your tips have helped a great deal.
    Instead of jumping around to your episodes, I am watching them from the 1st episode up to the most current. Your tips and techniques have made the transition over to hand tools so much easier. At least we have a reference via a video to help us with the journey. I appreciate all you do, and please keep the blogs and videos coming.


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