A Special Pair of Saws

A couple of months ago, I saw the very saddening news that Stephen Shepherd, proprietor of the Full Chisel Blog, had suffered a serious stroke. I have been a follower of Stephen’s site since its very early days and had communicated with Stephen somewhat regularly through email and our two blogs over the years. While we have never had the chance to meet in person, being physically separated by almost an entire continent, I have always considered Stephen a friend. So it was very hard for me to hear of this event. I was and continue to be very thankful that Stephen survived the ordeal and that his condition continues to slowly improve with therapy. But it is still hard to think that he may never put a tool to wood again. 

Recently, I was browsing the big auction site as I occasionally do, and I stumbled across two auctions for saws that looked very familiar to me. The seller advertised them as “Shepherd” gentleman’s saws. When I inquired with the seller if they were a friend of Stephen’s, they simply replied that they did not know Stephen. I didn’t ask where the seller obtained the saws from, but I did press the Buy It Now button on both to ensure that they continued to stay together and that they continued to do the work that they were so carefully crafted by Stephen’s hands to do.

I do hope that you continue to recover Stephen, and that by God’s blessing you are one day able to put tool to wood again. In the mean time, I hope that you can at least find some satisfaction in knowing that these saws will become a permanent addition to my tool kit, and that they will continue to live on and work as they were intended to do for at least the rest on my days. Godspeed my friend.

Quick Tip #14: Choosing Chisels

It’s Get Woodworking Week 2013, and that means that it’s time once again to do our part to promote woodworking and grow the craft. Of course this should be a year long activity, but this week, we really focus on newcomers and rank beginners to the craft. Today, I want to talk about chisels. There are a lot of different styles as well as specialty chisels designed for specific tasks. They’re not all needed to get started though. You just need a few basic bench chisels. So that’s the topic of today’s tip.


Reader Questions on Saw Sharpening

I recently received some really good questions on saw sharpening that the sender thought might make a good subject for a post. I agree, so here are the questions submitted by Wayne and my responses.

I have an old, good quality Stanley miter box with a 26 inch saw (# 2246). I was wondering if I should sharpen the teeth different compared to regular crosscut saws. With mine, I put 15 degrees of fleam and 15 degrees of rake, with the standard 11 ppi. The reason I ask is that the cut is straight across the wood, as opposed to cutting at an angle like a regular handsaw. I have also read that picture framers had their own configuration for smooth and fast cuts. I use a range of woods for furniture, most typically in the moderate hardness grouping such as cherry to walnut. Could my set up be improved?

I sharpen miter box saws with 15 degrees of rake and 25-30 degrees of fleam (hard to be exact with the fleam when you’re eyeballing it). I also use the absolute least amount of set I can get away with and I stone the sides of the teeth after setting to smooth out the cut even more. I find this setup to cut much cleaner than the lower fleam angle that a lot of folks use on crosscut saws for roughly breaking down stock. I think this clean cut is important for a miter box saw. The teeth will dull a little sooner with this higher fleam angle, but if you can sharpen them yourself this shouldn’t be a concern. In my opinion, I want to get the highest quality cut I can from a miter box. When I am mitering moldings for a furniture piece, I don’t want to have to clean up every single cut with a plane if I don’t absolutely have to. Making the cut as clean as possible right off the saw really helps here. And since these are all basically crosscuts, that means using more fleam. If you only plan to use the miter box for straight across crosscuts for sizing stock, a clean cut isn’t that important. But I can’t imagine why one would go to the trouble of using a miter box just for sizing parts when the end grain cut usually isn’t all that important because it’s buried in a joint (i.e. end grain of tenon, end grain of sliding dovetail, etc.) or cleaned up after the joint is assembled (e.g. end grain of dovetail). Similarly, for something like tenon shoulders, I like to knife the shoulder line to get the cleanest joint possible and then slightly undercut the shoulder with a chisel to ensure that the outside edge of that shoulder closes tight. So I’m not concerned all that much with saw cut quality there. But the miter box can excel at making tight miter cuts for moldings and frames if the saw is tuned up well and the box is adjusted well, and that’s what I use my own miter box for the most. So a much higher fleam angle than one might normally file is very useful in a saw like this.

Occasionally I hear woodworkers extolling the virtues of angling (sloping) the file in the gullets, especially for crosscut saws. The approach I believe involves angling up towards the tooth being filed, enhancing the crosscut chisel shaped tooth. Apparently it makes the saw cut more aggressively, but possibly with a rougher cut? What are your thoughts on when, if at all, to slope the gullets?

I personally don’t ever file sloped gullets. I’ve tried them and was not all that impressed, so I don’t think it’s worth the extra trouble. Some folks believe that the sloped gullet geometry makes for weaker teeth. They do provide the saw a little more space for sawdust to go, so some folks like to use a sloped gullet on miter box saws, but I still don’t. I’ve never found any improvement in cut over my typical 15 degree rake and 30 degree fleam setup by adding sloped gullets, so I don’t bother to do so. I also don’t like the way sloped gullets change the cutting geometry on rip saws (makes them feel like ripping with a crosscut saw), so again, I don’t use them there either. And since most of my saws are rip saws (other than my miter box saw, I have only one crosscut panel saw), I never use sloped gullets. You might disagree with me here though as there are plenty of folks who like them, so if you have an extra saw, I’d suggest giving them a try for yourself to see if you like them and think they are worth using.

I was reading Water Rose’s book, The Village Carpenter. Under the Tools chapter (p. 53 in Linden ed.) it says: “that teeth should not all be shaped at the same pitch; their method was to file those at the point, or end, at an angle of about 60 degrees, and those at the heel at about 30 degrees. All the other teeth between graduated to those two standards. The saws thus sharpened did indeed glide easily thorough the wood, increasing in bite from point to heel on each downward thrust.” What do you think Rose was referring to; possibly rake angle and a progressive pitch approach? If this were the case, then the angle would seem to have almost no bite (e.g., I think of rake between 0 to 15 degrees).

What Rose is referring to is what we would today call a progressive rake. The term “pitch” is another traditional term to describe the rake angle. Only recently have folks been using the term “pitch” to describe the number of points per inch. I have actually tried to get away from using the term “pitch” at all because it has caused some confusion in recent years. So what Rose is referring to when he uses the term “pitch” is the rake angle. So he’s saying to use a high rake angle at the toe and progress to a low rake angle at the heel. This can make for a smoother feel in the cut. At the extremely high rake angles that Rose is referring to the saw would certainly glide through the wood, but it would not be very aggressive (fast). Keep in mind though that prior to the late 1800s, there really is no reference or mention of fleam being used on saws. So it is quite possible/likely that earlier saws were all filed like rip saws: straight across, with no fleam. The guys at Williamsburg file all of their saws this way (rip teeth) because of the lack of the historical evidence of fleam. So by increasing the rake angle to the high angles that Rose mentions, a rip filed saw would be much easier to use for crosscutting tasks. Because we add fleam to crosscut saws today, such high rake angles are really no longer a necessity. We can file at more aggressive rake angles and add fleam to the teeth to allow the saw to still crosscut smoothly while still cutting fast.

Thanks so much for the great questions Wayne! And if anyone else ever has questions like these that they think would make good topics for the blog, please feel free to let me know. I won’t post your questions here without your permission or suggestion. But I know there are lots of questions that more than just the asker would benefit from an answer to. So let me know if you’d like your questions shared with the class!

Great Expectations

A recent post written on the Arts & Mysteries Blog by Adam Cherubini really got me thinking about how we view our own experiences, specifically related to the woodworking we do and the tools we use to do it. Adam is specifically speaking about his experiences using his version of the Roubo veneer saw and how through his use of it over the last few years, he has come to the conclusion that the saw doesn’t work all that well. This style of saw has received a small amount of publicity in recent months, partially perhaps due to my own experiences with it and partially due to Shannon Roger’s version as well.

I have indeed recommended this style of saw for resawing to several folks who have asked me about it, though I have recommended it be shortened to a 3′ blade for one person use. My own experience with the saw has proven it to be a better option than a regular hand saw FOR ME when I need to resaw stuff wider than about 8″. In addition, while I’ve not made veneer for a project using this saw, I have sawn a few small pieces for practice and demonstration that have finished out at just under 3/32″ thick after planing away the saw marks. So my frame saw retains a prominent position in my shop, patiently waiting until it is needed.

The difference in experiences with the saw that Adam and I have had got me thinking though. How much do my expectations from my tools and my work differ from other folks? Are my positive [in my opinion] results with my version of the frame saw and Adam’s not so positive [in his opinion] results merely a difference in expectations? Or is there something inherrently different in the cuts I’ve made with my saw and the cuts Adam has made with his that would lead a person to have a good experience with one saw and a not so good experience with another (of the same design and configuration)?

I suppose like with any tool, project or process, most of the satisfaction that we do get from our work is very closely related to our own personal expectations and what we deem an acceptable result. For example, I am not averse to leaving a small bit of tearout on a show surface of a project if during smoothing I run into a section of difficult, reversing grain. If I can remove it easily I will, but if it requires me to contort myself in uncomfortable ways or if it just isn’t easily worked with the tools I have, I am perfectly satisfied with just leaving it and moving on. I’ve seen enough period examples with similar “flaws” to know that I am not alone in this kind of thinking. However, I have spoken to many other woodworkers who would never do such a thing and consider leaving any amount of “imperfection” (such as minor tearout, scribe lines, over cuts, etc.) in any surface poor craftsmanship.

I think this must be a real struggle for folks like Adam, Chris Schwarz, the guys at FWW and PWW, and anyone else who writes about this stuff for a wide reaching audience. Based upon my own experiences answering questions about tools, methods, wood, etc., that have been asked as a result of my writing this blog for a very small audience, I’m guessing that those folks are constantly inundated with questions about tool recommendations and techniques. With all of the different expectations people have, however, I think it must be a losing battle for them trying to respond to all of these inquiries. Some folks are going to agree with them and have good experiences as a result of their advice and put them on a pedestal; and some folks are going to cry foul and brand them as liars and heretics.

I don’t know that there is an easy answer to this other than to suggest that folks try as much as they can for themselves. I know that a lot of the folks from the magazines have always suggested just that. I’ve suggested it plenty of times myself. But the more I think about these kinds of opposite experiences like Adam and I have had with our very similar frame saws, the more important I think it is for folks to try things for themselves. Adam says he cannot recommend the saw based upon his experiences and I have said that I like mine based upon my own experiences. For folks who are on the fence about how to accomplish this task by hand, this might be confusing.

Indeed there are plenty of folks who will swear by what one or two people write in a magazine or blog just because of who wrote it. However, with all of the choices we have today in tools and materials and workbenches and working styles and on and on, I think it is more important than ever to draw your own conclusions about these things. My point is, don’t just do what I do or what Adam does, or what Schwarz does or what Asa does, or what anyone else does. I’m sure all of these other guys would agree with me. What we do works for us. If you’d like to try it out, by all means do. But ultimately, get out in your own shop, experiment, and see what works for you!

Thanks & A Happy New Year

I continue to be awed on a daily basis with the support and community that this blog has become. It started out humbly in 2008 as a simple way for me to share my woodworking with like minded individuals and I really cannot believe what it has become in just over 4 years of writing and 3 years of podcasting. This year, the blog had over 220,000 hits from over 140 different countries worldwide; and I think it was a slow year as far as content goes. I certainly wasn’t able to post or podcast as frequently as I have in previous years, but the blog is still going strong thanks to this wonderful woodworking community.

So I express to all of you a heartfelt thanks for all of your continued support, comments, questions and suggestions and I wish you all a safe, happy and healthy new year! See you in 2013!