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Thursday, 20 August 2009

Now THAT'S a tenon saw!

Pax Saws

14 inches of best CS80 high carbon spring steel, toothed for hardwoods, with a hand polished, folded brass back and a hand finished, closed handle in selected elm.

I commisioned these saws in response to a request from a customer for a pair of big saws with closed handles, specifically for cutting tenons in hardwoods. Whist doing my research I soon discovered that over the last 100 years or so, tenon saws have evolved to meet the needs of joiners as this has historically been the bigger market. It hasn't been sudden, just a gentle process of allowing cabinetmaking saws to drift out of the catalogue pages, but process has now evolved to the point where people think that a tenon saw is 'wrong' if it doesn't conform to the joiners standard of a fast cutting aggressive saw that is rarely, if ever, actually used for cutting tenons.

By all accounts, a proper cabinetmakers tenon saw is a finer toothed beast that relies on a long stroke for its efficiency. It should start easily and flow smoothly and accurately through the cut, leaving a perfectly square edge and a barely repressable urge to go and cut another one right now! (handy if you've got several to do).

I was on the point of making the commercial decision whether to just have the two made for the customer, or to go the whole hog, put in a proper production order and stock them, when I read this in an article by David Savage:

"It will be a sad day when a cabinet maker can't actually pick up a saw and cut a piece of wood dead straight, trim the end of a tenon or cut a mitre just shy of the line. But sometimes it feels like that day isn't too far away"

Well sod that, I thought, and promptly put my money where my heart was and ordered the first batch.

Christian Ellis has been an absolute pleasure to work with on this project. Even with my "sorry but the handles are not quite right, can you re-do them please" shenanigins, he has been a consummate professional throughout, and should be more widely recognised as one of the rising stars of proper English toolmaking. The first batch arrived last week and the rest are trickling in as and when Christian can get hold of elm that is of an acceptable quality for the handles.

So here it was, the moment, the first test cut! I selected a nice piece of oak, stood it up in the end vice and....judder. All that effort and I've managed to come up with a saw that flippin' judders!!! Then it hit me, new saws need a run in period of slow feed rates and thinner workpieces, they are too sharp to begin with and that is why they grab at the timber. Switching to the front vice, I made a series of perpendicular cuts through the narrow section, every one getting progressively smoother than the last. Finally I gave the blade a coat of Shield Technology ProtecTool wax, including the teeth, and switched to a piece of english walnut. What a world of difference, the saw started well and continued to cut smoothly right down the cheek. Back to the oak, same thing again, and it was making much better progress through the timber than before.

A week or so later I am loving this saw more and more every time I use it, it just gets better and better! After correcting the set for my cutting style with a single stroke down the left side of the teeth with 3M 40 micron PSA lapping film it cuts absolutely square and true and we have developed a comfortable smooth working rhythm.

All in all, I'm extremely pleased with how these saws have worked out, and I hope that with them we will be able to fend off David's sad day for another generation.

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