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Saturday, 3 January 2015

Bespoke Hand Tools: Skelton Saws


I am extremely privileged to be among the first people in nearly 200 years to hold in my hand a brand new, genuine, handmade, English, Georgian dovetail saw.

Without wishing to overstate anything, this is one of the most important hand tools I have encountered in ten years. You only need to google Georgian furniture to see what the effect was the last time woodworkers enjoyed this experience.

As well as being a functionally flawless precision instrument the Skelton dovetail saw is both a gorgeous object in its own right and an exquisite demonstration of the deep levels of perfection that can be achieved by a skilled person working entirely with hand tools.


Consider the elegant lines of the hand rasped handle, the way that they flow gracefully from one radius to another throughout the sweep of the handle before blending into a crisp ridge that continues all the way around the teardrop to the spine.  

At the handle transition, the flat surface blends into a deeply concave one whilst also turning through a 90 degree corner, the transition subtly echoed by the stopped chamfers on the brass back (which is shaped from solid brass bar entirely with hand files).  

This saw is the physical embodiement of everything that our society has sacraficed on the alter of mechanised volume production. We routinely see the best British and Irish craftsmen working to this level of quality in handmade furniture, gunsmithing, and instrument making, but to find it in toolmaking is something quite rare and very special indeed.

I love the way that Shane has proudly used his family crest for the medallion. He has clearly put 100% of himself into these saws and while his acquired experience as both a gunsmith and a cabinetmaker shine through, the family crest gives a respectful nod both to the standards and skills he has inherited and to his family's support.


So what's it like to use?

The handle fits my hand precisely, the hang is perfect for accurate work, and it is the only saw I have ever used where the transition from the 'scalpel' grip (with thumb and forefinger to place the kerf) to the 'milking' grip (squeezing gently with the little finger to minimise influencing the saw while it follows the kerf) involves no movement whatsoever - just a slight, barely noticeable transfer of pressure.

The best way I can describe the difference that all this makes, is to say that this saw returns your handshake - rather like the difference between shaking hands with a mannequin and a real person. Through that richly informative connection comes a crystal clear live feed of all the subtle nuances that the saw is experiencing at the toothline.

I had always believed that the slight cant of the blade was there to allow you to cut down to the line on the seen side with the reassurance that you have a little touch of safety margin on the unseen reverse face of the timber. Talking with Shane I have now learned that it is included to provide a faster, smoother cut for a given pitch, each tooth 'seeing' a small measure more of the timber than the preceding one and acting as a limiter to feed the next tooth. What I had thought to be the purpose turns out to be a fringe benefit - we never stop learning.  

The bottom line?

I managed to last three hours before I gave in and called Shane to order one for myself. After a wonderful chat and some emailed photos, I am now the proud and delighted first custodian of saw number 9, which I will covet and treasure.

5 comments:

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  2. Other reviews of the Skelton saw:
    Jim Hendricks:

    http://www.wkfinetools.com/contrib2/HendricksJ/skeltonSaw/skeltonSaw-01.asp

    Graham Haydon:

    http://www.popularwoodworking.com/woodworking-blogs/editors-blog/skelton-dovetail-saw-part-2

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