The Furniture Restoration Tool List: Hand Saws

Every so often you will be required to either replace entirely, or substantially rebuild drawers; so a good quality crosscut, tenon and dovetail saw are useful initial tools for restoration. A well tuned Bandsaw with a sharp blade is an excellent and versatile option for restoration if you would like to use machinery.

A Basic List:

Cross-cut Saw  A finer, smoother cut across the grain. I still find use for them every so often. Some of the old designs are quite lovely with shapely carved handles and elaborate company brands etched into the blades. I have all the machines, but I still find it difficult to pass up a nice old handsaw at a yard sale or flea market. Fortunately, since the demand for them has escalated, the price restrains my impulsiveness.

Tenon Saw   Fine teeth with a thin blade. Ostensibly for joinery as the name implies, but still a versatile item to have. I reach for this often during repair work. Depending upon the number of teeth this can be used for some dovetail work.

Dovetail Saw   A thin blade with very fine teeth for cutting the signature joint of the Cabinetmaker. I prefer the in-line handle, but others like the feel of the tenon saw “tote” or grip form.

Rip Saw   Rough cutting along the grain; If you choose to use machinery, you likely will not need a Rip saw.

Flush-cut Saw   Good to have and relatively inexpensive…I often use one.

Keyhole Saw   Rarely used, but when you need one they are very handy.

Veneer Saw   Not often called for, but as above, when you do need one…

Coping Saw   These have multiple uses and are affordable, so worth having on hand.

Three saws Sandvik Rip, Disston Crosscut and Disston Tenon or Back saw
The three most conventional saws that I use. A 5 tpi Sandvik rip saw, an 11 tpi Disston crosscut and a 14 tpi Disston tenon saw. The tenon saw gets the vast majority of work since almost all of my cross and rip cutting is done with machines. The cross-cut Disston in the middle is sweet to use when needed.

You will need to break down lumber into the parts for any project. You may use hand tools, power tools (with guides) or stationary power tools. Of course they must be properly sharpened and set up. Whether hand or power, saws blades are differentiated by the configuration of their teeth and how many teeth are contained within a given measurement, so you may choose the right blade for the work. Rip Teeth are the most aggressive, being larger, chisel-like and spaced typically at only a few teeth per-inch, the great depth of the gullets between Rip Teeth allow the sawdust to be easily cleared from the kerf or slot that the teeth make as they move along, allowing the saw to move the length of stock (along the grain) with greater speed. The coarseness of the rip teeth can leave a noticeably rough cut, but Cross-cut teeth are more knife-like in form, and as their name implies, are used to cut across the grain. Cross-cut saws have more teeth per-inch than Rips, this configuration makes for a cleaner (but slower) cut. On a handsaw or stationary band saw, teeth are measured by teeth per inch (tpi) of blade length, the more tpi the finer the work. On the metal disc of a circular saw blade, the number and configuration of teeth on a given diameter blade determine of the type of cut, e.g. on a 10-inch diameter blade 24 teeth may be considered a Rip, 40 tpi a Combination and 60 to 80 tpi a Crosscut blade.

5 saws Crown reversible, Ulmia stairmakers, 2 short and one long dovetail saw
At the top is a reversible Flush-Cut saw the backed blade pivots on a pin and is locked in place by a spring-loaded stem. Next is a Stair Saw. This is used to cut the tread dado in a stair stringer and is paired with a Dovetail Plane. Next are three smaller backsaws for dovetailing; you can tell by their handles that these don’t see much use, I have much less glamorous Disstons for daily work.

As the number of saw teeth per-inch goes up, handsaws become shorter and smaller and their intended use moves from stock reduction to forming joints on stock. Back Saws are the largest examples of this change in configuration. The blade itself is thinner, so the teeth can be filed finer. This thin blade would not be stiff enough on its own for practical use, so a thick metal bar is folded  along the upper edge (back) of the blade to stiffen it. Back Saws include Miter-Box saws, Tenon saws and Dovetail saws.

an assortment of hand saws and sharpening devices
From left to right a reversible Flush-Cut saw, Coping saw, Veneer saw, Flush-Cut saw, Hack saw Keyhole Saw, Dovetail saw. On the right is a saw vise, saw set and a double-extra-slim taper file for sharpening

The Flush-Cut Saw is used to saw off the ends of wooden pins or wedges protruding from the surface of boards, like the dowels that can protrude from a pinned mortise and tenon joint. These are available in both European or Asian forms. I began with a Crown Tools reversible Back Saw form which is pushed into a cut, it now spends its time as a wall decoration. The Asian-style form of my Veritas Flush-Cut Saw is simply more practical and lighter. It cuts aggressively with a pulling motion, so it must be guided with great care,  or you can find that it’s blade has traveled right down into the surface of your stock. Hand held Multi-Tools are the closest machine version of the Flush-Cut Saw.

My Hirsch Veneer Saw is a curious object, having teeth filed on it like a conventional saw, but used in a way that is more knife-like, being drawn and slowly rotated along the veneer cut rather than the typical reciprocal motion we might anticipate.  It has a small  blade stiffened by an offset thick metal stem to which it is riveted. In restoration you’ll be using veneer at some point, so get one. The Veneer Saw may be pressed into service as a flush-cutting saw, but not as a habit.

The Key-Hole Saw has a long, narrow and pointed blade used most often (as its name implies) to  cut the straight, descending element of a keyhole. This keyhole is then press fit with a metal escutcheon to prevent wear from key use (you will see this often in old bureaus or commodes). This saw type is also available in European and Asian versions, and I again find the Asian version superior, though much more delicate and liable to damage from inattentive use.

Small Bowsaw by Clay
Sometimes you need to saw a larger irregular line than the Coping saw reach. This saw doesn’t have a reach that is much better than my coping saw, but it does have a lovely coarse blade that lets things move along faster. The cut is a bit rougher though so there is some clean-up involved.

My Eclipse Coping Saw has a thin, fine-toothed blade suspended in a handled frame between two points. It is used to fit the intersecting profiles of architectural moldings like crown together in a “coped”  joint, a more visually satisfying alternative to a true miter joint which would be susceptible to obvious gaps caused by atmospheric variations.  I have a larger framed Bow or Turning saw with a coarser blade for faster work on larger projects. The Fret-Saw is of a very similar configuration to the Coping saw, though the frame can be quite a bit deeper. The Fret-Saw is used to make complex cuts through thin stock and it is in a vertical orientation, traveling up and down rather than back-and-forth. The Fret-Saw is used in concert with a supportive accessory called a Birds-Mouth, a flat board with a V shaped notch (which is clamped to a work surface), atop which the thin stock can be rotated through the moving saw blade. A Scroll-Saw is a stationary power tool version of the Fret-Saw.

As mentioned elsewhere many high quality, sharp-right-out-of-the-box handsaws are now being produced which will allow you to jump right into sawdust production or you may go old school, purchasing used handsaws (with straight blades) a saw set, saw vise and a tapered file allowing you to get a little deeper into the craft. The new saws are usually quite attractive and very efficient, so it would be difficult to resist them. I have managed so far because I suppose I am frugal, but that doesn’t mean I would not like one for myself. Or two.

Ulmia frame saw
These frames saws will cut three times a s fast as a conventional handsaw. This is the saw I reach for more often when I have to break some stock down. Yes, I have actually tested the cutting speed. Having the saw under tension allows you to move right along without a possible kink. Like a bandsaw, it’s cut can only reach so far across a board because of the framing.

I use all of the saws listed above but my preference is for the Bow (Spannsäge). I have several types of blades that I can choose from, including a slim turning blade. I hesitate to include them because they are not as commonly available as conventional handsaws. Even though learning how to handle them will require a bit of practice, I think they are easier to get going with than a handsaw since they are less liable to kink. The blades are narrower and quite thin too like a band saw, so they move much more freely with less friction. They can be broken down for travel, and you can take along additional profile blades for versatility at very little additional weight.

When it comes to hand held machinery, Circular saws are usually set-up and ready to go out of the box, but the included blades are often for cutting construction lumber as well as not of the best quality for finer work, so I end up purchasing an upgrade blade for a finer, cleaner cut.

Stationary power tools like the table saw, band saw, miter saw or radial arm saw almost always need quality replacement blade, especially band saws where a high quality blade can make a surprising difference. Along with the blade upgrade, this stationary equipment will almost certainly need a thorough set-up procedure to function accurately.

© 2018 Joseph Hoover. Sticks and Glue. All Rights Reserved.

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