Hand Saws for Joinery

Hand Sawing

A time must come for the aspiring hobbyist woodworker to go beyond making butt joints and attempt more robust joints such as mortise and tenon joints, box joints, dovetails and so forth. These joints might seem daunting at first but with the rights tools, techniques and practice they can be made easily and repetitively without shedding too much perspiration.

Joints can be made with power tools but that is an expensive and involved route because it invariably involves the use of jigs, accessories and complex set ups. Dovetail jigs for use with routers, for instance, cost hundreds of dollars and other jigs require table saws, pricey dado blades and so on. This would be the preferable course for mass producers of furniture and contractors but for the ordinary DIY person or hobbyist woodworker it is overkill. Besides, the joy of hand crafting something is incomparable and for hobbyists like me, who are in no hurry to finish anything, the luxury of pottering around even dawdling over a project can be immensely fulfilling.

Should the hobbyist woodworker decide to venture into somewhat more complex joinery using hand tools, he should bear in mind that success would require three key ingredients in equal measure: good tools, right technique and practice. 

Skill, in my opinion, serves to a point but cannot overcome the inherent shortcomings of a poor tool, neither can technique. For joinery, two kinds of tools are essential: chisels and hand saws. I have discussed chisels in a previous blog and here I offer some insight into hand saws that could be used for joinery, bearing in mind that the large regular saws used for ripping board are completely inappropriate for joinery, which requires far smaller and more precise saws.

I looked around and settled on four saws that I thought could be used to make most joints. It must be mentioned here though, that traditional woodworkers use a variety of specialized saws to make joints; there are tenon saws, large and small, exclusively used for cutting tenons, others for cutting dovetails and so on. The choice and variety of saws available can become bewildering but we hobbyists in India are spared all that because there simply aren’t enough kinds of saws to confuse us!

After looking around a bit, I bought a Yato Mitre Saw, a Stanley back saw, a Crown Gents saw and a traditional Indian saw (which I have written about earlier). 

Yato Mitre Saw

Yato Mitre Saw

Yato is a Polish company that has been around for many years but opened Asian operations only a few years ago. They now have begun to market their tools in India and offer pretty good prices for some excellent products. I purchased this mitre saw which came with a flimsy plastic mitre box for about Rs 800 plus. The Saw is interesting; the steel is thin but retains its shape well, an attribute very necessary for cutting accurate joints. It is meant for cutting mitres but I thought it could be used for cutting box joints, dovetails and small tenons as well.

Yato Saw Teeth

The Yato saw’s teeth are serrated and extremely sharp; they are not inclined in any particular direction, that is they have no “rake”. The teeth count is 12 per inch which is quite acceptable for fine work, considering that regular rip saws have about 7 teeth per inch (tpi). This seems to be a cross cut saw as can be seen from the arrangement of the teeth. Some high end saws have as many as 20 teeth per inch. There is, however, a trade-off between a fine toothed saw and its cutting ability; the more the teeth, the slower it will cut.


Crown Gents Saw

Crown Gents Saw

This saw made by Crown Hand Tools Company, an old Sheffield based family run business, is a beauty and a delight to use. It is a bit pricey and cost me quite a bit from amazon.com. But I rate it as a worthwhile buy, even though I ended up forking out more than Rs 1,600 for it. The saw is only 8 inches long and can cut about 2 inches deep. It is meant mainly for cutting dovetails and could do small tenons as well.

Teeth of Gents Saw
The Crown saw has extremely fine teeth, 17 tpi, inclined towards the front, which means the saw will cut on the forward stroke. I found that with this saw starting the cut is easier than most other saws and this makes it easier to cut along a line.


Stanley Back Saw

Stanley Back Saw
The Stanley back saw, so called because of the stiffened steel on the top of the blade, is fairly widely available these days and, as far as I can recall, costs somewhere between six and eight hundred rupees. It is a pretty sturdy, well balanced saw designed for cross cutting. Other back saws can be configured either for rip or cross cutting. Those meant for dovetails are usually have a rip configuration.
Stanley saw teeth
The teeth of this saw too are inclined forward but not as steep as the Gents saw. This too has 12 tpi and starts well. However, its blade is thicker than that of both the Crown and Yato saws.


Traditional Indian Hand Saw

Traditional Indian Hand Saw


This is my old favourite about which I have written earlier and does most cuts quite adequately. Its big shortcoming is its blade, which far from being stiff flaps about disconcertingly. Making very fine, precise cuts therefore are quite difficult and can be done only by skilled craftsmen.
Indian Saw Teeth
This saw has about 12 tpi but they are inclined backwards which means the saw cuts on the back stroke. This lessens the disadvantage of its flimsy blade but does not greatly add to accuracy. Also, the teeth appear to be designed for ripping rather than cross cutting.

Comparison of cuts

Comparison of Cuts
In order to see how the different saws would perform in the hands of an amateur woodworker, I fixed a piece of rubber wood in my vice and gave them all a go. The aim was to find out how easily I could cut along a line marked on the wood and how thin and precise the cut would be. 

After practising a bit with all the four saws it became clear that two of them, the Indian and the Yato saws, were not suitable for cutting fine joints. The Indian saw performed well when ripping long pieces but it was difficult for an amateur to control it for fine cuts. The Yato saw performs very well when used with the mitre box for which it was designed but is difficult to control without a guide; perhaps the arrangement of its teeth makes the initial cut difficult and the saw can wander. This is not a problem when it is run in the mitre box slots where it can slice through thick hard pieces of wood without any problem.

I found that the Gents saw was the easiest to use, it did not drift as I cut on the line. It was obvious that the Gents saw produced the best cut while the Indian saw produced the worst! The Stanley back saw also performed well and cut easily once it got started. Its cut was straight and could easily maintain the vertical line. The Stanley saw would have been as good as the Gents saw had its set been finer.

I concluded that I would use the Gents saw for cutting dovetails and box joints while the Stanley back saw would be best reserved for cutting tenons.

Practice Exercise

To improve my skills I have been making shallow (one inch) practice cuts on a piece of board like the one above, except I have been spacing the cuts by only a quarter inch. 

Thumb Guide
To start the cut, one is advised to rest the saw against one’s thumb, which then acts like a guide, and carefully make an initial shallow cut on or along the horizontal line. If this starting cut is accurate, bang on the line, then the next step is to deepen this cut slightly and then angle the saw to cut along the vertical line. Once the horizontal and vertical cuts have been established correctly, the saw will naturally follow these grooves and make an accurate cut.

Woodworkers are also advised not to force the saw to cut; the downward pull of gravity and a to and fro piston motion of the arm should be enough. If the saw gets stuck it means the cut is not clean and the blade has been angled in some manner.

I plan to practise every day and hope that in about a week my straight sawing skills will be up to the mark.

Indranil Banerjie
12 June 2013

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Comments

  1. Kuldeep singh13 June, 2013

    i guess all these handsaw except Indian one design for dovetail or let'say box joint.basically we indian use to pull saw.normal western handsaw they design for pushing so for us it's quite difficult to use to it.
    reason why in india we don't have high quality handsaw? most of woodworker they are not well paid for their skill so how they can afford 1000 rupees handsaw.second thing in india woodworking skill is disappearing because of cheap chinese junk.the most woodworking using marble cutter which suppose to cut stone.
    i still remember carpenter were using bow drill and then using bamboo dowel for draw board mortise and tenon joint.workmanship was so accurate.
    well i m not saying that they have to stick with those method but with that kind of workmanship you can treat machinery much better and long last.rather than abusing them

    ReplyDelete
  2. Kuldeep: The loss of skill of Indian woodworkers is indeed a tragedy. I was told in Delhi's Kirti Nagar market which has many furniture and lumber shops that the children of woodworkers were not joining the profession. Low pay is the main reason.

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  3. i was wondering if u have ever tried painting on plastic.
    if you have some experience please let me know some few tips.
    thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Use chemical named SR500 as a primaer and the paint will not peel off

      Delete
    2. Very interesting info, Amit. Many thanks.

      Delete
  4. Surabhi: Unfortunately whenever tried painting on plastic it peeled off in places after a while. But there are special acrylic paints meant for painting on plastics such as on aircraft and other models.

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  5. Where do you get the Gent's saw in India?

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  6. Thomas: I bought it on amazon.com

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  7. I was just wondering if I should trust Amazon.. Now I shall.. Am trying to get it from someone coming from EU. Thanks for the info.. :)

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  8. Manoharan Rathinam15 February, 2014

    I am trying my hands on woodworking as hobby. I have been hunting to learn from some or some place but nobody is even willing to even guide.
    If you want to contribute back to the industry stop preaching and start teaching.
    If I go to a shop to buy wood they cheat with more cost and less quality wood. If you go to ahrdware to buy stuff, they look at you like, 'why are you asking for all this? You dont look like a carpenter'.
    DIY has no scope in this country. People, if you want to do something, start teaching and guiding.

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  9. Fully agree with MR. Same is the case with me also

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  10. Searched for a while, and did not find anyone selling tenon/back saws online or in my locality.
    Thus ordered one today from UK via Ebay - Silverline 250Mm Tri-Cut Tenon Hand Saw Wood/Woodwork 12Tpi DIY.
    I am intrigued by box joints / dovetails and would try out some simple joints/boxes utilizing the same after I receive the saw.
    - Siddhartha

    ReplyDelete
  11. Siddhartha: You certainly wont find a Tenon saw in India; I searched, believe me. Some backsaws are available, including the ones Stanley makes but these in my opinion are inferior saws. Good luck with the Silverline saw you ordered on eBay. Let us know how that turns out once you get it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tried out the silverline tenon saw a few times on plywood - and frankly I am confused.
      Its very difficult to start the cut, the saw gets stuck frequently, screeches during the cut, but the saw kerf is very thin and the cut ends are ultra smooth. I think the stickiness and screeching is due to how the plywood layers are laid out and presence of glue/chemicals.
      Did not get a chance yet to try out the tenon saw on some real wood - the cost seems prohibitive for DIYers. Searching for some scraps in local lumberyards yielded no results - these guys even sell the scraps for a price !
      But I think the saw may perform better once it is put on real wood - shall update once the same is achieved.
      - Siddhartha

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  12. Siddhartha: Send me photos of the saws if you can to indian.woodworker@gmail.com. To prevent the screeching sound try waxing the saw by rubbing a candle against its tip.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Finally found something other than plywood to test the saw. Couple of years back a off-the-shelf blockboard door was fitted at home, and the end was sawn off to fit the same in the existing frame. The door is presumably wood sandwiched between 2 thin layers of (processed?) wood
      Tried out the tenon saw on the scrap piece - initially it was difficult to start the cut, but as the wood layer was reached the saw cut like hot knife in butter! And no screeching! The saw is coated in a orange material and some paint transfer happens while cutting. The end cut is smooth too. Have sent you a few pictures of the saw as well as the cut.
      Please do let know your thoughts.
      - Siddhartha

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  13. hello indranil...what saw can i use to make perfect mitre joints...for a photo frame...i have been using a general purpose saw for it...but the mitres are not so accurate...should i get import a tenon saw...or should a buy a circular saw for this purpose...i want something which cuts fine and is multipurpose...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Double-O, what you need is a decent Japanese saw (about Rs 1500) plus either a mitre gauge or a mitre box. You can make a simple mitre box or else cut a a 45 degree mitre slot in a straight piece of wood to guide your cut. Finish up with a bit of hand sanding for a perfect fit. Even a 65k sliding mitre saw will not necessarily cut the perfect mitre.

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    2. thankyou so much...can u give me link of from where can i get a japanese saw?? also please let me know what clamp and what size should i use for doing this job?

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  14. Try this Japanese website started by an Indian for Indian woodworkers: https://jpytools.pswebstore.com/
    The selection of tools is small but good. A clamp is not esswential; just press the 45 degree of your combination square against the piece and make the cuty.

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  15. Anonymous26 June, 2016

    Where from can I buy Japanese saw (about RS 1500)Sir?

    ReplyDelete
  16. Very informative article sir, I have been looking for a dovetail and tenon saw for over a month now. I am told you get good saws in chawri bazaar, is that true ? Would I for instance be able to get crown and stanley there.

    What interests me about wood working is that you can do Gods work there, after all wasn't Joseph a carpenter.

    In the process of making some dovetail boxes for Rakhee and I need the saw to cut the dovetails. I make dovetails, mortise and tenon and housing dados with aplomb though dovetails is my speciality.

    regs

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great to hear about your enthusiam and skill in woodworking. You could get Stanley saws in Chawri Bazar (there is a shop opposite the Main Metro stn) but I haven't come across anyone selling Crown saws. You could try amazon. Best of luck.

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