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|
Stanley Back Saw
|Stanley Back Saw|
|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|
|Indian Saw Teeth|
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.
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.
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.
12 June 2013