Bontz Saw Works Saw Review
Over the last 4 months I have been testing out 3 news backsaws made by Ron Bontz of Bontz Saw Works. A friend of mine ordered these saws from Ron and offered to let me try them for a bit. So in the interest of full disclosure, I did not buy these saws and Ron Bontz did not even know I was using them. I have been in touch with Ron since then to ask some questions and tell him my thoughts. Unfortunately I will have to give these saws back. I have considered fleeing the country with them, but considering their owner is former Special Forces, I somehow think he would find me and hurt me. Normally I’m not a fan of tool reviews and I try very hard to only do them after I have had a substantial amount of time using the tool. In the last 4 months I have put away my other dovetail, carcass, and tenon saws and used these exclusively. I have lost count of the number of joints I have cut and boards dimensioned but let’s just say its a bunch. In short, my experience is a mixed bag, but not for the reasons you might think. Hang tight and I’ll explain.
While this has nothing to do with the performance of these saws, I’m starting here because this is the first thing you will notice about a Bontz saw. They are works of art! Mother of Pearl medallions rimmed in brass. Art Deco styled brass backs, elegantly engraved. Beautifully shaped saw plates with more attractive curves than a cover model and even sometimes pierced stylings (the saws, not the models). Meticulously shaped handles in highly figured woods. These are found in every saw Ron produces. At first glance you seriously consider framing the saw and hanging it on the wall. Fight the temptation of the closet saw painter and put this saw to work.
Aside from the beauty of the saw handles as mentioned above, the handle is a custom fit affair that wraps your hand in a cloud of angel babies. Ron puts a lot of thought into the size and shape of each handle he makes. He works closely with the customer to get the perfect fit, even going so far as to send the buyer the handle along so he/she can test the fit personally. In general they are a bit thicker than most of the handles I have encountered. It adds heft and creates very positive tactile feedback as it seems to fill in the empty spaces of your grip. The horns cradle your hand around the meat of your palm and freely flow around the webbing between your thumb and fingers. Finally when the index finger is pointed it naturally falls into a little hollow where it lays comfortably but also in a place where that finger can direct traffic throughout the cut. This is how I imagine a custom made shoe from a Williamsburg craftsman would feel. Perfect for me and like I am almost not wearing them.
However this is where I had a little trouble. As I mentioned these saws were not made for me. The tenon saw was as close to perfect as it could be. The carcass saw felt a bit tight but the more I used it, the more I realized how effective it was to have that glove like fit. The dovetail saw handle was too small. The gentleman who bought these saws obviously has smaller hands. I’m certain this was a personal thing that would have been remedied were I the buyer of these saws. So while a slight negative in my experience, one that shouldn’t reflect on the overall experience. What it did illustrate was the fact that Ron is hand crafting these handles individually to match the user’s hand.
The Nitty Gritty: Performance
These saws absolutely Rock! What you want more? (sigh) Fine! There is no magic to the tooth geometry here as when you work with Ron to build your perfect saw you will establish how and where you will use the saw and you can customize whatever geometry you need. It could be a general use saw or you could be wanting to cut Lignum Vitae under the light of the full moon on the second Wednesday of February when the temperature in the temperate latitudes reaches above 40 degrees Farenheit while standing on one foot and singing a bar of “I’m Too Sexy for My Shirt” in Spanish. Ron will help you dial that in. Of course the saw arrives Zombie killing sharp and ready to work. Truthfully this is no different from any of the premium saw makers. There really aren’t that many ways you can tune a saw to make it work really well so this should be expected. Where Ron is different is his experiments with hang angle.
Andrew Lunn just recently wrote an article for Popular Woodworking magazine about this little understood aspect of saw making. I agree wholeheartedly with Andrew that it is THE single most important element of a good saw. Ron gets that too and is like a mad scientist experimenting with different angles for different uses and body types. I admit that Andrew’s article wasn’t news to me but my before using these saws my understanding of hang and how it effects the saw performance was in theory. You see playing with this angle highly personalizes the saw and it just isn’t something that a production line can produce to match the individual need. This is where Ron stands out from the crowd and can help you divine the perfect sawing experience.
This is where I also had some problems since these saws were not made to my specifications. The dovetail and tenon saws were about perfect. More so the tenon saw actually. Both of these saws just cut. No need to think about balancing the weight at the toe or the thousands of micro adjustments to keep the saw splitting your line on two faces at once. They just do it. Its like injecting your saw with some kind of artificial intelligence and you just provide the pushing power. I have to add too that Ron’s dovetail saw is raked, meaning it tapers in depth below the back towards the toe. A very cool feature in a dovetail saw that all the finest, gourmet saws must have.
The carcass saw was a different matter and I struggled with this. The saw didn’t start easily and stuttered during the cut producing that tell tale growl of a dull saw. This was the first saw I used actually and I was really discouraged right away. I persevered and discovered that the hang angle was dramatically different from all of my other saws and something I was totally unused to. I took a step back (literally) and dropped my whole stance down about 6 inches causing the saw handle to tip down and the to to point up at a steeper angle than I am accustomed. Suddenly the saw was gliding through the wood gleefully as if that same artificial intelligence just had it’s emotion chip turned on for the first time. So I had to adapt to the saw to get it to work which is less than ideal, but also very telling as to how powerful the hang angle can be. My workbench is quite low and doesn’t jive with the hang angle thus my need to lower my stance. When I took the saw to my much higher joinery bench it cut naturally without me having to change my body mechanics. It was simply brilliant.
So here is where the mixed bag review comes into play. You really need to know what you want. Ron can make you a generic utility saw that will cut great and look like a centerfold. But I can’t help but feel this is a waste of his genius. The ability to customize the handle and hang to such a high degree is fantastic and can create a dream saw. Of course this also means that you will probably need more saws for more circumstances and that flies in the face of our current “do more with fewer tools” fad that is in vogue right now. However I think that even the staunchest of minimalists will have that task that they do again and again and again. This is the one you want to grab and work with Ron to build the saw that fits this task and you will find it is your favorite thing to do in the shop.
Ron’s saws are not the cheapest out there but they are also not the most expensive. The thing is it is hard to quote prices because each and every saw is a custom deal and he will quote the price then. Usually when you see “call for pricing” or “market price” alarm bells go off and I begin thinking about selling a kidney or something. This isn’t the case with Ron and it is fair to expect you will pay something similar to any of the other boutique saw makers. Lead time will vary but Ron’s business is also still relatively new so expect that lead time to go up as the word gets out.
So…Would You Buy One??
As usual, I think with reviews like this where the rubber meets the road is whether or not I would buy these saws of my own accord. To answer that I can only say that I have already bought my saw (a halfback because they’re odd and so am I) from Ron and it was delivered a few weeks ago. I’m still deep in testing but I can tell you my mixed bag experience with the handle and hang are gone now that I have a saw designed with me in mind. I think I will have a few tweaks and I look forward to working with Ron to fine tune this saw once I get a better feel for the saw in use.
More to Come on the Halfback
But if you’re impatient, check out my Keek page.