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Optimizing the Saw Nest


An all hand tool shop can work just fine with a single rip saw and crosscut saw.  Some would even make a case that only a crosscut saw would suffice.  In my shop however I have 6 hand saws, 2 panel saws, 3 frame saws, 3 Coping/Fret saws, 3 tenon saws, 2 carcass saws, and 3 dovetail saws.  I have to admit that I like hand saws a lot and that has driven a few of my acquisitions, but this “nest” of saws is finely honed to handle very specific tasks.  Again, this many saws is not necessary but I think if you work solely by hand you will find that these purpose tuned saws will make your work that much more efficient.

Vintage saws in saw tilLet’s look at a case study involving the Shaker Clock I’m building in The Hand Tool School.  Casting joinery saws aside for now let’s focus on the workhorses: hand saws and panel saws. My nest is as follows:

  • 5.5 ppi, 28″ Thumbhole Rip Saw
  • 6 ppi 26″ Rip Saw
  • 5 ppi, 26″ Rip Saw (green wood saw)
  • 8 ppi, 26″ Rip Saw
  • 6 ppi, 26″ Crosscut Saw
  • 8 ppi, 26″ Crosscut Saw
  • 10 ppi, 22″ Rip Panel Saw
  • 12 ppi, 19″ Crosscut Panel Saw

***Point of Clarification: Hand saws are backless saws 24″ and longer while Panel saws are backless and ~18-24″***

I have meticulously laid out all of my parts on this 10×52″ piece of Cherry.  I have flattened one side of the board and just scrubbed the other side to a rough thickness of 3/4″.  In some cases I have left about 1/2″ of space between parts to allow for saw kerf and subsequent planing to final size.  This is a pretty wide margin for hand work and can actually add more work in the long run as you have to trim the pieces later.  However as we all know it is much easier to take wood off than add it back on so be pessimistic about your sawing prowess and leave room to spare.   Sometimes this lay out can be a balancing act.  Many of these parts are only separated by 1/4″ or less.  Like I mentioned in my SketchUp layout video you want to group your like parts together on the board for the best color and grain match.  In order to do this you need to push the boundaries a bit on how closely you space your parts.

Using a rip saw

8 ppi Rip Saw for tighter tolerances

With less margin for error, I employ my 8 ppi Rip saw.  This saw’s finer pitch leaves a cleaner cut.  It has 5 degrees of rake to ease the passage through the wood and for an easier start.  However it is still aggressive enough to cut fast in 3/4″ stock.  This saw will slow down in rough sawn stock as the smaller gullets don’t clear the saw dust as well.  The saw also has about 8 degrees of fleam that creates a minor slicing cut and lessens the splintering on the back side of the cut.  I don’t sacrifice much speed so I can make the 30″ long rip cuts in about 30 seconds and track right on my line so I have little planing to do later.

Ripping Boards Accurately

6 ppi rip saw for speed in planed stock

On the converse, here is one of my boards broken into it’s parts.  This is a secondary board where I need to get only one part and a longer section that I will later stick moulding with.  The saw pictured above is it a 26″, 6 ppi, 0 rake, 0 fleam rip saw.  It is aggressive and pitched to work well in 4/4 rough stock.  The set is the 2nd widest in my nest. (the first is a saw tuned for green wood with a positive rake angle and wide set)  This saw cuts fast in rough stock but even faster in a piece that has been thinned a bit like this board.  It leaves a cleaner line than my 5.5 ppi, 28″ saw when working with already planed stock.  If this board were rough I would switch to the 5.5 Thumbhole Rip saw.

Crosscut Panel saw cutting

12 ppi Crosscut Panel saw for precision

When I layout the crosscuts I stay even closer to my final dimension as planing end grain is more laborious and I have to take a light cut.  In other words I would rather clean up the end grain with 5 or 6 passes on the shooting board than 45 passes.  In this you can see the cuts I want to make and I employ my 12 ppi crosscut panel saw.  The pitch of this saw is approaching many backsaws but that combined with the relaxed rake and fleam I get a very clean cut that can be cleaned up with minimal stock removal.  The shorter length and higher pitch sacrifices speed significantly and the minimal set leaves a very narrow kerf so I only reserve this saw for short, highly precise cuts.

Rip Panel saw

10 ppi Rip panel saw for precision and a clean cut

Finally, in order to get the best grain and color match, I have grouped all of my door rails and stiles into the edge, rift sawn stock.  To get all my parts close together I only have about 1/8″ to spare.  For this I use my 10 ppi rip panel saw.  This saw has 5 degrees of rake and 10 degrees of fleam.  It cuts surprisingly fast for a short little saw yet leaves a really clean, splinter free cut.  There is very little set to this so it hugs a line and leaves a tight kerf behind.

The reality is that with practice your sawing can split a line and most hand saws will leave a small kerf compared to what we may be used to with power tools.  I could probably break these boards down into their parts without leaving a piece too small just using my 5.5 ppi 28″ beast.  I could complete that job in 5 minutes or less at that speed.  But the roughness of the cut and the splintering on the back of the cut would mean a lot more time spent in cleaning up and flattening the edges and ends with a plane.  By selecting my saws carefully to the cut and tolerances I spent 23 minutes (I know, I was filming the whole time) to break into these parts.  Each part is within 1/4″ of final size and was dimensioned exactly with planes in minutes.  No more sawing was required.

I probably goes without saying but no matter what your tooth geometry, if the saw isn’t sharp it won’t cut fast or accurately.  When the saws are tuned well, it is shocking how fast you can work and how accurately.  In my small shop it would have taken me at least 10 minutes just to move and set up my table saw to make a cut.  For me it isn’t about the speed though.  The table saw or bandsaw will win out in the end.  There is something very satisfying about tuning your saw nest to handle very specific tasks and getting your work done efficiently and accurately.  I’m constantly looking for gaps in my nest that could be better filled with a garage sale saw specifically tuned.  Of course considering I spend my days sitting in a chair in front of a computer, the physical act of hand sawing is relaxing and much needed exercise too.

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