Saturday, March 19, 2016

Saws and Chisels selections

In the saw department I had selected 5 saws, lets see why.
This selections offer various options for every budgets and preferences.


Handsaws are required to break down your stock to rough size, job that would be normally done with a tablesaw or Bandsaw in a power shop.
Cutting along the grain (Ripping) and cutting across the grain (Crosscut) are
2 different operations and required different tooth geometry to function properly.
Hence why as a minimum you need two different saws... or do you?

If you go with a Japanese saw, you can get both tooth configuration on a single blade.

Japanese Ryoba saw. Pic from Woodcraft

If you go down that route, remember that Japanese saws cut on the pull stroke versus our Western saws which cuts on the push stroke. That means appliances such as bench hook and miter blocks would be reverse. I.E. the fence would be forward instead of in the back. Also don't go nuts, even the Hardware store or Big box variety would be just fine, just make sure to get one with a replaceable blade. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about western saws available at the hardware store, with perhaps one exception...

Those pesky one with blackened tooth line, you know the induction hardened ones? You can get a very good inexpensive crosscut saw with one of those awful ergonomic handle. But you don't care about the plastic handle, you are a woodworker, make a new handle if you must!

At 20 in and under most of these are panel saws, some like this one, 
have special tooth geometry that purposely handles rip and crosscut.

I carry such a saw in my car for the odd trip to the lumberyard where I need to cut something to fit inside my car.
I am not saying, by any stretch of the imagination, that these hardware stores saws can replace a proper western handsaws, au contraire, but you could get by in the crosscut dept until you can afford a better one. At which time, you can relegate that one to the garage or trunk of your car :-)

You can go full blown and buy premiums saws like Wentzolf, Bad Axes or Lie-Nielsen for example or you could go the vintage route and buy a few good saws for very little. Disston (old ones, before the 50s) Atkins, Shurly Dietrich, Simmonds etc are all very good saws. Look for a straight plate and decent looking tooth line (not bungled up by poor sharpening)
In addition buying a few saws at fleas markets etc for real cheap gives you practice saws for sharpening. Try sharpening rip saws first there are lot simpler.

My favorite rip saws are Disston D-8, 5 TPI very aggressive, fast rippers.Cross cut something around 10-12 TPI offers you a good compromise between speed and a smooth finish cut.

Next I would  add more saws and tuned them, some for hardwood, some for softwood. But before you do you need to become more proficient at sharpening them.

Dont forget the all too important fit for your size: Handles and plate length and the hang 

One last thing, if you don't like ripping long piece, buy a Bandsaw! More versatile than a tablesaw and safer... There, I said it! :-)


A good dovetail saw and at least one good crosscut backsaw of the Large Tenon or Carcass saw size will see you thru most of the joinery you will come across. Like I said in the joinery planes section, you could cut all the joinery with these two saws and a chisels.

As far as the dovetail saw is concerned, again, it should be sized to your scale of work. From the small Zona razor saws to the regular sized Western dovetail saws. Or in Japanese saw, that would be called a Dozuki saw. Proper dovetails saws are sharpened for a rip cut.

My diminutive Zona model maker back saw with its mitre box, very handy.
About $15. Zona makes great saws, highly recommended 

Again assuming we are concerned primarily with furniture projects, a good Dovetail saw is a must. The first premium saw I ever bought years ago was the Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw (US $125) and I never regretted it.

Today there is a variety of small boutique saw makers making great saws and Lee-Valley came out with a new line of molded spine back saws which are superb and rather affordable.

The whole set of Veritas saw is $265,  about the price of one premium saw.
Don't be put off by their look, some likes it some don't, these are great saws.
Pic from their site. 


Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, small tenon saw or carcass, since they are roughly the same size at about 14 inch.
This one should be sharpened cross cut and leave a fine finish for joinery, about 12-14 TPI should do the trick.

Going vintage you could buy all the backsaws you will ever need for a real good price, but unless you are proficient at sharpening your saws I would pass on these for now as "working tool" but if you come across them for a good price, I would buy them for further rehab projects once you no longer feel intimidated to sharpen your saw.
Yes, you could send them away to be sharpened, but then you negate all the savings and would be better off to buy new ones.


Note that in the handsaw dept you could instead gone with a traditional European frame saw, change the blade and you can go from Crosscut to Rip cut.


Unless you happened to have a bandsaw, a coping saw would be very useful to cut circular forms and to clean up the waste in between your dovetail.

Most modern ones to be found at your local hardware store or big box store are crap, due to their frame not being rigid enough.
Vintage ones like Disston and Millers Falls are pretty good. If you want to splurge for the best one, buy a Knew concept saw.

Disston No 10B

Millers-Falls No 43

Knew concept Fret saw

Bonum Fret saw, W-Germany

So between all these choices you can accommodate pretty well any budgets.
Next I would add a fret saw.


From L-R
Record/Marples 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1-1/2 in
Narex 5/16 Mortise chisel, Unknown French maker gouge

First thing first, stay away from buying set of chisels. You will just be wasting your money. That is even more true with carving tool sets...

Since you only need a few, put the money you save from not buying a set into one very good chisel, the best you can afford.
New: Lie-Nielsen, Blue Spruce etc.
Vintage: Stanley No 750
Record Marples M444 Blue chip are pretty good inexpensive chisels if you can get past the plastic handles :-)
But be careful, they are now labelled IRWIN and are coming from East Asia, definitively NOT the same steel used in the old ones. Beware on EBay!
Swedish chisels have a good and well deserved  reputation, such as Berg and etc. but they too suffer from the same recent outsourcing craze and drop in quality.

You will find Bevel Edge (BE) chisels and firmer type chisels, the BE are more practical if you do dovevails, which you should learn to do, right!

Left Bevel Edge chisel, right Firmer chisel

The 1/2 chisel is probably the most used, so start with this one, you will also need a smaller and a wider one, depending on the size of your work, 1/4 and 3/4 should do.
I specified the 3/4 in as a paring chisel, because having one is not a luxury but a very useful thing, but you don't **Need** a paring one... well, maybe...oh heck just buy one!
The difference between a paring chisel and a regular Bevel Edges (BE) chisel? The paring chisel is not meant to be struck with a mallet but pushed by hands only, hence the blade is thinner and the handle not designed to be struck.

Paring chisel on top, BE chisel bottom.

Paring chisel have a longer and thinner blade.

You should have at least one large chisel, between 1-1/4 and 1-1/2 in or so would be good. Make cleaning up the side walls of mortise easier, or tweaking tenons and etc.


While you could cut all your mortise using a regular BE chisel or firmer, it is easier on both yourself AND the chisel, if you use a proper mortise chisel. Why?
Because there is a lot of levering the waste out of the mortise, which is why mortise chisels have much thicker cross section to resist bending or breaking.

From Top to Bottom
Pigsticker without its handle, another pigsticker with its proper oval handle,
Narex mortise chisel, Sash mortise chisel (light duty) and finally a special tool to clean up the bottom of mortise, a Swan neck chisel.

My favorite mortise chisels are the old fashioned British form known colloquially as a Pigsticker. The shape of the handle let you know instinctively where the cutting edge is in relation to your hand. You can sometimes find them without their handle because they are meant to be whack on and the handle will eventually split on you. No biggie, make a new one. Oak and Ash seems to be the most common woods used on them.

Truth be known, you will mostly use only one size, the 1/4 in or the 5/16 in, since we work mostly with 3/4 in thick woods. So save your money and only buy one of these. Its been a long time coming but you can now buy new ones from Ray Iles  Narex make great, well priced mortise chisels


Something else we could argue has no place in a "Minimalist list", but to my thinking it afford us more tricks in our repertoire. Armed with one of these you can used it to trim inlay pieces, trim moulding pieces to fit by coping them and etc. Lots of bang for your bucks.

They come in basically two forms, incannel and outcannel.
Meaning the bevel is on the inside (incannel) or on the outside (outcannel) like the majority of carving gouges. What's the difference? If you use an incannel gouge and plunge straight down, only the outside of the cut would be true to the gouge curvature the inside would be taper, and vice versa.

Outcannel gouges are much more plentiful out there, which gives you some ideas about which ones are used the most...

A joiner gouge (R) is slightly different than a carving gouge (L)
The carving ones are thinner and ligther. 
These are both outcannel as seen from the bevel on the back edge  

Front side of both

Which sizes? 1/2 in is a good starting point, and depending on your type of work, maybe the only one you will ever need. Remember that you can cut a bigger circle with a smaller gouge than vice versa.

Bob, the toolman arg arg


  1. What about the left handed metric chisels?

  2. Bob,

    Good work but where are the Japanese (metric) chisels in all their permutations? :-).


  3. LOL all right you metric guys. Truth be known, I have long banned all metric tools from my shop years ago, when the kids were young.
    But as chisels goes, I still get the odd metric sized chisels that sneaks in from Europe disguised under a given Imperial size, sigh!
    Its enough to make you reach for the Whisky :-)
    So Ralph, I'm resolutely a right hand imperialist kind of guy, because Sinister hands kids were beaten into submissions as a kid by Catholic nuns and Her Majesty was my commander in Chief for all my adult life, so there :-)
    And Ken, jokes asides I could have mentioned a Japanese dovetail chisel as a good next purchase, but I tend to steer newcommers away from Japanese chisels because thet can be expensive and can be damaged easily when improperly used.
    Besides if you google translate my post in Japanese, there you go: all Japanese tools and Metric to boot Ah! :-)

    Bob, driven to drink early in the morning by Ralph and Ken :-)

  4. I had a pup that worked for me in the Navy that I told to get me a left handed, non standard, metric, #2 1/2 right twist screwdriver. It was a two days before someone told him about it. It was right after someone told him to get a bucket of prop wash to clean the torpedoes with.

  5. He He that prop wash joke is still going strong in the Airforce :-)
    In the Army there was go get the keys to the parade square and etc.
    I worked a few times besides sailors and Army grunt and I thought that the AF had the monopoly on stupid acronyms, but noooo.
    Once I was asked to bring the LSVW to the DP to which I said Huh!!??? The chief then repeat : Bring the truck over here! Ah, why didnt you said so earlier!
    Translation: Bring the Light Supply Vehicle Wheeled to the Departure Point. Gotta love military acronyms... :-)

    Bob, who was once told to brings all his holes on the deck (From a Navy chief :-)

  6. Guys, I don't want to disrupt your military jokes.
    I was working for the Red Cross and you won't like to know the jokes from there.
    That said coming back to the saws. Bob, I think I have to investigate a bit more in frame saws.
    What you have written is absolutely true. You can have up to five or six saws with one frame. Just by changing the blades. There are rip,crosscut and turning blades available. You can have Japanese blades with the same tooth geometry. And last but not least saw blades for fire wood cutting.

    Stefan, thinking about frame saws.

  7. Exactly Stefan, the good old traditional Continental frame saws were and I suspect, still very popular in your neck of the woods for that reason. It also solve the sharpening problem, just replace the blade. Hang on to that steel, depending on its size you could make small scrapers and blades for scratch stock, marking blades for gauges etc.