There is a level of satisfaction and enjoyment you get from hand planing a surface or hand sawing a tenon that you don’t get in using a jointer or table saw.
Maybe it has something to do with the whining noise and shower of sawdust. Or maybe it’s that intimacy you develop with a well-made, finely tuned hand tool.
Whatever it is, I like hand tools. So I was quite excited at the prospect of trying out saws from some of the leading manufacturers. In this first of a two-part series, I’ll cover Western style saws and in Part 2, Japanese style saws.
Stanley Tools needs no introduction. They’ve been around since the 1840s, and produce about every kind of hand tool known to man. Bahco Tools is Snap-On Inc. is Sandvik (corporate amalgamation). Sandvik has long been synonymous with quality and innovation in hand tools. Thomas Flinn has been in the saw business since 1923, and the Pax line has been continuously produced for an amazing 225 years. Flinn is the only company that exclusively manufactures handsaws. Lie-Nielsen produces the finest hand planes available today, and are carrying on that tradition of quality with their handsaws.
Briefly, Western saws can be loosely divided into three categories. Backsaws – including gents, dovetail, tenon, mitre and inlay saws – have a rigid spine attached to the blade. Most fine woodworking saws on the market fall into this category. Frame saws – which have a blade under tension between two fixed ends – include frame, veneer, bow, bucksaws, coping, fret and jeweller saws. Finally, we have handsaws which have a wide blade fixed to a single handle. These include crosscut, rip, panel and general purpose saws. A good overview of handsaws is found in Graham Blackburn’s “Traditional Woodworking Hand Tools” (Random House).
I began by laying out the saws and conducting a quick visual inspection of the blades, teeth, rigid backs and handles. There were no glaring deficiencies. I then made a prescribed set of cuts on hardwood and softwood with each saw (flush, tenon, mitre and dovetail as appropriate for the saw). For convenience I have grouped the saws into five categories. Measurements are shown in inches, and prices in Canadian dollars (rounded to the nearest dollar and without shipping and taxes; US dollars converted at 1.45).
The Stanley saw has the widest kerf and roughest cut. The handle is small, and not as comfortable as the others. It’s also about twice the price of the other saws. The Sandvik (bottom in photo above), with a thinner blade and finer set produced a noticeably better cut, and the handle was a bit more comfortable. Both the Stanley and Sandvik seem more suited for the carpenter or home handyman. The Thomas Flinn (Pax) saws (fixed handle – top in photo above) produced excellent cuts and, at under $20, are excellent values. The teeth on the offset handle Pax are only set on one side, which helps account for its narrower kerf. Both have very comfortable rosewood handles with brass spines and fittings. I found the offset handle a bit more awkward to use, although this may be due to my unfamiliarity with this style. Nonetheless, the Pax gent saws are excellent.
|Stanley 15-252||Sandvik 312||Pax Offset||Pax Fixed|
|Overall Length||15||15||16 1/2||13 3/8|
|Blade Length||9 3/4||9 3/4||10||8|
|Blade Height||1 3/4||1 1/2||1 1/4||1 3/4|
These are gorgeous saws that feel wonderful in the hand. They cut smoothly and quickly. The Pax tenon saw (bottom in photo above) the largest and heaviest in the group has a solid feel to it, with excellent balance. A commanding presence. The Lie-Nielsen (Independence) Dovetail (top in photo above) is the smallest and lightest. Like holding a butterfly in your hand. The Pax saws come with a traditional closed style handle (an optional open handle is available), while the Independence saws come with the open handed pistol grip. I found that the pistol style handle offered better control: you can really feel whether the saw is being held in the correct position. The hardened steel blades and brass fittings on both the Pax and Independence saws are top of the line. In a fine cutting Western style saw, these are unsurpassed in quality. The Pax saws are less than half the price of the Independence saws. The question, then, comes down to style preference and price.
|Overall Length||17 1/4||16||13 1/8||14|
|Blade Height||3 1/8||2 1/4||2 3/8||1 5/8|
It seems to me that mitre saws are slowly fading into the sunset. Pity though.
Coupled with a good mitre box, they make quick work on accurate 45° and 90° angles. The Stanley 15-672 with its triple edged tooth design cuts very fast, but at the expense of smoothness. The Stanley 15-636 (see photo above) and the Sandvik 318 cut slower but produced smoother cuts. For cutting mitres on the job, either of these two will do, with the advantage that you can re-sharpen the Stanley 15-636 (teeth are not tempered). The handles were comfortable on all three saws.
|Stanley 15-672||Stanley 15-636||Sandvik 318|
|Overall Length||17 1/4||19 1/4||16|
|Blade Height||3 1/4||3 1/8||3 1/2|
Every shop needs a good crosscut saw for preparing rough stock. All these saws produced cuts of comparable quality. The Pax (top in photo – left) has a slightly smoother cut than the rest. It has excellent feel and heft, and with a handle that is 2” wide, is best suited for those with large hands. It also has that nice skewed back. The classic looking Sandvik 277 (bottom in photo above pg 21) is, like the Pax, taper ground, and probably better suited for someone with a longer arm. An advantage of either of these saws is that they can be re-sharpened. The Stanley, with its aggressive tooth pattern, cut the fastest. It lacked the balance of the Pax or Sandvik 277. The Sandvik 3090, with its ultra modern look, is the saw that seems tailor made for the work site. It has a very comfortable handle, silicon treated rust resistant blade, is lightweight and has excellent cutting properties.
|Overall Length||25 5/8||29 5/8||29 5/8||22 3/4|
|Blade Length||22||26||26||19 1/2|
|Blade Height||5 1/4||5 1/2||5 1/2||4 3/4|
Stanley tools typically have induction-hardened teeth with an aggressive tooth design that incorporates three cutting surfaces. Sandvik saws incorporate a universal toothing pattern that has every third tooth short and set, while the other two teeth are straight and unset. Both companies make a number of saws that fit into the “General Purpose” category. These saws are often referred to as box saws or short cut saws, and can withstand rough handling better than others. They are ideal for toting around the work site or home. They do a decent job crosscutting or ripping, and you can use the handles to quickly layout 90° and 45° angles. The cuts made by these saws were fairly similar, with the Sandvik 300 (bottom in photo above) producing the narrowest kerf, and the Stanley (top in photo above) cutting the fastest. The handles of the Sandvik 2500 and Stanley are particularly comfortable. The teeth are impulse hardened. They make an excellent companion to the larger handsaws.
|Overall Length||22 1/2||18||16 1/2|
|Blade Length||18 3/4||15||13 3/4|
|Blade Height||4 3/8||4 1/4||3 3/4|
As with any hand tool, when purchasing a new saw you need to think carefully about its intended use. It is unlikely that any one saw will serve all you needs. In general, a good quality saw will last you many years. Saws that do not have tempered teeth, can last a lifetime, with proper sharpening and setting.
The photo below shows cuts from four saws (from left to right, Pax Gents, Pax Tenon, Independence Dovetail and the Stanley 15-636 Mitre saw). As expected, saws meant for general crosscut and rip work give the roughest cuts. With increasing point size the set becomes finer and the cuts get better. In general, all the saws I looked at cut reasonably fast. Perhaps, for carpenters, the speed of cutting may be an important consideration but, for most woodworkers, the quality of the cut is more of an issue. And if you do a lot of handwork, then the feel and balance of the tool is also an important consideration.
The Pax and Independence saws are clearly more suited for fine work, while the Sandvik and Stanley seem more positioned for general purpose sawing.
While Western style saws still dominate the market, Japanese saws are making big inroads. In the next issue we’ll look at some traditional and contemporary Japanese saws.