This is the old backsaw I had been using as a tenon saw for the last few years. It’s not a pretty sight.
I’m tempted to say that this saw had seen better days, but that would be completely untrue. It’s an old no-name backsaw that my brothers and I used to build tree forts when I was little. It used to live in a bucket with hammers, crowbars, and rusty nails. (You can read the whole, sad story here.) Since then, however, I’ve been treating this old backsaw better than it’s ever been treated in its sorry life. The sharp edges on the handle got relieved with a file, and I’ve been keeping it sharp and rust-free in my tool chest. So it is with some regret that I consign this old saw to semi-retirement alongside my other seldom-used saws.
The occasion of its replacement was a Christmas gift: a tenon saw kit made by Isaac Smith of Blackburn Tools. (A couple years ago, I bought a dovetail saw kit from Isaac and made myself a nice little dovetail saw with a spalted pecan handle. While not perfect, I’m pleased with how the saw looks, feels, and cuts.) It’s been a busy year, so I worked on the tenon saw only periodically over the last few months, and this week I finally finished it.
The kit consisted of a saw blade (already toothed), a slotted brass spine, and the bolts and nuts.
That left me to make the handle, fit and shape the spine, drill the holes in the blade, and put everything together. Oh yes, and sharpen the teeth.
If you’re looking for instructions on how to make your own saw, you can do no better than reading Isaac’s own series of in-depth, how-to blog posts. I’m content to share a few highlights of my own saw build.
I’m not much of a metal worker, so all my interest lay in the handle. Thanks to my friend Dominic at TGIAG Toolworks, I had a large number of templates from which to choose. I decided to choose a handle style that fit my saw best: a Disston D-4, 14″ backsaw. I dug out a nice piece of spalted pecan that I had been saving for a special project and went to work.
The work actually begins at the drill press, cutting out the top and bottom radii with various large drill bits. Then I connect the holes with a coping saw and cut out the rest of the handle. There are a number of other delicate operations involved, such as sawing the slot for the blade and cutting a wider slot for the spine. After that, it’s all rasp-and-file work followed by sandpaper.
So after five months of picking this up and putting it down again, I finally have a working tenon saw.
I do all my saw sharpening outdoors (at my wife’s request–she hates the noise). So I clamp my saw vise to one end of my saw bench, perch myself on a lawn chair, and go at it. The blue tape on the jaws improves the grip and dampens the vibration from the file. It took me only a few minutes to set, joint, and sharpen the teeth.
My new tenon saw is now ready to go live in my tool chest with the other saws–and occasionally do some work to earn its keep. I’ve only made a few test-cuts with it thus far, but it cuts smoothly and quickly.
And I now have a tenon saw to match my dovetail saw. They’re a fine pair of rippers.
I blame my college-aged daughter for the selfie with the saw. She also thought I needed a picture of me as my alter-ego, Backsaw Man.