Archives for the month of: May, 2012
Disston No. 4

After shot of a Disston No. 4

There is about a 100 year gap in great saws. Disston and Atkins put out some of their best saws before the turn of the 20th century.  By the 40’s everything went to hell when saw makers started mass producing saws.  This is why the saw you bought at the big box store is worthless for cutting dovetails or doing precision work. Don’t throw it away use if for cutting PVC pipe, or letting your kids hack on some old tree, or chop’n up a deer carcass.

But your Grandpa’s old handsaw is worth keeping and restoring.

I recently purchased this late 19th century Disston No.4 off of ebay for around $20. I wanted to take a template off the handle for my own Tenon Saw. The No. 4 had a straight back and blade, was in needed of a good sharpening but the handles had some cracks and was missing one of the horns.

Disston No. 4

Before shot of the busted horn on a Disston No. 4

I used an epoxy sawdust recipe for filling cracks.  The missing horn was cut smooth and glued on a piece of cherry and reshaped the horn.  A complete sanding, some dark walnut stain, and a hand rubbed Qualasole finish gave the old saw a second life.  The brass split nut and medallion can be polished up with a Dremel tool and cotton rotary tool.

As for sharpening we offer a complete kit to sharpen dovetail, carcass, and tenon saws.

For a small investment you can have a piece of history and a fabulous cutting saw.



Dovetail joint in quilted maple.

Dovetail joint in quilted maple.

I have to thank Rob Cosman for this simple test.

This test will not only test your saw but your skills as well.

A dovetail saw needs to cut smooth enough to create a glue joint.  If the saw cuts too rough then when you glue the dovetail joint you will not get a clean joint line, rather you will get a line that needs to be filled.

A great dovetail saw will not only cut fast, but it will cut straight accurate glue lines.

So test your saw!

Take some 3/4″ stock.  Mark a 1″ wide by 1.5″ long rectangular piece on either the left or right side of your stock.

Cut out the rectangle.  Cut the vertical line first, then turn the stock 90 degrees and cut the horizontal.  Make sure the saw tracks on your line. A great dovetail saw cuts perfectly straight.  If you get off your line you will not get back on.  That’s just the name of the game.  Trying to correct will only twist and bind the saw, maybe even permanently tweaking the plate (blade).

Ok, take your rectangle piece, flip it vertically, glue and clamp.  Wait 30 minutes and inspect your joint.  Are you happy with the results?  Even though your saw left some score marks while cutting the joint line should be seamless.

If not try it again.  Focus on gentle even strokes with the saw.  Make sure your body (hips, shoulders, forearm, elbow, and shoulder) is in line with the cut.  Your grip should be light. Let the saw do its job.  Watch it cut against the line.  Is is cutting straight?  Does it curve?  Is it binding?    Keep at it and see if you can make a clean joint line.

If you repeatedly cannot make a clean joint/glue line it is time for a new saw or its time to have your saw tuned by a professional.

Winsor Saw Dovetail Saws

Winsor Saw Dovetail Saws

With so many options for dovetail saws on the market today how do you go about selecting a saw.  Here is simple criteria:

  1. foxy
  2. fit
  3. function

Foxy–a saw need not be an eye-sore.  A good looking tool, in my opinion, is more likely to get used.  Find a saw maker who makes good looking saws.  Polished steel, shiny brass accents, and well finished exotic wood should all be there.

Fit–don’t buy a saw that you can’t try.  If a saw does not fit you well then you will not cut well.  Handles can be too small, too large, too thin, an improper attack angle and so on.  You should be able to either test drive the saw or buy from a sawmaker who has a return policy.

Function–a dovetail saw needs to cut well.  The saw should cut: 1) fast, 2) straight, 3) easily, and ) smoothly.  A quality saw is going to be tested and tuned.  The set should be just enough to release pressue off the blade but not too much to affect the straightness of the cut.  You and your saw should cut straight.  By this I mean the the saw will cut and track a perfect straight line both vertically and horizontally. This is essential for cutting dovetails.   Use a carpenter’s square to test how straight your cuts are.  You shouldn’t have to force a saw to cut.  You need not be white knuckled when you grip your saw.  A saw needs to be very sharp and have the proper rake (tooth angle) and set.  This allows the saw to begin the cut easily without twisting, bending or binding.  Lastly a quality dovetail saw will leave a smooth surface.  A smooth wood surface is essential for dovetail glueups.  If the saw leaves too much of a rough face, splinters or tearout you may not get the surface area you need to properly glue your joints.

I hope this helps.  Next blog will focus on some simple tests you can do to see if your dovetail saw is cutting properly.

Best wishes,


Winsor Saw Flame Maple Dovetail

Winsor Saw Flame Maple Dovetail

Hello!  Winsor Saw will be blogging about everything saws and specialized woodworking.  I hope to post about:

  • How to pick a saw
  • How to test your saw
  • How to practices sawing
  • How to tune your saw
  • How to sharpen a dovetail saw
  • How to care for your saw
  • How to buy a saw on Ebay
  • How to restore an old saw
  • How to remove rust from a saw plate