Frame saws - bow saws. #1: A simple frame saw (even if they call it a bow saw).

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Blog entry by mafe posted 09-12-2011 02:23 AM 15028 reads 18 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Frame saws - bow saws. series Part 2: A simple frame saw - part two »

A simple frame saw.
Even if they call it a bow saw.

Every one can make a frame saw!
No I do not mean this to be big headed, I mean this from my heart, and I mean this as a motivation for all that have a wish to try – please just do it!
I dedicate this blog to or LJ buddy WayneC, you know why.

In this blog I will make a simple frame saw step by step.

What is it with this bow saw / frame saw?
Nothing really, just found out that the more I look, the less I understand what the right word is for it.
It is not that it really matter, but it would be interesting if we could find an answer to this, until then I will call it a frame saw, since there are a frame and now bow here.

So here we are, the parts ready to become a saw.
A strong wood with tight fibers (this is from a old parasol), you will need to cut this up so it have a size that match the size of your blade, the lighter and thinner the better, but at some point it will become too thin so it will break or wobble, this depending on the wood, so all I can say is try.
A blade. I bought mine from a English saw maker so it is hand sharpened and set, the steel is so soft that it can be re sharpened with a file. The blade I used is a turning Saw blade – 12” length. 11tpi approx. I bought it here.
Any blade will do, if you want to make a cheap fine saw you can buy one of the miter saw blades in any hardware store for next to nothing or as Patron suggest a broken bandsaw blade.
You also need two nails and some string, but this will come later.

Just to show you what I talk about this is a standard parasol without the fabric, in the fall people often trash them and whenever I see one I grab them, there are plenty of fine wood in these and some of them are excellent quality of wood.

And here you see the wood after it has been separated.
I have made plenty of handles also for chisels out of these old parasols.

I know you are not here to read about recycle but saws…
So here is the layout.
I will make a saw with a handle that goes under the blade to secure a really fine control since this is a relatively small saw.
It will be a simple design because I want it to match my Japanese tools even I do know the Japanese do not have a tradition for frame saws (traditions are important to follow and to break if no one is hurt by it).
The saw will be collapsible so it can be transported easy and be a part of my ‘out of the house’ tool kit.

So let’s mark up the places where the bars cross each other.

Transfer the marks to the side where the tenon joints shall be.

Mark up for the mortises, if you divide the dimension into three equal sizes you will not go all wrong, but try to match it with your chisel sizes if possible.
I use my cutting gauge to make deep cuts I can easy follow later with the chisel.

And with a middle gauge I mark the center of the mortise also.

Now time to drill, set the deep stop on your drill press so you will not drill through by mistake.
I want my mortises to be blind (means they do not go all the way through the wood), this is just because I find it more beautiful, so if you think it is more easy to make them go through you can do so.
Also if you want to make a fixed frame, you can let them go through and then wedge them after with contrast wood , this looks wonderful, but I prefer the collapsible version.

Now use the center line to guide you while you make a series of holes in the mortise with a drill that is a little smaller than the mortise width (better too small).

Time to pare out the mortise, a wide chisel for the sides and a narrow for the ends – kind of logic yes…
The chisel can never be sharp enough for paring, so if your chisel is not sharp now is the time to sharpen.

So time to make the matching tenon.
Mark up the one first and finish this one before you make the other end of the cross bar.

If you are lazy and cut the tenon by the table saw, you need to set the deepness of the blade shy of the bar thickness, then raise the bar and run it through.
But today we use a hand saw so everyone can follow, and also there are a charm in using a hand saw to make a hand saw.

So first step is to mark the deepness of the tenon.
I like to use the cutting wheel since this gives a crisp mark when we go cross grain.
(Notice the crack in the wood below, this you will see later, I didn’t).

Then mark the width of the tenon on top and down the sides.
Here I use a cutting gauge for two reasons, one that I go with the grain and two that I want to work with two gauges so I keep the setting for the next tenon.

Now cut down the tenon.
Stay on the good side of the line, or in other words let the line stay, you can clean up and fit later, you can’t add wood if too small.

And cut the shoulders (not your own please).
Clamp or use a bench hook.

Now clean up the shoulder, what can be better than to use a self made shoulder plane for that.

For the face of the tenon use a wide chisel, and pare of slowly, and test fit again and again until it can be just pushed into the mortise with a gentle pressure.

Chamfer the edges light and rough on the end so it is easy to get in.

Here we are.

The perfect match…

Now for the other end.
Fit the side you just made together.
Lay the saw blade on the saw so the holes are centered on the wood bars.
When it is all straight you can mark where the second tenon shoulder shall be.

And we repeat the same story as before.


So now we have a frame.
Notice the position of the blade.
I want the blade to be held to the saw as simple as possible on this saw.
So in one side it is just up in the wood end, and since I made a handle version the blade must go through the frame in the other side (if you don’t get it will come).

And now to something completely different…
I just decided to cut of the top to make it more handy.
Mark the same length.

And saw, that’s it.

This is the end of part one , it is late here in Copenhagen so I will go to bed now and hopefully post part two tomorrow where we will finish the saw.

My Swans &v Bones frame saw here:

An old Danish frame saw I just brought back to life:

This was what came up when I was searching on Google for Japanese bow saw…

Hope this blog will inspire others to give it a go on the frame saws,

Best of thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

17 comments so far

View Bertha's profile


13588 posts in 3669 days

#1 posted 09-12-2011 02:27 AM

A nice tour! As usual, I must go back slowly. will be enjoying the read ;)

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 5074 days

#2 posted 09-12-2011 02:28 AM

This is a plesant surprise. I have making a bow saw high on my project list. Looking forward to the next part.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View mafe's profile


12875 posts in 4065 days

#3 posted 09-12-2011 02:39 AM

Al, you will get it, do not worry – lol.
(You have my phone number if you don’t).

Wayne, yes I know and this was the reason why I upgrated this on my project list, so I should have dedicated this blog to you! I will do that right away.

Best thoughts and thank you for the nice comments my wonderful buddy’s,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View lilredweldingrod's profile


2496 posts in 4083 days

#4 posted 09-12-2011 03:22 AM

Mafe, very simple, very sweet, very detailed tutorial. What about a small one for dovetails? I’m about ready to try hand made dovetails and I just can’t see spending so much money on a dovetail saw.

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14188 posts in 4959 days

#5 posted 09-12-2011 04:45 AM

fun read. nice methods. great photos.

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View lanwater's profile


3113 posts in 3910 days

#6 posted 09-12-2011 07:24 AM

Great blog Mads.

One of these day I am going to make some of my own tools following your wonderfull blogs.

Thanks a million.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View Sodabowski's profile


2393 posts in 3809 days

#7 posted 09-12-2011 09:50 AM

Okay so you seem to always be a train ahead of us all, I also have a frame saw on my to-do list ^^

-- Thomas - there are no problems, there are only solutions.

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

25762 posts in 4082 days

#8 posted 09-12-2011 01:33 PM

Very nice job explaining all the steps and the best part of all was the source for free wood to make them!!
I think you should have your own TV show. It would be more popular that Norm Abram’s show and you always make such nice tools!!
Thanks for sharing, my friend!!

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View Mauricio's profile


7166 posts in 4128 days

#9 posted 09-12-2011 03:40 PM

Cool little project. And I laughed out loud at the picture at the end. Good one.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 4649 days

#10 posted 09-12-2011 03:45 PM

Nice blog, Mad.

View Tootles's profile


808 posts in 3478 days

#11 posted 09-12-2011 04:05 PM

Thanks Mads. I enjoyed reading that – you have an easy style of writing that just lets us come along on the journey with you.

From my trusty Reader’s Digest Book of Tools and Skills:

Frame Saw (or wooden bowsaw) is used for cutting curved edges. The twisted cord at the top of the frame supplies tension to keep the blade from wobbling during cutting.

Bowsaw is a heavy duty tool for cutting logs or for coarse sawing of green wood, dry or seasoned wood, or other building materials. The tubular steel frame holds the blade under tension, which can be controlled with the quick release lever.

That would suggest that both names are acceptable, but frame saw is probably more correct.

On the other hand, I have another book by Tage Frid, and he calls it a bowsaw. You just can’t win, can you?

-- I may have lost my marbles, but I still have my love of woodworking

View Doug McPherson's profile

Doug McPherson

114 posts in 4132 days

#12 posted 09-12-2011 05:22 PM

Great blog/tutorial! Thank you for taking the time to share it with us.

-- DullChiselDoug,

View mafe's profile


12875 posts in 4065 days

#13 posted 09-12-2011 05:37 PM

Here a fast update:
The blade I used is a turning Saw blade – 12” length. 11tpi approx.
I bought it here:
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View meikou's profile


115 posts in 4611 days

#14 posted 09-12-2011 06:45 PM

Very nice work mate.

Once I get this shoji screen install finished off I need to finish sorting out the garage(shop) and get to work making some tools.

View rance's profile


4276 posts in 4137 days

#15 posted 09-13-2011 12:09 AM

Very nice job. Even though you were LAZY and used your electric drill press. :D I should really make one of these. And when I do, I’m gonna be MUCH lazier than you. :)

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

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