Bow Saw

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Project by brianl posted 09-25-2011 03:57 PM 4351 views 9 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Bow Saw
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I recently asked a forum question about cutting a circle. From that I basically came up with two ways to cut a large circle:
  1. Cut the square into an octogon, then a polygon, and keep cutting until you smooth it out with a spokeshave or plane.
  2. Use a bow saw to cut the circle then smooth out any rough spots.

I had initially planned to go with option #1. However, the more I thought about it, the more I thought “You know, I should really learn to get better at handling a bow/coping saw. I don’t use them very often – partially because I don’t own a bow saw.

So, to fix this state of affairs I decided to purchase a bow saw. I looked around and while I liked the Gramercy Bow Saw, the price was a bit much for me. Thankfully, the guys at are so awesome, they sell the parts for a bow saw and they even give you the plans for their own bow saw! I mean how freaking cool is that?

So, I went to the show with some steamed european beech I picked up at Downes & Reader. I often use beech for my work-shop build tools, handles, etc… It cuts nicely, is really uniform, and overall is a pleasure to work with. Armed with the Gramercy saw plans, I cut the basic shapes:

With a coping saw, a rasp, and a scraper, shaping the frame wasn’t tough at all. I then ran into a road block. I don’t have a lathe…how the hell am I going to make the handles?!? I did a bunch of internet searching around “how to make handles without a lathe” but wasn’t satisfied with any of them. Eventually I stumbled across Jennie Alexander’s End Vise Lathe plans.

Using those plans I whipped up a quick bungee lathe to turn my handles on. I don’t have any lathe tools, so an old 1/4” chisel did all of the turning.

Overall they turned out ok for someone who has never used a lathe before. The results before smoothing and cutting grooves:

Thus equipped, I quickly completed the bow saw. The Gramercy pins fit into the handles but were a bit loose. I wrapped the pin with a wood shaving, filled the pin hole with glue and now that sucker ain’t going anywhere. To tension the saw I went to a sporting goods store and picked up 50lb fishing line (for $2 or something ridiculous). With that the saw was done!

The finish is two coats of Boiled Linseed Oil, followed by three coats of blonde shellac, and finally a coat of paste wax applied with 0000 steel wool.

Overall I’m very pleased with the saw. The generosity of the guys at ToolsForWorkingWood and Jennie Alexander really amaze me. Without them selflessly posting plans and information for all to read I would have never completed this project.

Unfortunately, now I have realized how useful turning is…and I’m off to build a treadle lathe! And if you’re keeping track, in this project I built a lathe to turn a handle to build a bowsaw to cut a circle to build a side table!

-- Brian - Belmont, Massachusetts

12 comments so far

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 5112 days

#1 posted 09-25-2011 04:24 PM

Well done. Thanks for the detailed post. I have a bow saw on my project list, though I have purchased 3 off of ebay and probably don’t need to build one.

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

View rmac's profile


235 posts in 4075 days

#2 posted 09-25-2011 06:25 PM

And if you’re keeping track, in this project I built a lathe to turn a handle to build a bowsaw to cut a circle to build a side table!

This is called the 'but first' problem. It has nothing to do with obstetrics. :)


-- My table saw laughs at hot dogs.

View StumpyNubs's profile


7851 posts in 3815 days

#3 posted 09-26-2011 12:08 AM

I cut little circles with a drill…

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View Don W's profile

Don W

19896 posts in 3582 days

#4 posted 09-26-2011 12:15 AM

I like your style. I did pretty much the same thing, except I made my own hardware too. I had a lathe so I didn’t need to make my own. I like the ingenuity there. Nice job!!

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View woodworm's profile


14477 posts in 4605 days

#5 posted 09-26-2011 02:29 AM

Very nice one!

-- masrol, kuala lumpur, MY.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 4013 days

#6 posted 09-26-2011 03:03 AM

Welcome to the Bowsaw club. Looks great.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3669 days

#7 posted 09-26-2011 02:59 PM

Reallt nice finished result. I am very jealous of the lumber supplier you listed. I ask for 4/4 rough anything I get looked at like I am from the freaking moon.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View murch's profile


1380 posts in 3639 days

#8 posted 09-26-2011 07:50 PM

Great post. A very interesting read.

-- A family man has photos in his wallet where his money used to be.

View misslolly's profile


52 posts in 3816 days

#9 posted 09-27-2011 07:08 AM

Surely black smithing and woodworking must be among the few professions where tools are made to make the tools to make the tools needed to make the project. Next you’ll be needing a band saw

-- wishIstillhadaclydesdaleinmyfrontyard

View CartersWhittling's profile


454 posts in 3689 days

#10 posted 09-30-2011 03:08 AM

Cool build, I like the lathe contraption.

-- And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord... Colossians 3:23

View wallkicker's profile


121 posts in 4169 days

#11 posted 09-30-2011 03:44 PM

great looking saw and nice problem solving with the make shift lathe .

View dbray45's profile


3406 posts in 3791 days

#12 posted 09-30-2011 03:49 PM

Nice job, this looks to be a favorite tool.

-- David in Palm Bay, FL

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