Making Two Sets of Heirloom Saws: The Gent's Saw and The Table Saw

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Blog entry by summerfi posted 01-24-2015 07:50 PM 9325 reads 8 times favorited 36 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This blog will document the making of two sets of heirloom saws. Each set will consist of around 10 to 12 saws, but that number seems to change as progress is made. This first blog entry documents the making of the gent’s saws and table saws. The next entry will be 10” dovetail saws. It can be seen here:

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Although I’ve been using handsaws nearly all my life, the saw bug bit me in a bigger way in the fall of 2013. That’s when I began learning as much as I could about saws, their makers, their history, the different saw types and their uses. Concurrent with this, I began restoring vintage saws. Since October, 2013 I’ve restored a total of 57 saws, including full size handsaws, panel saws, and backsaws. A little over half of these have been sold, a few were commissioned restores, and the rest I’ve kept.

Photo: An early 1840s Disston backsaw restored by the author.

In addition to the restoration work, I made four saws during this period, using components (either the plate or spine) that were repurposed from other saws. All this, however, was a prelude to what I’m now embarking on, which is the making of my own saws from scratch.

Photo: A half-back saw made by the author from a repurposed saw plate.

All the restoration work served as good practice and skill building for making saws. I learned to clean rusty saw plates, straighten bent plates, repair and make saw handles, make split-nut saw screws and medallions, etch plates and medallions, and cut and sharpen saw teeth in both rip and crosscut geometry ranging from 4 to 16 points per inch. That was a lot to learn in roughly a year and a half, but it was all necessary in order to begin making my own saws.

Photo: A pair of saw handles made from jatoba.

So now I’m starting on the adventure of making my own saws, but what sort of saws will I make? Well, to begin with I’m going to make two identical sets of 10 saws each. After completion, one set will be sold to pay for my saw making expenses. The other set will remain in my family as heirlooms to be passed to my children and grandchildren. The saws in each set will receive unique serial numbers. I will make a special storage case for the saws that remain in the family.

Each set of 10 saws will include a full range of saw sizes, from an 8” gent’s saw to a 28” rip saw. The table below shows the specifications for each of the 10 saws.


Saw Making: The Basics

Handsaws are not a particularly complicated tool. They consist of a plate, or blade, a handle, and some screws to hold the two together. For backsaws, you also need a spine. Even though saws are not complicated, there are a lot of steps involved in making one. I purchase #1095 spring steel shim stock for the plates. The thickness ranges from 0.015” to 0.042” depending on the size and type of saw. I cut the plates to size using an air powered cutoff tool and finish the shaping with a file. Handsaws usually have the maker’s logo etched into the steel. After experimenting with doing this with chemicals, I found it easier to have a local laser marking company do it for me. The final step in making the plate is cutting and sharpening the teeth. I learned to cut and sharpen teeth by hand, but now I have a retoother that cuts all but the finest teeth. The sharpening is still done by hand with a file.

Quality handsaw handles are made from quarter sawn hardwood. Beech and apple are the traditional woods used on American saws, but most any type of hardwood will work. My blog on making handsaw handles covers the entire process in detail, so I won’t repeat it here.

Saw screws come in a few different varieties. Until about 1870, the most common type of screw was held in place with a spanner-type nut. This type of brass fastener is usually called a split-nut screw. You can buy these from a few sawmakers, but I make my own by hand out of brass rod and brass threaded rod. Most saws have one larger screw head called a medallion. I’ve made these by hand too, but more recently I’ve started buying them from a fellow sawmaker. Medallions have the sawmaker’s logo cast, stamped, or etched on them. I use my local laser marking source for this.

Photo: An etched saw plate and two sizes of medallions.

The spines on backsaws may be made of steel, brass, or occasionally other materials. Brass is preferred, both for looks and for the extra weight. Brass backs can be made in two different ways. Most modern sawmakers use backs that have a narrow slot for the plate that is cut in a brass bar with a slitting saw on a milling machine. The blade is then held in the slot with epoxy or loctite. The traditional way of making a brass back, however, is folding brass sheets over like a book. The slot formed by the fold then holds the blade by friction. Both types work equally well. Being a traditionalist, though, I prefer folded backs, and I’ve made several in my shop. The halfback saw shown above and the gent’s saws shown below have backs that I made from sheet brass. Until recently, there was no source for buying folded brass backs. One source has now come on line, so I will likely be buying my backs from them in the future.

Photo: A pair of brass backs made in my shop using two slightly different techniques.

So now with the basics covered, let’s start making some saws.

Saw #1: The Gent’s Saw

A small saw with a round handle is traditionally called a gent’s saw. They are often used for cutting dovetails, so they can also be called dovetail saws. My saws have a 0.015” thick plate that is 8” long and 2” under the spine. The brass backs are made from 1/16” brass (1/8” after folding) by ½” wide. The turned handles are made from figured American walnut. The handles are attached with brass ferrules and epoxy. These saws are sharpened at 16 ppi in a rip pattern.


(Updated April 9, 2015)

Saw #2: The Table Saw

A few months ago I bought a group of several saws on eBay.UK, and this saw was in the bunch.

This short little saw is called a table saw for reasons that no one seems to know. One theory is that its narrow blade was useful for sawing out the profile of round table tops, but I don’t know if that’s correct. It seems like it would be a handy saw to keep on your workbench for quick utility cuts, so perhaps it should be called a bench saw.

LJ Smitty_Cabinetshop saw a picture of the saw and asked me to make him one like it. He sent me a piece of pecan for the handle and I supplied the rest. Here is his completed saw.

I hadn’t originally planned to include a saw like this in my sets of 10 saws, but I liked Smitty’s saw well enough that I figured why not? So now my sets of 10 saws have morphed into sets of 11 saws. I suppose I should come up with another saw design and make it an even dozen. Any suggestions?

Here are pictures of the pair of table saws I made for my matching sets. The blades are 14” and 11 ppi. They are filed to a hybrid geometry of 10 degrees rake and 12 degrees fleam to cut both rip and crosscut. I’m generally not a fan of hybrid filing, but in the case of a benchtop utility saw it makes sense. The handles are figured walnut like all the matching saws in the sets will be.

This blog will continue as a blog series from this point forward. The next saws to be made are 10” dovetail saws. They will be featured in the first entry of the new series in a posting titled Making Two Sets of Heirloom Saws #1: The 10 in. Dovetail Saw.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works -- ~Non multa sed multum~

36 comments so far

View theoldfart's profile


13159 posts in 3948 days

#1 posted 01-24-2015 08:00 PM

Can we say spectacular? The trim on the tote is a real nice touch Bob.

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View putty's profile


1303 posts in 3103 days

#2 posted 01-24-2015 08:09 PM

Those Gents saws are just beautiful, I especially like the carving on the handle. They are a piece of art. How do they cut?

I cant wait to see the other saws as you build them. Do you have any special plans for storage of the complete set?

-- Putty

View summerfi's profile


4385 posts in 3184 days

#3 posted 01-24-2015 08:15 PM

Thanks guys. I haven’t tried cutting with them, putty, and I probably won’t since I’d like to keep them in pristine condition. I’m confident they would cut well though. For the set I’m going to keep, I plan to make a really fancy case or box. That won’t be for awhile though.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works -- ~Non multa sed multum~

View DocBailey's profile


584 posts in 3857 days

#4 posted 01-24-2015 08:41 PM

A great and noble endeavor—well executed.

View TheFridge's profile


10863 posts in 2983 days

#5 posted 01-24-2015 08:42 PM

Excellent work bud. I plan on passing down some goodies to the family many years from now. It’s a great idea.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View Praki's profile


203 posts in 5494 days

#6 posted 01-24-2015 10:46 PM

Very nice work. I am going to check out all your postz next :)

I am wondering how you made the backs from sheet metal. Do you have a post on that?

-- Praki, Aspiring Woodworker

View chrisstef's profile


18140 posts in 4503 days

#7 posted 01-24-2015 10:54 PM

This will be an epic set of saws bob. The anticipation of seeing all these saws come together with the skills youve shown around here has got me all lathered up.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View BigRedKnothead's profile


8594 posts in 3479 days

#8 posted 01-24-2015 11:08 PM

Fantastic Bob. I have a feeling your gonna put a dent in my LN fund when your ready for orders;-)

-- "At the end of the day, try and make it beautiful....because the world is full of ugly." Konrad Sauer

View racerglen's profile


3112 posts in 4277 days

#9 posted 01-25-2015 12:03 AM

Just great Bob, lovely work !

-- Glen, B.C. Canada

View luv2learn's profile


3158 posts in 3800 days

#10 posted 01-25-2015 12:36 AM

Awesome craftsmanship Bob. Your love of saws is apparent in your work.

-- Lee - Northern idaho~"If the women don't find you handsome, at least they ought to find you handy"~ Red Green

View terryR's profile


7733 posts in 3805 days

#11 posted 01-25-2015 12:39 AM

Very impressive, Bob! Clean and professional looking. As nice as Two Lawyers! I agree with Red…you’re gonna get a wad of my money soon, too! :)

Thanks for all the info on saw building in one place.

How do you carve the details on the handle’s bead? Rasp or file on your indexing lathe?

-- tr ...see one, do one, teach one...

View NinjaAssassin's profile


656 posts in 3221 days

#12 posted 01-25-2015 12:55 AM

Bob, those saws are spectacular. I look forward to seeing more of your work.

-- Billy

View JayT's profile


6460 posts in 3708 days

#13 posted 01-25-2015 01:18 AM

Spectacular, Bob! It will be fun to follow along and see the full set come together.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View Buckethead's profile


3196 posts in 3366 days

#14 posted 01-25-2015 01:22 AM

Dumbfounded again. I really have more of a thing for handplanes, but your work on saws has me itching. Just stunningly beautiful, Bob.

-- Support woodworking hand models. Buy me a sawstop.

View summerfi's profile


4385 posts in 3184 days

#15 posted 01-25-2015 01:42 AM

Thanks for all the positive comments everyone. Yes, it’s a labor of love, and I’m always striving to improve.

Praki – I make the backs by starting the bend in a metal brake (my current one is much too small, but I’ve gotten by so far), and then I complete the fold by squeezing it in a vise. You have to anneal the brass a few times during the process to keep it from cracking. There’s a fair amount of cleanup/sanding to do afterwards. I have an idea for making a hydraulic press to fold the backs, but haven’t built it yet.

Terry – I just use a triangular saw file to add the details to the handle. I don’t have any sort of indexer, so I just eyeball it. My lathe is homemade BTW.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works -- ~Non multa sed multum~

showing 1 through 15 of 36 comments

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