I Want a New Dovetail Saw - I'm Dissatisfied With Mine

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Forum topic by helluvawreck posted 08-29-2010 02:38 PM 3992 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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32122 posts in 4328 days

08-29-2010 02:38 PM

I would like to buy a new dovetail saw because I’m not completely happy with the ones that I have. I like the ones that are really more like a small back saw better than what is really more commonly known as a dovetail saw. However, I the absolute max that I want to spend is $125 but I want a really good one and would love to spend less.

I was at the Lee Valley booth the other day at the show and I took a look at the new Veritas dovetail saw that has around 20tpi and it’s only $64. However, when I picked it up to see what it felt like I could only get three of my fingers in the handle. My little finger just sort of awkwardly dangled there. I don’t know if I could get used to that. I think it would be a mental distraction because it doesn’t feel natural and it might also effect my control of the saw. Why does somebody like Veritas do things like that? They of all people should know better. My hands are not that large. Even my three fingers seemed to be a little cramped. I think that it might be a good saw for the money but this might eliminate it for me.

Can you recommend some in that through your experience have proven themselves to you? I’d love to take a look at them.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

13 replies so far

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 4520 days

#1 posted 08-29-2010 02:57 PM

For the price you are talking about, you are going to have a difficult time finding a real, quality saw. The Veritas is the only one that I can think of. The Lie Nielsen is about $125.00, give or take a bit. The problem is going to be your hand. It sounds as if you probably have pretty large hands and you may run into the same problem with most any of those. You could look to Bad Axe saws or Wenzloff and Sons. They both make an excellent saw and would probably even make a custom handle specifically for you, but I am sure they would be more expensive than your intended budget. For my money, here is what I would do. I would look for an old back saw with an 8-12” blade. Brass back is preferable (from a collectors value standpoint), but there are many fine older saws with steel backs tool. You are looking for a saw made by one of the quality manufacturers that was manufactured between the time of the Civil War, but prior to WWII (1865-1940). The common American brands are Disston and E.C. Atkins. There were also many fine English makers about that time as well. Most anything from that era that is from Sheffield England is going to be quality. You can pick these saws up for less than $50 (I have a few that I bought for less than $20). You may have to learn to sharpen (a valuable skill to have), or get someone to sharpen it for you. For cutting dovetails, you want a rip tooth pattern and the smallest amount of set to the tooth that will work without binding in the cut. There are 2 advantages to this approach. 1) you aren’t out a lot of money. 2) because you are not out a lot of money, you can afford to experiment with it a little – for example, you could try your hand at making a handle to fit your hand. I have had fun making a few saw handles recently (see my posts).

-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 4328 days

#2 posted 08-29-2010 03:07 PM

Doc, I really do appreciate the quick response to this and it certainly sounds like you have a lot of experience with this and it has been a very intelligent and informative response. I’ll be playing around in my shop all day today so you have put my mind to rolling on this and I know that it will be rolling in the background as I work. In the mean time – Thanks and God bless.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View rwyoung's profile


412 posts in 4933 days

#3 posted 08-29-2010 03:52 PM

Not trying to be an advertisement for the Vertitas saw but here are some thoughts:

Many open handle DT saws and many closed handled ones too are designed for only three fingers. Your index finger remains outside the handle and points down the side. This goes for large and small saws. How are you usually gripping your saw?

Did you notice how the handle is attached on the Veritas? It is easy to remove and replace with a larger one should you wish.

Mentioned trying the 20tpi model. What thickenss of material are you planning to cut with your DT saw? If you think you might be chopping dovetails more in 1/2” and thinner wood, then the 20tpi is appropriate. For thicker woods (and thinner but it will chatter a bit more) the 14tpi might be more appropriate.

Last thought, I’ve played with several new dovetail saws and some older ones owned by a friend that really knows how to sharpen. A few of his older saws, exact models escape me but all were $20 flea-market saws, can really cut sweet. After applying a few of the techiniques he showed me to a ‘cheap” Crown gent’s saw it cut much better. Refiled rip (as you outline above) and reduced the set. But I still like my Vertitas DT saw better simply because its saw plate is so much thinner.

-- Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

View BobLang's profile


178 posts in 4861 days

#4 posted 08-29-2010 04:49 PM

Tradition in western style saws is to grip the handle with the last three fingers, and leave the index finger pointing along the blade. I think the Lee Valley saw in question is a great place to start for this style of saw. It will give you the experience you need to judge the high-end saws if you decide to move up, or it may suit your needs forever.

I have large hands, and find the grip comfortable. You can see some photos of my grip here

There is also a lengthy discussion about sticking out your finger here

Bob Lang

-- Bob Lang,

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 4328 days

#5 posted 08-29-2010 06:21 PM

Thanks for the tips, RW, Everything that I know about woodworking was self taught so I didn’t know that about the 3 finger grip. I’ll give that a try. I still think that it might seem a little unnatural for me but who knows? One problem that I have is that I don’t dovetail anything sometimes for months at a time and then I have to practice a little before I can do it acceptably well. It’s probably been 8 months since I dovetailed anything since I’ve been working on my house mostly for the last year in my spare time.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

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32122 posts in 4328 days

#6 posted 08-29-2010 06:28 PM

The other thing that I remember, now that you mention it, is that Peter Korn in a book that he wrote said that he dovetailed with an inexspensive Stanly dovetail saw that he sharpened himself, making the point about how important the sharpening is. I’ve just never had the time to teach myself how to sharpen a hand saw. I do well enough on all the edge tools. I guess the handsaw sharpening might be a little intimidating in getting started, not so much from a lack of confidence in my ability to learn it, but in the time it might take to figure it out. Time is my great enemy.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

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32122 posts in 4328 days

#7 posted 08-29-2010 06:40 PM

Boy, I never saw anybody hold a coffee cup like that. That’s a good tip from you Bob. No wonder I sometimes spill coffee all over my overalls. I’ll have to give that a try. ;-) Well it just so happens that I’m practicing my dovetails today so I’ll give that grip a try. It may make a lot of difference. While we’re at it which do you do first – pins or tails? I do the tails. It always seemed to me that it is easier to mark the pins from the tails. I know that some people swear by the other way. BTW, Ill go back and read all of these links and articles. Thanks for the pointers.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

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32122 posts in 4328 days

#8 posted 08-29-2010 06:57 PM

Hey, thanks, Pat. I just went to that site and those saws do look nice. The $135 dovetail saw is just outside my budget but is so close that it wouldn’t be a problem. I left a tab open to that site in Firefox so I’ll check it out and thanks for the tip. Yopu’ve all been mighty helpful and thanks for the tips.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View RogerBean's profile


1605 posts in 4415 days

#9 posted 08-29-2010 07:16 PM

Yoiu might take a look at some of the Zona brand saws. I just got a couple and find them to be very sharp, thin, very inexpensive, and nice to use. I don’t do many dovetails, but I do like these saws.


-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

View swirt's profile


7686 posts in 4433 days

#10 posted 08-30-2010 05:40 AM

I suggest you try a $10 Zona saw while you learn to sharpen what you have.

Even if you buy a more expensive saw, if you do a lot of dovetails you’ll need to sharpen it. A dovetail saw filed rip and with no set (set is not really needed for the depth of the cuts for dovetails) is the easiest of all possible sharpening situations.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Kindlingmaker's profile


2659 posts in 4988 days

#11 posted 08-30-2010 06:50 AM


-- Never board, always knotty, lots of growth rings

View MickeyD's profile


130 posts in 4988 days

#12 posted 08-31-2010 06:26 AM

To Bob Lang…thank you for the link. I will pracitce with my dovetail saw with that in mind. I had given up and bought a Dozuki saw which I got easier and better results making my dovetails.

-- -Willing to try

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 4328 days

#13 posted 09-03-2010 06:34 PM

Thanks to everyone who replied to this topic. You all have helped and I do appreciate it. Here is the outcome of your advice. I ordered a Veritas dovetail saw that has been rip filed with 14tpi and it came in yesterday. Since I have adopted the standard 3 finger grip, now, it no longer feels awkward and my new dovetail saw feels comfortable in my hand – almost like it was made for me. In fact, I may even order the one that is 20tpi for more delicate dovetails.

I think that the saw is a real beauty and is very well balanced.

I will use this saw this weekend to improve my dovetailing techniques.

Doc put me on to a small company, Wensloff and Sons, and I have enjoyed looking at their site and reading the info. As a matter of fact, I have decided to purchase this saw= from Lee Valley and it is made by Wenzloff and if I like it then maybe a back saw by Wenzloff.

I have also decided to get a saw vise and the proper files and other necessary equipment so that I can learn how to do my own saw sharpening.

Finally, I know that I have the ability to learn how to cut dovetails by hand both accurately and efficiently and will practice until I can do it. Bob will also be happy to know that I will give the 3 fingered grip a try even on my coffee so that I no longer spill my coffee all over my overalls. ;-)

This thread to me really represents to me why Lumberjocks is a great place for woodworkers. So thanks for the help, Doc, RW, Bob, Pat, and Roger and and everyone else who replied.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

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