Saws rule wood shops, whether they are hand saws or power saws. We process our stock with saws, and cut our joints with saws. Every woodworker needs a good set of hand saws and the skill to use them properly. Hand saws provide additional capability to the woodworker with power saws. They offer the choice to work silently, the choice to work away from the shop, the choice to work stock too heavy or dangerous to cut with a power saw.

Choosing long saws can be difficult, especially for beginning sawyers. Saw teeth can be optimized to produce almost ant sort of cut, and there is no "standard" tooth configuration. Small changes in blade and tooth sizes or shapes can be easily felt. Generally, we choose what I call the pitch or number of teeth per inch, based on the stock thickness using the "6 tooth rule". We seek to always have 6 saw teeth in the kerf. If you have fewer teeth, the stock will bend and the saw will be difficult to move easily in the kerf. Too many teeth and the teeth will clog before they exit the kerf, slowing the saw cut. So using the "6 tooth rule" if you are working 1" thick stock, you'd need a 6ppi saw, right? Not quite. When ripping on horses, we almost never saw perpendicular to the face of the board. We saw at an angle, maybe 45 -60 degrees. So we're better off with a 4ppi saw for 1" stock.

= 6 tooth rule/[(stock thickness) x1.414 (the hypotenuse of a 45-45-90 triangle)]
=4.24 ppi

The next thing we must choose is rake. Rake is the angle the front of a tooth makes with an imaginary line intersecting the tips of the teeth. A tooth with 0 or no rake is perpendicular to the toothed edge of the saw. A saw with no rake will be more aggressive (and more difficult to start a cut) than a saw with 5 degrees of rake. When people talk about a "smooth" cutting saw, they are usually responding to a saw with a good bit of rake. A saw with a lot of rake will cut more slowly than a saw with less rake. Also, very hard woods don't respond well to aggressively filed saws with little or no rake to their teeth. If you work with very hard woods you'll benefit from saws with a bit more rake.

Lastly, we must choose the length of the saw. The length of the saw is based on the length of your stroke. I recommend kneeling on a saw horse holding a tape measure in your off hand against the top of the horse. Grab the end of the tape with your sawing hand and pull back as if you are pulling your saw back. Do this repeatedly, reading the tape each time. Choose a saw with a blade about this long. Always round up.

These saws are based loosely on the trade card of Thomas Hattam c. 1780, in Goodman's "The History of Woodworking Tools" (page 149). I'm going to make some minor tweaks to the handles and hardware. What I like about them are their very rectangular blade shapes. The shape of a saw blade greatly effects both the weight and balance of the saw. Rectangular saw blades help keep the teeth engaged in the cut, freeing you to put your energy into sawing.

Generally speaking, I find the 18th c saw styles to be superior to the later 19th c models. The reason is a little complicated. Saws cut by applying force behind the teeth. They don't really need or benefit from a force pushing the teeth down into the wood. Earlier saws typically have their handles designed to focus the sawyer's energy behind the teeth. Later styles had handles that were higher on the heel and focused a portion of the sawyer's energy into downforce, pushing the teeth down into the stock. I have a theory about why this is:

When saw teeth become dull, they ride up over the wood instead of cutting it. When that happens, downforce is required to re-engage the teeth. By making saw handles that used some energy for downforce, makers like Disston were able to produce saws that would go on cutting even when dull. This would be a very good feature for carpenters or craftsmen who lacked the ability to sharpen their own saws. Though the saw would cut slower when the saw was dull, more force could be applied and the cut could continue. I suspect all of us have at least one such saw in our garage or workshop.

18th c saw makers seemed to use the weight of the saw to produce downforce allowing all of the sawyer's energy to go into cutting. Over the last 4 years, I've compared these different styles side by side and found the 18th c style saws to be faster cutting. The downside is that when these saws become dull, they become almost unusable. I think the 18th c saws were designed for professional users who knew how to sharpen them and wanted maximum performance.

24-28" Half-rip Saw (top) $250
  • 24-28" long blade, .043 thick saw plate, 1095 steel, approx. 50 RcC,
  • simulated brass rivet with split nut hardware
  • 4-6ppi/3-5tpi(progressive pitch), rip, 0-5 degrees rake(progressive rake), moderate to heavy set
I designed this saw for ripping 4/4 to 5/4 pine and poplar. The 0 rake at the heel makes it cut very agressively. In an average chest of drawers, the soft secondary woods really dominate the sawing I have to do. I've been using a saw like this one for many years and I just couldn't work without it. I have pushed this saw to make 2" long cuts with a single stroke in 4/4 pine. In normal sawing, I expect to cut easily over 1/2" per stroke and 3/4" or 1" per stroke once I get moving. I'm currently having technical difficulties obtaining a good taper grind to the blade. This saw is not significantly taper ground. When purchasing this saw, please specify length.

24-28" Hand Saw (top) $250
  • 24-28" long blade, .032 thick saw plate, 1095 steel, approx. 50 RcC,
  • simulated brass rivet with split nut hardware
  • 7-9ppi/6-8tpi(progressive pitch), rip, 5-10 degrees rake(progressive rake), moderate set
I designed this saw for ripping 3/4 to 5/4 hardwoods. This is the first long saw I've made using .032" steel. I like it, but it does require a good consistent stroke. If you are new to sawing, I think this saw would be okay for you. Its just going to take a little getting used to and a little practice. Because of its thin steel and finely toothed blade, it will make quick work of thin pine and other softwoods. This saw is also not taper ground. Please specify length when purchasing this saw.

20" Fine panel Saw (not shown) $240
  • 20" long blade, .032 thick saw plate, 1095 steel, approx. 50 RcC,
  • simulated brass rivet with split nut hardware
  • 9-10ppi/8-9tpi, cross cut 20 degrees fleam, 15 degrees rake, moderate to heavy set
This is a saw no shop should be without. I use it to cross cut wide boards of any species or thickness. It's short length makes it ideal for work at the bench with a bench hook. I carry this with me when I go to the lumber yard incase I buy a board too long for my van and project. I can understand why some might not want to rip all their stock by hand. Ripping is hard work. But this little saw is so handy, I can't imagine a shop that wouldn't benefit from it. This saw is not taper ground.

About Taper Grinding
Taper grinding is a process that reduces the thickness of a saw blade gradually from full thickness at the toothed edge and where the handle mounts, to something less than that at the top of the saw. Its purpose is two-fold: It greatly reduces the weight of the saw, and it reduces friction in the kerf. Consequently, taper ground saws can benefit from requiring less set, resulting in a thinner kerf and a faster cutting saw.

Its unclear exactly how much taper was ground into the Seaton chest saws. The plates themselves were not terribly consistent in thickness. They may have had .005" of taper grind. Some may have had less. My saws may have .002". I think some Disston saws had .010" or more.

I made two saws, one tapered about .005", one not tapered, and filed both the same. The first thing I recognized was that the tapered saw was significantly lighter and also significantly lighter in the toe (since most of the material removed is at the toe). I'm not sure I loved that. In terms of friction, .005" may not be enough to make much difference. If the kerf doesn't close up on you, both saws will function comparably. If the kerf does close up, no amount of taper grind seems to help. The solution at that point is to wedge the kerf open. I set both saws the same, which, in retrospect was a mistake. I suspect I could have removed some set from the tapered saw and had a faster saw as a result. But setting a saw is a fairly imprecise process. Tapering a saw blade is a lot of work. Based on this very subjective experiment, I was demotivated to pursue taper grinding. I liked the heavier blade.

Where taper grinding really would help is on my panel saw. Boards with knots can sometimes close up on you and wedging open a cross cut isn't always fun. This happens more on pine than other species. Wedging is possible and paraffin wax from a burned up candle will help as well. I also sometimes restart the cut from the opposite edge. This can be a good idea anyway, since I find it difficult to maintain a square saw cut when the kerf is pushing your saw blade around. My solution was just to add a bit more set. Cross cuts are typically relatively quick work. So the time savings of a tapered blade may not be significant enough to justify the effort and cost of taper grinding.

I'm not sure how to advise you further. Armed with a familiarity of the issue, you should be able to ask around and see what other saw makers and saw users think.
Long Saws