I took a day off of work and hung out with Peter Follansbee
at his shop at Plimoth Plantation.
Peter and I had become friendly through the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool
Events around New England, and I had sharpened a couple of saws for
him. In the course of talking tools and shop, Peter showed me his
saws. One of them was a nice 14 inch backsaw that he used
occasionally for bench work like cutting tenon shoulders. I asked
him how he liked it, and he said that he had some difficulty using
it and that it was a bit uncomfortable.
After some conversation about what he’d like to change about the
saw, I shared with him some of my experiments and ideas for
improving the function of saws like this. I noted that by replacing
the original tote with one of an earlier English pattern, the saw
would be much more functional. Peter’s response was typical of his
no-nonsense approach: He put the saw in my hand and said, “Here…do
So I did.
After picking through some of my tote patterns and original saws, I
settled on this one…
…a Kenyon Sykes & Co. 18 inch tenon saw from c.1815. While
this saw is a bit bigger than Peter’s, I felt I could scale the
cheek down just a smidge to make it work.
Now that I had selected a pattern, I need to pick a nice piece of
wood. I have been squirreling away some gorgeous, wide holly from a
generous student and figured it would be perfect. After making the
tote, I fiddled a bit with the saw plate to accommodate the new
handle and introduced the new partners to each other.
Here’s a pic of the newly assembled saw with the old tote imposed on
You can see how much lower the tote is on the body of the saw plate,
and how much more vertical the grip is compared to the back and
toothline. This puts the thrust of the saw more behind the mass of
the plate and in line with the teeth. The result is a saw that
tracks better, starts easier and cuts more true. I was pleased with
results, and I hope Peter is too.
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