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Japanese Saws


Learn How. Discover Why. Build Better. - Christopher Schwarz


Premium Dovetail Saws
Copyright 2008. Originally appeared in the Fine Tool Journal

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Three Western saws that work straight out of the box and have similar price tags Ė yet their details make the choice a tough one.

Three stylish saws for cutting dovetails:
The Wenzloff & Sons Kenyon-style saw (left),
the Gramercy Tools saw and the Lie-Nielsen progressive-pitch saw.

As someone who has inspected some respectable dovetails made using a hacksaw, I might not be the right person to review dovetails saws that cost more than $100.

In fact, for many years I subscribed to the notion that the best dovetail saw was one where first you re-toothed, resharpened and re-set the teeth. And then you rasped the snot out of the handle so it stopped biting your hand when you gripped it. After all, that was the kind of saw that I had learned on Ė back in the dark ages of new hand tools.

Today, we have a bounty of choices when it comes to picking a dovetail saw, both Western-style and Japanese. And the quality is so good that you donít have to send your saw out for surgery as soon as you take it out of the box.

For this simple and pleasant fact, we have to thank the Japanese. When Western saw manufacturing turned to junk, Japanese sawmakers filled the need for joinery saws and most woodworkers in North America turned to Japanese saws. And I was one of those woodworkers.

Unlike the Western saws made in the 1980s and 1990s, Japanese saws worked right out of the box. They cut straight and true, and were usually cheaper than their ham-handed cousins from the Western Hemisphere.

But Japanese saws have always had a flaw. In my opinion, the teeth and the blade are too delicate. Even after personal instruction from a Japanese sawmaker, Iíve snapped many teeth and bent many blades.

Part of the problem is that some Western woods are difficult for Japanese saws to cut. Ring-porous woods, such as white oak, tend to rip teeth off the sawplate. The rest of the problem is most likely user error.

So when Independence Tool first launched its new Western-style dovetail saw in the 1990s, it was in a market that had turned against the home team. But after Lie-Nielsen Toolworks acquired the Independence brand and expanded the line, Western saws began to make a comeback.

And in the last two years, things have improved even more. In addition to the Lie-Nielsen saws, Wenzloff & Sons (a company in Oregon) has launched a complete line of Western saws, and Gramercy Tools (the house brand of Tools for Working Wood in Brooklyn, N.Y.) has introduced a pistol-grip dovetail saw to compete with other premium saws.

So now there is good reason to give a close look at the category of premium dovetail saws. Itís no longer just a competition between Lie-Nielsen and a Lennox hacksaw blade. For this test, Iíve given three brands of premium Western saws a serious workout cutting dovetails (I didnít have an Adria saw on hand for the test, Iím afraid).

I was surprised at how well they all worked and how different they all were. Donít be mistaken, all cut wood quite well. But each saw feels different in the hand and offers a different cutting experience.

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Dovetail Saws


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