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
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.