The venerable sash saw…

Of all the tool forms lost to antiquity over the last century, I think the sash saw is one of the greatest casualties. These traditional 14 inch backsaws are true work horses because they can rip and crosscut thanks to a combination of aggressively raked and moderately fleamed teeth.

My own experimentation with sash saws started some time ago when I read about them in Holtzapfell.  He describes a sash saw as being 14 to 16 inches at the toothline and having a 0.028 thick saw plate, 2.5 to 3.5 deep with 11 points per inch. And Joseph Smith, a contemporary of Holtzapfell’s, shows a sash saw in his ‘Key to the manufactories of Sheffield’ here…

So we know what a sash saw looks like, and its basic form and tooth geometry, but what is it like in use? This was the question I asked myself next…and I decided to find an answer.

Over the following few months, I started filing and using 12 and 14 inch backsaws with aggresive rake and moderate fleam to accomplish both ripping and crosscutting. I eventually settled on 8 to 10 degrees of tooth rake and 10 degrees of fleam. I found that saws with thinner plates and finer tooth spacing could handle more aggressive rake with great results (like 8 degrees) and conversely, saws with thicker plates and coarser spacing needed 10 degrees to keep them smooth in the kerf.

The results? Well, they blew me away. I started doing all my work with only one saw…no more switching saws to cut the cheeks then the shoulders of tenons. The sash saw handled them both with ease and speed. No more cluttering my bench with multiple saws to dimension blocks of apple and beech for making tote repairs….I could rip and crosscut handy pieces without even putting the saw down, let alone switching tools.

So what came next was interesting…I started getting a number of customer requests to “fix” their 14 inch rip-filed backsaws which they were unhappy with. Upon asking them what was wrong, they simply stated that they didn’t like the way they cut…that they were rough and hard to use. My solution: how about a traditional sash saw filing to ease the action? Here’s an example from a past post…Custom Filing a Backsaw.

I started to get more and more and more of these “rough” saws to tune up and it seemed that the secret was matching a combination of rake and fleam to the work. And in every case, it worked like a charm…their saws were smoother, easier to start, and could now cut with and across the grain. And it seemed like it was almost always 14 inch saws.

Now, it seems like not a week goes by that I don’t get a 14 inch backsaw in the shop for a tune-up along with the owner looking for suggestions on its filing. My answer? You got it: sash saw.

In fact, a customer who recently asked for my recommendations on what first handsaw to purchase was shocked to hear my response…not a dovetail saw? Not a crosscut saw? Carcase saw? Nope, nope and n-o-p-e.

Sash saw.



9 Responses to “The venerable sash saw…”

  1. So, where can I buy a sash saw? Is this a teaser for the new saws you will be selling soon?

  2. Keith says:

    Looks like I lucked out. Knowing less than zero about saws at the time, my first backsaw just happened to be a sash saw. It was so useful as found (I was lucky that it was both sharp and clean) that I couldn’t understand why people used different backsaws for different tasks. It wasn’t until I found your blog, with it’s copy of Joseph Smith’s illustration that I even knew what kind of saw I had. By the way, I’m turning into a saw junkie. I blame you ;D

  3. jim ballew says:

    I read this blog and then the one on custom filing a backsaw and then the one on angles you did almost a year ago. All of the great and loaded with information. my question is based on hang, plate thickness, and weight of the back, and proably a couple more factors, have you come up with a formula for rake, angle and pitch to file a saw?

    • matt says:

      Hi Jim

      Thanks for the support…glad you are enjoying the blog.

      I do have certain combinations of tooth geometry that I like, and I do match them to certain plate thicknesses and tote hangs. I’m not sure I would call them ‘formulas’…that implies that the result would be absolute based on the values of the components…there are too many variable at play.

      I’ve found in 9 times out of 10, regardless of plate thickness, tote hang or tooth spacing, 10 degrees of rake and 10 degrees of fleam is the magic combination for sash saws.


  4. Jason says:

    Matt: I agree. When I started out in woodworking, I bought a dovetail saw, a carcass saw, a sash saw, a tenon saw, and a miter box with a 30 inch backsaw.

    In practice, what do I actually use? The dovetail saw, sash saw and the miter box saw. (You sharpened the last one for me and it became a favorite!) The sash saw has the hybrid filling you are talking about and it will cut anything.

    As my skills continue to get better, I’m sure I could do everything I need with just the sash saw…but I like the others too much to get rid of them.

  5. Matt,
    Is that a LN tenon saw you re-worked to be a sash saw? What are your thoughts on the saw blade being angled at the toothline from toe to heel? To my thinking it is an aid for keeping your cut parallel front to back?

    • matt says:

      Hi Ralph

      Yes….thats a L-N 14 inch tenon saw that I re-filed for a local customer.

      If you are referring to canted blades, then I’m a big fan. :)


  6. [...] all of the students had been reading the blog and were enamored with the idea of a traditional sash saw that could both rip and crosscut with [...]

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