If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years it’s that handsaws are greater than the sum of their parts.

I think modern boutique tool makers have successfully resurrected many of the classic hand tools of our past, and in some cases, even surpassed the classic form and elevated them to new heights. Take one look at a Lie-Neilsen plane and you’ll know that Stanley never made anything quite so fine. You could say the same about chisels and countless other edge tools.

But what of handsaws?

There is much debate on whether any modern maker can achieve what Disston, Atkins, Simonds and others did a thousand times a day with ease not so long ago. Some would say it can’t be done and that cost would prohibit them from even trying. But I think there’s more to it than just cost. It has to do with energy and skill and desire.

On first inspection a handsaw may appear to simply be a wooden handle, a steel blade and some nuts, bolts and maybe even a metal back. But a handsaw is so much more. I have found that even the finest materials and most precise and exacting methods and workmanship are all for naught if the completed saw is not tuned, tensioned and filed properly. If nothing else, I think this is what sets saw making apart from other tools. Why do you think Stanley never made their own handsaws? They could make every other kind of woodworking tool, but they never even bothered with saws. Why? Because they knew that it was such a daunting task that they could never hope to eclipse companies like Disston who lived and breathed saws every day for years.

I have been consumed over the last few months with fully understanding the delicate relationship between all of the functional elements of saws. How does the back effect the tote….and the tote effect the plate…and the plate effect the toothline? Most hand tool makers know that a misaligned back will warp the toothline of a saw, but do they know that the tote can have the same effect?

The more time I spend working on saws…filing them, tuning them, repairing them….the more I realize that saws are not made, so much as they are born. Anyone can put the parts together and sharpen the teeth. What is truly elusive and what separates the finest tools from the rest is their spirit. This must be breathed into the steel and wood and come from a place deep inside the craftsman’s mind and heart. This knowledge and skill and passion is earned over a lifetime and when manifested in the saw makes it what it is. This is what the finest tool makers today strive to create with their tools, and it is what I labor for, as well.

I love saws. I live saws. I am hopelessly consumed by them. They fascinate me. The more I learn about saws, the more I see there is to learn.

I am always happy to share what I have learned. I will be teaching my saw building class this weekend in Connecticut at the CT Valley School of Woodworking and there are still a couple of spots open in class. If you’d like to join me on my journey, I will gladly share all I know. You can read more and register for class here.

2 Responses to “Spirit…”

  1. Pete Pedisich says:


    You said it, brother.
    A cake can have all the best ingredients, but in the hands of an inspired chef, it really comes to life.

    Now how they did it so well with dozens or hundreds of workers making so many models of saws over so many years for themselves and other companies is beyond me.


  2. Rick Roberts says:

    A class well worth taking, I might add!


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