Ever since I first saw the hand saws pictured in Joseph Smith’s ‘Key to the Various Manufactories of Sheffield’ I have been obsessed with them. A copy of the plate adorns the wall above my desk. The logo for my business is an image of the full size handsaw atop the plate. And I constantly refer to the entire book for inspiration and reference for any old tool.
One of the most striking elements of the saws shown in Smith’s Key is the cant, or tapering along the depth of the saw plate, shown in the backsaws. There is much speculation about this taper, including if it was a purposeful design feature, or the result of sharpening over time. (For more on this discussion, see Ray Gardiner’s writings at backsaw.net) I think the fact that Smith’s Key was a catalog of new tools is evidence enough that the taper was intentional on the part of saw makers. So the real question is what was its function?
Someone asked me this very question last weekend while I was giving a presentation on hand saws at the New England chapter meeting of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers. I have a number of opinions on the matter and they all relate to the function of the saw. It aids in cutting joinery, it makes the saw lighter and improves balance, and it changes the aggressiveness of the cut, just to name a few effects. Plus, it looks damn cool.
But what about the extreme cant shown in Smith’s saws? Especially the carcase saw??? That thing looks as slanted as a ski slope…would it really be helpful? A ‘normal’ amount of cant for a 12 inch backsaw seems to be around 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch along the length of the plate. By my calculations, Smith’s carcase saw shows well over 1/2 of taper….that’s extreme man! Is it exaggerated? Was the engraver drunk? Stoned? Blind? All three? Or perhaps he was the same guy that Moxon hired to make the plates for his book? (Don’t you love historical tool humor?)
Well I’ve been asking myself all of these questions for a while and I finally decided to seek an answer. So, I’m building the carcase saw from Smith’s Key. I was laying out the cut on the saw plate for the cant the other night and had to take a step back…it really is wild. This thing could turn out to be a 12 inch paint scraper!
Anyway, to me, resurrecting long forgotten tool forms is about as exciting as it gets, and this is a project I’ve wanted to tackle for a while, so I’m super pumped about it. I’ve got a crazy travel and teaching schedule coming up in the next couple of months, so I’ve got to get this little lady on the dance floor soon….
I can’t wait.