Joseph Smith’s Carcase

The last two weeks have been a bit of a blur (I was sick), but somewhere in the mix I managed to finally finish my carcase saw based on Joseph Smith’s ‘Key to the Manufactories of Sheffield’, a work I have obsessed over for years thanks to its images of early 19th century handsaws.

The moment the wax was dry on the tote, I started grabbing anything and everything in my shop to try out the cut….scrap wood, electrical cords, small animals, even a vagrant that likes to hang out in my neighborhood and wanders into my shop occasionally….they all went under the teeth of my new saw to test its metal. And what fun I had!!!

This saw is simply amazing. The balance, the hang of the tote, the cut of the sash filed teeth (10 degrees of rake, 10 degrees of fleam, 14 ppi)…everything about this saw is perfect. This saw makes me want to sell every other backsaw in my shop and finally commit to saw monogamy. That’s right….no more scurrying around hotel parking lots in the wee hours. No more hiding ATM receipts and credit card charges from my wife. And no more elaborate measures to cover up internet evidence of infidelity….I’ve finally found the perfect partner. And I owe it all to Joseph Smith.

If I were a saw maker, this is the saw I would build and put into the hands of every person crazy enough to buy one.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this saw is the tapering….both of the saw plate (meaning the cant) and of the brass back. In one of my previous posts about this project, Peddar (of Two Lawyers Toolworks) was astute enough to point out that not only the saw plate is tapered, but the back too. How strange that in all the years of staring at the image of this saw that I never noticed the taper on the back. I think I was so struck by the extreme cant of the plate that I overlooked the back. As soon as Peddar mentioned it, I smacked my self in the head and spent the following few hours cutting, filing, sanding, polishing and getting the taper of the back perfect. And what a difference! The reduction in weight is astounding and the balance of the saw is amazing….it has the mass in all the right spots and none of that toe-heaviness that makes backsaws so awkward to start. Simply awesome.





As I was busy crosscutting and ripping everything in my house to shreds, I was amazed at how refined I found the saw to be in use. I think we often make the mistake in thinking that something 200 years old has to be antiquated, or primitive, but quite the opposite seems to be true with the design of this saw. All of the lines and functional elements of this saw are completely harmonized and practical. I think this style of saw may have been the peak of backsaw evolution, and the tools that became common in the American saw boom were de-evolved and watered down copies of tools that were once perfect. I think many of us have seen evidence of this in other tool forms….mass production destroyed the perfection of many things. And this was one of the main reasons why I have wanted to make this saw for so long….it looked truly different from any other saw that I have ever seen or used and I wanted to find out why.

Even though I only got to use the saw for a couple of hours before I had to pack it up and ship it off to St. Louis (where I’m teaching a two-day saw making class) I clearly understand now that not only does it look different, but it IS different in every way. I have done a tremendous amount of research on old saws and compiled every scrap of information and evidence I have of how old saws were made and what they were like, both from books, articles, and others’ research, and from original saws in my own collection, and poured it all into this carcase saw. The result, I am very happy to say is simply awesome. I’m blown away. I can’t wait to bring the saw back home and use the hell out of it and continue to unlock its secrets.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Over the next year or so, I’m going to build a replica of every saw featured in Smith’s Key. I can’t wait to see what ole Joe show’s me next. It’s going to be a blast.

And if you’d like to build a backsaw of your own, I’m teaching another two-day saw making class this summer at the CT Valley School of Woodworking. Details and registration onĀ  my website ( and at CT Valley School’s site. This is the fourth time I’ve taught this class at CT Valley and it just keeps getting better. :)


18 Responses to “Joseph Smith’s Carcase”

  1. You have no idea how good I’ve been, not using that thing to cut the corned beef we had for dinner last night, or the plastic cable holding the yard waste bags together, or the Hershey’s kiss I was dividing up to share with Finley, or… some wood… I guess.

    Not. sure. how. much. longer. I. can. hold. out.

    Also, brilliant bloody pictures, Matt. ;)



  2. Pedder says:

    Hi Matt, she’s looking great!

    Cheers Pedder
    (without any a)

  3. Matt,

    That is a truly beautiful saw. If you would like to make me one, or send that one, so that I can give a personal review, I would be happy to comply.

    Great job.


  4. Joshua Schickman says:

    Hi Matt,

    Looks great! Besides the 12 in length, and 1/2″ cant you mentioned on the last post, do you mind giving the rest of the dimensions – i.e. the height of the blade and the thickness of the back at the the toe and at the the tote respectively? What thickness plate did you end up using?

    • matt says:


      I’m not much for measuring…I shape and design by eye, so I’d have to get those dimensions directly from the saw, which is in Missouri at the moment enticing (hopefully) soon-to-be students.

      I can tell you that the saw plate is 0.020 inches thick.


  5. Jamie Bacon says:

    WOW!!! That saw is STUNNING!!! I REALLY need to find a source for brass backs. Seeing this and reading about it makes me want to build one so badly. That handle looks incredibly comfortable. It’s similar to the way I shape mine as far as the lack of the major bump where your palm fits and the more rounded edges than most handles you see. This is my type of saw. Well done!!!

  6. John Hayes says:

    Matt – the Smith carcase saw looks awesome. I know you posted that you didn’t want to make any for sale, but let me know if you change your mind.

  7. Jason says:

    This saw is really amazing. Your enthusiasm really sells it. So when do the kits come out? ;)

  8. Mitch Wilson says:

    Okay, Matt, so is this the saw that you are now going to make when you teach the course at Connecticut Valley, or are you going to continue with the pedantic sash saw that you had us make? (Which, by the way, I really love, but this new/old one….whoo boy!)

  9. Ron Bontz says:

    Well, what can I say. I am not familiar with Smith saws. But I love the smooth flowing curves of this saw handle. Soft corners with a rounded grip.More natural to the hand. I am, of course, biased to a rounded style. Good job of tapering the spine. They can some times warp when doing that. Just an over all excellent job. Perhaps I’ll drive to Missouri and confiscate that saw. At least long enough to scan it.:):) Ok,ok,just kidding. Or not:):)Best wishes. Ron

  10. Jamie Bacon says:

    Oh wow; so that’s a slotted back? I was wanting folded brass backs, but that looks pretty darn good from the pictures.

  11. Jamie Bacon says:

    Did you round over the top of the back to make it look like a folded back? In the picture, it looks that way rather than a square or beveled top.

    • matt says:

      Yes Jamie…the back is all hand shaped. It is brass bar stock which is completely square all around…a lot of hand work to taper, round, smooth, etc. Its made to look like a folded back for authenticity.


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