Decoding Smith’s ‘Key’

The following article was recently published in ‘American Period Furniture, 2013′, the annual publication of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers . I wrote the article to chronicle my study of Joseph Smith’s ‘Key’. I also thought I would post it here. If you are not a member of SAPFM, you should join! Enjoy…

Joseph Smith was an English engraver working around the turn of the 18th century, and he is noted as having produced one of the Western world’s first tool catalogs, called formally, ‘Explanation or key, to the various manufactories of Sheffield, with engravings of each article’. He was not a tool maker, or dealer, as far as we can tell (Kebabian, 1975), and he was not a cabinet maker, joiner, or even a woodworker. Quite ironic then, that his work stands as perhaps the one of the most important historical records of the tools of period woodworkers.

The ‘Key’, first published in 1816, contains hundreds of images of all forms of edge tools from chisels and axes to planes and boring bits, not to mention flatware for the ladies of the time. The plate featuring the handsaws is quite profound, for it not only presents the images of the tools, but it names them and gives the available dimensions of each saw at the toothline.  And unlike the saws featured in Moxon, Fellibien, or Nicholson, the detail is outstanding.

 

I cannot recall when I first beheld the handsaws featured in Smith’s ‘Key’, but I do recall quite vividly how I felt. I was mesmerized. I had never seen anything like them before, and I would spend the next several years trying to understand them in every way that I could. But like any piece of archeological evidence, while the plate answers some questions about what period saws looked like, it asks so many more, such as how accurate are the engravings to begin with? Are the details like the tapering of the backsaw plates to scale? I also wonder if Smith used a particular saw maker’s wares as models for his engravings. This question may well be impossible to answer. And what of the reality of period engravings in general? One need only view Smith’s plate featuring the fillister and plough planes to have serious doubts about his ability to accurately capture a tool in proper dimension and scale. Are the saws in Smith’s ‘Key’ accurate?

After gazing at that single plate for hours on end, I wanted to find out these answers. And I wanted to know not just what the saws looked like, but I wanted to know how they felt in the hand, how they cut, and how they were made. So I set out to find actual saws matching the forms shown in the ‘Key’. Pictures of period saws would not do…I needed to hold the saws in my hand. I wanted to feel the grain and patina of the tote…smell the tarnish on the brass back…and know the weight and balance of the saws in my hand.

In my searches, I set out to find saws made in Sheffield between 1800 to 1820. I use this twenty year span based on three factors: 1) It is unclear as to when Smith actually engraved the plate featuring handsaws. It could have been as early as 1801, when he was commissioned by Peter Stubbs, noted Sheffield tool maker and wholesaler to create several plates for a catalog, but it could have been as late as 1816, when he himself published the entire ‘Key’ (Kebabian, 1975). 2) It is difficult at best to date any saw from the period to within a few years of its actual date of manufacturer due to the extremely limited amount of documentation and business records available. And finally, 3) Since tool forms were based on an entirely tradition bound culture, evolution was relatively slow. A common saw made in 1800 would likely feature the same shape and details as one made in 1810 or even later. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that we see the rapid changing and innovation in tool forms to respond to a more competitive market. And so, based on those parameters, over the last four years I found several examples of saws that match the forms shown in the ‘Key’.

I began with the 26 inch handsaw featured by Smith. I have collected half a dozen 26 inch handsaws over the last four years likely made in Sheffield and in the target years of 1800 to 1820. I have also handled twice as many more belonging to other collectors. This relatively large sample offers a rich palette of information for my study. The features of the Smith’s handsaw that distinguish it are as follows:

1) London pattern tote featuring a flat bottom hand grip.

The London pattern was a popular aesthetic detail of the time for saw totes. It was standard fare for most saws made in the late 18th and early 19th century. It is distinguished by the flat at the bottom of the tote grip, as opposed to the fish tail pattern that became the standard by the mid-19th century. Beech is almost always the wood species of these totes as well.

2) A protruding, narrow boss atop the tote cheek.

I use the term ‘boss’ to describe the peninsula of wood that protrudes from the foremost upper section of the tote. It is quite narrow for saws of this time, and is easily distinguished from later saws which feature a much wider protrusion, and which curve back down towards the toothline. Saws earlier than about 1780 or so do not feature this boss. Though saws earlier than this are quite rare, those known saws feature a completely rounded cheek and typically no protrusion at all.

3) A straight back saw plate with nib and soft radius on the nose.

The nib was also standard on almost all handsaws prior to the late 19th century, so it is of little help in dating an early saw. However, the shape of the nose of the saw plate is quite distinguishing. One can almost see the evolution from a very broad rounding at the nose (radius of 2 to 3 inches) to an almost square edge (radius of ¼ inch). The Smith’s saws have what could be determined to be a mid-point in the evolution from round to square. It appears to be a radius in the neighborhood of 1 inch.

Viewing the six full-size handsaws I was able to find as a whole, I was struck by a singular thought: they are remarkably uniform. Though each has slight variations in hang, detail, and execution of certain elements, it almost appears as if each maker was working from a singular and common pattern. This uniformity is certainly not unique to handsaws of this time, as we see this in tools more and more as we progress into the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, as many scholars have said before, the western world was becoming standardized. It seems handsaws were no exception.

So what does the collective uniformity of these saws, and their striking resemblance to the Smith’s plate, mean? To my mind it is a validation of the saw engravings on a whole. If Smith was accurate enough in his work to represent the handsaw so well, as clearly my found examples suggest, then it stands to reason that he represented each of the other saws just as well. And therein lies the value of Smith’s ‘Key’: these are not artistic interpretations of tools, or period representations limited by the engravers stroke and the printers plate, but near photographs of actual tools from that time. Knowing this, I was encouraged all the more on my quest to find examples of the other saws featured on the plate.

Not surprisingly, however, finding examples of the remaining forms proved much more difficult. Any saw collector will tell you that they find ten handsaws for every one backsaw, and as well, nine of those handsaws are 26 inches or more for every one panel saw (a handsaw of 16 to 24 inches at the toothline). I did most recently find this little panel saw at an auction and nearly fell over myself in excitement before acquiring it.

The tote bears an uncanny resemblance to the panel and grafting saws featured by Smith. This example can easily be dated to circa 1800, and may even be earlier.  This tote is a great example of what I call the ‘swept-forward’ design. The whole shape seems to lean forward slightly…just as in the ‘Key’. It is a subtle element, but one that is crucial to dating the tool.

 The saw blade of this small saw is not so encouraging though. It may well be a replacement, but I’m not convinced one way or the other. The marks on the plate suggest a very primitive working of the steel. It was likely rolled, as steel plate had been for a very long time by the 18th century, but it is crude by our standards. There is a small chance it could have been forged by a blacksmith on an anvil, but these saws are very rare even by 18th century standards. The later steel nut and bolt is obviously a replacement on this saw, but this was a very common repair to saws of this time. The hardware of the late 18th century was nowhere near as robust as that used in the 20th century and often broke or wore out soon after manufacture. Regardless, the saw is the real gem. The value of it lies in the tote itself….it is another validation of the form shown in the ‘Key’.

But what of the backsaws? Interestingly, this is where things get blurry. I have not been able to find an open-handled backsaw matching either of the forms in the ‘Key’. This includes both the dovetail saw and the carcase saw. This is not surprising as small backsaws of this vintage are exceptionally rare. They are delicate tools and do not survive easily. I have found two saws of roughly the same time period, but one is a bit earlier and one a bit later.

This dovetail saw, with its completely rounded tote cheek can be dated to the later 18th century, perhaps even as early as 1770. The Smith’s dovetail saw features a pointed cheek which became en vogue around the turn of the century. And the hang is far different.

The other dovetail saw I have found can be dated to the early 1820s or so, but the hang is much more horizontal. Hang is a term used to describe the angle of the tote relative to the back. It can generally be anywhere from 0 to 45 degrees. The earliest handsaws had a near perpendicular hang (0 degrees from the back). As time passed through the 18th, 19th and into the 20th century, the hang of most saws rotated more and more horizontal until it settled at about 35 degrees on most backsaws. It is the hang of Smith’s backsaws that I was so….hung up on. That, and the extreme cant, or tapering in width, of the saw plate along its length are what makes these saws so unique in form.

Of the larger backsaws–the sash and tenon saw–I have had similar mixed results. I have found several 14 inch backsaws of near identical form, but not one as early as the ‘Key’. They are more mid-18th century. I’ve also fared the same with the tenon saw. I have three examples, one of which is a good match, but all date from 20 to 30 years after Smith’s work. I have found one 18 inch backsaw made by Kenyon Sykes & Co of Sheffield that can be dated to c.1815. The saw is a fabulous example of a near extinct form, but alas, it features the rounded cheek common to earlier saws, not the pointed upper cheek of Smith’s.

This 16 inch tenon saw is strikingly similar to the one in Smith’s, but the maker’s mark indicates it was sold by Thomas Tillotson of Sheffield, who was in business in the 1850s. I think we can safely assume that the form was valid and endured some decades after Smith’s work.

But what of the carcase saw? There are examples here and there of contemporary saws…Benjamin Seaton’s chest comes to mind, as well as some of the saws in the Williamsburg collection, but they are not exactly the same. I was hell bent on trying to find one of these examples (without having to re-mortgage my house, of course), but they have proven elusive and just too rare. Left without an actual example to hold and examine, or even a picture to reference, I had only one option: if I wanted a carcase saw like Smith’s, then I would have to make it myself.

At this point, I felt reasonably confident to use the ‘Key’ as an accurate and scaled image of the actual tool. But before I could begin to shape the wood and metal parts, I would have to have a pattern to follow. And this was the truly exciting part…taking the image from the ‘Key’ and translating it into scaled patterns for the distinct parts. Those distinct parts are the tote, the back, and the saw plate.

I began with the tote, as this is the heart of every saw. To start, I enlarged the image from the ‘Key’ on a photocopier until the tote grip measured 3 and ½ inches between the horns. This is a roughly standard measurement on backsaws. My intent was not to simply copy the tote, but re-draft it with a bit of creative license to ensure its functionality and balance. You can see where I adjusted certain elements…

From here it was a simple process of adhering the pattern to an appropriate piece of quarter-sawn Beech and roughing it out on a bandsaw. I used stock of just under an inch thick, as this is a fairly standard dimension.

Next, I turned my attention to the back. The first couple of years that I stared at the ‘Key’ I was so focused on the taper of the saw blade, that I never even noticed the taper on the back. You will see that the back appears to taper from its tallest at the tote down towards the toe, where it is roughly 10 or 20 percent shorter. This would turn out to be a major element in the wonderful function of the saw, and I’m glad a fellow saw maker pointed it out to me. I decided to use a ¾ inch tall brass back and tapered it down to roughly 5/8ths of an inch at the toe. This was done with a hacksaw and files….a very laborious process!

Finally, I laid out the pattern for the saw plate, or blade, as it is also called. Again, just as with the back, it was crucial to get the proportions of the tapering in height, called ‘cant’, just right. I tapered the height of the blade from roughly 3 inches at the heel down to 2 and ½ inches at the toe.

After completing construction of the saw using traditional brass split saw nuts and polishing all of the parts, I turned my attention to the teeth. I decided to file the saw with a hybrid tooth pattern having 10 degrees of rake and 10 degrees of fleam. This allows the teeth to cut both with the grain for ripping and across the grain for cross-cutting. The teeth are spaced 14 points to the inch.

It took about two months of drafting, roughing out, shaping, refining and filing to create my first prototype of the carcase saw. Finishing it was a spectacular moment…anticipation, excitement and pure joy when I ran it through wood for the first time. Not only was I not disappointed with the results, I was blown away. The saw functioned with a refinement and precision that I could have never imagined. The tapering of the saw plate, coupled with the tapering of the brass back serve to lighten the saw as it progresses towards the toe. This lightening puts the mass of the tool more towards the heel and the tote. Much like a mid- or rear-engine sports car, this shifts the mass back towards your hand in the tote, so that in use it feels more connected to your hand and your arm. The result is that the saw feels like an extension of yourself. As such, it is more responsive, requires less conscious effort to push, and it much easier to track accurately.

Besides this taper, the cant of the saw tote is also unique. Most later and now more popular saws feature a hang more in the neighborhood of 35 degrees. This saw features a hang of about 20 degrees. This puts the thrust more behind the teeth in stead of above them. So instead of pushing them down into the work (which mostly frustrates the sawyer and disrupts accuracy) it pushes them forward and lets the weight of the saw create the necessary downward force to cut. This makes the saw smoother, more naturally accurate, and easier to use in general.

Without a doubt, the results of this experiment have been astounding. I have discovered a form of tool that I find superior in every way to the more common saws of later American makers. The only conundrum I find remaining is which saw from the ‘Key’ should I build next?

-Matt Cianci, The SawWright

Posted in Uncategorized on February 1, 2014 – 10:26 pm | Comments (4)

New Classes From East coast to West…

I’m teaching at two new schools this year,  including my very first trip to the West Coast for the Port Townsend School of Woodworking in Washington for June. I’ll also be in Albany at the Northeastern Woodworkers Association for September.

The Port Townsend School, founded by noted author and ww’er JimTolpin, is sure to be a blast…I worked closely with the faculty to create two very cool classes: a 5-day saw making/sharpening/restoration and use class titled, ‘Saw Making Fundamentals’ and a 2-day weekend class called, ‘Build a Dovetail Saw’. Check out all the details here:

Foundations of Handsawing – June 9 to 13

Build A Dovetail Saw – June 14 & 15

The Northeastern Woodworkers Association class will be ‘Saw Sharpening’ 101 on September 20th. If you’re interested, contact the school through their website: http://www.woodworker.org/aboutus.htm

I’ll also be teaching at CT Valley in Manchester, CT on May 17th. I’ve totally over-hauled and stream-lined my ‘Saw Sharpening 101′ class and it is better than ever. I’m a bit of a nut when it comes to teaching and I’m always pushing myself to make classes better and better. The new curriculum provides students with filing templates that greatly ease the learning process. Check out the details here: http://schoolofwoodworking.com/woodworking-classes.html#Speciality_Weekend_Classes

I’ve got lots of other exciting new projects for this year, and I’m finally digging out of my back-log of saw work. Stay tuned. ;)

-Matt

Posted in Uncategorized on January 26, 2014 – 2:30 pm | Comments (0)

A saw for Peter…

Last winter I took a day off of work and hung out with Peter Follansbee at his shop at Plimoth Plantation. Peter and I had become friendly through the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Events around New England, and I had sharpened a couple of saws for him. In the course of talking tools and shop, Peter showed me his saws. One of them was a nice 14 inch backsaw that he used occasionally for bench work like cutting tenon shoulders. I asked him how he liked it, and he said that he had some difficulty using it and that it was a bit uncomfortable.

After some conversation about what he’d like to change about the saw, I shared with him some of my experiments and ideas for improving the function of saws like this. I noted that by replacing the original tote with one of an earlier English pattern, the saw would be much more functional. Peter’s response was typical of his no-nonsense approach: He put the saw in my hand and said, “Here…do it.”

So I did.

After picking through some of my tote patterns and original saws, I settled on this one…

 

  …a Kenyon Sykes & Co. 18 inch tenon saw from c.1815. While this saw is a bit bigger than Peter’s, I felt I could scale the cheek down just a smidge to make it work.

Now that I had selected a pattern, I need to pick a nice piece of wood. I have been squirreling away some gorgeous, wide holly from a generous student and figured it would be perfect. After making the tote, I fiddled a bit with the saw plate to accommodate the new handle and introduced the new partners to each other.

Here’s a pic of the newly assembled saw with the old tote imposed on top…

 

You can see how much lower the tote is on the body of the saw plate, and how much more vertical the grip is compared to the back and toothline. This puts the thrust of the saw more behind the mass of the plate and in line with the teeth. The result is a saw that tracks better, starts easier and cuts more true. I was pleased with results, and I hope Peter is too.

 

Posted in Uncategorized on November 17, 2013 – 3:06 pm | Comments (13)

The sharp priorities…

When it comes to teaching saw sharpening, I generally recommend students  follow a hierarchy while developing their skills. By suggesting where to focus their attention first, it helps new filers get their saws sharp and cutting true with the shortest learning curve.

First, make sure all of the teeth are the same height. Jointing the saw before sharpening creates a visual “flat” on each tooth that guides this process. File until the flat is gone, but not a micro-spec further. At that moment, the tooth is sharp and it is equal in height to the rest of the teeth. Continue to file after the flat has disappeared and the tooth may remain sharp, but you have now filed it lower than the neighboring teeth. This tooth will then do no work in the kerf.

 

Once you’ve mastered this skill, you can turn your focus to evening your gullet depth, or tooth size. This is a more difficult skill for beginning filers to master. It requires mastery of your file stroke…knowing where and how to accentuate your stroke to remove more material from one face of a tooth while sparing a neighboring tooth.

The list goes on from there, but these are the two greatest elements in creating a toothline that functions smoothly and accurately. If all you accomplish is the first objective, then you’ll be able to make a saw cut true and smooth. For some, they stop there…they want to get back to making things out of wood, not fine tuning their saws. For others, they become obsessed with reaching the ACME of saw performance. There’s no right or wrong, just what works for you.

If you’d like to learn more about saw sharpening and are going to be in New England later this month, there are still 2 or 3 spots left in my upcoming ‘Saw Sharpening 101′ class at the CT Valley School of Woodworking on Saturday November 23rd. This class almost always fills up, so don’t wait. Details and registration here:

http://schoolofwoodworking.com/woodworking-classes.html#Speciality_Weekend_Classes

And I’m also very happy to announce that I’ve scheduled two classes next year at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking in Washington. I’ll be there in June 2014 for a week-long ‘Foundations of Handsawing’ course and a two-day ‘Build a Dovetail Saw’ .  I’m very excited to be coming to the West coast…I’ve heard Jim Tolpin’s school is fabulous. More details soon.

-Matt

Posted in Uncategorized on November 10, 2013 – 1:26 pm | Comments (1)

Plimoth saws

 Last month I was at Plimoth Plantation teaching saw sharpening to the carpenters in the museum, along with Peter Follansbee (joiner in residence) and Mark Achison (presiding blacksmith). It was a blast. One of several highlights of the day was when Mark pulled out some old saws that had been in the museum’s collection for a while. He knew nothing about them.

This backsaw is marked ‘Kenyon’ and one of the earliest saws I have ever held. It’s easily from the middle to late 18th century. This is a fantastic example of what a cabinet maker’s tenon saw would have looked like when Paul Revere was giddy-upping through Boston with his lantern. I’m telling myself that since it was found in Massachusetts, it was likely there at the time. :)

Notice the distinctive, fully rounded cheek that attaches the tote to the saw plate, and the extreme (by our standards) taper, or cant, of the depth of the blade.

This big saw measured 20 inches at the toothline, but was remarkably light in my hand and did not seem large at all. This is one of the main reasons I love this tapering feature…it makes longer saws feels more compact and balanced.

Mark also showed me this full size handsaw marked ‘Thompson & Co’. I dated the plate to about c.1820, but the tote screams 18th century. Again, the rounded tote says it all. By the 19th century, the pointed tote cheek we’re familiar with was all the rage.

I think the shape of the saw and replacement hardware obviously tell us that this is not the original plate. But the tote is a draw-dropper for sure. I could stare at these two beauties all day long…

Thanks for sharing Mark. :)

-Matt

Posted in Uncategorized on November 3, 2013 – 2:23 pm | Comments (3)

Lie-Nielsen

They say when it rains, it pours. Well, if that’s the case, then I guess I’m all wet.

I’ve been busy finishing up the last few Smith’s carcase saw orders…

Teaching saw sharpening at Plimoth Plantation…

And working on some special projects plus my usual spoon carving habits when I can steal a few minutes here are there. But I am taking some time out this weekend to attend the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at Greenwich Wood Products in Cranston, RI. You can check out the details here: http://www.lie-nielsen.com/?pg=134

I’ll be there on Saturday with some DVDs and t-shirts for those interested in supporting my wife and kids…none of whom generate income, but all consume it quite readily. ;) I’ll probably bring some saws along too.

Between stuffing my face with Mike’s oven fired pizza and hand crafted beer, I’ll catch up with the guys and gals from L-N, and if I get drunk enough (the last beerI had from Mike had 13% alcohol content!!!!) I might even try to sneak some of their smaller tools into my pockets and make off inconspicuously.

It should be fun. Hope to see you there.

:) Matt

Posted in Uncategorized on October 10, 2013 – 11:39 am | Comments (2)

Fleam

Next month I’ll be at Plimoth Plantation teaching a private class on saw sharpening for the artisans department. In conversing back and forth with one of the carpenters at the living museum, I inquired about their use of fleam. This got me thinking and digging up all of my old books and sources of info on fleam and its origins. Fleam (not to be confused with phlegm) is the knife edge of a crosscut saw tooth that efficiently severs cross grain wood fibers. 

I’m fascinated with trying to figure out when fleam came into use. In the saw world (all 20 or so of us) it’s almost as contentious as the nib, but not quite. I’ve heard that the craftsman at Colonial Williamsburg don’t use it on their saws at all….they apparently have not uncovered any evidence of its use much before the 19th century. But I’m not convinced.

I think fleam may well have been in use for a great long time…even bef0re the 18th century. My argument is simple. Before the Industrial Revolution, craftsmen used handsaws every day, all day long and they knew them intimately. And their knowledge of their tools was second probably only to their practical understanding of wood.  I think these close relationships would have easily lead them to the effective use of fleam. There may well be no way to know this for sure, as every antique saw has likely been refiled many times, there by obliterating any pre-industrial evidence of fleam’s existence. And as for fleam not appearing in the written record of the craft before the 19th century, this is a thin argument at best. The use of fleam by craftsman may have been so common place, that no one thought to make a formal report of it.

The alternative argument suggests that it was only during the declining use of handsaws in the 19th century that craftsman discovered fleam? I don’t think so. I generally regard the 19th century as the time when tools began to devolve, not evolve. I think the only thing about tools that improved in the 19th c. is our technical ability to describe and define their function on a more specific level. We didn’t discover fleam in the 19th century….we learned how to quantify and examine it.

Any way, that’s my thinking thus far. I’d really love to hear from all you handsaw geeks out there. What’s your thinking? Please post a comment and lets see where this goes.

Always exciting! :)

-Matt

Posted in Uncategorized on September 7, 2013 – 3:04 pm | Comments (4)

The secrets they tell us…

I think our tools have secrets to tell us…if we are keen enough to listen to them. This is one of the reasons why I almost always prefer antique tools over new ones. Not to say that new tools don’t have secrets….quite the contrary. Saws in particular seem to have many little important bits they can whisper in our ears.

Take the much debated nib on a handsaw, for example. What does this little protrusion tell us about saws? I think it tells us that tradition is very important when it comes to tools. Here’s why:

It is generally accepted that the nib is a decorative element and all that remains from the aesthetic origins of the modern form. The western handsaw tradition can be traced back to early Continental saws of the 16th and 17th century which feature elaborate scroll work on the nose of the saw plate. Saws at this time were almost completely hand wrought, and these beautiful designs were the craftsman’s mark of quality and pride. Over the next 200 years or so, as steel plate and saw production became more mechanized, we see these elaborate designs become less ornate and simpler and simpler, until their culmination in the vestigial nib that became standard on almost all 18th and 19th century western saws.

So what does this mean? It means, first, that tools evolve. Every tool has a predecessor….a very similar previous form that had something added, or taken away, or both. And most of the time, for good reason. In the case of the nib, I think its fairly simple: aesthetic tradition. As saws became more and more machine made they became less and less a representation of the craftsman’s individual skill, and so there was no need, or warrant, for decoration. And to retain the elaborate scroll work on a more mass produced item would require an inordinate amount of labor for almost no return. But, because tradition governed all things in the trades, it could not be outright discarded. And so the nib remained as a nod to the saws origins.

OK…so who cares, you say? Well, I say if you’re going to work wood in any creative way, then you need to understand and respect tradition. If you want to build functional, durable furniture or wooden goods, then you’d damn well recognize that someone of the same basic form came before you and did it better than you. You can choose to heed their wisdom and benefit from it, or stray from it at your own peril. And if you challenge it, then you’d better have a good reason, because it is very difficult to argue with hundreds or thousands of years of success. This is one reason I hate power tools; they isolate me from the wisdom of my those craftsman before me.

So, as far as I’m concerned, the nib is completely functional: it serves as a visual reminder to me every time I pick up a saw that there were countless craftsmen before me who faced the same problems and either succeeded, or failed, based on their ability to respect the wisdom of their fathers and mothers.

Posted in Uncategorized on August 29, 2013 – 3:22 pm | Comments (3)

The table saw?

The debate over what the heck a table saw should be used for has raged for a while now. I made one a while ago (here and here) and have been using it around the house and in my shop since then, and whether or not I know what it was truly designed for, its proven to be very handy.

Yesterday I had an hour or so to build the carcase for a utility cabinet to go around the electrical panel in our basement. I hastily cut and nailed the box together with clear white pine and cut rosehead nails, but was stymied when the whole thing wouldn’t fit around the wires running into to the top of the panel. I needed to relieve the whole upper part of the carcase. Hmmm…a job for my table saw?

I hastily scribed a pencil line in a gentle arc that would give ample clearance for the wires and grabbed my table saw. I was able to track the line pretty easily. I would say this was the absolute limit of an arc this saw is able to cut. I think if I set the teeth and ground the blade further I could track a tighter curve.

Is this a table top? No. Is it a table, or scarf joint? No. Am I pruning on a gardeners table. No. But the saw worked like a charm in this instance…quick and easy.

After we figure out who killed JFK and how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie-Pop, maybe we can turn our attention to what the ‘table’ in table saw really means. But until then, I’m just going to use mine like a narrow bladed handsaw and use it however I dang well please.

-Matt

Posted in Uncategorized on July 14, 2013 – 3:23 pm | Comments (2)

Fear and Loathing in St. Louis…

Whenever I teach a class, I convince myself that the students hate me, and that they’re going to tie me up and beat their tuition out of me in retaliation for the cockamamie things I’m talking about.

Reality has, however, proven to be quite the opposite. To date, the most traumatic actual response to a class of mine was when one student asked me to re-file the saw he built, as he wanted it to be perfect. I guess that’s not so bad.

So why do I still beat myself up during and after every class? No idea.

Take my recent 2-day class on ‘Building a Backsaw’ in St. Louis, MO with the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild. I had a fantastic time. It was 12 guys packed into a chicken coop (literally) in sweltering heat banging on chunks of metal and wood, while intermittently stuffing their holes with donuts, fried chicken, Italian subs and Diet Mountain Dew. And I loved it. The guys were fun, eager to learn, and exceptionally tolerant  of my twisted brand of humor. But I still left feeling like they wanted to break in their new saws by disemboweling me.

So how shocked was I when my host in St. Louis, the incomparable Kilted Woodworker, Ethan Sincox,  told me that the members all agreed after I left that it was the best class or seminar they have offered to date.

Well crap. I didn’t expect that. Especially since past teachers at the Guild have included people like Frank Klaus. Yes…the Frank Klaus.

Ok. Maybe my classes aren’t that bad. But they are cockamamie. After all, some of my instructions to struggling students include gems like, ‘Bang it harder’ or ‘Get a bigger hammer’.

The truth is, building a backsaw is like nothing else you’ve ever done in woodworking. Heck, half the class isn’t even about wood…it’s about metal: brass and steel. Its challenging. Its exciting. And its sometimes frustrating. But its fun.

So, if you’re not doing anything on July 20th and 21st and you are up for a trip to Connecticut, then you’re in luck, because my ‘Build A Backsaw’ class still has spots open. (Clock’s ticking though….you need a few days to get your saw kit)

And you have my personal guarantee that if it isn’t one of the best damn classes you’ve ever taken, then you can drive me out to the middle of nowhere and beat the ever loving snot out of me. Promise. ;)

-Matt

Class details and registration at: http://schoolofwoodworking.com/woodworking-classes.html#Speciality_Weekend_Classes

P.S. Can’t make it to CT? Then check out my super-cool new DVD with Popular Woodworking Magazine, ‘Build a Custom Backsaw with Matt Cianci’ (Sorry. Middle-of-nowhere beating guarantee not included)

Posted in Uncategorized on July 9, 2013 – 3:54 pm | Comments (3)