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Vintage back saws - tooth pattern

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tibi

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Hello,

I have just bought two back saws from ebay. One is 14" crosscut saw with 11 tpi and the other is 12" 12 tpi rip saw. I am going to restore both.

Do you think that I will gain an advantage if I swap the tooth patterns, i.e. change the 14" saw to rip and 12" saw to a crosscut pattern? Because tenon saws tend to be longer than carcass saws in general.

Thank you.
 

Jacob

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Why bother? It's much easier to sharpen a saw to the same pattern. Do you desperately need a 2" longer ripping back saw? Are planning some 12" wide tenons?
 

tibi

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Why bother? It's much easier to sharpen a saw to the same pattern. Do you desperately need a 2" longer ripping back saw? Are planning some 12" wide tenons?
Thanks Jacob. Not really at the moment, I am on the side of keeping the same pattern, but I just wanted to make sure that I will not miss the extra length somewhere. My tenons will be maybe 6" wide at most.
 

deema

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No point as Jacob said and I’d sharpen both rip. There is very little difference in blow out between the two, or effort involved in sawing. An extra stroke of the sharpening file and you can change it back to have fleam or RIP.
 

D_W

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I'd use them as-is, but you can do whatever you want. I don't think you'll find much time gained or lost with either if you leave the teeth as is or switch them.

Keep in mind that there's a big fascination with large tenon saws thanks to some blog gurus. The reality is that if we have large tenons to cut (large bench legs, large wood framing, etc), we use a handsaw instead of a large tenon saw for several reasons:
1) the handsaw is something we'd already have on hand and will have more uses. Cutting something relatively small vs. the saw (like a large tenon) doesn't create issues with the saw needing a back to avoid bending in the cut - it just doesn't really come into play
2) its' faster on large tenons than a much shorter "large tenon" saw
3) cutting furniture sized tenons with large tenon saws (especially smaller stuff like face frames, etc) gets awkward and a smaller saw is functionally just as fast
 

Cheshirechappie

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I've found that the old designations of 'dovetail', 'carcass', 'sash' and 'tenon' do make a lot of sense for someone doing hand only work.

For furniture scale work, the small (say 8" or 10") fine-toothed dovetail saw filed rip, the mecium (12") carcass filed crosscut, and the larger (14") sash filed rip are probably the most useful - the dovetail for small joints (including small tenons), and the carcass used in conjunction with a bench-hook for crosscutting pieces to length at the bench being the most used, and the sash only when larger joints are encountered.

The old designation of tenon - about 16" to 20" long and used for large tenons found in house-fitting and similar scale work would be of use for a joiner, but pretty well all joiners cut joints with machinery these days.

Thus, I'd file the 14" rip, the 12 " crosscut, and look for a small 10" to file rip to complete the kit of backsaws. However, as said above, filing all of them rip would work fine too - and make the sawfiling a bit easier.
 

IWW

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I've found that the old designations of 'dovetail', 'carcass', 'sash' and 'tenon' do make a lot of sense for someone doing hand only work......
Well, they may make sense to you Cc, but I've yet to find a clear & consistent definition of any of the above. :)

If you mean that we should have saws that we personally find just right for doing each of those jobs, I fully agree! Backsaws come in a bewildering number of sizes, lengths & tooth pitches, rip, X-cut & "in between". 'Twas ever thus, & I propose that's because we each develop our own preferences in saws. As D-W said above, a certain guru was espousing whopping great saws for fine work a few years ago, which I found strange - what is the point of pushing around twice as much metal as you need for the job? Length matters for comfortable sawing, you want a saw that is long enough to give you a good full stroke, and that depends on your anatomy and preferred working height. Sawing with a very short saw gives a choppy, tiring style, and if the board width is more than half the length of the tooth line, some teeth won't exit the cut on each stroke to dump their load of sawdust. It's largely a matter of what you begin with & get used to, but I find a tall saw is harder to place intuitively on the plane of the cut, & it's not the one I'd reach for to cut any tenons in furniture-scale work. Here I'd use either a 10" or 12" saw with 2 1/2 & 3" depth of cut respectively. For dovetailing & small tenons, I prefer a 9" saw about 2" deep & 15tpi; it's light & maneuverable and the surface it leaves allows me to fit off-saw, as demanded by the old cabinetmaker who mentored me in my early days. I do own a hefty 14 x 4" which is handy for sawing very large tenons etc, & as pointed out by D-W, there is nothing wrong with using a handsaw for cutting large, deep tenons (actually, I prefer a panel saw if the job's too deep for my largest tenon saw). These are simply my preferences, your mileage will vary!

My advice is to find saws that suit your sawing style & the scale of work you generally undertake, keeping the above criteria in mind. This may take time & your preferences will almost certainly change as you gain more experience, but that happens with many (most?) other hand tools. Tooth pitches & patterns matter, of course, but it's a complex business & I could prattle on for pages about that aspect. To keep it simple - with pitches finer than about 15tpi, the difference between the quality or speed of cut from a crosscut or rip pattern is too minor to matter to the average person (it didn't matter to Tage Frid, who was a reasonably competent woodworker :)). With larger tooth sizes & in some woods, tooth pattern can make a huge difference to cross-cutting, but if your work style is to whack off a piece with a comfortable margin & trim to the line on a shooting board, speed of cut is probably more important to you than quality, so any old saw will do if it's sharp. A poorly-filed crosscut can be both hard to control and make a more ragged cut than a sharp rip saw of equivalent pitch. If you need/want to cross-cut cleanly & close to a line, a suitably-pitched & well-sharpened crosscut can make all the difference.

It is much easier to learn to sharpen a ripsaw tolerably well, so these are where you should start. For a beginner it makes sense to have your crosscuts, at least, sharpened professionally at first. You can touch them up lightly between major sharpens & sets which extends the time between spending money & gets you started on saw sharpening. Most amateurs, just don't get enough practice to become really proficient, but most can learn to do an acceptable job & even a not-so-well-sharpened saw cuts far better than a dull one!
Cheers,
Ian
 

tibi

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Well, they may make sense to you Cc, but I've yet to find a clear & consistent definition of any of the above. :)

If you mean that we should have saws that we personally find just right for doing each of those jobs, I fully agree! Backsaws come in a bewildering number of sizes, lengths & tooth pitches, rip, X-cut & "in between". 'Twas ever thus, & I propose that's because we each develop our own preferences in saws. As D-W said above, a certain guru was espousing whopping great saws for fine work a few years ago, which I found strange - what is the point of pushing around twice as much metal as you need for the job? Length matters for comfortable sawing, you want a saw that is long enough to give you a good full stroke, and that depends on your anatomy and preferred working height. Sawing with a very short saw gives a choppy, tiring style, and if the board width is more than half the length of the tooth line, some teeth won't exit the cut on each stroke to dump their load of sawdust. It's largely a matter of what you begin with & get used to, but I find a tall saw is harder to place intuitively on the plane of the cut, & it's not the one I'd reach for to cut any tenons in furniture-scale work. Here I'd use either a 10" or 12" saw with 2 1/2 & 3" depth of cut respectively. For dovetailing & small tenons, I prefer a 9" saw about 2" deep & 15tpi; it's light & maneuverable and the surface it leaves allows me to fit off-saw, as demanded by the old cabinetmaker who mentored me in my early days. I do own a hefty 14 x 4" which is handy for sawing very large tenons etc, & as pointed out by D-W, there is nothing wrong with using a handsaw for cutting large, deep tenons (actually, I prefer a panel saw if the job's too deep for my largest tenon saw). These are simply my preferences, your mileage will vary!

My advice is to find saws that suit your sawing style & the scale of work you generally undertake, keeping the above criteria in mind. This may take time & your preferences will almost certainly change as you gain more experience, but that happens with many (most?) other hand tools. Tooth pitches & patterns matter, of course, but it's a complex business & I could prattle on for pages about that aspect. To keep it simple - with pitches finer than about 15tpi, the difference between the quality or speed of cut from a crosscut or rip pattern is too minor to matter to the average person (it didn't matter to Tage Frid, who was a reasonably competent woodworker :)). With larger tooth sizes & in some woods, tooth pattern can make a huge difference to cross-cutting, but if your work style is to whack off a piece with a comfortable margin & trim to the line on a shooting board, speed of cut is probably more important to you than quality, so any old saw will do if it's sharp. A poorly-filed crosscut can be both hard to control and make a more ragged cut than a sharp rip saw of equivalent pitch. If you need/want to cross-cut cleanly & close to a line, a suitably-pitched & well-sharpened crosscut can make all the difference.

It is much easier to learn to sharpen a ripsaw tolerably well, so these are where you should start. For a beginner it makes sense to have your crosscuts, at least, sharpened professionally at first. You can touch them up lightly between major sharpens & sets which extends the time between spending money & gets you started on saw sharpening. Most amateurs, just don't get enough practice to become really proficient, but most can learn to do an acceptable job & even a not-so-well-sharpened saw cuts far better than a dull one!
Cheers,
Ian
Thank you Ian for your response. I just need to figure out what best fits in my hand and how do I feel comfortable using different saws. I have 8" cheap 15tpi gent saw that I have bought brand new and once I sharpened it it both cuts and tracks much better. All other saws that I have must be restored and sharpened, too. So I will slowly figure out what I need and if something does not fit me well, I will buy and try another one.

I have got the information about the saw sizes from some general textbooks, not from that guru, who likes using 18" tenon saws and writes books about workbenches.

But maybe once I will retire, I will build myself a 36" dovetail saw and I will cut General Sherman Tree into dovetails :)
 

IWW

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....... But maybe once I will retire, I will build myself a 36" dovetail saw and I will cut General Sherman Tree into dovetails :) .....
:D Like I said, tibi, whatever size works for you is the best size!

But you might need a slightly longer saw to chop up that tree... :unsure:
 

tibi

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:D Like I said, tibi, whatever size works for you is the best size!

But you might need a slightly longer saw to chop up that tree... :unsure:
There are 5 variables here:
1. Length of the saw
2. Pitch of the saw
3. Rake of the saw
4.Fleam of the saw
5. TIME

If you have a lot of 5. you can ignore other variables :)
 

Jacob

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......there is nothing wrong with using a handsaw for cutting large, deep tenons (actually, I prefer a panel saw if the job's too deep for my largest tenon saw). .......
Both - start the cut with a crosscut (general purpose) back saw for a nice straight kerf, then drop in a rip hand saw to follow it down faster.
I discovered this when I was sawing up a huge old timber to make a garden thing.
obelisk.jpg
 
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Jacob

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Cheshirechappie

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D_W

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A large rip saw will generally be strong - as in fast (and not at all rough -using) crosscutting anything more than a moderate size (4" or so?). It'll be hard on the back side of the cut if that shows (even then not so much if the piece being sawn is very wide and the progress through it isn't too abrupt), though, but I rarely use a crosscut saw to break down large slabs or resaw them - crosscuts and rips in really large wood are done with a rip hand saw.

(by slabs, I mean stuff that comes 12/4 or 16/4 for the artsy fartsy crowd to turn into a table top. If those slabs are inexpensive, they're a good way to get smaller bits of wood out sawn exactly how you want - e.g., sawing guitar necks in perfect quartered orientation out of a big piece of flatsawn wood).
 
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IWW

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......Holtzappfel, "Turning and Mechanical Manipulation" Volume 2 (pub. London, 1847), page 699. :) ......
Ok, let me recant just a little. :confused:
Perhaps I should've said "no clear definitions that are universally adhered to". A few years ago I wrote an article on back-saws for a local magazine (Aus. Wood Review) and I did a fair (but by no means exhaustive) amount of research looking for consistent definitions of the various saw types. In perusing old catalogues it seemed to me they were anything but consistent (especially comparing G.B & U.S.A), so it was safer to just use the term "back-saw" & specify tooth pitch & profile to remove all doubt!

The sage himself leaves room to wriggle. After giving the saw statistics on p699, he goes on to say (p713):
"……Parallel saws with backs; those most commonly known are in some measure particularised by their names as, tenon saws, sash saws, carcase saws and dovetail saws. They only differ in size, as already shown and they are represented by figure 687…." (figure 687 is of an open-handled saw). I've underlined "in some measure", because it indicates to me that our man was aware he could be challenged if he was too prescriptive... :unsure:

But thanks for the referral! I dug up a pdf of the book & had a good read of the pages either side of p699. I found what Mr. Holtzapffel had to say interesting. There are actually some inconsistencies in the text, if you want to nitpick, but most of it is as relevant today as it was in 1847 (allowing for the flamboyant prose style of the day :) ).

One thing that caught my eye is the gauges he gives for the various sizes of saw. I wonder if I can reproduce the relevant part of the table on p699:
With a handle at one endLength of blade (in inches)Width of blade (in inches)Form of toothPPIGauge of metal
Tenon saw16-203.5-4*644 , ̂6451021 (.034”)
Sash14-162.5-3.25
“..”​
1122 (.031”)
Carcase10-142-2.5
“..”​
1223 (.028”)
Dovetail6-101.5-2
“..”​
14-1824 (.025”)
Smith’s screw head3-8.5-1
“..”​
12-160.11-0.062”
Comb cutter’s5-81.5-2.5
“..”​
10-200.05-0.020”
* 644 = face angle of 105 (15 deg. negative rake).
̂ 645 = face angle 90 deg. (zero rake)…

Holtzapffel gives plate thicknesses by "gauge" so I've put the equivalent in inches in brackets beside the gauge (I'm very conversant with saw plate thicknesses in "thous" but anyone too modern for that can re-convert to metric). What strikes me is that all of the thicknesses given are quite a bit more than I've noted as typical for late 19th/early 20th C saws of equivalent sizes. I wonder if his gauges are truly representative of the 1840s, & if they are, was there a shift to thinner plate during the latter half of the 1800s? There was thinner plate available long before 1847, the 'baby' saw in the Seaton tool chest is only 0.018" thick.

And another interesting snippet (to me, at any rate):
"..It is to be observed that the word pitch when employed by the saw-maker, almost always designates the inclination of the face of the tooth up which the shaving ascends; and not the interval from tooth to tooth as in wheels and screws….. "
Dunno when that rule lost traction, but I have seen tooth-spacing referred to as "pitch" at least as early as the first decade or so of the 20th C. I don't think we'd have a lot of success trying to reinstate the "historically correct" nomenclature, so I'll let that one slide through to the keeper.... :D

Cheers,
Ian
 

Cheshirechappie

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Holtzappfel is fascinating, isn't it? Reprints of the books are available new, and worth their price. The first three volumes deal with materials, processes and tools, and are possibly one of the best repositories of knowledge on those matters in the mid to late 19th century that we have. Volumes four and five deal with 'simple' and ornamental turning respectively, so perhaps are less relevant to the present discussion.

On gauge of saw blades, it's worth noting that over time there have been several 'standards' for wire and sheet metal thickness. The one that probably springs to mind in the UK context is Standard Wire Gauge, but that only came into use in the 1880s, and thus obviously post-dates Holtzappfel. I suspect the most likely 'standard' H. was referring to (shame he didn't tell us!) is Stubs or Birmingham Iron Wire Gauge (now commonly used, for some reason I cannot fathom, for specifying hypodermic needle sizes), though it could possibly be Stubs Steel Wire Gauge.

The thicknesses by BWG are as follows - 20 (0.035"), 21 (0.032"), 22 (0.028"), 23 (0.025") and 24 (0.022"). These seem much more consistent with the sort of blade thicknesses we usually associate with backsaws both vintage and modern. Worth bearing in mind that micrometers were not common instruments in the early to mid 19th century, so I'd expect to see some variation from measured samples of late 18th and early 19th century saws.

I did find this conversion chart;

Gauge Chart (wikimedia.org)

I agree that nomenclature has varied over time. As far as I can gather, some time during the second half of the 19th century, 'sash' and 'carcass' saws disappeared, and backsaws became either 'tenon' (for larger ones) or 'dovetail' (smaller ones). Those two terms seemed to apply to the previously named sash and larger carcass saws, and true dovetail and smaller carcass saws respectively, as Holtzappfel's classification. The true 'tenon' saws of Holtzappfel seemed to become pretty well unavailable, the largest (not counting mitre saws) sold being about 16" in length. My theory is that as machine work became more prevalent, the need for craftsmen to cut large joints by hand diminished significantly, and thus demand for big tenon saws declined to the point of disappearing altogether. George Ellis (Modern Practical Joinery, pub. 1902) suggests that when larger joints are cut by hand, the half-rip or even the full rip is the tool of choice.

(Apologies to Tibi for going off at a tangent - but all this history stuff can be quite interesting to some of us!)
 
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IWW

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.... (Apologies to Tibi for going off at a tangent - but all this history stuff can be quite interesting to some of us!)..
Yes indeed! :)
And I also tender my apologies for the partial side-track, tibi....

Thanks for that gauge chart, CC, that will be very useful. I often find myself getting thoroughly confused between the various standards. Your suggested thicknesses are much closer to what I would've expected for saws of those sizes & tpis. There is a practical limit to how small a tooth you can put on plate of a given thickness. You can cut 15tpi in 30 thou plate, but setting them will be a major challenge.

While our 'conversation' has been a bit of a diversion, I don't think it is altogether off-topic from the OP. What really matters with any back-saw is that it's size, tooth pitch & tooth profile best match what you want it to do. (Handle position & "hang-angle" of the grip are extremely important to comfort & intuitive accuracy in use, but that's a whole 'nother can of wrigglies).

Any saw can do a quite satisfactory job over a wide range either side of what it is best-suited to. The list of 3 saws someone gave above is pretty close to what I recommend to a beginner as a good place to start. If you persist in the business of hand-sawing, you will add to your arsenal & chop & change over the years as you learn what suits you best. But even if you end up with a dozen back-saws, I predict you'll find there are 2 or 3 or maybe 4 that you'll use about 50 times more than any of the others because they just "feel right". But you won't know which ones they'll be for some time yet...;)

Cheers,
Ian
 
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