Making a Back Saw, Part 3

Yesterday I left off with pictures of the freshly slotted saw handles.  It’s always a great confidence booster when something I was worrying about goes well.  Luckily, there is always something else waiting in the wings to keep hubris and humility balanced.

After several cups of coffee I went out to the shop yesterday morning and started laying out the mortise for the saw back.  I assembled the saw plate and bronze bace and fit it to the handle so I could scribe the layout directly from the bronze back.

Transfer the location of the brass back to the handle.  Yes, that's the marking knife I made with the "surgical blade" recently.  I need to make another, I really like this one.

Transfer the location of the brass back to the handle. Yes, that’s the marking knife I made with the “surgical blade” recently. I need to make another, I really like this one.

On the first handle I decided to chop the mortise just like I would for a piece of furniture.  It was going just fine, but when I loosened the vise to reposition the handle, guess what I found?  Yes, a little bit of humility there on the Group B Bench.

First handle cracked even though it was supported in the vise.

First handle cracked even though it was supported in the vise.

Bummer, right?  I’ve had this happen before with figured Claro Walnut, there was a great bit of curly figure in this piece too (obscured by the coarse sanding).  Unfortunately that also made the grain run vertically right in this spot.  Oh well, better now than after the saw was done.

For the second attempt I decided to try sawing the sides of the mortise, sort of like you would on half-blind dovetails.  That worked OK, but I’d be lying if I wasn’t wincing with every move of the chisel.  But it worked just fine.

Sides of mortise sawn

Sides of mortise sawn

With the mortise done I clipped the back of the saw plate so it would seat against the kerf in the handle and test assembled the saw.

Test Fit

Test Fit

It’s an OK fit, I’ll give it a B+ for accuracy and class participation.  The overall look of the saw is good.  I’ll need to trim the brass back just a bit.

Decent fit around the saw back

Decent fit around the saw back

With that done I was ready to start shaping the handle.  I drew layout lines on the side as you can see in the picture, and on the edges.  The lines on the edges are parallel to the sides and about 3/16 away.  I also drew in a center line on the edges of the handle.

Layout lines for the first step in shaping

Layout lines for the first step in shaping

The first step in shaping was to rasp a bevel from the layout line on the side to the line on the edge.  I tried to get a flat chamfer and to keep an “even” edge where the shaped area meets the side of the handle.

First bevel cut on the back of the handle

First bevel cut on the back of the handle

Once I had the primary bevels cut into the handle area on both sides, and on the front and back of the handle, I was ready for the next step.  I laid out a line in the middle of each bevel and rasped a second bevel from the line to the center line of the handle edge.  From there it was simple to round over the remaining facets to have an even shape.  By cutting a series of even facets you can ensure that the shape will be even more easily than just grabbing a rasp and rounding it over from the start.

Blackburn Tools has a great series of articles that describes the process in more detail, including some details I’m not going to incorporate on this saw — maybe on the next one.


Both bevels cut and blended together,  Lots of sanding to go.

The rough shaping of the rounded part of the handle went really quickly.  Maybe 10 minutes.  This was followed by an hour or more of hand sanding the rounded areas to remove the rasp marks and smooth everything out.  I started with 100 grit, then 120, 150, 180, 220 and 320.  The hardest part for me are the chamfers y the saw plate.  They aren’t as uniform and flat as I’d like.  I’ll need to work on my technique.


Sanded and smooth as heck

I drilled the handle for the saw nuts, drilled the saw plate to match and started working on the saw back and saw plate.  I got one coat of shellac on the handle and left it to dry overnight.  I’ll sand it today and work a couple of more coats on.  I need to set and sharpen the saw and assemble it but I think I’m pretty close.

Oh. Nuts.

Oh. Nuts.

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Second Saw Handle Roughed Out

I had a little time after work yesterday and decided to rough out a second handle for the backsaw project.  I made the first one in some dark Claro Walnut, but I was concerned that I would screw it up when cutting the slot or doing the final shaping of contours.  So I decided to cary a spare along through the process.

This one is also Claro, but it’s a marbled color with an interesting spray of figure.  I slabbed it out of a turning block I picked out of a sale bin years ago, I can only get one handle as there is a crack in the block.  It’s too bad because this one has some great color.


Two handles rough shaped

On the second handle I used the scroll saw to profile it after drilling the holes.  This worked a bit better than the bandsaw cuts as there was less waste to clean up.  Both methods work fine, but I like having to do less rasp work to get the the lines on the pattern.

From here, the next step is the scary slotting of the handle for the saw plate.  It actually turned out not to be a big deal, maybe the saw gods were watching over me.  I used a marking gauge to scribe a centerline where I wanted to cut, then used another saw to start the key all the way around to a depth of about 1/8″.  Then I worked the kerf deeper and before I knew it I was watching to see that I hit the stop marks for depth.

Getting ready to saw the first handle slot.

Getting ready to saw the first handle slot.

On the first handle I used my 14ppt crosscut saw, I know this is a rip cut but I was concerned that the narrow very my dovetail saw leaves would be too thin for the saw plate.  I didn’t saw quite as perfectly as I’d like, there are a couple of spots where the teeth gouged the side of the keep making the opening look slightly uneven.  But it’s centered and straight and functional.

For the second blanks I used my trusty dovetail saw.  I cut a nice crisp slot with no tear out…that was too tight for the saw plate.  So I re-sawed the kerf with the crosscut saw and that opened it up just enough to fit the saw back.

Both handles slotted.  The one on the left is a little sloppy, but I think it will look fine when it's all shaped and assembled.

Both handles slotted. The one on the left is a little sloppy, but I think it will look fine when it’s all shaped and assembled.

Once I get some coffee I’ll head out to the shop and do the next step — which is to fit the saw plate and back to the handle.  The saw plate need to be clipped to set against the back of the slot, and I need to layout and cut the mortise for the bronze back.  With that done I’ll be able to fit the fasteners, and do the final shaping on the handle.  This should go relatively quickly, although I’m already wishing I hadn’t said that out loud.

Saw plate test fit into handle.  The plate needs to be clipped at an angle so it can settle completely against the slot in the handle.

Saw plate test fit into handle. The plate needs to be clipped at an angle so it can settle completely against the slot in the handle.

Just in case something goes amiss and neither of these handles work out, I picked up a couple of scraps of wood at Global Wood Source in Santa Clara.  These will also be useful “just in case” everything goes well and I decide I need to build a bunch more saws to fill the gaps in my saw till.

One is tiger stripe figured Honduran Mahogany, the other is Granadilo.  The Granadilo is a South American wood that is used as a tone wood in guitars.  It’s heavy, and the coloring looks like East Indian Rosewood to me.

Extra handle material.  Just in case.

Extra handle material. Just in case.

Rough Shaping the Handle

Roughing the handle in — that is, getting the handle contours cut and smoothed — is pretty basic stuff.  It helps a lot to have a nice pattern to glue to the wood and use as a guide.  I wanted to share the sources for handle patterns that I’ve found:

Saw Handle Templates on

Blackburn Tools offers saw handle templates for the kits they sell, these are slick because they are all available is different hand sizes.  Isaac also has scans of actual handles for a number of vintage saws.

Wenzloff and Sons have several patterns available on their site.  They used to sell kits and parts, but they have reduced their line and I’m not sure how active they are in saw making these days.

Two Guys In A Garage, which is a great and unpretentious name, have a nice selection of patterns for many different vintage saws, including one for the Disston saw in my Millers Falls miter box.  Hmmm…  They also have parts for building saws including folded backs.

Tools for Working Wood sells a nice looking dovetail saw kit, their instruction packet includes a pattern for the handle and tips of cutting the slot and mortising for the saw back.


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Making a Backsaw

Part one of 300.  (Kidding…I hope)

I saw a comment on a recent Schwarzpost about purging your excess tools, complaining about how hard it is to find vintage / used backsaws.  That’s true to a certain extent, but it occurred to me that it might actually be about the same amount of effort and cash outlay to build a saw from parts as to restore a vintage saw.  Sure, the fresh-built saw won’t have the same vintage appeal (or rust pits) but it ought to work every bit as well.  I restored a Diston backsaw a couple of years ago, and re-shaping the teeth with a file wasn’t any picnic.  I didn’t get them perfect in the end, and my saw set was too coarse to get the set quite right.  I’ll go back and tune that one up as part of this post.

There are a couple of places that sell saw nuts, slotted or folder backs and pre-punched plates, both ala-cart and as “kits”.  Some you might want to check out are Two Guys In A Garage, Bontz Saw Works and Blackburn Tools.  There are probably others.  I purchased some parts from Isaac at Blackburn, he shipped the parts out quickly and has been very responsive to my naive questions.

The goal is to make a saw in the style of the 12″ carcase saw that is listed in Smith’s Key.

N8529037_JPEG_52_52 copy

12″ Carcase saw from Smith’s Key


Unlike a typical carcase saw with crosscut teeth, this one will have fine rip teeth for dovetailing and small tenons.  It also has somewhat less saw plate under the spine.  I ordered a .025″ plate with 13 tpi.  It should be a really handy all-around joinery saw.

As a side note, if you haven’t downloaded a copy of Smith’s Key it worth visiting the link above and downloading the whole thing.  There are a number of interesting tools shown.

Several saws from Smith's Key

Several saws from Smith’s Key

I also got a bronze slotted back and saw nuts from Blackburn Tools.  The actual alloy of the nuts and saw back are different – Brass/Bronze ends up being a very loose definition of Copper-based alloys, and many different alloys are sold under similar sounding names.  In this case the saw back is “Architectural Bronze” (57% copper, 3% lead, 40% zinc) and has a yellowish-white cast, looking more like Brass than (say) Copper.  The saw nuts have a much redder cast and are probably Commercial Bronze (90% copper and 10% zinc).  The higher copper percentage in the alloy is clear in the coloring.

Bronze saw back and nut, notice how much redder the nut is than the back.

Bronze saw back and nut, notice how much redder the nut is than the back.

Finding alloys that match in color and have the right properties for machining is no easy feat.  I think the reddish nuts will look good against the Walnut I’m planning on for the handle.

Isaac has handle patterns for many different saws, in different sizes, on his website.  Actually, “Two Guys” has a lot of interesting handle patterns on their site tool.  I’m using the pattern Isaac drew up specifically for the Smith’s Key saw.  I really like that he has each pattern scaled for different size hands.

Saw handle pattern - click on the image to go to Blackburn Tools to download the actual pattern.

Saw handle pattern – click on the image to go to Blackburn Tools to download the actual pattern.

I am actually going to cary several blanks through the handle making process.  In part, because I’m concerned about getting the slot for the saw plate in the right place.  I’m also thinking of making more than one of this saw eventually, so ending up with two or three handles would be just fine with me.

I have two handles going right now, one is a bit of figured Claro Walnut and another in a piece of Marbled Claro Walnut.  I started by attaching a copy of the pattern to the wood with 3M Super 77.  I drilled all of the holes as indicated in the pattern, then sawed the rest of the waste off on the bandsaw.  I stayed off the pattern lines, so there was some hand work to do to get the handle down to the right shape.

Pattern glued to wood, drill locations marked with an awl

Pattern glued to wood, drill locations marked with an awl

Holes drilled using Forstner bit

Holes drilled using Forstner bit

First handle sawn and profiled

First handle sawn and profiled

back side of first handle -- the wood still has a rough sawn texture.

back side of first handle — the wood still has a rough sawn texture.

I think for the second blank I’ll try cutting it on the scroll saw instead — I think I’ll be able to closer to the line and save some time filing and shaping.  This handle looks kind of dicey in the pictures – partly because the pattern is fuzzy and obscuring what you can see.  In person the contours are smooth and crisp.  I filed everything, and worked most of the edges with a scraper.

It’s worth noting that I shouldn’t have have drilled the marker holed for the saw nuts — on this blank I’m now locked into putting the saw nuts there.

Next up I’ll bring the Marbled Claro Walnut blank up to this same point — and maybe one more blank just for good measure.  Once that done I’ll cut the slot for the saw plate to make sure that goes properly.

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I’m done staring at this now

After probably two months of part time tinkering I’ve finished building the french marquetry saw I’ve been piddling with.  It looks nice, it seems to clamp parts properly and it saws.  I’m going to stick to simple projects for a little while.

This wasn’t hard, it was just a lot of pieces to make.  It needed to be accurate so that it cuts properly (exactly perpendicular to the real vise jaw).  I probably will need to adjust the carriage for the saw frame to dial this in — that’s why it has the adjusters built in.  But for today there are no more parts to make.  And with the Chevy assembled there are no more stacks of parts to be shuffled from one place to another.

I’m going to do a simple practice marquetry project soonish, but I have one or two quick things I want to build first.  The first is a tool from Smith’s Key, this should be a lot of fun.  Now where did I leave my box of triangular files?








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Thumb Twiddling

I made the last (I hope) part for the Chevy — just a knob for the saw frame.  The main purpose of the knob is to provide a place to press your chest against when putting a blade in the saw.  The process is to clamp one side of the blade, then slightly flex the saw frame by squeezing it against your chest and clamping the other side of the blade.

I don’t think I love the shape, but it will serve to assemble the saw once the finish dries.  Which might be a while, since it’s cool here and I’m using an oil-based finish.  I wiped a couple of additional thin coats of oil/poly mix on the parts today.  I’d like to imagine that it will be cured tomorrow, but then I’d like to win the lottery tomorrow to.  I don’t have high hopes of either coming to pass.

But it’s done. Fin. Críochnaithe as my ancestors would say.

Knob for the Chevy saw frame turned from a scrap of Claro Walnut.  It could double as a gear shift knob for a classic Chevy.

Knob for the Chevy saw frame turned from a scrap of Claro Walnut. It could double as a gear shift knob for a classic Chevy.

I glued a 5/16-18 coupling nut into a counterbored hole, this will thread onto the back of the blade clamp in the hardware kit.

I epoxied a 5/16-18 coupling nut into a counterbored hole, this will thread onto the back of the blade clamp in the hardware kit.

Time to start the next project while I enjoy the sounds of finish drying…

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 3.00.03 PM

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I was wrong…

I thought I had all the fab work on the Chevalet done.  It turns out there were a few details left to do.  Nothing crazy, but so far it’s added up to probably five or six hours of little bits.  The holes to mount the chain for the clamp actuator.  Two spacer blocks that go between the seat assembly and the upright.  Remaking the vise spring because it wasn’t right. The vise jaws. And etc, etc.

Nothing nuts, just stuff that needed to be made, tweaked, sanded, scraped or stared at.

All of those details are done now.  Except for making a knob for the saw frame.  That’s a lathe job, and I’ll knock that out tonight or tomorrow morning.  But first I wanted to get a coat of finish on all of the parts I’ve made so far.

I mixed equal parts Mineral Spirits, Linseed Oil and Polyurethane, and slathered everything.  It’s still soaking in the pictures, and after I hit “post” I’m going to go wipe it dry.  I may put one more coat on tomorrow, but it’s a coin toss.  I just wanted to bring out the color in the wood and give it a little protection.

Mission (mostly) accomplished.

I’m looking forward to starting a new project (W00T!)

IMG_0041 IMG_0042 IMG_0043 IMG_0044 IMG_0045

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Chevy Fabrication Finished

I completed construction on the classic chevy yesterday.  Or as a friend used to say, “it’s all fabrimacated now”.

A little sanding and slathering, then final assembly and adjusting.  I need to order some veneer today so I can see if I can pull off a simple marquetry project without Patrick and Patrice coaching.

What I did yesterday was the “slidey thingine” and the “clampy thingie”.  I didn’t take any pictures of the latter part, but it’s just a 3/4″  board that is thinned down to 3/8″ for most of it’s length.  I actually made a cosmetic mistake on it and might re-do it.  we’ll see.  The foot pedal assembly came out nice.  It started with a giant dovetail connection between the vertical slide and the actual foot medal.

Dovetail sawn on the end of the vertical slide

Dovetail sawn on the end of the vertical slide.  To ensure it ended up in the sight spot on the horizontal foot pedal I struck a center line, that way I only had to watch four things while transferring the teal to the pedal: centerline alignment, baseline gap, alignment with the square and tracking the marking knife.

I did a reasonably good job sawing and chiseling the joint, I had to pare one small area where the the saw went slightly off course.  When I knocked the joint together is was TIGHT, if it had been any tighter I would have worried.  Back apart, glued and into the vise to dry while I took my sone to a school function…

The sound of one glue joint drying...

The sound of one glue joint drying…

Back home, the glue’s dried enough (or, more accurately, I’ve waited ling enough for the glue to dry).  A little clean up on the back of the joint and it look pretty good.  One little gap right at the edge.  No one, other than the 3 people that read my blog, will ever see it.  The important think it that it be strong, and I[m confident on that front.

Finished pedal/slider assembly

Finished pedal/slider assembly

Back into the car, pick up screws at the hardware store, a few groceries, and finally the boy, and I’m back home again.  I finish up the pedal mechanism and install it on the front leg of the seat assembly.

Pedal mechanism done and installed

Pedal mechanism done and installed

And with that done, I can finally glue up the seat assembly.  This went as smoothly as any multi-part assembly could go.  I’d profit everything, so it was just a matter of sliding everything in place while juggling clamps.  I wiped off the worst of the glue squeeze out,tonight I’ll give it a once over with some sandpaper (everything was pre-sanded) just to clean up any shop dings and bits of escaped glue.  Then I can put a coat of finish on the parts. I’m going with a 1-1-1 mix of mineral spirits, linseed oil and poly for the first few coats.  I really only want enough finish on this to protect it and bring out the color of the wood.  I’ve never finished spell without dye, so I’m eager to see how this looks, color-wise.  It should be fairly brown with some reddish cast.

Seat assembly glue up

Seat assembly glue up

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Drip. Drip. Drip.

That the sound of progress.  A slow, nearly silent drip in a dark room with no other sound.  But it’s progress.

It’s t-minus three weeks (ish) until Christmas, and time for my son and I to get our game on if we’re going to be giving any handmade presents this year.  I have really only two presents I plan to make, but one of them depends on getting the chevy finished.

My boy, on the other hand, has eight people he needs to have gifts for.  So we jumped in the truck and headed to Watsonville to see what Jackel Enterprises had on sale.  A lot as it turns out.  All of the wood in the racks is discounted 25%, and the Claro walnut is 50% off.  It took a lot of self restraint not to grab a bunch of the 8/4 Cherry with the idea of making the Frank Lloyd Wright table I just developed plans for.

But we did get some Claro and some Maple for a present Cole is going to make a chess set on the scroll saw.  I found some plans online, and I helped him get started on it this afternoon.

The "black" pawns getting started

The “black” pawns getting started

He’s never “scrolled” before, and I think he’s doing a really great job.  He’ll be an expert by the time he’s done.

Three pawns.  We need to pick up the pace, because if we only get three pieces done each day we'll never make Christmas!

Three pawns. We need to pick up the pace, because if we only get three pieces done each day we’ll never make Christmas!

Meanwhile, I made the lever-arm-thingie for the Chevy.  It’s a simple piece and it was fun to play with the spokeshave and scraper shave again.  With this piece done I’m down to the vise clamp and the foot pedal — those should both be quick pieces.

Lever arm done!

Lever arm done!

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Dana-Thomas Plant Stand Update, with plans

Thanks for the feedback on the Frank Lloyd Wright plant stand I posted yesterday.  I made some tweaks to the design to try to closer to the reproduction photograph, and I think I’m as close as I’m going to push it.I think the design is reasonably well balanced, taken on it’s own.  If I build it or read more about FLW’s aesthetics my view could change on that.

So what’s different from yesterday’s version?  Glad you asked!  I made the legs thicker, going tom 1 9/16″ to 1 3/4″.  I also added tapers on all four faces of the legs, where previously is was only on the two inner faces.  The inner legs are nudged outward toward the outer legs.  And I rendered it in a darker wood color.  I’m not happy with the rendering – on some faces the color looks like dark stained Pine rather than Oak.  That’s a weak spot in the CAD software, it takes a crazy amount of fussing around to get calms wood projects to render in a photorealistic way — but if you can ignore the weird grain and look at the proportions I think it’s OK.  The tim might be something to reduce in scale, but I’ve left that as an exercise for whoever wants to build this project.  If you do build it, send me a pic so I can foster a sense of justifiable jealousy.  Read on to get the plans to download.

"Final" (?) Rendering

“Final” (?) Rendering

another view

another view

I spent a couple of hours preparing the plans once I had the CAD model done.  Sometimes I find errors in the model who I’m building the plans – and that’s a good thing.  Sometimes I find a way to improve the design.  All of which to say, drawing up the plans is time well spent for me.  My only concern when I post plans is reading stories about unscrupulous people who steal other people’s work and then sell it.  So, please do download the plans.  Enjoy them.  Use them to build this table, or as a tool to coerce a friend to build it (ehm, Rob?).  Of use them in the fireplace to start a nice comfy fire on a sold winter night and cuddle up with your family.  But please, don’t sell them.

(Click on the image to download the plans)

(Click on the image to download the plans)

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Frank Lloyd Wright Plant Stand

I had an interesting conversation with Rob Hanson at Evenfall Studios a couple of weeks ago.  Rob makes shooting boards and other goodies, but what he had on his mind was something called the Dana-Thomas Plant Stand.


Yeah, me either.  I know little bits about a number of things, but Frank Lloyd Wright is somewhat outside of my experience.  I’ve seen some of his work of course, both furniture and homes, but I’m pretty clueless about his history and aesthetic.  So I did some web surfing.

Susan Lawrence Dana, for who the house and of course this plant stand are named, commissioned FLW to build her a 12,000 square foot showplace in 1902.  The commission included the house and all the furnishings.

Susan Lawrence Dana's home in Springfield, IL

Susan Lawrence Dana’s home in Springfield, IL

I read somewhere online that there were eight copies of this plant stand made for the house, although I can’t verify that.  There certainly was plenty of room for potted plants and stand…  Rob had some basic dimensions, and I pinned several images thanks to Google and Pinterest (how did we ever get by without the Internet?  Thank You Al Gore!).  Generally the table looks something like the picture below — I was unable to find an image that I was confident was original.

Dana-Thomas Plant Stand Reproduction

Dana-Thomas Plant Stand Reproduction

I had Brother Cadfael whip us up a digital prototype, and we’ve been pushing the dimensions around to get something that looks about right.  As I type this, I think the inner legs need to be moved outward, closer to the main legs.  Wish I’d seen that before I did these renderings.  And the main legs look a little thinner than the reproduction — although that could be do to the darker color in the reproduction.  Well, something to tweak for the next update.

Dana-Thomas Plant Stand

Dana-Thomas Plant Stand

For a simple plant stand, this would be a little complicated to build.  The inner legs add a twist, but the one that gives me pause is the 60 little pieces of trim.  Oy!

Exploded View

Exploded View

I don’t plan to build this, at least not anytime soon.  The Chevy needs a bit more work, there is a Greene &Greene table that I have materials for, and I owe someone a bookcase apparently.  There is a funny story about the bookcase, but I’ll save that for another time.

Personally, I think Rob should build this.  Cutting and fitting all of those miters is a precision job, and a perfect opportunity for someone packing an accurate shooting board.  Rob?

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