Somewhere I read the phrase “tool shaped objects”, probably in the Anarchist’s Tool Chest although I’m sure I’ve heard it before that. The premise is that manufacturers make things, tools in this particular case, but over time they have lost their understanding of what makes the tool do it’s job. It still looks like the same tool, and at a casual glance may even function to some extent.
But where it counts the tool falls flat. I’d hazard a guess that a large percentage of the tools in any big box store fall into that category.
Case in point number number one: The Dovetail Saw.
I decided I wanted to learn how to made dovetails by hand. My process:
1. Read everything I can about it
2. Procure the essential tools, if I don’t already have them (and I never seem to…)
3. Try it
4. Look at the results, figure out what could be improved, go to #3 until I’m satisfied.
For step number two, I didn’t have a hand saw to cut with. So I went to the local woodworker store and picked up a “gent’s saw”. I didn’t expect it to be a great tool given the price — under $20, compared to $100 plus for what are touted to be good saws. But I didn’t know what to expect from a good saw versus a bad saw.
So I clamped up a piece of wood and made a few test cuts. Bleuch. Seriously? How can a straight saw cut a curve? (see the “before” cuts in the picture below). After reading an article by David Charlesworth and seeing a video by Rob Cosman I understood one important point about dovetail saws. To cut straight they need to have minimal set. Charlesworth recommends making a few light passes with a stone on each side of the blade to remove some of the set.
You see, the problem is that with an excessive amount of set the resulting kerf is large enough to allow the blade to flop around. So I made a few strokes on each side of the teeth with a medium stone and tried the cut. Amazingly, it was better. I tried another stroke per side, better still. At 4 or 5 strokes per side I had the saw cutting true with a narrow kerf (see the “after” part of the photo below).
This got the saw to the “good enough” point so that I could start practicing. That is, of course, another story.