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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8 thoughts on “Making a Back Saw, Part 3

  1. That is a remarkably beautiful piece of wood. It’s also a shame about the first handle that broke. You will have an heirloom saw when you are finished. This looks like another project that could become addictive.


    • Saw handles seem like a great use for special scraps. It can’t become too addictive though, I only have a couple of open slots in my saw till.

      I’d love to find more marbled claro, you don’t need big pieces to make a saw handle.

  2. So beautiful. If you figure out how to do handles faster short of doing them all day long, lemme know. Mike Wenzloff told me once they could do a handle in 15 minutes. Wow!

  3. PS. Check out how he gets an even set on his saws.

  4. rcd6875

    Looking really good Joe. It will be a show stopper!

  5. caasinoraa

    It’s a shame about the first handle, but what a beautiful piece of wood in the second.

    It’s funny, but once the mortise and slot in the handle are done, it seems like the rest of the handle is just downhill. The shaping goes much faster than most people expect, especially on an open handle.

    Nice job on the shaping. The chamfers look pretty good, and the grip is nicely rounded. People tend to get a little shy about removing material there, and end up with a blocky handle. Yours looks comfortable.

    I’m really looking forward to the finished saw.


    • Thanks Isaac – you did the hard bits though! The chamfers could be better, but it’s a fun project. I’ll definitely be making more.

  6. Couple of tips if you want them. I recently built three saws after dumping my LN saws. 1: if you are using a rasp to shape the handle don’t go through the trouble of removing the bandsaw machine marks, most will be removed when you shape the handle. 2: I use a handscrew to hold the handle and then use a brad point bit in my drill press to remove the bulk of the waste. I clean the mortise up with a mortise chisel. Hope that helps!

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