all the tool forms lost to antiquity over the last
century, I think the sash saw is one of the greatest
casualties. These traditional 14 inch backsaws
are true work horses because they can rip and
crosscut thanks to a combination of aggressively
raked and moderately fleamed teeth.
My own experimentation with sash saws started some
time ago when I read about them in Holtzapffel.
He describes a sash saw as being 14 to 16 inches at
the toothline and having a 0.028 thick saw plate,
2.5 to 3.5 deep with 11 points per inch. And
Joseph Smith, a contemporary of Holtzapffel's, shows
a sash saw in his ‘Key to the manufactories of
So we know what a sash saw looks like, and its basic
form and tooth geometry, but what is it like in use?
This was the question I asked myself next… and I
decided to find an answer.
Over the following few months, I started filing and
using 12 and 14 inch backsaws with aggressive rake
and moderate fleam to accomplish both ripping and
crosscutting. I eventually settled on 8 to 10
degrees of tooth rake and 10 degrees of fleam.
I found that saws with thinner plates and finer
tooth spacing could handle more aggressive rake with
great results (like 8 degrees) and conversely, saws
with thicker plates and coarser spacing needed 10
degrees to keep them smooth in the kerf.
The results? Well, they blew me away. I
started doing all my work with only one saw… no more
switching saws to cut the cheeks then the shoulders
of tenons. The sash saw handled them both with
ease and speed. No more cluttering my bench
with multiple saws to dimension blocks of apple and
beech for making tote repairs… I could rip and
crosscut handy pieces without even putting the saw
down, let alone switching tools.
So what came next was interesting… I started getting
a number of customer requests to “fix” their 14 inch
rip-filed backsaws which they were unhappy with.
Upon asking them what was wrong, they simply stated
that they didn’t like the way they cut… that they
were rough and hard to use. My solution: how
about a traditional sash saw filing to ease the
action? Here’s an example from a past post… Custom Filing a Backsaw.
I started to get more and more and more of these
“rough” saws to tune up and it seemed that the
secret was matching a combination of rake and fleam
to the work. And in every case, it worked like a
charm… their saws were smoother, easier to start, and
could now cut with and across the grain. And
it seemed like it was almost always 14 inch saws.
Now, it seems like not a week goes by that I don’t
get a 14 inch backsaw in the shop for a tune-up
along with the owner looking for suggestions on its
filing. My answer? You got it: sash saw.
In fact, a customer who recently asked for my
recommendations on what first handsaw to purchase
was shocked to hear my response…not a dovetail saw?
Not a crosscut saw? Carcase saw? Nope,
nope and n-o-p-e...