I get a lot of emails from woodworkers asking my opinion on what
kinds of saws are essential in a kit of tools, or what kinds of
saws they should get if they are just starting out in hand work.
Sometimes people even reference books like ‘The
Anarchist’s Toolchest’ and want my opinion on the saws listed as
necessary by the author. I am always humbled when I get
emails or questions in person like this. After all, who
the heck am I, and why should anyone care about what I think?!?
Humility and self-doubt aside, this is not an
easy question to answer.
On the one hand, I don’t think it matters one
bit if your first saw is a 30 inch rip saw with 3.5 points per
inch or a dovetail saw from Sears. The thing that’s truly
important is that you learn to use the hell out of it.
Use it in every way you can… as it was intended
and in every way that it wasn’t. Hell, I think you should try to
carve your dinner roast with it, that is if your wife will let
you bring it in the house. Then, take all that you learned
from using that saw to within an inch of its life, and get
Repeat the process. And again and again
and again. This is honestly what I did, and the lessons
learned literally cannot be put into words or have a real value
assigned to them. They are indescribable and invaluable.
On the other hand, I realize that the above
suggestion is not all that helpful. So, in the interest of
providing some assistance to those wanting guidance, for what
its worth, the following is my list of ‘necessary saws’ for the
hand worker of wood.
Keep in mind I try to be a bit of a
minimalist… I think we can ALL make do with less, and not only
is that better for our wallets, it’s better for our skills.
So here goes…
No surprises here, right? This is the number one
saw on my list.
Whether you’re new to working by hand, or been
doing it for a while, I think everyone can use a good sash saw.
Critical features are a 14 inch toothline, at
least 3 inches of depth under the back and a proper filing for
both ripping and cross cutting… that’s what makes this
traditional form really sing.
For me, I like 8 degrees of rake and 10 degrees
of fleam. It will change your life. Right now, my every
day sash saw is this 14 inch Disston from the 1880s. It
And if you absolutely insist, after you’ve
mastered the sash saw, then you can go ahead and get a dedicated
rip backsaw and crosscut if you want. But I don’t think
you ever “need” either. And the historical record supports
this idea as well.