A Lifetime of Saws

Disston #12

My Grandfather’s Disston #12

A LIFE TIME OF SAWS September 2012

Al Flinck

I can’t say that I ever had a good experience with a hand saw. I have used them on and off all my life but never got mentored by anyone who believed in them. Dad told a story about a woodworking instructor he had as a boy while attending a Swedish school in the ‘Old Country’. The story goes that this gentleman would grab a piece of wood and a hand saw and proceed to make a cut without any marking out then present the students with a square to check his work. Dad said he never failed to make a perfectly square cut and would admonish the students to work for this perfection. Dad also said the gentleman would not give any information or hints on how he did it or how the students could do it. I suspect Dad never had a great experience with a hand saw either. Though he did teach me to saw well enough that I didn’t shy away from hand sawing. He also gave me his Dad’s 1917 Disston No. 12. Truly a beautiful saw that I have always treasured though seldom used. In all the years I knew him Dad never sent a saw or blade out for sharpening. He had a saw vice and a saw set but never used them. There were a few triangular files laying around but they were never associated with saw sharpening. He used a 14” multi-horsepower radial arm saw given to him by his contractor friend for cutting fire wood. That is the only wood work I ever saw him do, he really was a car guy.

My first real woodworking project was a dog house for the family dog. I must have used a hand saw since I couldn’t have been more than ten years old and Dad’s radial arm saw was forbidden territory. My wood working then went the way of high school, football, cars, girls, surfing, fishing and college. After settling down and becoming a home owner, I did a lot of DIY remodeling and mostly used power saws. My first saw, an 8” circular panel saw was good until I discovered that all the guys I knew were using 7 ½ “ worm gear saws. A nagging feeling of not having the right saw continued for a good while as I acquired a small Craftsman contractor saw and radial arm saw as hand me downs from friends. Next came a Sawzall to help with the remodeling and finally the coveted Skilsaw. The next best power saw was always in my sights.

When I retired I had the opportunity to build my own wood shop. No surprise that the first two saws were power saws. The table saw is an old iron Unisaw made in the year I was born. New bearings and it was ready to do whatever I asked. But I could never tune the cut off saw to make a true cut. So I turned back to hand saws in fits and starts with woodworking magazines and the internet for assistance. I got the crazy idea that I should sharpen the antique Disston #12. Fortunately I was not brave enough to do that. I did a lot of research, got some garage sale hand saws and practiced my sharpening chops. The results were mixed but encouraging. I could make a saw cut better than it had before. Then it occurred to me that I would never know a truly sharp saw if I filed one. I had no criterion, no base of comparison. Again I had that nagging feeling of not having the right saw.

So it was time to buy my first handsaw. It was this purchase that led directly to writing this account of my life with saws. I have become a geezer with opinions about how to spend my money, who gets my money and how they might use it. Now I spend my shop money on new or vintage hand tools that can get used every day. I believe in supporting people who make things they care about, whose work defines high quality. I decided to own a new hand saw that would become an antique, something to pass on to my son along with my granddad’s old Disston. My research led me to Bad Axe Tool Works, a small family business custom building hand saws for woodworking. I ended up with two saws, one Bad Axe X-Large Tenon Saw: The Roubo Beastmaster and one Bad Axe 18″ Large Tenon Saw: The Beast filed crosscut. Each saw was sized to my hand and filed to cut best on the Douglas Fir timbers I have for bench legs. I have every reason to believe these saws are as good a hand saw as there can be. They are a delight to use. They cut really nice rising dovetails (I’m practicing for my Roubo Bench). It was worth the wait. Now I have a standard to work from in my ongoing attempts at sharpening. Maybe I will sharpen the Disston one of these days or maybe I’ll send it to Bad Axe and let an expert do it.

5 Responses to A Lifetime of Saws

  1. Al,

    I love this story. Thanks for sharing it. I was truely a pleasure getting to know you this past weekend. I think we’ll all stay in touch.


  2. Doug says:

    Thanks for sharing this story Al. I know that one feeling you mentioned, how do I know what a sharp saw feels like, so I sent my handsaws to Mark. Thanks for all the help lately, and I’ll keep in touch. Doug

  3. Maureen Shaughnessy says:

    Do I get a package if I leave a comment, Al?
    just messing with you
    Actually, I just read through some of your posts on your blog, and this article and I have to say this is an interesting site. You warned me not to say anything about the scarcity of posts, so I won’t. ha ha. But what you have here is good. I’m really glad you offered to be in a leadership role with the guild. We need folks like you. See you next week.

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