Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tom Law: HandSaw Sharpening Guru

Last night's woodworking club meeting featured Tom Law, an expert in sharpening handsaws. Tom is well known in the handtool world, and I was excited to meet him in person. He brought with him a bevy of saws and talked about the specific differences in each. He made the cherry handle on the saw, shown below. When you grip the handle in one hand, you rest your other hand on top of the handle and hook your thumb inside the smaller of the two holes in the handle. So, it's a two-handed operation.

I like unusual tools, so my eye was immediately drawn to the saw in the last photo. According to Tom, it was used to make access holes in flooring, by making a drop cut. I thought it looked like something from a Civil War doctor's tool kit.

Tom talked about the "hang" of a saw when you pick it up and grip it to see if it feels right. He said a saw will talk to you when it's the right one for you. So weird...I was just having a conversation the other day with my block plane, Jack, about that very subject.

Prior to the Depression, a variety of handsaws could be found with different teeth configurations, and saws were custom made according to specifications. He swears by the old handsaws for their superior craftsmanship, saying that a saw must be hand sharpened to achieve the best results—that subtleties can be made by eye that can't be made with a machine.

Knowing virtually nothing about handsaws, I was interested to learn that the line of teeth are either in a straight line or have a crown in the middle. The crown adds some oomph when the saw cuts through the wood at the point at which you are applying the most force.

He showed one saw (the one he brings to show how not to sharpen) where the fellow who sharpened it must have been a hair stylist. Because the line of teeth, instead of being straight or with a crown, had a permanent wave.

Tom produced a video on saw sharpening and travels around to various clubs, freely sharing his knowledge with woodworkers. He also teaches classes on sharpening all kinds of tools and on tricks of the trade. I bought a copy of his video. Now I just need to hit some antique stores to find some old saws. I'm not willing to cut my teeth on my Lie-Nielsens.