Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's Always Sunny in Brooklyn. (Part 1)

So I have fallen in love with saws.

My induction into handsaw-dust began with set of joinery backsaws that I purchased last winter. They been largely unused until the past fall when I began making it a point to do regular sawing exercises for joinery. This consisted of milling up a stack of short little poplar boards and cutting hundreds of angled dovetail cuts. At first I didn’t assemble any joints, I just laid out 20-30 cuts and after they were sawn then tried to divide the material left in between by eye (a Klausz exersiz). Then I got to actually making little dovetail cases, chopping out the waste and pairing the joints. Then it was on to practicing cutting tenons, etc, etc. Anyway, I have a gained little skill, and I am hooked. I am also convinced with continued practice and deliberate use my sawing is only going to keep getting better and better and allow me to cut complex joints that would be a nightmare with my machines. But what about larger cuts?
I think we're going to need some larger saws.

Enter my burgeoning handsaw obsession.

It begins with a pair of rusty saws I acquired from Flea-bay for virtually nothing. I got a Harvey Peace No. 45 circa ~1880ish and a Disston D8 from the 1900-1920’s (probably? who cares)

The Peace saw is a little gem that has been very very well used. I suspect that this was originally a 24” saw but has been used so much that it was sharpened past it’s original toe and which was cut off where the nib would have originally been. Even still, the blade is super narrow and the etch toothline is encroaching into the bottom of etch (there has been 2-3 inches filed away!) Perhaps the thing that I love the most about this saw which has got me completely mesmerized, is that it was manufactured at The Vulcan Saw Works which was located at Ainsle and 10th Street in Brooklyn (10th street is now called Keap St.). That is literally a five-minute walk from my studio on North 12th street in Williamsburg. It's a true son of Brooklyn!

Originally the plan was to replace the blade of the old boy, but after some consideration and the advice of fellow online ironpigs, I decided I would use the saw as pattern to make an entirely new pair of old saw’s. The original saw I would keep intact and retire it to a place of honor above the door in my studio. But that’s the NEXT project.

Getting back to the other saw, the Disston D8. The saw had a dead straight blade that was nearly full size (albeit, covered with rust), however the handle was filled with splits, dry rotten and would have to go. My first project would be to rehab this saw and give it a new handle. I wondered should I attempt to copy a Disston handle, maybe a thumb-hole model? In the immortal words of the bard Charlie Sheen,“Boring, losing, duh!”

Instead, I decided to look to the Peace saw and use its "tiger's blood" (Sheenism) as a starting point for a new design (which is actually very similar to early Disston No.7’s). The design of the D8 differs significantly from the Peace as it is a so called “let in” handle- the plate actually extends into the handle past the cheeks little section of wood that closes the handle loop at the bottom. Not only does this require some elaborate methods to cut the circular slot, but it also creates a design constraint in the shape of the handle. To make it even more fun I decided to incorporate the detail of the “lamb's tongue” from the Peace saw which is a significantly more delicate that the original chubby D8 handle. For the cheeks of the saw I decided to blend a little bit of backsaw DNA into the love-mix and gave them a more angular shape and extended out the front section an extra ¾”. I think this gives the handle a bolder more aggressive look. To create a new pattern I simply traced the old handle to use as a starting point, and then started messing around with the various curves and horns until all the elements seem balanced to my eye and at the same time adding a bit of extra punch to everything. I didnt want to go crazy with the design for two reasons:

1. I dont want a saw that looks like it was designed by a little boy for Conan the Barbarian or The Kurgan.

2. You have to be careful not to create structural weak points. If you've encountered saws at a garage sales or flea markets saws you know how these weak points manifest themselves: chipped horns, cracked cheeks, broken lamb's tongues.

I re-sized the grip based on my hand, of course. I have little girl hands and the original was a little big large. The Peace, however, fits like a glove so I used it as a size/shape pattern. The final fitting is going to happen later during the shaping, but I wanted to ensure that the shape wouldn't change so much that it break up the overall design.

So that is how our saw-saga begins...
Stay tuned for the glorious rebirth of my Brooklyn/Philly warlock handsaw. Winning!

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