On small tenon saws

For more information on saws, see our beginner site Common Woodworking.

I own a 10″ Henry Disston with a brass back. Without doubt it’s the best saw I have ever  owned and I have had it for decades. A close second is my 60’s Spear & Jackson with its rosewood handle. I use this one in the USA school and this one knows no equal with regard to its size to weight/strength ratio. Although I love my Disston and my Spear & Jackson, my personal collection of Robert Groves saws grows from month to month and with two recent eBay purchases I have a full range of them that well-suit my classic range. Hard to imagine, but saws like these can never be replaced. Most modern makers no longer use folded brass or steel spines to their saws that pinch the plate. They either crimp, punch or pin the spine to the plate which means any buckling cannot be removed by spine tapping with a hammer. This is being written here to record this dynamic as a positive aspect of saw making and maintenance and one that takes care of buckled saws damaged in sawing processes or indeed even saws trodden underfoot by accident.

I cannot extol the virtues of wooden saw handles enough. They absorb vibrations, comply to the hand grip and inevitable grow to fit your hand or can be finely tuned for personal customisation. The early saw makers had this art down and thankfully there are a few modern makers who have given some attention to this important detail. Surprisingly, this, western-style saw making, seems to be an area as yet unchallenged by Chinese imports.

There are many saws available secondhand and I am continually thankful for that. I don’t suppose today’s demands will ever exhaust the supply legacy left by our forebears who relied on them so much for life’s provision. Buying new saws only postpones the one element of woodworking that most woodworkers are intimidated by and that’s saw sharpening. The art of saw sharpening is really very simple. I have learned that videos are usually quite boring and can never capture the true art of what can only be gained in the doing of it and never in the watching of it. Most saws, regardless of the type, price paid, maker etc, will need sharpening after a few days of use. It takes me four minutes to sharpen any and all saws and I sharpen my 10″ brass backed saw about once a month, it seems to me. That’s a saw I use very day. To master saw sharpening is a process that begins with a single confident stroke with a file followed by139 more on a 10″ 14ppi saw. It’s this first stroke that people seem reluctant to take that is for many the equivalent of abseiling  a 200 foot rock face. Once  rappelling has been done correctly and confidence eliminates all fear, there are few experiences equal to descent than abseiling and the speed is phenomenal. I know that once you take that first overly cautious step and lean out into the rock face you will begin to wonder why you were so fearful.

We will help you get started with some new and simple videos shortly and I will be drawing the exact information you need to circumvent the confusion in the near future.


  1. .

    It’s not the first stroke with me……

    It’s being able to see the damn thing in the first place!

    14 points is about the limit of my eyesight even with magnification, but I agree about keeping the saw sharp.

    Buying used saws on auctions is a 100% cert as far as sharpnesss is concerned.


  2. I couldn’t agree more regarding the ability of wooden handles to conform to the hand and never more so since needing to continually adapt grips due to the disfiguring effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis. I’ve been a great Disston and S&J fan since apprenticing during the early 70’s and find that the ability to sharpen ones own saws tends to enhance both productivity and feedback from the tool during use, as well as providing the facility to fine tune tools to suit given tasks and timbers. Kudos to you Paul for your willingness to show others how to gain the most enjoyment from this craft an the tools they employ. 🙂

  3. Paul, are there planes available anywhere for your rocking chair? I really want to build one. Don’t know if I can ever make it to a class. thanks,

  4. I can’t wait to see your saw sharpening videos, Paul. I’m doing fairly well sharpening a saw filed rip, but crosscut is still escaping me. Thanks!

    1. We will have these filmed quite soon so be patient. I think that these methods will simplify everything and you will be able to sharpen any saw from them quickly and effectively.

  5. Hi Paul i wanted to ask you about large tenon saws e.g. 16″. I have read in your book that you advocate tenon saws up to 14″ and from then on you use small panel saws. Do you think 16″ have a place in the workshop? Or are they just too big to handle?

    1. Not too big to handle, great for LARGE work but not really an essential saw. I have one but do not use it very often.

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