For more information on saws, see our beginner site Common Woodworking.
I know of two saws by modern makers that anyone would love to own. Both are well worth the money and both are proudly made in the USA. Does anyone remember those campaigns in the US and Britain. In Walmart one day in the lat 80’s it said on every item ‘Proudly made in the USA’. In Britain it said, “I’m backing Britain.” The next day all of that domestic loyalty was gone and everything sold on both continents was import and now in Britain this week the big boast is that consumerism is bailing us out of the debt crisis. How that works I’ll never know. Well, back to sanity.
There’s a wonderful American-made saw made by Wenzloff that few if any could ever fault. Its flawless design parallels the early makers of the 1700’s and holding one in your hands, as a craftsman anyway, is the equivalent of riding downhill for your very first down-hill ride on a two-wheeler. It just glides into and out of wood with the same freedom!
Saws often grab my attention for good, bad and indifferent reasons. I love the symmetry of saws. I love sharpening them even though I have sharpened them thousands of times and I love the thought that a saw, like the ones I own from the 1700’s, 1800’s and 1900’s, continue day in and day out to provide my daily at-the-bench sawing needs. The Wenzloff saw fits my large hand perfectly and it feels like silk.
When Mike Wenzloff started his Wenzloff & Sons saw company he strove for levels of perfection and excellence that put modern-day European and British saw makers to shame and he has indeed held the standard even though they are the very newest kids on the saw making block. Mike started from scratch and began making saws for the public after developing a highly refined and well made product ready for launch in 2005. He continued to develop his replica designs of the very finest makers and progressed his methods of production with a determination to make the absolute best saws possible for the best price such an endeavour could. Today he barely keeps pace with demand and if you order you order knowing that this is not an off-the-shelf item in any big-box company store but one well worth waiting for. There are a few makers of fine saws out there. Mainly in the USA for some reason. In Britain we once had two dozen or so but they disappeared one by one, such is our British demise in industry. One day I hope I will own a Wenzloff saw. I don’t want to be avaricious but they are very lovely saws.
I also want to tell you about a little saw I mentioned somewhere in my blog before and some of you will know about. It’s far from pretty, looks inexpensive and you might wonder at its fitness for purpose but it’s one saw I have used for 20 years now and it’s a unique saw I recommend you buy.
I own several of these saws in different sizes and I use them quite frequently. I recently discovered that Chronos here in the UK sell the line of this US maker and I ordered mine from them. Zona saws have been around the Hobby World of woodworking for decades and indeed for model makers and engineers making all kinds of wooden parts to build such things as parts for planes these saws know no equal. As I say, I have used them for two decades and this week I bought yet another to add to my small saw arsenal. These saws have highly refined cutting teeth that cut a glass-smooth cut quickly and effectively. The one I am recommending as a starter is the 24TPI with the reference here.
Retrofitting the saw
I find that these saws have much less power on the pull stroke and cut at about half the rate of a push stroke. These saws are indeed set up with a pull and not a push stroke, but it’s quick and simple to pull the plate out and reverse it for optimum performance. Grip the plate in the vise along its length and pull the handle firmly upwards. Turn the handle and bar end for end and replace but make certain you begin at the handle end to make sure it goes in at the right point. Tap the back onto the blade plate with a plastic-headed hammer and you are good to go.
I also like to transform the handle by turning it on the lathe and adding a brass ferrule instead of the steel one as I did in the last image below.
The reason I chose this particular saw is that the plate is thin but thick enough to cut into hardwoods. Zona make other saws with thinner plate stock for cutting woods like balsa. These are fine too, it’s when you come to hardwoods and pines with hard and soft aspects to the growth rings that they tend to deviate according to resistance. The saw given will not flex in the cut and cuts pristinely in hard and soft woods. The depth of cut is limited to 22mm (7/8”) which is very adequate for 99% of dovetailing as most dovetails are cut in wood less than 25mm (1″). Anything larger would need a bigger and heftier saw anyway. The cost at around £10 is more than a good price and even though the teeth are too small for general hand sharpening (unless you are a watchmaker), the saw should last you for many years of use if you are careful with it.
Zona does make deeper saws and longer saws too. The above saws are about 7″ long and that’s a good and practical length for close work. You can but the Zona saws with 42 teeth per inch I think. This is very fine.