Questions Answered – Why Crosscut-pattern Saws Dominate – Part I

DSC_0056Question:

Hi Paul,

Reading past articles and watching things in your videos it seems you sharpen saws only in a rip cut pattern when most saws available here in the US are fleam-cut and not rip cuts. I wondered, why do you not sharpen a fleam pattern for crosscut saws and a ripcut for rip saws or why you teach only one way? I think it might help if you can tell us what the difference is when using only a rip saw pattern on all of your saws. Do you not rip out the grain when cross cutting if the teeth are not actually severing the grain knife-like?

In anticipation,

Jack

Answer:

DSC_0024DSC_0006In an ideal world it might seem to make sense to own saws with dedicated cross- and ripcut patterns in each saw type and size. That’s what many saw makers are indeed telling us and now selling us. Following their recommendation you will end up owning a six pack of back saws and four handsaws. With current makers selling such saws anywhere between £50 and £150 a pop the money stacks up and, without exaggerating, it seems you could be spending in the region of £700-1000 plus on just saws.

Splitting saws into two dedicated tooth patterns for sharpening in general is unnecessary. I have used rip cut patterns throughout my life as a woodworker involved in general carpentry, speciality bench joinery and of course fine furniture making. In general the patterns I use were handed down to me. However, I have further developed my own patterns to improve what I was taught; to ensure that one saw will cut equally well in both aspects of sawing. I wanted and needed this versatility to make me efficient without losing effectiveness. I think that these patterns were and now remain more the craftsman’s practical solution to effective saw sharpening that keeps them in the zone as they work so that for their general work there is no need to switch saws during tasks requiring cross and ripcut in close proximity of cuts.This differs from advice given by way of the engineers manufacturing saws that if left to their own devices and marketing strategies have us straining at gnats like they do with other methods of edge tool sharpening of hand tools.
DSC_0065I actually like to sharpen saws – any type of saw, so when I come up against one that says you can’t sharpen it, something rises up inside of me until I can better understand why. As I started out, I actually like to sharpen saws and for several good reasons. More on that later.  It’s never a chore for me and I usually get the results I want in a particular saw in about five minutes regardless of size and or type. First of all, I have several saws – about a hundred. In reality I reach for about eight. The same number  described above. Tooth sizes require different saws as a general rule and for different reasons. The rest are used in the schools or are in for restoration work and filming the processes. Seven of my eight saws are sharpened to a ripcut pattern even when I use them equally for rip and crosscutting. The makers of saws obviously prefer to sell two saws instead of one. To my recollection as an apprentice I never heard anyone say pass me that ripcut saw or that crosscut tenon saw. No one called a small saw a dovetail saw and the terms carcass, sash, back and gents were not actually used. Of course men I worked with knew names of saws and we knew what to hand them but i knew by the task in process. Somewhere around the 1980’s we saw the two saw types emerge and we saw progressive tooth sizes return to specialist hand tool woodworking; this happened alongside hardened teeth sharpened to the crosscut fleam-pattern for working 2×4 construction from dimensional lumber and the so-called engineered boards used throughout construction. Talk about a confusion!
DSC_0005If you consider construction work today it has very little to do with actual joinery and so too joinery has very little to do with using hand tool methods for construction. What the construction trades needed was a throwaway saw that could basically perform tasks that might be prohibitive on site. DSC_0007Whereas all tasks can be performed using the ubiquitous chopsaw and skilsaw, in any given day a site worker needs to cut out a corner or a shape that defies using power equipment for many different reasons not the least of which is size. Skilsaws will indeed rip down 2” stock to any angle and parallel in a heartbeat compared to say a conventional handsaw. DSC_0013Pressed fiber boards like OSB are made up of strata laid flat in manufacture but effectively, because the orientation is so diverse and unpredictable, all cuts are crossgrain cuts. DSC_0012Plywood is always either side of fifty-fifty crossgrain cutting also depending on which direction you cut in. Using a skilsaw you can barely detect any noticeable different but a crosscut saw always cuts better than a ripcut. MDF has no grain to speak of and chipboard is the same. So you can see why in certain trades the fleam cut modern construction trade saw displaced the traditional saw on the construction site in general and in joinery too because of course the work done in industry is almost always machine work.
Of course furniture making is no different in that it’s no longer so much a craft outside of a few individuals choosing an alternative lifestyle but a mass-manufacturing process using machines. Most furniture made for homes today is manufactured and no hand tool ever touches any surface. The craft has indeed died.

Once you see why saws made for big box lumber and building suppliers don’t really suit general woodworkers and furniture makers, you start to see the niche market smaller specialist makers discovered and developed. I’m glad they have, but most woodworkers cannot afford to buy into the multiple new saws syndrome. Tomorrow, all being well, we can look more at tooth patterns.

14 comments on “Questions Answered – Why Crosscut-pattern Saws Dominate – Part I

  1. Just a thought… I can appreciate the tooth per inch for fine work etc but most of the time we plane out the saw marks / kerf, so do really need different saws for general ripping down to size?

  2. Outside of woodworking specialty stores, I don’t even see the terms rip and crosscut anywhere. The big box store just sell “saws” with crosscut fleam patterns. Sometimes you can find a “miter saw” that has a rip pattern, but the term “rip” isn’t used. Makes sense, considering people are just sawing 2x4s, plywood, mdf, etc.

    And yes, the specialty stores would love to sell you a 10, 12 and 14 inch backsaw in both patterns before even considering the larger hand saws.

  3. Recently I’ve discussed the above with an 80 year old timer, 65+ years of woodworker expierence.
    They only used cross cut panel saws in the “good oll’ days” for crosscutting bigger boards.
    Everything else was done with a rip saw.
    According to him it was all about speed, sharpening a rip saw is way faster and a rip saw can cross-cut pretty good. Where a cross-cut saw sucks at ripping…Even then , time was money…
    He also mentioned that if, back in the days, they had todays machines, all the woodshops would be electrical…
    Now what’s the fun in that?

  4. Hi Paul,

    Have you or will you, cover the best method to recast a vintage crosscut saw to a rip cut pattern? Do you recommend jointing the crosscut teeth until you nearly reach the gullet and then reshaping the teeth to a rip cut pattern? Please let me know.

    Thanks,
    Dave

    • In my younger days I frequently changed a saw from a rip to a crosscut as needed until I owned a panel saw for crosscutting and then I kept both as I do now too.

  5. I understand that it is more practical to use only rip filed saws, but do crosscut filed saws saw a cross the grain smoother than rip filed saws?

  6. Well, I have different experience. A dedicated rip tooth feels very jerky and rough in a crosscut situation, unless you go to the very fine ones with 14 ppi or finer. My ripsaws are sharpened quite agressively though. They really suck at crosscutting. But they shine at ripping.

    It is said that crosscut patterns are unknown in Germany. They just relax the rake angle to fifteen degrees or so for a dedicated crosscut saw.

    I see your point though about having to buy multiple expensive saws. For me that wasn’t an issue because I like restoring old saws, just like you. When one can find the time and energy to learn saw sharpening, then I would certainly make some dedicated crosscut saws. Converting an old crosscut to rip, only because Paul Sellers wrote that in a blog, seems like a waste of a fine saw. One has to decide for themselves how to spend their time and energy on learning saw filing.

    • @Seekelot. I happened to already own a Sandvik 9tpi panel saw which showed on the blade “Resharpenable”. This was originally a fleam cut, crosscut saw. Once it went blunt, I bought other saws to replace it, and kept it for such tasks as chipboard which can ruin a good saw.
      After reading Paul’s description of using back saws filed to a rip cut for cross cutting, with his progressive rake pattern, I gained the confidence to have a go at sharpening this old saw, now rusty and stained (and still plastic handled). Since the fleam on the teeth was still evident, I managed a sort of ‘approximate’ copy of that, but tending towards the rip pattern due to my lack of sharpening skill. This is now my go-to saw for cross cutting anything larger than 2″ wide or 1/2″ thick. Maybe it was never a fine saw, but it was certainly NOT a waste!

  7. Perhaps it’s just psychology and boosting self confidence, but failures are fewer when I use a rip cut saw for big tenons and a cross cut for the shoulders. Certainly, quite some money has been spent on British handsaws of various types and filings: justified expenditures in my humble, not only because they perform better, but because their beauty.

  8. Which refinements, Paul? I have a small tenon saw from Veritas, like the one you recommended in your essential kit,and a large 5tpi panel saw. I need to purchase something in between, where the 5tpi is too coarse and the small Veritas is too awkward and small. I was thinking of a back saw with 12-14tpi and a larger blade, possibly 15″ long and with at least 70-80mm of clearance. Does it make sense to own something like this? Do you haveanyrecommendations?

      • Thank you so much, Paul. I have been looking for this piece of information all over the place on your blog, but wasn’t able to get such a straight and precise answer before 🙂 I am a big fan of small toothed saws, so I like your answer a lot 😉

  9. i was at an estate sale and found a backed miter saw with no teeth, american made and looks like it was made this way, like it never had any teeth. can you help me identify what it’s used for?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *