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A Saw Binds

A saw binds in its cut and the man tugs it from the wood then throws it far across the shop like a Frisbee. Bouncing from the brick it lands deep in dust behind the strafe sander. He curses the saw and a big man walks over to him, grabs him by the throat and says, “Don’t do that again. Go and pick it up and look for another job. Your fired.” The man doesn’t argue, does as he’s told and I never see him again. So it was in 1967.

When a saw binds in the cut, be the solution not the brute. When it dulls be sharp not dull-witted. Your sensitivity as a craftsman determines the quality of life you live as you work. A saw binding reflects your life, your sensitivity as indeed would rust in that both build slowly but steadily. Not every time, but mostly. Not tool should be neglectedly dulled, mis-set for more than a moment and never should it be abused because of neglect. A single start to a cut should tell you the time is now for redefining the cutting edge before good work can come

A saw binds for different reasons, mostly neglect. The solution is usually cost free, simple and quick. The man blamed the tool and took out his anger on the saw when he should have seen himself as the fault. When a man reaches a certain age his anger becomes inappropriate and unacceptable. So it was in 1967 that a man was dismissed for inappropriate behaviour. It was a lesson to him to lose his job and his reputation went before him. He was single not married. Had he been married his family would likely suffer too. I learned this lesson. A man should never blame his tools and should always keep his tools in pristine condition and sharp and well set. It was a simple lesson for me ay 17. For the man it was not so simple otherwise he would have set his saw and sharpened it and he would never have treated it like a Frisbee, no sir!

My saws are always sharp and to “tickle” the teeth to develop supreme cuts is just over a minutes work for any good, well-trained craftsman; no more, but it does take practice. I rarely see saws used sharp today unless they are my own or imported Asian imports or other hard-points that cannot be sharpened again by their users. Of course makers today want throwaways that keep users coming back for more, like dulled razor blades, knife blades or whatever.

It has become less likely that you will overhear conversations between two men leaning against saw chocks as they talk back and forth and set and sharpen their saws as strokes allowed. These are indeed some of my fondest memories.  Men “sharpening up” their handsaws. I miss that. I’ll never hear it again I think. I liked that they talked about their allotments; places where people grew their vegetables and kept a few chickens and such. Saw sharpening is a peaceful thing. A time when order is restored stroke by stroke and the squeezing of the sawsets. The teeth yield to the file and the pressure of the hammer against the anvil. I little oil from the rag-in-the-can oiler and the men returned to their benches to cut shoulders and cheeks to the next tenons. I saw the teeth bend one by one and listened that a man’s son had been born that night. That his “missus was fine and doing well.” and that the kids were at his mum’s.

Such precision was their and now mine too. For 53 years I have sharpened my saws each week. Their files moved into and out of each of the teeth with speed and every vibration was countered by a slight shift, a little less or more pressure according to what they sensed. A shift in conversation was punctuated by a change of tooth shape and a new definition to the teeth.  A little less rake or a little more depending on the work and the wood they were working. Where would such a thing happen today? It’s lost, gone for ever.

 

35 comments

      • Gail Millard says:

        Paul, very much enjoyed the saw piece. One thing that came to my mind was that as the men talked while sharpening they were a small community but within a larger community. It seems to me that what has been lost in losing crafts to modern manufacturing is community. I see this in the way agriculture is done. What you do and what you contribute to your community has disintegrated but probably not lost. I guess it takes getting older and suddenly waking up to the fact your time is limited to realize that all your life has been lived to provide a legacy when you are gone. If you view your craft as not just how good you are at it but what you have contributed to your community then you are forever learning. And you sir are leaving a lasting legacy.

  1. Kenny mur says:

    Mr.Paul Sellers,you are amazing! Your talents are endless. You are a poet,story teller,master craftsman , teacher, and a true gentleman . Oh,also an artist. I’m in awe of your many talents and Love your videos and blogs. Thanks from the other side of pond on the outer banks of North Carolina , the grave yard of the atlantic.

  2. Thomas Hanson says:

    ….the man was discovered 26 years later tossed behind a pile of shavings with a dull saw embedded halfway through his cranium. The investigating officers, using the man’s resume as a guide, later determined the victim was related to the perpetrator,

  3. Peter Littlejohn says:

    Just last week while repairing a broken splayed table leg I used my old ripsaw to trim the block that reinforced the repaired joint. I quickly found the saw was very dull making the cut tiresome. I set up a makeshift saw clamp in my B&D table and with an equally used and dull file set about “sharpening” the saw. The next cut was 10 times easier even after this quick & dirty sharpening the saw was given. The lesson learnt that with a proper saw clamp, a new file and about 5 minutes the saw would be cutting a 100 times better again. An old saying is “a tradesman never blames him tools” ….. it’s so true !

    • Michael Ballinger says:

      Yeah I let my panel saw go too dull because I didn’t have any way to sharpen it, I’m in transition between two homes. Anyway the other day I couldn’t leave it blunt any longer so shaped a piece of 2×4 to fit the saw plate and handle then used a couple sash clamps to hold it steady on a set of drawers. Then found a new file but didn’t have a handle. Got some scrap wood made a handle sharpened the saw and got back to work delighted with myself. Was long overdue.

  4. Mario Fusaro says:

    The art you speak of was not lost, it simply yielded to the realm of power tools. The “Craftsman” stepped aside and the machine operator and jig man entered to perform for the masses. The “Craftsman” is returning because people like you, Paul, are showing us the way to a better, more enjoyable and safer woodworking craft. I’ve been lucky as to never damaged myself with power tools but the other day, I fought my rip saw for the last few millimeters when I nicked my finger. Nothing serious but if I were operating my old table saw, it would have been a loss of fingers. After applying a bandaid to the cut, I clamped the saw, resharpened the teeth and ripped the rest of the project. Lesson learned!

  5. Wooden Thumbs says:

    The saddest part of all is that the lost arts are not missed by the latest generations. They imagine their hubris justified by the technology handed down to them by men whose names they’ve forgotten, if they ever knew.

    • Thomas Angle says:

      I think that some of the younger generation would love to do hand work. They just cannot make enough to feed a family since no one wants to pay the price that it would take for the produce.

      There is a reason that Paul and others are so popular. People want to do that kind of work.

      • Michael Ballinger says:

        You would be surprised what people value and pay for. There are very fine examples of furniture that cost a lot and they sell very well. But you have to find your niche and create something that is desirable.

  6. Thomas Angle says:

    If someone was to start a hand tool woodworking business, it would happen again.

    Pretend that I am sharpening a saw and read this true talk about our garden and chickens.

    Of course the vegetable/chicken talks happens to this day. But only in certain areas.

    My wife and I built a new chicken coup this week. Our chicken are ready to move into it today . We just have to patch the fence there the old coup was and string the bird fence above the run.

    I would like to shoot the hawk that flies over, but the game warden across the road might find that a bit unlawful. We lost two chicken in our last flock to that bird.

    Our raised beds that we built from free wood from Lowes look good. We planted herbs mostly in them. Our vegetable garden is doing well except for the corn. Not sure if it was the old seed that we saved from a couple years ago crop, too early planting or the amount of rain we have gotten. There has been something eating out squash and peas. My guess is the rabbits. I am not sure why the hawk cannot eat them and leave the chickens alone. Rabbit is a lot better than chicken IMAO.

  7. Matthew says:

    This reminds me when I was a bit younger and starting out I found favor with an older gentleman and he would share stories about the days of when he was younger. I would hang onto every word. I would listen and learn and always try to bring him the tool before he asked he would just reach out his hand and it would be there. Soon I was the one he want to go with him and what a great honor it was when I was able to do the work as he told me how to do. I became his hands. What an honor! This post reminds me of those days Cheers!

  8. Neil Christie says:

    I do a fair bit of woodwork in my handyman business . I mostly use hand tools as it is quieter, much cleaner and for most jobs quicker . I don’t have a fortune in power tools in my van to be stolen .
    If I were doing site work with lots of cuts then power saws would be a must but for small projects and repairs, hand tools are better.
    When people see the 100 year old rip saw eating its way through a board or a wooden jack plane slicing down a door , they look stunned.

  9. Paul Walton says:

    Saw Sharpening
    Your right Paul, times like these will probably never come back to the majority of the people, taking time to do things like this don’t exist but I remember a time when people took time to do these things, a totally different world and society. It was traditional and working class thing that you were brought up with. I feel sad as I suspect you do that things like this are gone for ever

  10. Gav says:

    The anger bit is interesting. I had a recent altercation with a fellow who may have had a point at the time but lost it immediately when he started talking , shouting actually. He actually stated that he would have broken my jaw ten years ago , he would have to be at least sixty. It took him that long to learn about an alternative method of dealing with an issue of difference ? , and poorly at that. I am not perfect by any means but I do realise that and you can always learn and self improve. The nuances of the past are to be well remembered and learnt from to further our own methods and approach, not just at the bench. Your stories are not wasted by any means.

  11. Ed says:

    I worked in a shop where bad things happened to bad tools. The shop had many skills- machinists, pattern makers, auto body guys, welders, and a few guys that could just build. The general pattern would be someone griping (while glaring at a “tool”) why do we have to work with this kind of thing followed by others saying things like, “Yeah, that thing is trash.” So, it was a trial by jury and conviction led to mysterious disappearances. Trust me, doomed tools deserved their fates. Mostly, the tools were excellent, but this is how the oddballs would be weeded out. It was humor more than anger. At some point, the foreman would be informed that we lacked a tool. He would reply, “Odd, thought we had one,” and then order a decent replacement. You may wonder how decent workers would have bad tools. This was a production shop with tools supplied by the business. There was no sense of tool ownership, no sense of attachment. Occasionally, it would truly be faster and cheaper to abuse a tool than to fabricate an appliance of some kind and the tool could be affected. It was hard for craftsman to throw away tools. Maybe we’d need that odd job again. The tool would be put aside, but sometimes find its way back into normal circulation. No one was ever accused of reshaping a tool on a grinder or clamping a tool to make a temporary fixture. We just shifted the focus to the abused tool, convicted it, condemned it, and moved on with getting stuff out the door. It worked.

  12. Mr Chris says:

    Paul
    I have just sharpened my tenon saw as per your video. Because the teeth are small I had been held back from doing it. I bought myself on eBay one of those magnifying glasses with a light built in. I could see, the saw is not perfect, but I did it
    I am 77, who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

  13. HK says:

    Is there any point to trying to fix a bent saw plate? I find this incredibly frustrating and usually give up.

    • Paul Sellers says:

      If it is a gradual bend , usually you can bend them the other way quite forcefully and it will correct it. If it’s a kink is is hard to get rid of and not worth the effort.

  14. Anthony says:

    I wasn’t going to post this because of embarrassment but I guess I will. Yesterday I was using a Record 4 and got frustrated, actually enraged. Not because my Record 4 wasn’t planning but because of something personal that had nothing to do with woodworking. So, like a child a slammed the Record 4 at least 4 times onto the piece of wood I was working and now it’s cracked. I’m not throwing it away. I can use all the parts except the body. It will remain in clear sight near my bench as a reminder. A reminder to be professional. To be a craftsman. Not a brute.

  15. sla says:

    This person who bent the saw, it could be a good man, but maybe he had some problems that day, we are not machines, peoples changes from one day to another. I know a lot of peoples who don’t appreciate their tools, but are using them every day, many even hate their tools, because they don’t understand them or just their interest is in other place, they work for money. What we can do for them? Just be calm and tolerant, improve our tools, better explain how to maintain, care and use them.

    However, guys like this move technology forward. Especially for them we have to fix software bugs, and make our interfaces as simple as possible, easy to learn and understand. They force us to explore new ways of doing things, new ways to teach and make work attractive.

    I agree that we have to love our work, love our tools and maintain them. But not all are like me, many even don’t understand that they have to change something in their live. If I’m not in my mood or distracted I’ll not do my work, or try to concentrate.

    • Paul Sellers says:

      I think this man had had several outbursts of uncontrollable rage and had never been truly confronted with the consequences that it was hurting others. I for one was frightened many times by him. Good day, bad day, I learned never to condone it. I would never employ or work with an angry man. If you haven’t personally experienced it you cannot know what it’s like. The big man did the right thing.

  16. Tony Ive says:

    Bad tempered workers are as bad as drunks on any site. They are always more dangerous to others than they are to themselves. They cannot really be considered as craftsmen in the true sense of the word because they are unable to adequately impart their skills to an apprentice trainee. No one can learn a skill from a bad tempered individual.

    As a young conscript, I remember our platoon sergeant saying he allowed anyone just two mistakes, their first and their last. We went in terror of that man. Later in trade training we had an instructor who insisted that the word cant’ was spelled with the apostrophe after the “t”. His argument was that cant’ was short for “Can try”. He argued that if you tried enough “You can”. I never knew him to be proved wrong.

  17. Evan says:

    Paul-
    I don’t if it is gone forever, but has become a rare thing. It has been a something to experience in my little woodshop, now that my kungfu students are starting to take up woodworking to learn patients and control, (and when good is better than perfect).

    We are not mastercraftsman by any stretch, but it is magical to see the same habits and behaviors you saw disappearing, begin to reappear of their own nature.

  18. Hank Merkle says:

    Paul,
    you state “Saw sharpening is a peaceful thing. A time when order is restored stroke by stroke and the squeezing of the sawsets.”
    My only problem with this is the “Screeetch” of the file as it goes across each tooth. I avoid saw sharpening for this reason as it sends a shiver up my spine.

    Any suggestions to reduce this? the noise that is, and make this the “peaceful” event you mention.

  19. Oliver Tbm says:

    Paul, I regularly hear you say nowadays’ hardened saws can’t be sharpened, and having tried it I absolutely see why.
    However, I do have a couple of old saws of this type that I don’t want to throw away, and I want to get into saw sharpening. I have only one very fine tenon saw that isn’t hardened, all the others are. Do you think it would be possible to grind the hardened part of the blade off and then establish new teeth on the softer part of the blade? Or is the type of steel that can be hardened of a different kind than the one traditional saws are made of and therefor wouldn’t make a good saw if left unhardened?
    Greetings from Denmark!

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