View Full Version : Saw Handle: Work in Progress - Need advice from those who have done it

Chris Griggs
06-27-2011, 3:23 PM
I was so inspired by the recent "tools made by user" thread and David W's saw parts build, I decided to get started on my saw build this past weekend, even though I haven't actually ordered the parts from Mike W yet (payday is still a couple days away). Sorry, the pictures are horrid - I took them on my phone and had no intention of posting them (lame excuse), but then got bored on my break at work so decided to get some feedback. Will posted better ones tonight or tomorrow.


Anyway, I got this handle cut out and mostly shaped - its looking pretty good to my eye, but I'm am wondering if I need to remove a little more material from around the horns. Something about the bottom horn just doesn't look quite right to me yet.

The bigger issue I'm having is with the lambs tongue. It just doesn't look quite right either. I think I need to remove a bit more material from just above it where it meets the the front part of the saw. Also, it's a smaller tongue than on most saws I've seen - this was deliberate since this will go on a dovetail/rip carcass saw, but now I'm wondering if I should have made it longer.

Not trying to berade myself - I'm actually pretty happy with how its coming so far, but I really want to get the fine points right. I know there are definitely people here (e.g. George et al.) who have a great eye for the little details that make a difference. So lets have some criticism and hopefully advice for improvement- this handle needs a little tough love.

David Weaver
06-27-2011, 3:44 PM
I can only offer opinions until the "pros" get back.

The top and bottom horn, move them in, but if it's fit to your hand already, move them from the outside. That means the notch on the bottom will move up and back - the bottom doesn't need to move much. The top can be flattened a little, keeping the profile of the curve in tact - I don't think there's enough room for a second notch if you really want to move it back. do them a little at a time, I think, so you don't end up with fragile horns. The right spot given where they are already will probably be stopping before you feel like they're perfect.

Bevel on the top of the handle where the spine mortise goes should be bigger, but wait until you've cut the mortise and fit the saw back before finishing it, else you might blow it out.

Bevel on the front of the cheeks would be nice, but you might not have enough room for it (you'll see what i mean when you set out the split nuts on it and eyeball where they should go, if you're going to put three on, they could end up too close to the edge if you bevel the cheeks). A very gradual one looks better than none.

The lamb's tongue should be longer and reach further out under the cheeks of the tote, with a shape that goes up from the bottom a little more vertical and then out under the cheeks with a more abrupt turn. A good bottom part of the handle and lamb's tongue is far and away the hardest thing I have done on a saw handle, and I haven't gotten it right yet.

That said, if you just put a handle out there and said "I made a handle", you already have a nice functional handle nicer than most, I don't think anyone can really criticize it if you haven't done 20 of them before.

It's nice to see people challenging themselves and shooting to do good work rather than quick work. You only have to make the handle one time and then you can use the saw indefinitely.

Cutting the slot could be a pain, If you haven't yet cut the slot and the mortise, I would maybe wait until you do that before doing anything else. Walnut is agreeable, the slot should be pretty painless if you have sharp chisels and/or a drill to open it up.

Chris Griggs
06-27-2011, 4:39 PM
Good feeback as always David. Thanks!

So your saying shrink/thin out the horns by either bringing in the concave curves on the outer part of the grip or by bringing down/moving back the top and bottom horns from the outside? The grip is getting pretty comfortable but its still not as comfortable as my LNs so I will probably bring in the concave part of the grip a bit more.

To make the bevels by the mortise bigger I'm assuming I should cut them at a steeper angle (bring them down the cheeks/sides more)? I have them at about 45 degrees right now.

I agree that the front of the cheeks should be beveled, there should be room - as you stated I am waiting until after I cut the mortise for the back, cut in the kerf for the blade, and drill the recesses for the nuts, before I address the cheek area of the handle.

Regarding the lambs tongue. I was thinking that's what was wrong, but was hoping that wasn't the case. Nothing much to do about it now in terms of lengthening it unless I want to redo the entire handle. I guess didn't really plan for the lambs tongue very well. I just took Mike Ws disston 2 hole No. 4 handle pattern and attempted to put a lambs tongue on it. I think I can still get it to look better than it does even if I can't get it to look how it's supposed to.

Thanks for the help

EDIT: Ooooohhh, now I see what you mean by moving the notch on the bottom up and back - definitely would have not figured that out for myself. That will make the bottom horn look better.

David Weaver
06-27-2011, 4:56 PM
The hang angle on a disston saw might make it tough to make a lamb's tongue that looks like an established lamb's tongue. I don't know that much about disston backsaws other than the ubiquitous #4, which has that kind of machine-made look and a steep hang angle.

The disston 7s had lamb's tongues early on, but they are off the back of the plate and more straight up and down like an english saw.

The attached picture is what I mean about moving the horns in from the outside. I just did the same with mine. If the handle inside is already comfortable with a hump in the palm of your hand where you want it, then it's not much fun to change that around much. Less is more moving in from the outside, I think, you could get carried away and make things too thin and flat.


I don't think many of my bevels went past 45 degrees, at least not much. It may be that the mortise will give you more room to work and they'll get big enough, anyway.

It looks like a pretty nice job to me so far.

Are you going to fill the pores on the walnut?

David Weaver
06-27-2011, 4:57 PM
EDIT: Ooooohhh, now I see what you mean by moving the notch on the bottom up and back - definitely would have not figured that out for myself. That will make the bottom horn look better.

Yes, that way you can thin the bottom back horn but keep the nice curve going from the bottom front. Your choice is either to do that or to add a nib on the bottom also so that you can thin the back horn from the outside without affecting what's already there at the front.

Chris Griggs
06-27-2011, 5:10 PM
Funny! I was just doing the same thing you were - drawing on the orig photo in MS paint. Here's what I came up with. Although, I think my drawing shows a more minor adjustment than yours.

Chris Griggs
06-27-2011, 5:21 PM
It looks like a pretty nice job to me so far.

Are you going to fill the pores on the walnut?

Thanks David. I'm pretty happy with it as is too, but I know that with feedback I can make it better. No plans to fill the pores. With the couple handles I've rehabbed/refinished I just gave a good soaking of Watco (natural) followed by a thin coat of clear dewaxed shellac just for touch of sheen and build. I knock the sheen of the shellac with wet/dry sandpaper and steel wool, which looks pretty good. I think as long as I knock the sheen out of the top coat leaving the pores open will look and more importantly feel good. I love the natural look of walnut - its probably my favorite wood. I plan on using it for at least a couple handles, although I have a chunk of sapele lying around that I was thinking I would try to make a handle from as well.

george wilson
06-27-2011, 5:44 PM
The handle looks nicer than most to me,too. My only advice beyond David's,is to make sure that the lamb's tongue gets thinner rather than a little thicker as it approaches its curled end. Just before it curls,it is thicker. There is another thicker spot farther back. Photos often show things we don't notice from looking at them in our hands. You have already done quite a creditable job,and just a little fine contouring is all that is needed. You also got the grain angle correct. The handle will be hard to break.

Jessica Pierce-LaRose
06-27-2011, 6:07 PM
Okay, I've been meaning to make a couple saw handles for a while now; I had my hand a practice go - was decent enough until I totally fouled up the slot . . . You guys are making me feel pretty weak! I'll have to cut up a new blank and have another shot at it.

Sorry I can't offer any constructive criticism. But I always like reading what the other folks here have for input on the little details about this stuff.

Klaus Kretschmar
06-27-2011, 8:15 PM
I think that you've done it very well so far, Chris. It's a nice handle on the filigrane and elegant side. That to be said, I'd propose to continue the slight chamfer at the bottom of the cheeks as you started it in the area where the lambs tongue meets the chamfers. Regarding the size of the cheeks I guess that there isn't enough space to install 3 saw screws, probably you've to go with 2. That isn't an issue however since the handle is made for a (small) carcass saw. 2 screws will be enough. One of the effects of that cheek design on a closed handle is the long ogee you need to get the lambs tongue connected with the cheeks. That is something pleasing to the eye. Time will show how it stands the longer use.

There is only one point on the design that I would rethink if making another one. The lower ogee where the little finger will rest seems a tad too high compared to the curve of the bottom horn. The lower ogee curve should be symmetrically to the bottom horn, the symmetric axis is the center line of the grip or -if you want- the hang angle line. But it's just a tad so not meant to be a real critizism!

All in all the handle seems to get beautiful and elegant. Good luck on the progress!


Chris Griggs
06-27-2011, 10:37 PM
Thanks for the responses folks. The feedback was very helpful. Spent some time chiseling and filing tonight and here is the ever so slightly tweaked handle.


I thinned out both horns and moved the point where they meet the rest of the handle just a bit. I think the bottom horn looks a lot better, but I'm not sure how much I improved the top horn. Both could probably stand just a touch more shaping, but that said I'm quite happy with them as they are.

I thinned out the lambs tongue and reshaped how it leads into the cheeks of the handle making the part that goes up more vertical and part that meets the cheek more horizontal. It is still shorter than a traditional lambs tongue but with the small tweeks I'm quite happy with it. I may even do a handle for another saw with a similarly shaped lambs tongue.

Anyway, thanks again for the advise David, George and Klaus. Anyone please feel free to leave your own advice and critique. Now lets just hope I don't mess up letting in the mortise for the back and/or the kerf for the blade.