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Thread: Tuning hand saws and saw benches for more effective work

  1. #1
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    Tuning hand saws and saw benches for more effective work

    I have run a couple other threads regarding more specific hand sawing issues none of which seems to consolidate the whole topic into one discussion, thus this post.

    First I was just watching Ron Herman's video on fitting a hand/panel saw to the user. I am about 5' 10" average height or a little under. I was amazed to discover that Ron's arm measurement is a full 6" longer than mine. I did not realize that I apparently have midget arms. I have to stretch to reach 22" and Ron is 28", wow. I went and checked my wife who is an actual midget at about 5' 3" and was further amazed to find she measured 24". No wonder a 26" saw feels long to me. It may be that all the wrestling and slinging dogs around in the air on a bite sleeve may have added muscle mass to my shoulders and chest that alter my measurement but still. I was aware that saws with 24 & 22" plates feel better to me. Now I find myself wondering if I am just weird or if there is that much difference in peoples arm lengths?

    My hands may be on the small side too, more broad than long I would say. 24 & 22" handles typically fit about the way Ron's video indicates they should. Using Ron's saw bench height measurement system I am 3" shy of his 18" mark. Again I wonder if I am just different?

  2. #2
    I imagine many will be chiming in to compare findings.
    So, in the interest of scientific accuracy, exactly where/how is this measurement being taken?

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    I WAS 6'5"(now 6'3") and as near as I can measure myself,from arm pit to fingertips,my arm is 31".

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    I have been told I have slightly longer arms for my height, I am 5'8" and from the tip of my fingers to the arm pit it is 29". I have a Diston #8 panel saw and I find the length to be just about perfect. The saw is 29" long, may be that is the perfect match, i.e. get a saw that is the same length as your arms.
    The means by which an end is reached must exemplify the value of the end itself.

  5. #5
    OK - I can see that I'm going to have to answer my own question.
    Found this on Phil Herz's blog - "Blended Woodworking" - wherein he discusses attending a conference at which Ron Herman was present and fitting saws to attendees.
    "He would take a woodworker aside, measure the length of their arm from the shoulder to the first knuckle of their index finger to select the correct saw length, choose a saw with the proper hang to accommodate their physical prowess, and provide a few basic pointers on their technique ..."
    So, for example, a person with a 28" measurement would require a 28" saw.

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    I went and checked my wife who is an actual midget at about 5' 3" and was further amazed to find she measured 24".
    5' 3" is merely short to average. My mother was 5' 2", though her eyes weren't blue. I am almost 6' and my arm measures 27" from armpit to first knuckle.

    My wife is 4' 10" and claims that is not a midget. Her "saw measurement" is 21-1/2".

    A quick search shows the cutoff for midget is 4' 9". Midget however is not a recognized medical term.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
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    Yep. My shoulder-to-knuckle measurement is 20". I am 5'-2". Most of my handsaws are 22", some 20". The longer ones give a little extra room so the toe doesn't jump out of the cut. Ah, but then there's the sawbenches. My knees are about 16" from the floor, and so are my sawbenches. Even accounting for the extra diagonal distance of a 45 angle of attack for crosscut and 60 for rip, my saws are too long; I always stop the downstroke short because I'm afraid I'm going to hit the toe on the concrete floor. But I really don't want to use even shorter saws. Sawing with a <20" handsaw is like pedaling a bicycle on a flat surface in the lowest gear possible; lots of flailing about with little forward momentum.

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    Sorry to be slow to answer Joe. I have Herman's sharpening and tuning videos. I think I found the original info on fitting a saw in written work that came with the on line video on sharpening. I believe it mentions measuring from the point or dip in the shoulder. The Herman tuning DVD I was watching today actually shows Ron measuring himself. Looked to me like he was placing the measuring devise in the area between the shoulder and chest muscle, about where a rifle butt would rest. The second measurement point is the knuckle of the index finger, first knuckle, half the finger. For me the DVD method gave me around a 2" shorter measurement 22" vs 24". Since I could see where he was measuring during the DVD I have been assuming this to be closer to his actual method.

    Ron's measuring method for determining saw bench height on the DVD is also different than what I have read and seen in other places. Ron put his leg up on something and measured from the bottom of his hamstring muscle to the surface. I believe this measurement method produces a smaller distance too.

    The reference to smaller people was meant to emphasize that I seemed to have unusually short arms for my height. I still am having a hard time believing that my much smaller wife has a "longer" arm measurement so I am wondering if there is more to it. Good to know that there are others with shorter arms measured by this method though.

    Ron makes the statement somewhere that a longer saw does not necessarily make a faster cut. He seems to feel that a properly fitted saw will cut faster for most people. I know there are a good many posts I have read that express the opposite view point. I'm just not sure how exact these measuring systems are. I suspect that they are more of a general guide. I am going with saw lengths and handle sizes that feel better to me. I seem to be able to use most of a 24" saw plate without straining or hyperextending, so this is the size I decided on for my rougher/larger cutting chores. I have a few 22-18" saws that I plan to use for smaller more precise work.
    Last edited by Mike Holbrook; 05-08-2012 at 11:47 PM.

  9. #9
    Mike - no apology necessary.
    Thanks for expanding on that explanation.
    As a saw nut, I find all related facets of great interest.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrae Covington View Post
    Yep. My shoulder-to-knuckle measurement is 20". I am 5'-2". Most of my handsaws are 22", some 20". The longer ones give a little extra room so the toe doesn't jump out of the cut. Ah, but then there's the sawbenches. My knees are about 16" from the floor, and so are my sawbenches. Even accounting for the extra diagonal distance of a 45 angle of attack for crosscut and 60 for rip, my saws are too long; I always stop the downstroke short because I'm afraid I'm going to hit the toe on the concrete floor. But I really don't want to use even shorter saws. Sawing with a <20" handsaw is like pedaling a bicycle on a flat surface in the lowest gear possible; lots of flailing about with little forward momentum.
    Interesting comparisons with my own experience.

    My first saw bench was made taller than needed and cut to fit. The height was selected by standing on boards in use and then subtracting the most comfortable height from the legs. All of my saw benches after that were sized to it.

    When my rhythm gets going one or more of my saws will hit the deck if it gets too vertical.

    I have thought of building a higher saw bench with a platform to stand on.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

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    This is also as I recall the video and Ron Herman's article in PWW. He makes the point, and it is correct, that arm length though correlated with height is not a one to one correlation and that arm and leg lengths will vary significantly among people of the same height. We are all proportioned slightly differently.

    I'm 6' even and measure 28" from the crook between the anterior deltoid muscle at the front of the shoulder and the pectoralis major - the largest chest muscle, so a 28" saw fits me perfectly. While that is about the same as the measurement for Ron, who I believe indicated his height was 6'4", my saw bench is 22 inches in height (which I believe is three or four inches higher than Ron's.)

    It really is all about individual proportions and, as I discovered in athletics long ago, those different proportions and different short and fast twitch muscles can mean very great differences in specific tasks that are often quite surprising. Appearance is often deceiving. Function is everything.

    Finding what is right for you is what matters. What that size or measure is matters not at all except that it works for you.
    Last edited by Russ Webb; 05-09-2012 at 2:45 AM.

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    NP Joe, I am getting a little nutty about saws too. I finally won an auction for a # 12 in nice condition today, 24" 8 ppi. It only took me a few months of looking and making bids to finally win one. It has taken me about 6 months of practicing with an assortment of saws to come up with what I like and seems to fit my body and style. I find the 24" saw gives me a little extra saw at the end of my cut that prevents any risk of pulling the saw out of the cut, like Andrae's 22" saw. I do well with a 22" saw too but if I get too feisty I find myself getting right up to the end of the tip. I feel like I have to over extend my natural "swing" to use the better part of a 26" plate. My hand seems to fit the 24 & 22" saws the best too.

  13. Quote Originally Posted by Mike Holbrook View Post
    I have run a couple other threads regarding more specific hand sawing issues none of which seems to consolidate the whole topic into one discussion, thus this post.

    First I was just watching Ron Herman's video on fitting a hand/panel saw to the user. I am about 5' 10" average height or a little under. I was amazed to discover that Ron's arm measurement is a full 6" longer than mine. I did not realize that I apparently have midget arms. I have to stretch to reach 22" and Ron is 28", wow. I went and checked my wife who is an actual midget at about 5' 3" and was further amazed to find she measured 24". No wonder a 26" saw feels long to me. It may be that all the wrestling and slinging dogs around in the air on a bite sleeve may have added muscle mass to my shoulders and chest that alter my measurement but still. I was aware that saws with 24 & 22" plates feel better to me. Now I find myself wondering if I am just weird or if there is that much difference in peoples arm lengths?

    My hands may be on the small side too, more broad than long I would say. 24 & 22" handles typically fit about the way Ron's video indicates they should. Using Ron's saw bench height measurement system I am 3" shy of his 18" mark. Again I wonder if I am just different?
    Mike, I much prefer a panel saw at 22". I'm exactly 6' tall and wear a 33" sleeve length dress shirt. I have way more control over the shorter saw. I also no longer see much use for the typical 8 pt. 26" saw for furnituremaking. I do rough breakdowns with an even shorter toolbox saw with Japanese impulse-hardened teeth, a throwaway saw. I've had a number of Disstons pass through my hands over the years and nothing flies through wood like one of these. I tend to cut wood high - a lot of times on an old Black and Decker Workmate. My tender, arthritic knees won't take the 'classic' position hunched over a saw bench holding the stock down with a knee. The Workmate puts the wood high and a shorter saw feels better and my cuts stay straighter.

  14. #14
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    Watching the last half of Herman's DVD on tuning hand saws this AM, I made an important discovery. I now know why I have over a dozen hand saws. Ron has two of each size 5-10 or 11. He tunes one saw for hard wood and one for soft. The soft wood saws have higher fleam angles ( 15-25) than the hard wood saws (10-20). His suggestion for a compromise saw is 20. He even mentions that this rationale can be used with spouses, good to know! It is also apparently good to have practice/lesser saws for risky operations like tensioning a western saw blade with a hammer and anvil. Since I started my collection going for the cheapest saws I could find I have a good selection of saws of debatable value.

    The part of his information that I was not familiar with is his belief that sharper fleam angles can actually make a worse cut in harder woods than lesser fleam angles. I thought a sharper fleam always cut better but just dulled faster in harder woods. He actually demos a cut in red oak and appears to get a smoother cut with a saw with less fleam. I think I am going to need to watch that chapter again and see if I can ferret out the why a little more clearly.

    Charlie you make some interesting points. I am not getting any younger and I am not sure how comfortable I will be holding work with my knees. Now if I could rest my ample gluteus maximus on the work...I can see this sawing position being more comfortable for a noodle body like Schwarz. One of the reasons I bought several 24" saws instead of dropping back to 22s was I figured I could use a longer saw at a saw bench than at the work bench I am clamping my work pieces in now. It is interesting that we apparently have the same sleeve measurement for dress shirts too. Want a Workmate tend to wobble too much? The old one I inherited seems too light. I have been thinking that standing, two handed sawing might work better at a standard work bench. One of the reasons my work bench plan is a split top is my thought that the split might be a handy place to saw in. I have wondered in the past if Tage Frid's affection for bow saws might have had to do with the sawing style working better standing at a bench.
    Last edited by Mike Holbrook; 05-09-2012 at 9:34 AM.

  15. #15
    20 degrees is a good compromise. I haven't found a great reason to deviate from it with anything, and if you keep your saws sharp and keep the rake angles where you want them, you'll probably find you're not lacking too much for cutting speed in anything. And you can still limit the set pretty well because it's not likey that you'll be cutting a lot of 2x12 pine boards. Charlie's suggestion is good if you do - it's hard to beat the speed of a good quality japanese tooth profile impulse hardened saw, especially in a crosscut. The only thing I wish the maker's doing the western saws would figure out is how to get the teeth as precise as a japanese gyochuko or Z saw - even the ones designed for coarser crosscuts, which would give up no speed and cuts cleaner than any hand filed western saw I've ever seen. But the teeth on the western saws with teh impulse hardened teeth just aren't quite as crisp and sharp.

    I like longer saws. By the herman measure, I have somewhere around 28 1/2 inches from the top of my armpit to the tip of my fingers, though I'm not very tall (5'9"). I do like a 28" saw for a rip, which is a decent fit, and it's not long enough to hit the floor on my sawbench at the end of a stroke. It's close, though. I can get along with 26" fine, too, and I'd suspect most people who are still limber and who rip by hand a fair amount (how many could that be, though?) and rip boards that are in the 3-4 foot range might like those sizes because you can get a long stroke and really dig.

    But you never know until you use them, and it only matters that you like what you use and you use it to effect well enough to be happy with it.

    My favorite hardwood crosscut saw for bigger boards is a 12 tpi 26 inch long older spear and jackson saw. Still reasonably fast in hardwood, decent weight, but a very neat cut and smooth to use. Any decrease in speed vs. an 8 or so point crosscut saw is more than made up for by how clean the cut is.

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