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Thread: Quick Western Saw Question

  1. #1
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    Quick Western Saw Question

    I had a quick technique question when using western saws. When starting a cut, do you start on the back corner, front corner, or flat? I just received my first dovetail back saw and am getting the hang of it. Thanks!

  2. #2
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    Everybody uses their own technique that works best for them.

    My dovetails start with cutting more or less flat to establish a square cut. Then the saw is tilted to cut to the line on the side closest to me while the back side is kept in the square starting kerf. When the saw gets close to the base line the saw is then slowly leveled to cut the back side.

    The same technique would likely also work for cutting pins first.

    Pins first, tails first, what ever works.

    jtk
    Last edited by Jim Koepke; 12-30-2021 at 6:16 PM.
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  3. #3
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    I usually start on the off corner. I back up until there is enough of a flat for several teeth to ride on.....unless it's a thin piece, or some other reason. In reality, I never think about it, and have been questioned when I do it a different way, but it's not something I'm thinking about. Rip toothed dovetail saws are usually started flat, to get several teeth working.

  4. #4
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    Same here...on cross cuts, I start at the far corner, and saw back to me. The only time the handle will get "lowered" is to correct the saw's path..

    On Dovetail work..I try to keep the saws level...

    Once a saw gets started, I also try to use the entire length of the saw. Saw will wear better. Instead of a short stretch in the center....getting dull.

    Been known to use a saw on dados and rebates....usually at both the entrances and the exits....to prevent the dado planes from blowing out an edge...saw is at 45 degrees...bottom of the saw kerf is the bottom of the dado/rebate...top of the cut? wherever the saw stops cutting. (spurs/nickers are nice, going cross grain....I like a little "prevention"..)
    A Planer? I'm the Planer, and this is what I use

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    I agree with Jim you should try all three and be at least minimally familiar with them. It is (my opinion) perfectly fine to have a preferred way to do it at the bench in the shop under controlled conditions, but as soon as you carry a small tool box out onto the lawn to work on the porch railing it is "game on" and you will be glad to be familiar with all three techniques.

    I am still fooling around with dovetailing too. I used to be in the "start at the front corner" camp. On my current project I used a wooden guide and a flat, upright saw to get my kerf started all the way across the end grain, then lifted the saw a bit, tilted to the tail angle and then made my cuts. These are turning out to be the best tails I have ever cut, but the folks starting at the back edge with some experience can easily make better tails than I am cutting this week.

    FWIW it is the same when cutting tenons on aprons for say a table, either crosscut for the shoulders or ripping for the cheeks. Having a favorite go to technique in the shop on your bench is fine, but your house will be quietly chuckling to itself while it figures out the most troublesome thing to break next. Timber framing, also similar. When you are cutting tenons on say a twelve foot 8x8 you are going to want to make every cut you possibly can before you move the timber, and you will want to move the timber the fewest possible times while you are cutting joints on it, therefore be familiar with all three techniques.

    Perfectly fine to have a favored method - but you have to try them all to learn which one you like best.

  6. #6
    I read this a while back and I found it helpful. The author owns Tools for Working Wood in NYC. LINK
    YMMV.
    Last edited by Frederick Skelly; 12-31-2021 at 6:04 AM. Reason: Typo
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  7. #7
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    You said dovetail saw. When sawing dovetails I saw flat on the tail board and pin board if through tails and of coarse on the near side for blind pins. I always try to start with a forward stroke and take most of the weight off the saw when starting a cut.
    Jim

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    Thanks for the reference Frederick. Very helpful.

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    I noticed on the most recent project that I actually start with a very shallow bias towards the far edge when starting dovetails. Mostly because I was gang cutting 7/8" case sides. I've never noticed that, or I don't do that, on 1/2" drawer sides etc. But, on that longer cut starting on the corner and walking back seemed to be how I naturally fell into that, like cutting a carcass cross cut. In either case, once flat I just keep a flat saw and cut to the baseline on thorough dovetails. I'm of the camp where I don't attempt to restrict the inside cut from crossing the line though.
    ~mike

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  10. #10
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    I think thereís a Matt Kinney video out there somewhere that I watched once where be advised to make your arm like a piston. That visual helped me a lot. I know thatís not what you asked, but it helped me get the hang of using a western backsaw. Its kinda like playing pool or fly casting. Elbow in.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Keegan Shields View Post
    I had a quick technique question when using western saws. When starting a cut, do you start on the back corner, front corner, or flat? I just received my first dovetail back saw and am getting the hang of it. Thanks!
    A relatively lower tooth count and/or aggressively filed saw is easier to start on the far corner. A high tooth count saw -- 18 ppi + like a gent's saw, can be started flat on the end grain if you like, but starts well on a corner too. Find what works for you.

  12. #12
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    Thanks for the pointers. I will give the flat start a go. I'm finding that the first one or two strokes is tough to get started without chatter. Sounds like I need to take more weight off the saw to get started then use the weight of the saw when progressing down.

  13. #13
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    There is an old saying..."Let the saw do the work"
    A Planer? I'm the Planer, and this is what I use

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Keegan Shields View Post
    Thanks for the pointers. I will give the flat start a go. I'm finding that the first one or two strokes is tough to get started without chatter. Sounds like I need to take more weight off the saw to get started then use the weight of the saw when progressing down.
    If it doesn't feel right, just start it on a corner ("arris" or whatever you care to call it). Back corner feels more natural to me, but you do what you need to do to cut a good joint. Once you get a nick in the back corner you can bring the saw right down on the end grain while keeping it registered in the nick. You'll get the knack of using the nick!
    Last edited by Charles Guest; 12-31-2021 at 1:05 PM.

  15. #15
    Although not necessary, using a chisel to cut a kerf can help getting started too.

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