Old School CNC

July 4, 2010

A really huge difference between me and the old makers is that I work the way I do by choice; they worked the way they did because that was the only way to work. It was work. If they’d had access to cell phones and CNC capability they probably would have torn off their puffy shirts and run around yelling, “Goooooaaaaaaaaaaal!” Big breath. “Gooooooooaaaaaaaal!”

Which isn’t to say they didn’t care about their work; guys using CNC today care about their work. But the reality is that most of the Western saw tradition is in fact that of production saw making. The West doesn’t really have an artisan saw tradition like the East does. Which is too bad. Because Western saws are fascinating and subtle tools that lend themselves to just the sorts of refinements that are best rendered by careful individual work. They’re capable of holding and responding to those refinements not unlike how boxwood is capable of holding fine details when it is carved.

(boxwood armored horse carving)

When you point out that you use hand tools you risk people thinking that you’re being kind of ideological about it. Nevermind that I use machines for some things too. Ideology isn’t what interests me—I work the way I do because it’s such a powerful exploratory and creative tool. It agrees with me for that reason. It allows me to work at the resolution I want to. Here are a few pictures of my old school CNC—some of it anyway.

(various large rasps and files)

(various carving tools and chisels)

(small shop-made gouge with walnut handle)

(small sampling of needle files)

I think there’s a lot of potential for saws to be refined in the Western tradition. There are a lot of nice saws being made these days. Nicer than have been made in a long, long time. But the thing is that Western saws have pretty much always been production tools. There will always be a home for good production saws. It seems to me the really interesting frontier for Western saws is in the artisanal direction, just the opposite trend that you’d see with something that started out artisanal and that was subsequently productionized.

It’s like sometimes you have to go backwards in order to go forwards.


  1. Wow Andrew, this is gorgeous work!! I Think I want something special on the tote of my saw… Let me know what you think!!

  2. Hi David,

    Thank you very much.

    I’ll write you privately about your saw.


  3. Wait a second… how did you take that third picture, Andrew?

    (Amazing work, by the way. I’m saddened to think I’ll never have the chance to own one! But… yeah, I get it.)

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