Gas Up the DeLorean

November 30, 2010

Maybe even have Biff give it a good spit shine. Today’s destination? Seventeenth century Denmark. The joiner’s guild has built an ornate chest with various tools of their trade depicted on it. Chests like this were constructed by guilds and proudly displayed by them in their guild halls. A black and white photograph of the front of this chest is on page 130 of Goodman’s History of Woodworking Tools. Let’s don our puffy shirts and go in for a closer look.

All of the tools depicted on the chest are interesting, but one particularly caught my eye. Even if you didn’t already know, you could probably guess which one—that bow saw with the nice lines and the scrolls at the tops of the arms. Some time back, a year or more I’d guess, my neurons were mounting a titanic mutiny and I decided I needed a side project—so I decided to make this saw. I normally don’t copy or reproduce tools, but that’s pretty much what I did here, with the exception of a few liberties that I’ll explain momentarily.

Different people mean different things when they use the word “reproduce”—all biological senses of the word notwithstanding. With this saw my goal was to make a “reasonable” copy but not to agonize over reproducing the saw down to its last molecule. I wouldn’t imagine that was the spirit in which the original was made anyway.

So making the saw involved one actual measurement—the blade is about 22″ long. I chose that length because I thought it would be useful, and because the saw on the chest clearly is not a small turning saw. Everything else was sized according to information gleaned from the image on the chest, or in the case of the stretcher, the length was dictated by the length of the blade. I sketched an arm of the saw onto some poster board to make a pattern for the arms.

The toggle that tightens the cord is one of the places I took some liberties. The one on the actual saw is plain and I chose to put some low relief carving on mine. I also made the brackets that hold the blade decorative. The one liberty I took that I soon regretted was to make one of the saw’s handles longer and more vase-like. With the way the arms of the saw are shaped, it tilts your wrist right down into that handle. That could be easily fixed by simply replacing that handle with one that matches the handle on the far end, but in fact, making this saw once showed me several things I would do differently were I to make it again, so I didn’t bother changing anything.

For instance, I didn’t entirely care for the curvature of the lower part of the arm for other reasons—the way it forces your wrist to tilt really saps your leverage and feels awkward. Were I to make this saw again I’d play around with that lower part of the arm to find something a bit more user friendly while retaining the character of the saw. Also, there is more wood in this saw than in most bow saws—while it was not ungainly or unwieldy, were I to make a second one I would play around more with the design to make it a bit lighter. Why not?

So why not just replace the large handle on this saw and tweak the arms a bit more? Well, I think I’d rather just leave this saw as it is and keep it as a frame of reference for subsequent forays. Sometimes it is best to let a first piece be a first piece, rather than try to impose on it from the outside a degree of refinement it didn’t possess from its inception. I just haven’t gotten around to making the second saw yet. Maybe some of you would like to make it too.

But first thing’s first—let’s get out of the 17th century before something happens and we’re stuck for the rest of our lives with no indoor plumbing. Or worse, 17th century beer!


  1. This is a very cool looking bow saw and is inspiring me to get to work on building one. I’m sure mine will be a little simpler but I’m excited all the same. Thanks for showing us all this excellent bit of work.

    • Hey Mike,

      Thanks, and that’s great you’re going to build one for yourself. I’d love to see it when you’re done. You’ll be glad you made it—it’s an old design with enough specificity to it that it really is like having something very old in your shop. Good luck!

  2. Hey Andrew!


    Wow, I’ve seen quite a few bow saws that various woodchucks have made, but this one is by far the best I’ve seen. I really like how you shaped and formed the joints between the cross bar and the arms. And the means of connecting the blade to the arms. Very nice. Your carving abilities are evident all over this thing. What is the tooth profile?

    You should show it off on that woodworking forum. There’s someone there who has probably made a couple hundred of these things and can instruct you in detail as to what you did wrong and how you can do it “right”. *smirk* (I didn’t say this, someone else did)

    I was wondering what other projects you were working on. I should have just dropped in on you here a few days earlier.


  3. Hey Marv,

    Thank you very much. I appreciate that. It was an interesting saw to make—the design doesn’t obey the same economy of materials you tend to see nowadays. The wood had to be thicker in spots to accommodate different features, like the scrolls. The tooth profile is 6ppi rip, filed with a very ordinary amount of rake, nothing special, probably 6-8 degrees. It cuts awfully fast.

    Take care Marv,

  4. Whoa! Beautiful.

    Now that’s what you need to break down a half steer carcass. Put on the steaks!

    • Hey FJ, thanks! Whenever I need this saw in the kitchen I just brush the wood chips out of the teeth and have at it. It doesn’t do so well slicing tomatoes, but you can blaze your way through a holiday turkey like nobody’s business!

  5. Thanks for the inspiring words re: letting your early work be early work.

    I think too many people get too caught up in trying to make things just right before their technical or design skills have caught up… and I worry that many of them get discouraged early on as a result. There’s no reason that an amateur should be ashamed of producing quality amateur work, unless they never take the time to learn how to progress beyond that…

    • Hey James,

      Nice to hear from you. I think you make a very good point—It’s one thing to challenge oneself, quite another to be mean to oneself! Learning how to do things wouldn’t be nearly as exhilarating if there were no risk involved. Heck, even after you learn how to do things there is always risk, and always that critical eye that keeps things interesting. So absolutely, people need to be nice to themselves and understanding. That’s just the way it is. I heard a guy say something a little while back that was very true—something like, “If you want to learn something badly enough, nothing will stop you; but if you don’t want to learn it that badly, nothing can get you to learn it.”

      I don’t think it’s any mistake that really nice work often has a sense of warmth about it—it takes a lot of kindness to get to there!

      See you around James!

  6. Hey Andrew….

    It’s time for another one of your interesting blog entries.


  7. What Marv said.

  8. Marv and James, I hear ya. I’ve got something in the pipeline, should be up soon. Thanks for the kind thoughts.

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