Just around six weeks ago I watched a video on the Paul Sellers Woodworking Masterclasses web page detailing the construction of a traditional bow saw (frame saw). I’ve always been somewhat fascinated with bow saws, though I can’t say I know much about them in the historical sense. I know they’ve been around for a long, long time, but just how long I cannot say. They are a deceptively simple tool: three sticks, some tensioning string, and a blade, but they are surprisingly effective and versatile. A bow saw frame can accommodate scrolling blades, rip blades, cross cut blades, etc. And apparently they work well. So just after watching the videos I ordered a saw from ebay just to get the feel of it. I then decided to make my own.
I hadn’t initially planned on attempting this project so soon. In fact, just a few weeks ago I sharpened, oiled, and placed most of my chisels in their storage rolls. Then my area was gifted with the warmest December weather we’ve ever had. While I don’t care for hot days in December all that much to be honest, it was excuse enough to order in the parts and get some of the chisels back on the rack. Like a Christmas miracle, my order arrived on Christmas eve, and while my wife and daughter were out and about the day after Christmas, I started the project.
Before I continue, I feel the need to mention that I ordered the kit and downloaded the plans from Tools for Working Wood. And to jump ahead, if I were building another one of these saws, the only portion of the kit I would order again is the pins and saw blades, but I digress.
I started off by milling the wood and cutting it to length. TFWW recommends hickory, but I used some walnut I had laying around. I planed the wood according to the dimensions in the plans, and then sawed the tenons on the cross stretcher. On another note, if you don’t enjoy using a hand plane this is not the project for you, and while I supposed you could use power tools to do some of the milling, the parts are too small (IMO) for anything but hand tools.
I used a marking knife to lay out all of the critical junctures to make measuring easier. Chopping out the shallow mortise was easy enough, and once that was finished I had a fit that was a hair looser than I would have liked, but I also had, for all intents and purposes, a working saw, which took just over an hour to finish.
The difficult part was in the shaping. Dealing with boards this size is not always easy, in particular when trying to add subtle curves. I did much of that work with a chisel, saw, and spokehave, sawing, chopping, and smoothing as I went. I then tapered both tines, beginning in the middle and working all the way back. As I said, if you do not enjoy hand planes then this project is not for you. However, I won’t bore any of you with all of the minutiae. I see hundreds of woodworking photographs with benchtops and floors littered with shavings, and while they may have been fun to make, describing the whole process of making them does not make for good reading.
Once the shaping was to my liking, I did another test fit, tweaked it here or there, coated it with linseed oil and gave it a trial run. The saw cut just fine. I then made a decent toggle using a bubinga scrap I had left over from my smooth plane project, added a notch ( or is it nock) to the toggle and tines, and the saw was finished. In just around four hours the entire saw was completed
Would I attempt another one of these? Absolutely. Would I purchase the kit again? No. The handles, which look pretty and fit nicely in the pins, are useless. They are not snug enough to turn the blade, which to me is their only purpose. I suppose I may be able to fix that with epoxy, but we shall see. Next time I may make my own handles. The string is too thin and tensions a bit too quickly (believe me that is a real thing). Two of the three included blades snapped during use at the pins. Could it be from over tensioning? Possibly and probably, but I believe the tensioning string is the culprit, not my own brutish ways. I plan on replacing that string with some nylon mason’s line as soon as I get to the hardware store to pick it up.
Overall I am happy with this project. This being a prototype, it is a bit rougher than I would like. The marking knife lines are still visible and the shaping is utilitarian, otherwise it works just fine. I believe it will make a nice scroll saw. It tensions much better than any coping saw I’ve ever used, and it has a longer stroke. And, it is surprisingly comfortable.
So I may attempt another one of these saws when I can. Right now I’m not thinking about it, because sure as the sun rises the cold weather returned today, and the arrival of that cold weather meant the departure of any projects I had planned for our fortunate blast of mild weather. Once again I cleaned up my chisels and put them back in their rolls. Maybe they’ll be out again before spring, I hope so, but for now I’m not concerned with furniture, because I have some tools to restore…