The Slightly Confused Woodworker

Home » Tool Making » It’s a bow saw.

It’s a bow saw.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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…

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19 Comments

  1. Wesley Beal says:

    Great minds at work again. I picked up a used bow-saw this last week for much the same reason as you. Haven’t had a chance to try it out yet. If it feels right, I may make one or more of different sizes. Walnut is an interesting choice. Certainly makes for a beautiful saw.

    • billlattpa says:

      It was honestly a fairly easy project, though I hate the word easy because “easy” and “woodworking” very rarely go together. I should say that it was very straightforward: two mortises, two tenons, and two holes. As far as the walnut is concerned, I used it because I had it, though I do agree that it is a beautiful wood. Beech, or hickory, or ash probably would work better because of their springiness, but I have to imagine that most woods would work just fine.
      Thanks
      Bill

  2. Greg Merritt says:

    It turned out great Bill. What were you so worried about? It will be a handy saw to have at your disposal.
    Nice work.

  3. bloksav says:

    Great looking saw Bill.
    In Denmark they are traditionally furbished with some natural twine, Grayish in colour.
    But maybe masons string is the right choice. It will probably be easier to fine tune the tension by using that.
    I have also seen some using two threaded pieces, and a nut on the middle (I can’t remember the American term), the thread being left hand and right hand, so you can tighten it up that way.

    A Christmas day with a completed project sure sounds like a fine day to me.

    Happy New year
    Brgds
    Jonas

    PS I like your new punch line regarding replies.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Jonas! I actually was thinking about you when I was making it. I didn’t remember if you kept a saw such as this in your sea kit, but it is nice in the sense that it breaks down to a very compact size.
      I’ve seen the threaded pieces, and next time I may try bolt rod, but I do like the look of the thread and toggle.
      Thanks again and happy New Year to you and your family!
      Bill

  4. theindigowoodworker says:

    I’ve made two frame saws after watching the Seller’s videos. Don’t feel bad, my tenons weren’t as nice as I’d have liked either. It works fine though. The TFWW bow saw always intrigued me. Might have to get the pins and the blades. I kind of thought the rest of the kit was overpriced and not as good as they try to make it sound. Thanks for the heads up on that.

    • billlattpa says:

      The kit was just okay. The pins, to me, are the only part of the kit that are worth the cost. But the kit is not poorly made, it just isn’t completely necessary.
      Thanks
      Bill

  5. Wesley Beal says:

    Gotta question – haven’t done enough construction work to know for sure, so want to confirm. Is this the type of line you’re talking about using?:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00K2T2D1S

    • billlattpa says:

      That is basically it, though there are different gauges of it. I want a heavy gauge with a bit more spring. The stuff from TFWW is just too thin and unyielding IMO
      Thanks
      Bill

  6. Chris says:

    I’m going to be doing this myself over the long weekend. I took apart an old futon frame a while ago, so now I’ve got all these white oak pieces lying around begging for a project.

    • billlattpa says:

      White oak would look good. This was a fairly straightforward project. The final shaping took twice as long as the actual construction of the saw. Thanks, and good luck!
      Bill

  7. billlattpa says:

    White oak would look good. This was a fairly straightforward project. The final shaping took twice as long as the actual construction of the saw. Thanks, and good luck!
    Bill

  8. Art Watson says:

    Well played Captain! UF closes the week between Christmas and New Years so I’m still hoping for a bit of shop time as well. No issues with weather here it’s been in the 80’s.

    One day I too will build a bow saw, a fun build and useful tool. Merry Christmas to you and your family and to all my woodworking buddies around the world.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Art!
      This was a fun and believe it or not simple project. And the saw works well.
      Happy New Year and Merry Belated Christmas to you and your family!

      Bill

  9. Kinderhook88 says:

    Nice job! This is on my projects list also, but I’m afraid it might be spring before I get to it.

    • billlattpa says:

      If you give it a try let me tell you that it is not overly difficult. Of course I had watched the Paul Sellers videos, and I own a bow saw, so I had some frame of reference. The Tools for Working Wood web page has free plans to down load, and I basically followed those. I had the frame of the saw made in just around an hour, it was the shaping that took up all the time.
      Good Luck
      Thanks.
      Bill

  10. One way to prevent over-tensioning would be to run the toggle in a nut which allows you to do half turns, like here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BAnFlDWIGd4/
    I shaped the nut on the outside, cut it along the length, shaped the inside, inserted the toggle, and glued it back together.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks for the tip; believe it or not I actually considered going that route. My solution was switching to cotton mason’s line (it’s similar to yarn but thinner). The twine has a bit more give, so it seems to tension better. The other string I used seemed to go from loose to overly taut in just half a turn, there was no adjustability there.
      Thanks
      Bill

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