The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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That’s better.


I went in my garage this afternoon after work to get in a little tool maintenance on a dreary day. Since I’ve been practicing sawing dovetails whenever I get a chance, I decided to sharpen a few saws and hone a few chisels while I was at it.

The other day I posted about the virtues of having a leg vise on your woodworking bench. I like to think I made a pretty strong case, but there is one thing I forgot to add: A leg vise can also be used as a saw vise. The wide face and deep offer both clamping power and room to spare. I simply use two scrap boards on each side of the saw, clamp it into the vise, and go to town. There is a drawback; you either have to stoop or sit down so do the filing, and considering I don’t like to stoop if I can’t help it I use a stool, though I would prefer to stand, unlike Wesley Beal ;).

Let’s see a face vise easily do this…

I sharpened my dovetail saw and my rip saw, as well as honed a few chisels. But I still had the bad taste in my mouth of the hideous tails-first dovetails I cut  the other day, so I  decided to do something about it.

Because I like to think I’m pretty good at sawing through dovetails, I decided on yet another different approach, I decided to saw left handed. I’ll let everybody in on a little secret about Mr. Confused; I am what is known as ‘Cross-Dominant’

Cross-dominance isn’t a preference for certain clothing, it is just means that I favor my left hand for certain tasks, my right for the other. For instance, I throw with my left hand and write with my right hand. I shoot a rifle left-handed, play a guitar right handed, and shoot a basketball left-handed. But when it comes to woodworking I favor my right hand. I saw, plane, and hammer with my right hand. In fact, I can’t think of one woodworking task where I favor my left hand.

This wasn’t always the case. When I was a kid I would likely have sawn or hammered something with my left hand. For whatever reasons as I’ve gotten older I prefer doing things right-handed more and more. Perhaps that is because I no longer play organized sports, and it was only when playing sports that my left-handedness came to the forefront. And for the record, cross-dominance offers no real significant advantage in life that I know of, though it may explain why I’m a decent musician and why I can type like the devil.

In any event, what brought this little experiment on is an odd little quirk I have when sawing dovetails. I’ve always had trouble with sawing the tail on the far left of the board. I can’t really explain why, but it has always been the case. I can saw a board with ten tails on it, and the far left saw cut always gives me grief, whether I saw it last, first, or somewhere in the middle. My idea was to saw just that cut with my left hand to see if it improves. Instead, I decided to try the whole joint left-handed.

Strangely enough, I had almost no problems using my left hand, and it felt fairly natural after a few seconds. The joint turned out pretty nicely as well, only minimal gaps and a nice snug fit. And though I don’t see any real advantage to sawing with my left hand, that far left kerf was a bit easier.

Left-handed dovetails, pencil lines look like gaps, but I assure you they are not…

The next time I get in a little practice I will likely be sawing with my right hand again, but I think I may try to saw just that far left kerf left-handed again. Whether or not it is just a mental thing, or the fact that the angle is physically easier to saw with my left hand, or a little bit of both, it seemed to work, and it seems worth working at.



  1. Wesley Beal says:

    Interesting. I’m right-handed, and not cross-dominant. While reading this I was wondering what would happen if I tried to saw left-handed for a bit anyway. I’m not saying I think it would work out well. I wonder though if it would help some by teaching me to get my hand and wrist out of the way of the saw. I imagine the difficulty I have doing anything precise with my left hand might lead me to rely more on the position of my elbow and shoulder…. Also it might work against the tendency to incorrectly muscle into a cut that isn’t going right.

    It could be great practice. I’ll have to clamp up a board, pull up a chair, and give it a try soon.

    • billlattpa says:

      Sorry about the late response. I could not get on wordpress last night for some reason.
      I am left-eye dominant, which may help in baseball but otherwise it’s nothing to brag about. When sawing with my right hand it does not become an issue until I am across my body sawing to the right. I still can’t seem to figure out exactly why only one saw kerf gives me something of a problem, but it seemed that using my left hand “corrected” it. Still, while being able to saw proficiently with both hands may be some sort of accomplishment, I have no huge desire to become a master at it. I just want to be good enough to be confident when the need arises.

  2. ausworkshop says:

    Another thing to consider is which eye is more dominant. I read something Paul Sellers wrote about how to test which eye is your dominant one. I think I had heard it in the past then forgot about it until I read what he said and then I tested mine. My left eye is the dominant one, being right handed this was causing some problems and once you’re aware of it things seem to be easier, I too struggle with the left hand cut but now I concentrate on using my dominant eye when focusing on the pencil line while sawing and it works. Sometimes it’s just a matter of moving your head over a little more to the left or right and be aware of which eye you are using. If you want me to explain how to test your dominant eye let me know, you probably read Paul Sellers post when he spoke of it.
    By moving my head position a little to the right I noticed all my sawing or cutting to lines improved. I personally wouldn’t be trying to use my left hand, I rely on muscle memory in my right hand too much, this is a direct link through your eye to your brain, I feel like I’d be starting all over trying to relearn with my left but I can see how it is worth experimenting with if you’re a cross dresser like yourself 🙂

    • orepass says:

      I’m left eye dominant and very right handed. Like you I have to close an eye or maneuver my head. I find this most difficult in saw sharpening.

    • billlattpa says:

      I’m left eye dominant, yet I saw with my right hand, so I know exactly what you mean. My little “trick” worked, and I may yet use it again, but I would much rather keep the sawing to one hand unless the unusual circumstance of having to use my left hand comes into play. Fortunately, when growing up I used my left hand far more than I do today, so there is some muscle memory there already.
      I don’t think I’ll be doing this as a regular part of practice, but to keep it in the arsenal isn’t a bad idea. thanks.

  3. Sylvain says:

    Shanon of the “renaissance woodworker” also blogged about training the two arms on August 4 2014.

  4. Brian says:

    The dove tails look good. That’s something I’ve been working on also. It takes quite a bit of practice.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks! They do take some work, but they aren’t overly difficult. If I were to give some advice, I would say to use a dovetail angle gauge because it will help you saw at a consistent angle and develop muscle memory. And of course try to practice at least every other day.
      Good luck!

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