I Found a Use for my Lower Horn

WARNING: The following blog post has been rated PG by the Society for Reverence and Decency in Woodworking Writing for its use of the expression “man nipples” and an inappropriate use of a tongue depressor.

People like to think that everything has a purpose. Woodworkers are no different. We’ve spent lots of brainpower inventing uses for the “nib” on a handsaw and the “rabbeting ledge” on a powered jointer. Given enough time, we might even come up with a use for man nipples.

So it is with great and turgid excitement that I announce that I have come up with a use for the lower horn on a handsaw or backsaw.

Let’s back up a second. Horns? Yes, good saws have horns. They are the two little bits of wood that flare out from the grip. Until recently I suspected they were there only to get broken off, forcing the anal retentive woodworker into ordering a replacement tote.

But no, the lower horn can have an important function.

Whenever I teach someone to saw, I plead with them to apply no downward pressure as they begin the kerf. I ask them to pretend that their saw is a hovercraft and to allow it to float gently for a couple stokes as the teeth slip gently into the work, parting the wood fibers with care.

Jamming the teeth into the work will get you nowhere. In fact, usually you will get stuck because the teeth will divot the work. Then as you push forward, the teeth won’t slice; instead they will jump forward from divot to divot.

But if you take all the weight off the saw, the teeth will slice cleanly.

And here is where your lower horn comes in. If you can feel the lower horn pressing hard into your palm then all the weight is off the toothline. So relax your hand, hold the saw with little or no grip and let the weight of the saw’s tote drop onto your middle finger. The lower horn will start to push into your palm. When it is pressing firmly, then move the saw backward and forward.

This advice is not in any old book that I know of. This has never been taught to me by anyone. As a result, it is as valid as a person confined to a bed (an “invalid,” get it? Just trying to offend another entire category of people).

But give it a try. It works when I teach, and it works when I saw.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Chris Schwarz

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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16 Responses to I Found a Use for my Lower Horn

  1. John Griffin-Wiesner says:

    You forgot to include a warning about the use of “turgid.” That coupled with “excitement” and we’ve got red flags flying all over the place.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Mike Siemsen says:

    I thought the Lower Horn was for tooting but then I started to think it was more like Navin Johnson’s “Special Purpose”.
    Thanks for the clarification on the special purpose of the lower horn. Now I ponder what the upper horn is for other than symmetry.

  3. Matt says:

    Chris,

    I think I read about this somewhere, and Hasluck and Bernard Jones come to mind. It might be Hasluck’s Carpentry and Joinery Illustrated, but I will have to check. Anyway, I remember a book talking about this because I specifically remember them mentioning that this is the reason that big one-man crosscut logging saws only have horns on the bottom of the handle-because they are so heavy, no one ever should or would want to put additional downward force on the saw while cutting. They would only want to put force on the bottom horn to lighten the cut.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  4. I sorry, but what does this have to do with the opening paragragh? I mean man nipples and tongue depressors, really. This is too much fun. then again good sawing is about letting go and letting the “tool” do the work right. Thanks

  5. DonP says:

    And I thought it was a reference to a
    Futurama episode.

  6. Peter Oster says:

    AHH, the joys being self employed

  7. Derek Cohen says:

    Hi Chris

    I do the same – in fact it is how I judge is the saw handle is too large or small … and probably the reason why Andrew Lunn asked me for the measurement across my palm from the point under my thumb when designing a handle to suit my paw.

    I came across a while back an image of Ernest Joyce’s hand hold, and your post here reminded me of it. He relieves the pressure on the saw by use of his thumb …

    [img]http://i442.photobucket.com/albums/qq141/rpsl4725/IMG_4519.jpg[/img]

    (not sure if I can post images here?).

    Regards from Perth

    Derek

  8. Jacob Butler says:

    “We’ve spent lots of brainpower inventing uses for the “nib” on a handsaw” only because there is a firmly fixed myth that nobody quite knows what it is for.
    But it has one obvious and valuable purpose – to indicate that you have pulled the saw out as far as you safely can before plunging down again. Any further out and you risk bending the blade.
    It’s a good beginners teaching aid to mark a nibless saw near the end, with a felt tip, for the same reason.
    It’s a no-brainer but woodworking myths are exceptionally hard wearing!

  9. Rob H says:

    You obviously have not spent enough time in New York or L.A. Man nipples are cleary for holding bits of metal in spike, barbell, and chain varieties….

  10. Rick Roberts says:

    On Ron Herman’s sharpening DVD he mentions that your hand and the pressure applied is like the gas pedal in your car. That is part of what makes his DVD effective. The visual from that description is perfect. Of course pressing harder on a saw has nothing to do with going faster, but it does give you a way to judge the feeling of the saw at the start of a cut.

    This method does make it much harder to keep your saw square to your cut. The blade has a tendency wobble like weebles. Hand strength and practice.

    Excuse me while I go and treat my lumber to death by a thousand cuts. After that, may I be able to hold my saw square.

    Rick

  11. Michael Rogen says:

    Chris,

    I begged you to get some help!

    Michael

  12. smbarnha says:

    Thanks Chris – I really appreciated your advice to let the saw float and now the specifics on the grip and middle finger support.

    But what about the tongue depressor?

  13. smbarnha says:

    Thanks Chris. I have appreciated your advice to let the saw float in the cut, and now the specifics on hand grip and middle finger support.

    By the way, what about the tongue depressor?

  14. smbarnha says:

    Sorry about the double post.

  15. smbarnha says:

    Sorry about the double post…

  16. Bruce Somers says:

    Thanks for the tip.. I went out to the shop, laid out some lines on a piece of scrap and put my grammercy DT saw to work. Applying pressure with the middle finger really did help. Now all I have to do is get my eyes properly aligned and I might actually get cutting straight down the line!

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