Teak Campaign Chest: Begin the Begin

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When I break down rough stock, I almost always use three sawbenches, a framing square and a handsaw.

Even when I had access to a monster radical-harm saw, I stuck to my handsaw because the process gave me loads of information that is lost in the roar of an electric tool.

The biggest advantage to using a handsaw is it makes you consider your cuts with care. I am less likely to make a mistake when I have a handsaw and a line. It might just be a personal problem, but fast machines encourage me to work at a faster pace, which makes me more prone to mistakes.

When I’m handsawing, I tend to repeat a quote I heard from an instructor at Lee Valley Tools: “Go slower. It’s faster.”

Also, the handsaw gives me buckets of information about the wood it’s chewing through. The saw tells me which boards are wet, which are dry. It reports back if there is a lot of internal tension in a board. Dense boards and lightweight boards are easy to pick out.

Plus you can sense when something has gone horribly wrong. Like tonight, when I was breaking down the rough-sawn 20th-century teak for my next campaign chest.

I cut down all the major parts of the carcases with no problem. But when I started cutting out the drawer fronts, the saw had this to report back: Dude, this ain’t teak.

Under 40 or 50 years of crud and dust and splinters, the saw found a very hard and dry mahogany. This first cut saved me from making a terrible set of mistakes when cutting out my drawer fronts.

That’s the good news. The bad news is I need some more teak for the drawer fronts.

Time to donate some plasma.

— Christopher Schwarz

Addition (2-18-13): I dug up from my notes the source of the quote. His name was Ian (don’t have his last name) from the Lee Valley store in Winnipeg.

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About Chris Schwarz

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in Books in the Works, Campaign Furniture, Projects. Bookmark the permalink.

49 Responses to Teak Campaign Chest: Begin the Begin

  1. Mike D. says:

    Ok what’s with the disposable saw?

  2. fitz says:

    Shouldn’t have mentioned it. Silence means security, silence means approval…

  3. djmueller says:

    Distill that to: Silence is golden.

  4. Jason says:

    OK, so you’ve discovered that you have dense boards and lightweight boards. What do you do with that information? You have already bought your wood, marked out your cuts, started cutting a section off that one and it’s lightweight …

    I have discovered the same thing in wood, but I don’t change my plan based on it. Do you? If so, why?

    • lostartpress says:

      I know that they are going to look different and I might change my game plan. Move the lightweight stuff to inside the case.

      More important is knowing about the moisture and tension. Those can reveal boards that need to sit a while and those that need to be set aside.

  5. Brian Dormer says:

    Plastic tote? Impulse hardened teeth? Where is the vintage Disston D-8? Out for sharpening?
    For shame…for shame!

    • Regis Will says:

      After cutting all that high silica teak It would definitely be out for sharpening. I’d be using the impulse hardened teeth too, and be checking out an extra tough iron for my plane.

      • James Gee says:

        So, essentially, the traditional hand-sharpened saw is fine for soft light work but for real tough jobs one needs a modern mass-produced and cleverly hardened saw. Right?

        What I really want to know is whether this special purpose saw has a place in the saw till of the writer’s tool chest. I don’t remember ever seeing it there.

      • lostartpress says:

        I had to buy it when I was out of town and had to break down stock for a job. I’m sure as heck not going to throw it away. And it fits fine in the chest, by the way.

        The real question will be what I do with it when it gets dull.

      • James Gee says:

        We’re lucky you’re good humoured enough to take all this ribbing. Thanks for being such a good sport.

  6. Chris,

    In addition to the sawbenches, saw and framing square, I find a carpenter’s pencil helpful.

    Chris

  7. Jerry Stover says:

    “Begin the Begin” – great R.E.M. Song. I’ve done some fantastic woodworking listening to Life’s Rich Pageant.

  8. John Jarosz says:

    I hope you’re not gonna paint teak

  9. Sam I Am says:

    I can safely say I’ve never cut into a board, without knowing what it was first.
    How did that happen!

  10. Sam I Am says:

    I do realize that in the rough some lumber is indistinguishable from others… I brush it, or hit it with a block plane… before I decide to just randomly saw into it.

    • lostartpress says:

      I didn’t “just randomly saw into it.”

      The seller – a hardwood dealer – said it was teak. It looked like the other boards.

      Not sure why you are chapping my ass about this.

      • Tom Pier says:

        I can’t figure that out either. the only woodworkers I know that never made an error are the ones who do their woodworking from an arm chair. First you get people flinging monkey poo about your saw choice, then you cut into mis-labled wood. I think for some ATC has become a religious tome.

      • No seriously. You catch grief for the utterly stupidest things.

  11. billlattpa says:

    What’s up with this blog? Who cares what saw the guy is using? Did it cut through the board or am I missing something? Maybe I’m forgetting what a hand saw is supposed to do, but I know that woodworkers make furniture using tools; tools don’t make woodworkers.

  12. Eric R says:

    “Go slower. It’s faster”.
    One to remember.
    Looking forward to seeing this project.
    Thanks Chris.

  13. Sam I Am says:

    Point taken Chris, no more ass chapping, take a plane with you next time you go digging through the lumber bin.

  14. Rob Porcaro says:

    Hey Chris,

    I am totally with you regarding the saw. I’ve been using a “Pony” brand saw, from Woodcraft, for a few years now for stock breakdown. The wicked hard Japanese-style three-bevel teeth fly through the wood. I like to keep it lubed with mutton tallow because at that price, of course, it is not taper ground. It has a cheesy square built into the handle – perfect for rough work!
    Info here:

    http://www.rpwoodwork.com/blog/2010/05/30/an-inexpensive-saw-that-does-its-job-well/

    Rob

  15. Niels says:

    At WIA, Rob Hermann kept saying “Slow is steady, steady is fast”.
    It’s a mantra that has stuck with me and I repeat it every chance I get.

  16. rpwoodwork says:

    Hey Chris,

    I am totally with you regarding the saw. I’ve been using a “Pony” brand saw, from Woodcraft, for a few years now for stock breakdown. The wicked hard Japanese-style three-bevel teeth fly through the wood. I like to keep it lubed with mutton tallow because at that price, of course, it is not taper ground. It has a cheesy square built into the handle – perfect for rough work!
    Info here:

    http://www.rpwoodwork.com/blog/2010/05/30/an-inexpensive-saw-that-does-its-job-well/

    Rob Porcaro

  17. Kevin Wilkinson says:

    Off topic. “When I’m handsawing, I tend to repeat a quote I heard from an instructor at Lee Valley Tools: “Go slower. It’s faster.””
    The quote struck me. The long distance motorcycling community has an old saw (no pun intended, I think) that says “slow down to go faster” High speed equals stress and higher fuel use which means more frequent stops which means more stress which equals less fun.
    Sorry for the motorcycle stuff, it’s been 4 months not riding, but more time in the ice cold shop.

  18. bawrytr says:

    If you think about it, it’s daft to use a good saw to cut up grotty rough lumber, unless you really enjoy sharpening saws. Most here work wood for fun. It can take a hour or so to sharpen a saw. If using a $10 disposable saw where you can saves you a couple of hours sharpening, most folks would consider that a bargain, given that time is money, even if you just toss the thing in the recycling bin afterwards. Doubly so for Schwarz, who makes a living writing about and teaching working wood with hand tools, not sharpening saws.

  19. Being a power tool user I say something different. “Oh Lord, let me leave this life with all my fingers.”

  20. Great article but I admit my only takeaway was “I need some more Teak”. Guess I’ve been in the lumber business too long now. Whatcha need Chris? Happy to help.

  21. Man, ass chapping over a saw? At least it wasn’t a Stihl Farm Boss.

  22. Paul says:

    Did not even notice the wonky saw, the cut on end of board, yes, then checked out the saw. There is a proper tool for even the crappiest job.

  23. Sometimes I randomly saw into boards in my shop multiple times, just to make sure it’s the same species all the way through.

    In all seriousness…

    (you can bet the next part will be anything but)

    Chris, to be fair, you have no ass to chap. You’re as flat as a tea… a mahogany board.

  24. Brian Dormer says:

    Maybe next time – take the $10 saw out of the cut. Slide in a Disston or Lie-Nielsen, then take the picture. Your reputation (and chapped ass) will be safe. BTW – On Chris’s review – I went out a grabbed the wood handled version of that saw – it cuts quite well – it’s worth the 10 bucks. Now if Stanley would just go dig up an old Disston tote and replace the crummy oversized tote they use. It’s big enough that you can use a 4 finger grip wearing thick, winter gloves – which may be their point – but I’d pay at least another 5 bucks for a really decent tote.
    On my list to make a new one – someday.

  25. Paul says:

    If I go any slower, it will be yesterday:-) :-)

  26. Sawdust maker says:

    Chris,
    when you use your hand saw,, are you right handed with right eye dominant or right handed with left eye dominant or left handed with left eye dominant or left handed with right eye dominant?

  27. Paul says:

    YES…….:-)

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