Though I liked high school as much as a three-year-long colonoscopy, there are sometimes when it takes a high school teacher to teach you something.
In this case, it was a high school physics teacher who taught me an important lesson about tenon saws. Here’s the story.
For the last few years, I’ve been trying to explain to people how a freakishly huge tenon saw is actually easier to balance on your work (no matter what the size of your work) than a smaller tenon saw or sash saw.
“It’s the higher center of gravity,” I implored to a room full of blank stares. “It’s higher – that gravity thing – so it’s… easier. You know?”
This is a truth I know in my gut. The Wenzloff & Sons Kenyon-style tenon saw I’ve been using for the last couple years is a breeze to balance. This is despite the fact that the blade is 19” long and it feels like there is almost 6” of blade under the huge and heavy brass back. When you see this saw, your first instinct is to think: That saw is going to tip and stagger like Gunsmoke’s “Festus.”
But once you try this saw, you think differently.
But try explaining that to people. After my feeble attempt, a high school physics teacher jumped into the conversation. He said this is easy to explain: Try balancing a broom up in the air on a few fingers. If you have the bristles on your hand, it’s harder to balance the broom than if you have the bristles in the air.
This, he explained, is why the big tenon saw is easier to balance in the air. Having the weight up in the air makes it easier for you to sense if the saw is out of balance and to make corrections. This, I concluded, is a brilliant explanation.
Back in our shop in Cincinnati I tried this experiment with our shop broom. It really was easier to balance it with the bristles in the air.
So I used this analogy last weekend to explain the tenon saw to a group of 40 or so woodworkers. To demonstrate, I looked around for a broom. No luck. So I picked up my Warrington hammer to show them how this works.
First I put the hammer head in my palm and showed how shaky it was. Then I balanced it with the head in the air. And my precious and very early Warrington hammer plunged to the concrete floor.
Dang. I still dislike school.
— Christopher Schwarz