Little Teeth Filed for… Who Cares?

Recently, a woodworking colleague suggested to me that saw teeth designed for crosscutting are an invention of modern marketing.

Early saws, he suggested, we’re probably filed for basically a rip cut. But because the teeth were hand filed, they probably had a little fleam, which made them cut more smoothly than a pure rip tooth with no fleam.

It’s an interesting argument that has no real answer – until we find the DNA of an 18th-century saw filer encased in some amber and decide to open a theme park on a deserted tropical island (sign me up).

Other woodworking authorities I trust have suggested that saw filing patterns were actually more complex in the 18th century than they are today. In other words, we are the primitives.

All I know is that they can take away my Zona Razor Saw from my cold, dead hands. Or they can take it when it’s kinked – whichever comes first.

The Zona Razor Saw is a marvel of modern manufacturing. Made in the USA for the price of 2.5 chai lattes, it’s a 24 tpi backsaw with a .01”-thick sawplate that cuts on the pull stroke. I use this $11 saw for almost everything. Rips. Crosscuts. Miters. Whatever.

The magic of the saw is not in the fact that it’s filed for a rip cut, but that it has 24 tpi. Once you get to teeth that small, it really doesn’t matter so much how they are filed. This saw leaves glass-smooth surfaces when it rips and crosscuts. It tracks beautifully. It is comfortable and balanced.

But before you think it also is going to mow your lawn, paint your house and raise your kids to be truthful and wise, it know that it has a fatal flaw. The sawplate is easily kinked. I’ve had one since 2006, and I have been using it on every project. The cherry-red-dyed handle has faded to pink, and the sawplate has a subtle wave to it.

It still tracks fairly straight – straight enough for most joinery. But this weekend I decided to try to fix the plate. I bent it this way and that with my fingers. I tapped it with a hammer on an anvil. I tweaked it with pliers. And eventually I buckled under and ordered another one from Lee Valley Tools.

If you haven’t tried the Zona Razor Saw, I highly recommend you get one for your tool kit.

By the way, the vast and insidious Zona model-making consortium did not pay for this blog entry. Just so you know.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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6 Responses to Little Teeth Filed for… Who Cares?

  1. Moshe Eshel says:

    Not to bust Lee Valley, but I noticed a long time ago that they tend to charge more for items available elsewhere.

    For example Zona saws… are available direct from Zona Tool with more model options and better prices (on a saw that is cheap to start with) – I ordered in the past and was very happy

    The entire range:

  2. Chris F says:

    For those of us up in Canada, you’re better off with Lee Valley if you’re near one or are making an order already.

    Buying 4 saws through Zona (to get the minimum $20 order) works out to $14.29 CAD each, once you factor in shipping, exchange, brokerage, etc.

    1 saw at Lee Valley: $11.90 CAD

  3. David Pearce says:

    Up here in Columbus, OH, we’ve got a local dealer (WoodWerks, no affiliation, yada, yada) who carries these saws. I have one, and other than being a little slow cutting due to the fine teeth (need to pony up for an actual dovetail saw), I’ve been quite pleased with it. Perfect for small to medium cuts and way less taxing on my bench hook than my backsaw.

    Cost? Can’t remember exactly, but it was less than $15US.

  4. David says:

    Chris – Unfortunately, your saw may be a bit too far down the "amateur mechanic" path to be fixable now, but there’s a relatively easy and foolproof way to fix a gentle curve in a back saw – clamp the blade in something gentle like a couple fo soft-pine blocks, and tap the front of the back with a brass hammer towards the handle. This will re-tension the blade and usually remove a curve.

  5. MikeH says:


    I beg to differ. Some prices are higher than you might pay elsewhere, but then again, most of those items can’t be gotten elsewhere at any price. So granted, some prices may be higher, and then again, some are even lower, but for the most part, they are competitive. I say this from a background of having purchased hundreds of items from them over a span of almost thirty years.

    Besides which, try going into a Loew’s (and don’t get me wrong, I like Loew’s and have absolutely nothing against them), or a Home Depot, whatever, and ask to try a tool, even if it’s not firmly encased in a concrete-hard clam shell blister pack. At a Lee Valley store however, what you get if you ask, is a full test drive, with the necessary bench space, and a piece of hardwood thrown in, accompanied by informed expert advice and information from experienced woodworkers. Aside from LV and similar outfits like Woodcraft (and I’m sure a couple more that I’m not familiar with), how can you beat that?

    David: Yes indeed, just 12 bucks CAD which works out to about 10 and change USD.

    Disclaimer: Nor did Lee Valley pay for this one. Just a very satisfied customer.

  6. Raul da Silva says:

    Chris- I’ve paralleled this line of thinking in saws for many years. I used an x-acto mini backsaw to cut hundreds of dovetails until I found this Japanese saw…
    Pull stroke cutting and 32 tpi. Glass smooth cuts in any wood. It’s worth every penny of the $30 it costs. I won’t use anything else for dovetails in 3/4" thick or less stock.

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