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