The Great Handsaw Contest of Los Angeles County


Helpful people are starting to point out the senior discounts to me, and the AARP cards coming in the mail are reminding me of the first time I was a senior back at Venice High School. Go Gondos! This was back when there were still woodshops in high schools. We actually had two woodshops, you heard me, two woodshops! We had a great shop teacher, Mr. Francis. He was knowledgeable and a nice guy with a good sense of humor. He understood that not everyone wanted to be in school; some students had drug businesses to run, while others, lacking the entrepreneurial spirit, were just waiting to be old enough so they would not be forced by the state to attend. Mr. Francis graded on a points system; do your clean-up everyday and you could get a “D” in the class, pick up a couple of shop jobs and you had a “C.” This meant you didn’t have to interrupt your domino game to do woodworking and left the rest of the shop open to those of us who did.

The powers that be had decided it was time to replace all of the benchtops at the school with new ones. This left a pile of old planks waiting to be used for something, and Mr. Francis, Johnny on the spot, decided that an all-woodshop sawing contest was in order. The offending pieces of wood were clamped firmly in a vise and the students began sawing them up into smaller pieces and timing their efforts. (Do you see the beginnings of a Hand Tool Olympics here?). By the time my fourth-period shop class rolled around the pile of planks was considerably smaller and the pile of scraps considerably larger. The saws in the tool cabinet all now resembled corkscrews or twisty mountain roads, but it was time to step up! I had been sawing wood with handsaws for some time before this great event and had some knowledge of how it was done. Most of the students held the belief that saws with great big teeth would surely cut faster so the ripsaws were in rough shape, the crosscut saws with their smaller teeth would obviously be less effective, and so a couple of them had been largely left alone and were more or less usable. I straightened one out over the corner of a bench, found a block of paraffin and lubed the blade and prepared to make my mark on the world of high school sporting events by cutting the previous best time, and the plank, in half. By the end of the day, all of the saws were in rough shape, all of the planks were scraps and I was mockingly called Paul Bunyan due to my Minnesota heritage.

It has been a downhill slide since my glory days of high school. I am still straightening saws, but now I also have to clean off the rust and sharpen them.

Good night Mr. Francis wherever you are!

— Mike Siemsen, Mike Siemsen School of Woodworking

Editor’s note: Mike’s forthcoming DVD, “The Naked Woodworker,” is edited and is with Ben Strano to clean up some audio hums and pops. Look for it in July.

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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4 Responses to The Great Handsaw Contest of Los Angeles County

  1. It took a few looks at the saw benches to see that hey are dedicated racing benches. Sponsor stickers and all. Now that is real bench racing. Awsome


  2. misterlinn says:

    May I please know what an AARP card is? Strangely, I don’t live in America.


  3. It is the American Association of Retired Persons. When one reaches the age of 50 they become eligible to join.The membership card supplied when one joins certifies that you are a old geezer entitled to discounts at some merchants along with the association being a advocate for senior citizens. That was how it started many years ago today it is more of an Insurance business hawking it’s latest supplement insurance plans.for health, home,dog,phones, goldfish and anything else the association thinks that elderly members will buy.


  4. misterlinn says:

    Thanks for the explanation! Nothing like that over here in the UK. In this country, when you become 50, you get to be “A Great British Eccentric”, involving admitting to liking trains and being allowed many more hours in a shed…


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