Bootstrapping – Phase 1

How do you build a saw bench…without a saw bench? In The Naked Woodworker, Mike Siemsen shows how to begin with a length of 2 × 6 and a pair of 5-gallon buckets. It would appear that 5-gallon buckets aren’t really a thing in Ecuador, as I haven’t been able to find any. I did manage to purchase a couple of reasonably sturdy buckets, but they’re shorter than I would like.


Mark 0 saw bench

While it may be feasible to build a saw bench without a saw bench, I think even Mike Siemsen would have trouble building one without a saw. The only saws that I brought with me were joinery saws, and so aren’t suitable for rough cutting lumber to size. As I mentioned in my previous installment, the saw that I bought at the Mega Kywi looked passable but not that great. As it turns out, I was being optimistic. After a few cuts (in pine), I decided that I wasn’t going to get anywhere unless I sharpened the saw. As delivered, the saw was filed punched straight across (no fleam), with a rather aggressive rake angle. So it actually rips softwood decently well, albeit with so much set in the teeth that the cut wanders like an Amazon tributary.

There are plenty of instructions and videos available online (and also in The Naked Woodworker) that show how to file a saw, but they all involve two things that I don’t have: (1) a saw vise, purpose-built or makeshift, to hold the saw during filing, and (2) a bench upon which to mount said vise.

I spent a full two days pondering the question of how I was going to file this saw without these two crucial tools, but finally hit upon a solution: I removed the handle from the saw and sandwiched the blade between two 2 × 4’s held together with a pair of screws, passing through two holes in the blade. I didn’t yet have anything to mount this “vise” onto, but at least it was substantial enough that I could hold it down on a table top with one hand while I filed with the other.


Mark 0 saw vise

The vise ended up working pretty well, if not the most comfortable way to file a saw. It took me three passes of jointing and shaping the teeth until I was reasonably happy. These passes were straight across; I then took one more pass to add some fleam. The goal was to end up with a hybrid rip/crosscut saw, having a negative rake angle of about 1:4 (14°) and a fleam angle of about 1:5 (11°).


Four passes later…

The saw crosscuts decently now, and the steel is hard (maybe a little too hard for easy filing), so I think it will work. It still has far too much set, but I don’t think there’s much I can do about that without risking damage.


The proof is in the cutting.

Ripping is still a chore, but the saw was cheap enough that I might buy another and set the pair up as dedicated rip and crosscut saws, which should help. I’m expecting some visitors from the U.S. in about a week and a half, and I’ve arranged for them to bring down a couple of good saw files, which should ease the pain.

This particular saw had an interesting little feature that I hadn’t noticed when I bought it: a specialized bloodletting tooth at the heel of the blade. As I already donate more than enough blood while woodworking, I decided to defang my saw and remove the tooth.


The bloodletting tooth. Normally an extra-cost option, I got this one for free.

In related news, my first trip to Aserradero San Morita (aserradero = sawmill) was productive. I neglected to take any photos while I was there, but I will try to do so next time. The place is pretty big, and I only saw a small part of it, but there were piles and piles of boards in all shapes and sizes. It was in many ways a scaled-down version of Midwest Woodworking in Cincinnati, and I got the impression that they do similar kinds of things that Midwest used to do, selling some lumber, doing custom millwork, etc.

Even though walk-in customers are clearly not their main focus, the guy I spoke with was patient enough with my meager Spanish to help me out. It was there that I learned that my interpretation of colorado as being synonymous with quebracho (“axe breaker”) was incorrect, and that in Ecuador, at least, colorado is Eucalyptus grandis x urophylla, better known in the U.S. as Lyptus®.

Lyptus has a mixed reputation. Some people claim that it is unstable and therefore unsuitable for furniture and the like, while others say that it is great to work with. The difference in opinion may at least in part be due to differences in origin, as it is known that Lyptus from different plantations can have significantly different appearance and working characteristics. (You can even buy single-origin Lyptus from Uruguay, if you’re willing to pay the premium.)


Two Lyptus boards (plus one non-Lyptus board—can you spot it?)

I bought two boards, about 1 1/8″ thick by 9″ wide, and just under 8′ long. Both boards have some end checks and the like, but they’re straight, clear and show no signs of warp or twist. The price worked out to $2.50 per board foot, about a third of the cost in the U.S. In addition to the Lyptus, which seems to be the favored wood for furniture and cabinetry in Ecuador, I saw some seique (known as tornillo in the U.S.) and some pine that did not look like P. radiata. They clearly had other kinds of wood in stock, but I didn’t want to take up more of their time than I had to; I’ll do some exploring later.

–Steve Schafer

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7 Responses to Bootstrapping – Phase 1

  1. Thanks for these posts Steve. I find it extremely interesting to see what it’s like to work on assignment aboard.

  2. wb8nbs says:

    I also have the fleam angle marked up on my sharpening set up. I went one step farther, attached a piece of MDF to the downstream vise jaw with the fleam angles marked about 10 inches long. I use a small block of wood with a hole near one edge, the tip of the file is tapped into the hole so the file face is held at the proper rake angle. Then while filing, I slide the block across the MDF which guarantees the correct rake, while keeping one eye on the marked fleam guide lines. One side of the MDF is marked with crosscut fleam angles, I can turn the MDF over, and the flip side is marked straight across for rip filing.

  3. bedrock608 says:

    Hi, Steve!
    To remove some of the set in the teeth, place your saw plate between two pieces of paper (like a sandwich) with the steel being in the center. Any standard thickness paper will do.

    Take a hammer and gently tap along the entire tooth line. The paper will keep you from totally removing the tooth set but still allow enough set for most hardwood and softwood use.

    • jleko says:

      Wouldn’t it be simpler to just place the saw plate flat on the bench, and run the file an equal number of strokes on the teeth on each side until you reach the desired set? I know this works to adjust drift after sharpening…

  4. bedrock608 says:

    Steve, use a hard surface when tapping out the tooth set. An anvil or the flat on a bench vise will do. A piece of railroad track or other flat steel will also work.
    Softwood will not!

  5. toolnut says:

    Thanks for posting and keeping us up to date. These are a lot of fun to read.

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