I don’t know why my brain refused to acknowledge the two frame saws in my chest while I was writing part 2 of this series. So here’s part 2-1/2 of the series on my coping saw and fretsaw.
Ah, now I remember why my brain froze, I didn’t want to revisit the topic of coping saws. I’ve still not found one that satisfies me on all fronts. I’ve tried, cheap, expensive, vintage, yellow and rare. All have some aspect that I don’t like.
So I’ve given up and reverted to the German-made Olson coping saw I bought in 1996 or 1997. It’s been modified significantly, especially the blade-tensioning mechanism, and I’ve stretched the frame. And you can’t buy this saw new anymore. The Olson saw is now made overseas and I’m not a fan of what’s happened to it.
What I can recommend, however, are the blades for whatever coping saw you do end up settling for. I have been very happy with the Pegas coping saw blades, which are made in Switzerland and cut like a dream. And they are tough; I’ve had individual blades last for more than six months.
For fretsaws, I also went full-German. I’ve had an old German jeweler’s saw since the 1990s that tensions blades to a remarkable level. Why? Because I filed grooves into the pads of the blade-clamping mechanism. That improved its grip to “Coach Stan Turnipseed’s Handshake” level on the EU’s fretsaw clamping matrix.
You can find these jeweler’s saws on ebay for $10 to $20. The old ones are better than the new ones. Be sure to get some Pegas blades for these as well.
I adore my Millers Falls mitre box, and I’ve been bemused by a recent backlash against mitre boxes, which ruled the American worksite and garage during the first half of the 20th century.
The argument against a mitre box is that you don’t need it. You should develop your sawing skills to the point where you don’t need a mechanical contrivance to hold the saw for you. The things are training wheels. And you are a candy-bottom wuss girl if you use one.
To these people I say this: You don’t cut many miters, do you?
Metallic manual mitre boxes are more accurate than the electric miter saw in my experience. They allow a level of finesse and control that you aren’t going to get with freehand sawing. And chances are, if you aren’t a nincompoop, your miters will be dead-on off the saw with a mitre box.
Oh, and when armed with a shooting board they radically decrease your need for a table saw.
If you own a mitre box, you need to know how to maintain and use it.
So this evening I present to you a scan of a vintage Millers Falls manual for using the company’s mitre boxes. I guarantee that even if you are an ace, you are going to learn something from this short little manual.
The manual was given to me by the late Carl Bilderback. During my last visit to his home, he asked me to take his library. To keep the books that I didn’t have. And to give the rest away to deserving young woodworkers.
This vintage manual is one of about 100 books and manuals Carl owned that I did not.
So I present it to you in a free pdf you can download here:
In the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area we have three IADs. Most people aren’t aware of the first one, the Institute of American Deltiology, part of the University of Maryland Special Collections. There you can find over one million postcards and related materials! I wonder if they have this one by Mainzer:
Then there is IAD, as in Dulles Airport. Besides a lot of people flying in and out, Dulles has hosted the arrivals of pandas, a Komodo dragon and a lowland gorilla to name a few. The traffic you might encounter on the way to the airport is also very famous. From my house the trip should take about 1-1/2 hours; I plan on at least 2 hours, three if it’s raining.
The IAD you might be most interested in is the artworks of the Index of American Design in collection of the National Gallery of Art.
The idea for documenting hand works and decorative arts started as an effort to define the American aesthetic. During the Great Depression the Federal Arts Project, part of the Works Progess Administration (WPA), employed more than 300 artists to draw and paint a huge variety of items. The project ran from 1935 to 1942. The artists were paid a weekly wage of $23.86, an amount that enabled many of them to survive the Depression.
The artists drew and painted clothing, textiles, all variety of household items, toys, furniture, tools and so on. The output was over 20,000 images. The National Gallery of Art has more than 18,000 images available online. When furniture was documented it might be done as a watercolor, a measured drawing or a combination of both:
Within the overall project there was an effort to document three uniquely American design groups: Pennsylvania German, Shaker and Southwestern. Furniture designs range from the very simple to the refined work of 18th and 19th century urban cabinetmakers. The Index is a great resource for furniture makers and historians, especially since many of the documented pieces could now be lost. In the gallery below there are several examples of furniture and as many woodworking tools as I could find.
Earlier this year film maker, Michael Maglaras, released “Enough to Live On – The Arts of the WPA.” In a short intro segment he sums up the purpose of the Index of American Design as “…to copy the work of the great, and many anonymous, hand skill artists of the past.” We in turn are the recipients of the work done by the hands of the WPA artists. The Index of American Design is our family heirloom.
You can read much more about the Index here. Once on the page there is an option to “Tour the Index.” You can select several surveys (overviews) such as Furniture, Metalwork, Shaker, etc.
If you would like to go to the online listings of the Index at the National Gallery of Art go here. In the search box you can search for chairs, setttees, desks, spurs and so on, but keep in mind the results will include artworks outside the Index.
To watch a brief (4 minute) film by Michael Maglaras introducing the Index on Vimeo go here. Maglaras’ company is 217 Films. You can also look for another short piece on the WPA artist by Carl W. Peters.
This summer I bought a new book about Vincent Van Gogh and came across a couple of his sketches of carpenters. Like most artists, when Van Gogh wasn’t painting he was sketching and produced many studies of working people. His carpenters could be journeymen on an obligatory Dutch version of wandergesellen or they may be itinerant craftsmen.
I sent the sketches to Chris and his reply was, “I WANT TO KNOW HOW THAT SAW BACKBACK WORKS.” Thinking there was some static on the email line I figured he meant BACKPACK, checked the Van Gogh sketches again and started searching…and searching. I tried several variations of ‘saw backpacks’, ‘saw back racks’ then threw ‘hand’ in front of ‘saw’ and still found nothing.
Getting creative, and thinking about archery, my next try was ‘handsaw quiver’ and then the pain started. I had found the 34 pages of “Handsaw Quiver Varieties and Finite W-Algebras” by Hiraku Nakajima. I read Hiraku’s paper (because it was there), and thanks to having some semi-advanced mathematics under my belt, I only fainted twice. I understood all the in-between words (and, this, multiple, product, vector) and learned a new term, ‘shifted Yanigan’, which may become a new insult the next time someone cuts me off in traffic.
Taking a closer look at Van Gogh’s carpenters and their saws you can see the one on the right has some type of leather strap or belt slung over his shoulder and his saw is attached to the front. He steadies the saw with one hand. The carpenter to the left also has a leather strap over his shoulder. Is it the handle to the bag he carries to the front or the strap to which his saw is attached? If the saw were attached to a leather strap it should hang at an angle, not straight. Has he fashioned a better means of carrying his saw via some type of rack on his back?
Although I didn’t find any 19th century (or earlier) handsaw backpacks or back racks it doesn’t mean they weren’t made and used by individual craftsmen. Who better to design a better method of carrying tools? Maybe there were even some handsaw quivers of the non-W-algebraic kind.
The first metallic saws were likely Egyptian, and they resembled a butter knife or a simplified Japanese pull saw. We know that saw technology migrated north to the Romans and Greeks. But most of the saws you see in early frescoes or mosaics are bowsaws – not the Egyptian style.
So I was delighted to see this Roman image that was turned up by contributing editor Suzanne Ellison. It depicts Daedalus and son presenting an artificial cow to Queen Pasiphae. The Roman mosaic is from Zeugma in Turkey. Most of the Zeugma mosaics were done in the 2nd century. The mosaic has the queen, her nurse Trophos, Daedalus and Icarus.
My eyes were drawn immediately to the saw. It looks like an Egyptian saw, but perhaps in iron instead of copper or bronze. It has a wooden handle at one end (in the worker’s hand) and – surprisingly – what looks like another handle at the other end. This second handle looks to be open, much like the open rectangular handles on Roman planes.
If I squint, it looks like the teeth of the saw are filed toward the handle in the workman’s hand. But if I squint again it looks like they go the other way. Or both ways.
Curses. I need to get on a plane to Turkey today to investigate. The resolution on this image isn’t satisfactory.