Frame Fight: Coping Saws vs. Fret Saws

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A fret saw’s thin blade drops into the kerf left by any dovetail saw. Then you just turn and saw.

This is an excerpt from “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” by Anon, Christopher Schwarz and and Joel Moskowitz. 

For those of you who chisel out your waste when dovetailing, this section is not for you. Move along. There’s nothing to see here.

OK, now that we’re alone: Have you ever been confused about which frame saw you should use to remove the waste between your pins and tails? I have. For years I used a coping saw and was blissfully happy.

Then I took an advanced dovetail class with maestro Rob Cosman and he made a strong case that a fret saw was superior because you could remove the waste in one fell swoop (instead of two). So, like any good monkey, I bought a fret saw and did it that way for many years.

But fret saws aren’t perfect. Almost all of them require tuning. You need to file some serrations in the pads that clamp the blade, otherwise it’s all stroke, stroke, sproing. Oh, and the blades tend to break. Or kink.

And fret saws are slow. I use 11.5 teeth per inch (tpi) scrollsaw blades, and it takes about 30 strokes to get through the waste between my typical tails in hardwood.

If you want to see a good video on how to tune up a fretsaw, check out Rob Cosman’s site. He shows you how to hot-rod the handle and bend the blade for the best performance.

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Coping saws require two swooping passes to remove the waste. Drop the teeth in your kerf and make swoop one. Come back and make swoop two.


About Coping Saws

What I like about coping saws is that they cut faster. I use an 18 tpi blade from Tools for Working Wood. (I think they’re made by Olson.) The blades cut wicked fast thanks to their deeper gullets and longer length. It takes me 12 to 14 strokes to remove the waste between my typical tails.

The other thing I like about the coping saw is that its throat is deeper (5″ vs. 2-3/4″ on my fret saw), which allows me to handle wider drawers without turning the blade. Also, the blades of a coping saw are far more robust and almost never come loose. I’m partial to the German-made Olson coping saw. It’s about $12 and beats the pants off the stuff at the home centers.

The major downside to the coping saw is that you have to remove the waste in two passes instead of one. Because the coping saw’s blade is thick, it sometimes won’t drop down into the bottom of the kerf left by your dovetail saw. So you get around this by making two swooping passes to clear the waste.

One last thing: Some of you might be wondering why I didn’t discuss wooden bowsaws, another fantastic frame saw. At the time I was writing this book, my bowsaw was busted. First, one of the arms cracked after someone (no names) over-tensioned it. I fixed that. Then the twine busted and I didn’t have any on hand.

Since building the Chest of Drawers, I got my bowsaw back on its feet (bowsaws do not have feet, by the way) and it is giving my coping saw a run for its money. The fret saw still hangs dusty and lonely on the wall.

Meghan Bates

Posted in The Joiner & Cabinet Maker | 14 Comments

Don Williams! Beeswax! Pollisoirs!

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I don’t think I’ve ever used that many exclamation marks… ever.

If you are coming to the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool event at Braxton Brewing on Friday or Saturday, look for Don Williams. He’ll be selling his excellent beeswax and mind-blowing polissoirs.

What’s a polissoir? Oh my. Go here and look around. It’s a simple pre-industrial finishing tool that will change your mind about wax finishes.

The polissoirs are handmade in Virginia by one of Don’s neighbors to Don’s specifications and are things of beauty. The blocks of pure beeswax are purified on Don’s farm by him and his wife. The wax is, pardon the expression, the bee’s buzz.

And if you want to learn (a lot) about traditional finishing techniques, just ask Don about his shellac collection….

The show starts both days at 10 a.m. Free admission. Great beer, coffee and conversations about woodworking and tools. What more could you want? A foot massage? Don’t ask me.

Full details on the event are here.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Finishing, Personal Favorites, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Walk in the Woods in February

I love the smell of ponderosa pine in the morning…. Smells like…vanilla.

–Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore, Apocalypse Now (director’s cut)

We’re going to travel a little further afield today, but first, a correction: Last time, I posted a photo that I claimed was of a tuliptree, but as A Riving Home pointed out in the comments, the photo was actually of a mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa). What happened was that I had taken photos of both, but at the last minute decided to save the hickory for a later post, and then managed to mix up the photos. Here’s the real tuliptree:

tuliptree2

(The description in the previous post still applies.)

In February, the forest begins to show signs of renewed life. The earliest migrant bird, the Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), has arrived, and the resident species are singing their hearts out. There’s some color seeping into the grayness of the landscape, and on a warm, rainy night, you might hear a chorus of spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer). By the end of the month, some of the trees have begun blooming. The most noticeable of these are red maple (Acer rubrum), with its deep red flowers, and silver maple (A. saccharinum) with dull orange flowers. The pinkish flowers of American (Ulmus americana) and slippery (U. rubra) elms quickly give way to pale green flying saucer-shaped seeds.

Some shrubs begin leafing out in February as well, but these are nearly all non-native plants, such as Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) and autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). The native plants know that there’s still a good chance for a hard frost, so they wait.

We begin in an area of bottomland near the Hocking River here in Athens County, where there are a couple of species that dominate. First, one of the easiest of all trees to identify:

sycamore

The patchy, ghostly white and gray bark of the American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) always stands out against the gray backdrop of the winter forest. Close up, the lower portions of the trunk are covered in numerous small, brown scales:

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The other dominant bottomland tree in this area is the often huge eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides):

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Its bark is deeply and coarsely furrowed, with the ridges being more or less flat-topped.

Both of these trees can be found further up slope, but it’s always a sign of abundant ground water when they are. In particular, you can find these trees along ravines and exposed layers of porous shale, where the soil is always wet. These layers of shale correspond with coal seams, in this area the Middle Kittanning or “No. 6” coal.

One of the most important trees to a woodworker is black cherry (Prunus serotina):

cherry

Further north and at higher elevations, black cherry can be the dominant species in a forest, but around here it’s mainly found as scattered individual trees, usually but not always near water. The bark is dark, brownish-black, and broken up into oval scales that curl up around the edges. Another feature of cherry trees is that they are almost never straight. This is because as the tree grows, the main stem has a pair of terminal buds, rather than just one, and one of the buds “wins,” depending on the lighting conditions. Thus, each year, the tree heads off in a slightly different direction.

We’re going to move up slope now, to some forested land that my wife and I own just over the county line, in Meigs County. A close relative of the eastern cottonwood is bigtooth aspen (P. grandidentata):

btAspen

The bark is a medium gray, sometimes with a gold sheen, and interrupted by a combination of horizontal ridges and vertical splits. Further north, quaking aspen (P. tremuloides) replaces bigtooth aspen; its bark is similar but whiter.

American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is characterized by smooth, nearly featureless gray bark:

beech

There are several species of hickory in the forests, most of them difficult to tell apart. The aforementioned mockernut hickory is fairly common:

mockernutHickory

The bark has the sort of criss-crossing X ridge structure that many of trees in the forest have, but in the hickories, these ridges tend to look as if they are strands braided together. This is more apparent in a young tree:

youngHickory

One species of hickory that is not hard to identify is shagbark hickory (C. ovata). Although the braided pattern is obscured, you can still kind of see it if you squint; it tends to be more obvious near the base of the trunk:

shagbark

Pines are tricky. A big part of that is that people plant a lot of pine trees, and the species that they plant are very often not native to the area, so you never know what you’re looking at. Around here, only one native species of pine, Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana), is common:

virginiaPine

It’s characterized by relatively short (about 2″/5 cm) paired needles that are flattened and somewhat crescent-shaped in cross section, and usually twisted.

The other pines that occur in the area all have much longer needles: eastern white pine (P. strobus), pitch pine (P. rigida) and shortleaf pine (P. echinata). It generally takes a combination of characters (number of needles in a bundle, shape and size of the cone, etc.) to distinguish these species.

Ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa), a species of the western half of the United States, really does smell like vanilla, although you have to get your nose right up to the bark to notice it. You won’t find any ponderosa pines growing around here, but you might nevertheless find it at your local home center; the clear pine boards are often cut from that species.

Not everything in the forest is a tree, of course. There is a ground-hugging plant that looks strangely like a conifer of some kind:

clubMoss

And one of its common names is indeed “groundcedar.” In fact, though, it’s not a conifer at all, but rather a member of an ancient lineage of plants, Lycopodiophyta, and not closely related to any of the more typical plants. This one is the fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum).

Sedges (Carex sp.) are a rather overwhelming group of grass-like plants; there are about 2000 species worldwide, and 140 just in Ohio. One of the most common is eastern woodland sedge (C. blanda):

sedge

There are many species of ferns in the forest, but these two are the only ones that are likely to remain green in winter:

ferns

The marginal woodfern (Dryopteris marginalis), on the left, may die back to the ground in very cold winters, but the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), on the right, stays green regardless.

The marginal woodfern can be identified by the fact that the sori (the spore-bearing structures on the undersides of the fronds) are located along the margins of the pinnules:

marginalWoodfern

It’s still a bit early for wildflowers, although I did find the leaves of this eastern waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) poking through the leaf litter:

waterleaf

The only blooming flower that I found (actually, I think my wife found it) was this non-native purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum):

deadnettle

There should be many more wildflowers next month.

–Steve Schafer

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

The Best Job I’ve Ever Had

pwm0417_500_1Megan Fitzpatrick at Popular Woodworking Magazine is looking for a managing editor to fill the spot recently vacated by Rodney Wilson, who did a heck of a job before moving up in the world.

I joined Popular Woodworking in 1996 as the managing editor, and it is the most challenging and rewarding job I’ve ever had. You have to be hyper-organized because the managing editor has to make sure the trains run on time. That the authors get paid. That the manuscripts arrive on time. And that corrections get made.

On the flipside, you have access to a dream shop of workbenches, hand tools and power equipment, including a 12” jointer and 20” planer. Whenever your head is too full of adverbial nouns, you can walk to the shop and clear your brain by cutting dovetails for an hour.

Megan is a demanding boss, but that’s the best and only kind in modern publishing. Magazines with lesser editors have all closed their doors.

Best of all, the job is open-ended. After I mastered my paperwork and manuscript duties (that took about a year) I was encouraged to become a better woodworker, write articles, begin blogging, travel to visit authors and work on tool reviews. All that led to being able start my own publishing company with John.

If you love woodworking and want to live and breathe it, this is the job.

Take look at the job description here. Yes, you have to live in Cincinnati.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Personal Favorites, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Where’s My $%#$@ ‘Roubo on Furniture’ Book?

LAP_logo2_940When you order a book from us, you are supposed to receive an email when the book has been received by the shipping company. When the shipper scans the book – beep – that sends the message to our store’s software. And our software sends a message to you with tracking information.

Sometimes, USPS isn’t very good about scanning packages in a timely manner. Sometimes they don’t get scanned. And so you don’t get an email. But you will get your book.

We have complained (a lot) to USPS. They are overworked so I doubt this will change.

So apologies for the delayed emails or emails that didn’t come.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

The Beard is Not Enough

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So this week I sat down with my image consultant and he had some harsh words for me: “You need a ‘thing’ to set you apart from other woodworking bloggers, podcasters and television personalities.”

I asked: “A thing?”

“Yeah. Charles Brock has that patchwork hat. Roy Underhill has his hat and suspenders. Scott Phillips has his similar hat and suspenders. Norm Abram – tool belt. David Mark has tattoos. Tommy Mac has his muscle shirts., and….”

I say: “I have a beard.”

“Sorry,” he said. “Unless your beard is equal to or greater than Peter Follansbee’s, then it’s just hardscrabble. Plus, he has cornered the market on the tie-dye T-shirt and shorts thing. So don’t even bring those up”

“Ugh,” I said. “What do you recommend?”

“You could wear a cape,” he suggested. “Maybe array tools on the interior?”

I countered. “What if it gets caught in the jointer or the table saw? That could be dangerous.” I paused. “Look, I don’t like to have my face appear on the blog or on video, what about a mask? Like a luchador?”

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The consultant had a good point: “In this day and age, dressing like a Mexican wrestler will get you excoriated by the liberals or deported by the conservatives.”

We locked eyes.

“Fancy wristwatches?”

“Mario Rodriguez.”

“Unusual fingernails?”

“David Charlesworth”

“A vicious temper?”

“I’m not touching that.”

“Large mammaries?”

“Look, I already said I’m not touching those.”

“Copious body hair?”

“Hmmm. How much body hair do you have?” the consultant asked. “Do you have to shave your back?”

“No. I pluck three hairs from my right shoulder,” I said. “Two from my left.”

“A huge afro?”

“Bob Ross.”

“Bob Ross is dead!”

“But Bob Ross’s afro is so awesome it has been retired.”

And that’s where my time was up with the image consultant. His recommendation: Mount a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to perform a statistically significant survey of what my gimmick should be.

Maybe a huge rodeo belt with a pterodactyl holding a carving gouge….

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Satire, Uncategorized, Yellow Pine Journalism | 69 Comments

Another Day, Another Stool

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I try not to make this blog about personal stuff, but ever since boyhood I’ve tended to fixate on things. It might be an object. It might be a task. But I won’t sleep (literally – ask Lucy) until I scratch that itch.

Today it was this three-legged stool. I woke at 3 a.m. (typical) and began working on the next phase of this design until my wife woke at 5:50 a.m., showered and turned on her hairdryer. Something about her hairdryer puts me back to sleep – it’s why I am still conscious now.

After six hours in the shop – three of it just staring at the stool’s component – this is where I am. I still need to add the chamfers to the seat and clean off all the sawblade marks, but I’m pretty happy with the direction this is headed.

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The mass of the legs, stretchers and seat are more balanced. I’ve added curves to make the seat less jarring. And the stretchers are now tapered octagons, like the legs.

I might sleep tonight.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized | 19 Comments