Skills and Saw Set

CSchwarz, everyone’s hand-tool hero, just posted up some remarks on the “set” on your saw teeth.  You can read about it here.  In fact, you should read about it there, and then come back.  Chris is a better writer then I, and makes me look like a slack-jawed yokel when it comes to woodworking.  So go over there and read that article, I’ll wait.

Ok, you done?  Now, I’m not adding much to the conversation, except to confirm what Chris already said.  Although I’m confirming it from a newbie, ham-fisted sawyers perspective.  When Chris talks about “Skill, baby. Skill.”, he’s not lying.  I ALSO have a minimal set rip tenon saw from Mike Wenzloff, a beautiful Harvey Peace model in walnut.  Take a look and be jealous.

I got this saw and ran downstairs to saw tenons, and I couldn’t finish a dang one without that saw binding in the kerf something serious.  I assumed it was my fault, naturally, and that was that.  Then, a few months later, I had the opportunity to try out the Lie Nielsen 16” thin plate tenon saw.  That thing practically dove through the wood, no binding at all.. What the hell?  Well, I finally realized it was due to the set.  My Wenzloff saw had very little, the LN had appreciably more.

So I emailed Mike about this, and he was very polite in his response, and educated me a good deal.  He does put very minimal set in his saws, because as Chris mentioned, they track very well.  The problem is that if you’re a beginner, like myself, they stick to the line you started with.  If you try to “steer” the saw at all, you’re going to bind the blade immediately.  And that is exactly what I was doing.

Mike offered to re-set the saws teeth at no charge to me, and would even reimburse me for shipping.  He even said that perhaps there was an issue with my saw that he didn’t catch.  I knew, of course, that the issue with my saw was the person standing behind it.  I declined to alter the saw, and instead figured that with time, my skills would progress to the point that I would appreciate the minimal set.

So have they?  In short, no.  I need more practice.   That saw cuts straight as an arrow, but I’m a poor archer.  On bigger tenons, I always end up off the line.  Now, I don’t “drift” off the line, because that saw doesn’t drift.  I just wasn’t exactly on the line to begin with.

Chris’ observations on the surface left behind are true as well.  Here’s a surface from the Wenzloff saw.

Pretty nice, huh?  Here’s a similar cut with a Lee Valley rip carcass saw.

And here’s one from a BadAxe Toolworks saw (a 16” xcut saw that rips pretty dang well).

So to sum up: if you’re a rank amateur, you may want to shop for a saw with some set in it, or ask for a little if ordering a custom one.  The important thing to remember though, is that if something doesn’t appear to be working as described, it’s probably YOUR fault. At least in my personal experience, that always seems to be the issue.

– Matt

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