Choosing a Dovetail Saw
Chris Gochnour picks seven of the best dovetail saws and explains what sets them apart, from ease of start to tracking, ergonomics, and speed.
Thirty-two years ago, when I hung out my shingle as a furniture maker, it was hard to find an excellent dovetail saw. Today, we have it good—maybe too good. There is a bounty of great saws on the market, saws that are well-tuned and ready to cut fine dovetails right out of the box. But that can make picking the right one daunting. For such an essential tool, a test seemed in order. To narrow the field, I focused on Western-style backsaws (to learn more about Japanese saws, see Andrew Hunter’s “The Power of the Pull Stroke,” FWW #249).
It’s amazing how differently one dovetail saw can perform from another. It’s a simple tool—a blade with rip teeth, a back, and a handle—yet the details can really set a saw apart. Even so, individual elements such as plate thickness, set (and the resultant kerf), hang, pitch, rake, weight, and length are far from acting individually. Instead, what matters most is the sum of the parts in practice—in other words, how well the saw cuts.
Because these tools are so personal, I invited seven skilled woodworkers, all proficient in dovetail joinery, to my shop for a few hours on a Saturday morning to test the dovetail saws. We made multiple cuts in 1⁄2-in.-thick cherry and oak with every saw and took copious notes along the way, noting elements like ease of start, tracking, ergonomics, and speed. In the end, of the 13 dovetail saws we tested, the seven listed here led the pack. Any one of these saws could be a great choice. The seven saws that made the final cut include the Bad Axe Stiletto, Gramercy, Lie-Nielsen, Pax 1776, Skelton, Veritas Standard, and Winsor dovetail saws.
Also included is a glossary of standard dovetail saw terms. While there isn’t an algorithm for the perfect saw, an understanding of the basic terminology used for the parts and their significance may help you define which saw is right for you.
From Fine Woodworking #264
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