with a cherry on top

While holding a hand saw is a very tactile action, there is something intangible in the way our hands interlock with the handles of these tools; something that transcends utility and approaches alchemy.

When I think about the level of craftsmanship that is currently being exemplified by Mark Harrell over at Bad Axe Toolworks or Shane at Skelton Saws I am in awe.

I am in awe because I have now tried to make two saw handles myself, and it is tedious, careful work.

The first was a tiger maple handle for my Disston no.7 restoration and the second is a handle for a dovetail saw in cherry. And while neither one is up to the standards of the aforementioned makers, both have taught me a great deal about what a good handle should feel like, and what it takes to get it there.

I love working with cherry. It reminds me of my home state, the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but this particular board is the last of some stock in my woodpile that was harvested on family land in southwestern Virginia. I intend to make this saw for use by my daughter, so drawing a connection to three other generations of her family is a nice touch.

I looked at a lot of saw handles for this project and ended up settling on the pattern that Gramercy tools supplies with their kits.  This is a really classic look for a dovetail saw handle, and it is also on the smallish side which seemed perfect for the project.

I layed the pattern out with the grain on the cherry, drilled out the holes that gave me the major radius transitions and then took it to the bandsaw. Before doing any shaping I cleaned up the wings where it attaches to the saw, cut the kerf and put the whole thing together so that I could experiment with the hang of the handle before drilling the holes in the saw plate.

I rounded over the grip edges and smoothed everything with a file and float.



I finish sanded the curved bits to 6oo but any of the flat work is straight from the float.

The float in question is a vintage Simonds Vixen, which they actually classify as a file, but it works like the Lie-Nielsen mortise float I tried a few weeks back. As this was my first project with the tool I was pleased with the crisp finish that it left behind and I will definitely be keeping it in rotation.

After the first handle I made I didn’t think I would be eager to do another one anytime soon, but these are addicting and I have a sneaking suspicion there’s at least one more derelict Disston or wayward Warranted Superior out there waiting.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Brian Clites says:

    Thanks for outlining your method. Looking forward to giving this a try!~


    1. My pleasure. It certainly is more of an outline than a step-by-step instructional, but I didn’t really think about posting this as I was doing it. It was just a little side project as I waited for the lacquer to cure on my guitar.

      I plan on detailing the saw itself a little more fully this week.


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