The story of Edgar Sawtelle

If you want to read The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, but you prefer your dysfunctional family psychodramas to happen in rural Wisconsin rather than such an exotic European locale, I suggest you go pick up a copy of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. It really is a great book; well written with enough detail to keep even William Faulkner happy. I admit didn’t care much for the humans in the book (spoilers) but I still tear up every once in a while when I think about Almondine the dog.

A few years back, my wife and I went to a “meet the author” event with David Wroblewski, and while he tipped his hat to Hamlet and the bard, he always stopped short of admitting he had copied the play. And why not? He had taken something great and made something else (almost equally) great. It shared a form, a plot line and enough detail to connect the two, but although it’s a rough analog, it stands on its own.

As artisans and craftspeople (professional and amateur alike) we owe a great deal to those who have come before, and we recognize that there are wheels we do not need to re-invent.

A saw till is one of those wheels, but wheels are still nice to have if you want to get anywhere.

I bought some nice 1″ x 10″ boards about five months ago with the intent to build a till and it has been sitting on my lumber pile ever since. Yesterday, with almost all of my Christmas projects complete and my bench build on hold pending me finding the lumber I want, I decided it was time to dig in and knock this one out.

Yesterday morning I started drafting:



I saw that there was a nice clean section of board on my pile cut to 37″ for some reason, so I started there.

Your till only needs to be as long as your longest saw, but this length left me a little extra to add a drawer for file storage so I went with it. The rest of the design fed proportionally off of that as I laid things out by hand and eye and then working backward to rough measurements.

By the afternoon I was making some sawdust, and with just a little creativity I was able to avoid nearly all of the small knots in the lumber and rough cut my stock to the lengths I needed.



On that subject, learning what 90 degrees feels like saves you a whole lot of work on the shooting board.


Here’s the shell with my D-16 for reference. Please excuse the mess.


There are still a lot of questions to answer and refinements to make here, and while this particular saw till isn’t going to revolutionize the form, in the end it will bear the mark of my hands and no others.






2 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul Knapp says:

    Don’t make the mistake I did and assume that your back saws use the same height bar for the handle rest. They require a significantly higher rest than regular saws.


    1. Thanks for the tip! I’ll make sure to test out the hang on them before settling on a measurement for the rest.


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