So, you want to make a saw handle…

Months ago I got the idea in my fool head that I was going to make a few 20″ panel saws based on the Kenyon saws from Benjamin Seaton’s tool chest. I’ve always liked the curvy look of these saws, right down to the rounded tip, but it was seeing this picture on Isaac Smith’s website (Blackburn Tools) that finally pushed me over the edge.

blackburn-kenyon-seaton-20-in-01

Holy Wow!

Problem is, it’s not just that saws like these are hard to come by (they are), but that they’re impossible to come by in the configuration I want. Mike Wenzlof used to make these, but I’m not sure they’re making anything right now. Shane Skelton also makes an unbelievable (and improved) reproduction that I can’t afford, but I sure like to look at.

Price is only half the problem. The other issue is scale. Per the original “pannel saw” specifications of John Kenyon, most makers are offering these in full size 26″ lengths but that’s just too long for my dutch tool chest. The overall length for a panel saw in my world is restricted to just under 25″ so that means a 20″ plate. The only real option for me was to roll my own.

And so I contacted Isaac at Blackburn to ask him about the saw pictured above and ask two questions:

  • How does it work in practice without a taper ground blade?
  • Can you make me a set of blades?

The answer to the first question is complicated. Taper grinding is nigh on impossible to get right in the home workshop and I was concerned the saw would be a dog without it. There’s argument on both sides of the taper grinding issue. By most accounts, the saws in the Seaton chest did have a very slight taper grind, or at the very least were slightly relieved at the back. Other 18th C. saws show no such tapering. With sufficient set and perhaps some slight stoning at the very back of the blade this should not be a problem. Isaac said that (by testimonial) in the saw he made this is really a non-issue. Fingers still crossed.

The answer to the second question was “yes”, and so we were off to the races.

Just after the first of the year, a package arrived from Blackburn Tools with two blades (7 ppi rip and 8ppi cross-cut), 6 bronze saw nuts and a one of Isaac’s spanners to tighten the split nuts down. I have been overwhelmed with all manner of things (shop projects, writing projects, general life and whatnot) and so the blades have waited patiently until now, but with the finishing touches going on the trestle table, it seemed like a good time to work them in.

Or at least one of them. You can lose hours on a single handle.

I’m making the handles from some tiger maple. Mostly because I have it. I would have loved to make these out of quartersawn beech or the like, but sometimes you work with what you’ve got.

Oh, before you ask, you can download a pattern for these handles as well as others here.

I printed the patterns out making sure the scale and measurements were correct, applied them to the wood via spray adhesive and got to work on the bandsaw. After cleaning up the saw marks and making sure all the curved work was square to the face of the saw, I drilled the holes for the nuts on the drill press. This is one of the two places that requires unmitigated precision, so take some time here.

The other place is in letting in the saw plate. I know this because I made two handles, but one is going in the burn pile. That’s what you get for trying to do some work in the shop when you’re really too sick to be working.

The second handle came out perfectly on both counts (holes and kerf) so I moved on to shaping. There’s no mystery here if you have a pattern.

  • work in facets
  • transfer those facets to the mirror side.
  • fair the curves to the lines
  • rinse and repeat

I used a rasp to do most of the shaping, following that up with files and sandpaper. Raking light is helpful, and your eyes are a good judge of fair, but this is where you really need to rely on your hands. Your eyes will tell you if it looks good, but your hands will tell you if it’s right. It amazes me how sensitive your body can be as a precision measuring instrument, but I found I could run my thumb and forefinger along the shaping on opposing sides of a handle and tell immediately if it was off.

A few coats of oil and…

 

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