Apologies in advance for the length. I got a little carried away.
Last fall, I decided it was time to buy a real dovetail saw. I had surveyed the market some time ago and had pretty will decided to order one from Vlad Spehar but by the time I got around to placing an order he had close up his saw-making shop.
This time I looked at the saws from Lie Neilson, Lee Valley (PAX), Adria and Mike Wentzel. Funny thing about buying dovetail saws by searching the Internet – they all look good and it’s really hard to tell which one feels and works better by looking at the pictures and reading the specs.
Well if I couldn’t be objective, I had to be subjective. I preferred to buy Canadian - surely we can build saws just as well as the Americans. That eliminated Lie Nielson and Wentzel. The PAX saw from LV is made in Britain, but I was willing to make an exception because of the company that sold it. But it had a closed handle and that reminded me too much of my father’s old Craftsman panel saw; it looked like it would be too big and cumbersome for the fine dovetails that I envisioned myself making. So that left the Adria. Now to place the order.
But before I got around to it, I noticed a thread or two on this forum about a dovetail saw “Ed from Oakville” was making. I contacted Ed for some more information and from the specifications he provided, it sounded just as good as all the other saws I had investigated. I also like the idea of buying a handcrafted product (there’s that subjectivity again), and I developed a mental picture of Ed labouring in his basement in Oakville wearing a leather apron and pounding out a thing of beauty with an anvil, a hammer and an open forge. After a couple more e-mails about specification and delivery, I pulled the trigger just before Christmas.
When the saw arrived by mail just after New Year’s, it was packaged better than most of the fragile Christmas presents I sent to Calgary in early December: cardboard sheath around the blade, bubble wrap, crumpled newspaper and Styrofoam peanuts. After I liberated the saw, the first thing I noticed was its weight and how easily it came to hand (OK, that’s two things).
The weight was just enough to make it feel like a quality tool and, I assume to help it move through the wood. But what I really liked was the way it felt in my hand. During my investigation, that was the area that gave me the most concern – how would the maker know how big my hand is? Vlad Spehar used to ask for hand measurements so he could build to suit, but he was the only one. Ed assured me he would fix whatever I didn’t like, so I thought it was worth the gamble. But no changes are required.
When I got the saw to the shop and actually tried out the saw, it was, in a word, wonderful. The only thing I had to do was remember to keep moving it back and forth through the wood and the saw did the rest. It cut straight and effortlessly. I was happy!!
I should say here, that I really have had no experience with any other Western dovetail saw, so at this point I had no basis for a comparison. (I do have a fine Japanese saw, but I haven’t been able to come to grips with the fact that it has to be pulled not pushed, so I keep bending it.) Coincidently, the Ottawa Woodworking Assoc. monthly meeting was coming up and one of the other members had some thoughts abut the PAX saw he had purchased, so we arranged to have a “saw off” to compare Ed’s saw, the PAX and a Lie Neilson. I spent most of my time comparing mine and the LN (I still don’t like the look of the PAX).
In terms of a physical comparison, the LN is:
üsmaller (blade width) and lighter
üthe handle is also smaller, so getting a “firm” grip requires a little more squeezing
üthe distance between the horns on the handle is a little longer so it feels sloppier in my hand
As far as performance is concerned, I honestly couldn’t tell any difference. I didn’t take the time to count the number of strokes it took to cut a standard depth. The kerf width seems to be the same. No discernable difference in the effort required to push the saw through the wood.
Since I already admitted that I liked my saw, I was particularly interested in what the other OWA members thought of it. After lots of sawing and discussion about the relative merits each one, I asked the group the big question. “Did I make a good choice? (I figured that was a safer question that “which do you like better?”). Overwhelmingly the answer was “YES”, particularly when I told them the price I paid (considerably less than the LN). What was particularly telling was the number of LN owners that asked for Ed’s contact information so they could discuss an order.
For the more technically oriented people out there, here are the specs:
üThe brass back is ¼”x ¾”x8" with a milled slot for the blade
üThe saw blade is 0.020” thick
üThe saw blade is 8" long and 2” wide (can be made anywhere from 1-1/2” to 2-1/2”)
üFiled for a rip cut
ü15 ppi. with approx 0.05" set on each side. (16ppi available)
üHandle in Cocobolo, Padauk, QS European Beech or Spalted Apple. Others are available if Ed can find the wood
Ed tells me that he’s investigating the possibilities of larger tenon saws and hopes to have some prototypes in the near future. But there may be a bit of a delay because he and his wife just welcomed son #3 and he may have to cut back on the anvil work for a while.
The Readers Digest Version – I like the Medallion Toolworks Dovetail Saw and I’m sure you will too.