30 September 2013

Frame saw

If I had a series about the tool hoarder cave,  this would be part of it.

It all started with Paul Sellers workbench height call. He favors heigh benches and he has a point.  But then I looked at Roubo and I found a height of around 2 1/2 French feet,  or better le haut des cuisses, the top of the thighs. Roubo has probably a point too. One, le haut des cuisses is just under the protruding hip bone,  and if you have a tendency to lean against the workbench it's maybe a good idea.  Two, in Roubo's days sawing is done by hand, and talking of furniture makers he says that it is their only expertise,  so for them a workbench is mainly a frame saw bench.  The bench probably needs to be a saw length high, that can be 28", but nothing more.  Making frame saws in Europe is today mainly a German business but to my regret no blog or youtube bothers to promote the frame saw tradition.  All I can find is some old French and Swedish archives.

The next step was to look elsewhere like China. In 1982 FWW published an article by Jason Beebe about the successful  'search of one of the three or four remaining masters of traditional Chinese woodworking' in Thailand and talking saws 'I had heard that such saws could perform faster than a bandsaw, and I found that to be true except for large-scale 90° production cuts.'

As the magic is apparently Chinese the next step was, short of traveling to China, to buy one of these Chinese saws.  I found one of 40cm (16") under the Mujingfang brand .

I only know ECE frame saws, compared to these the saw is more elegant but less clever in concept and finish,  the bolts were for example slipping on the wood when tensioning.  The blade is a different story,  it cuts like nothing I have seen before. I got in crosscut 1" out of every stroke on a 7/8" thick oak board, same for ripcut. As far as I can see it is made of blue spring steel of 0.4mm thick, that's half the thickness of my ryoba. The problem was that it cuts to the left.  As I couldn't see any set, I started by setting the saw.  To see something on the dark steel I painted every other tooth white and gave it a minimal set.  I had to add a little more set on the right side to make the saw cut straight.

Now that the teeth are set the saw feels more aggressive,  as if the number of teeth has been halved by setting. A less aggressive resharpening is maybe necessary. For now it is a saw for champions and unusable by me for precise work.   A frame saw has its own character as the center of the blade is the least stable. When sawing it is best to not linger in the center and to go for a full stroke.

Galoot-tools.com has a small section about Chinese woodworkers.  Two pictures include battered Chinese workbenches.  Those benches are low and have sides covered by sawmarks.  Low benches are here maybe for the saw but it could be chosen for axwork or to solve clamping-holding problems.

27 September 2013


Where usualy buying online means getting the package even before I have time to regret my consumerism,  this time the whole procedure took a month or two.  The grass didn't wait and looks more like a felt structure than something mowable and I am  now the puzzled owner of a long scythe blade.

A scythe is not only a blade but also a snath (shaft).  Internet offers a few possibilities. The Eastern European traditional snath, with like for the traditional drummer grip one hand down and one up.  Still the most used scythe.  The Central European snath, with a longer central grip used two hands down, the scythe of the youtube champions. And then here local variations, although the curved snath, similar in use to the previous model, seem to dominate on internet.

But nothing on youtube or the internet about the snath of my short bladed scythe.  It's a three point grip scythe like the one pictured right (Zeis en Sikkel '79) by Gerrit Noordzij.  I don't see any reason to switch so that's the one I used. The only point of attention is the need of a high angle between snath and blade.
A three point grip just looks like a poorly mounted Central European snath,  with the wooden elbow rest at the top as sole difference. Maybe it is just that and the whole concept was created out of ignorance.

To put the scythe to work it has to be sharpened.  It's a two step process where the edge of the blade is hardened (cold forged) with a hammer and then sharpened with a stone. For hammering I have to choose again, as I found a few options:  A narrow hammer and large anvil,  a narrow anvil and normal hammer,  a dedicated side punch or some modernist rolling mechanism

My short blade scythe after seeing some rough action, trimming a disregarded medieval garden, earlier this month. I hammered a few dents back in line afterwards.  

The garden 'after', when it's done it's too late for the 'before' picture. The oversized tree is in the center of a circle, surrounded by four sections covered by grass, possibly representing the four seasons.  When it comes to medieval symbolism I am an analphabet. Ora et labora, build as a place to pray and work.