Dovetail Saws

After you've layed out and marked the dovetail, you need only two tools to cut them: a saw and a chisel. The choice of the type of saw and chisel is, once again, fraught with debate. But what it boils down to is a matter of personal preference.

dovetail saws. There are several types of saws designed for cutting dovetails. Although they differ in appearance, they do (or should) have a few things in common.

First, a high number of teeth per inch — usually these saws have 16 to 21 teeth per inch (the more the better). Second, a fine or narrow set to the teeth. The finer the set, the less chance of skipping or hopping as the initial cut is made. Third, the saw blade itself is made of thin-gauge steel. This allows for a narrow kerf (if the teeth are set properly). And fourth, since the blade is thin, these saws have a 'back' of thicker metal to keep the blade rigid (hence the name, back saw).

With these things in common, the only real difference between one dovetail saw and another is the handle. A Tyzack dovetail saw, for example, has a normal saw handle grip. The Gent's saw (presumably for gentlemen) has a turned handle (much like a chisel) that extends straight back from the saw's 'back.' And finally, there's the Japanese dovetail saw with a long handle extending at a slight downward angle from the saw's back (surprisingly similar to the Gent's saw.)

tyzack dovetail saw. So, what saw do you use? My favorite saw for cutting dovetails is the Tyzack dovetail saw, (A in Fig. 1). The blade of this saw is only about 0.21" thick, it comes with a very- fine set on the teeth (the way it's supposed to be), there are 21 teeth per inch, and just plain does a nice job.

Besides the fact that it cuts with ease, makes an super-fine kerf, and has an easy sure grip . . . besides all that, it's quite a handsome saw. The solid brass back and nicely proportioned handle make it a treasured addition to any tool collection. (Available from Leichtung, Fine Tool Shop, and Woodcraft Catalogs.)

japanese dovetail saw. ltd has a yen for the Japanese dovetail saw (called a dozuki), (L in Fig. 1). The one we have was purchased at a local store, but several catalogs are now carrying Japanese saws (the best is the Woodline Catalog.)

These Japanese saws are made of very thin steel (ours is 0.12" thick, or about the thickness of 2 pages of Woodsmithl). The teeth are long and narrow (about 24 teeth per inch). The major difference is that all Japanese saws cut on the pull stroke (the teeth point toward the handle), as opposed to the push stroke on all Western saws. This actually makes a lot of sense. As the saw is making the cut, pressure on the blade pulls it taught. This allows the steel for the blade to be very thin (for a very narrow kerf).

japanese dovetail saw (puu)

japanese dovetail saw (puu)

western dovetail saw (push)

If you want to try out the Japanese, I might offer one note of caution. This is a very delicate saw to be used with a very light touch. Let the saw do the work, don't force it. Many Japanese saws wind up with bent and mangled teeth because they're man-handled beyond their limits.

gents saw. As for the Gent's saw: I'm not particularly fond of these saws (although they're probably the cheapest and most available of the bunch), (E in Fig. 1). However, after trying out the Japanese saw, I did some experimenting on a Gent's saw. I removed the blade from the 'back', flipped it around (so the teeth pointed toward the handle). Then I pressed the teeth together in a machinist's vice to remove most of the set. There was, in my opinion, a dramatic improvement in the saw's action.

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