Sandor Nagyszalanczy

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is a California furniture designer/craftsman and author of several woodworking books.

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How to make and use a Bowsaw

A traditional tool for curved cuts or straight by Yeung Chan

As a boy growing up in China, one of my favorite pastimes was watching itinerant woodworkers ply their trade, moving from job to job making simple furniture or doing repair work. I loved peeking inside the wooden toolboxes these craftsmen carried. That's how I saw my first bowsaw.

With its large wooden frame and narrow blade, a bowsaw was the tool a craftsman relied on for all of his sawing tasks, from rough work such as ripping and crosscutting large planks, to the delicate tasks of sawing tenons and dovetails. Even curved cuts were possible.

The bowsaw shown here is very similar to the one I saw as a child, and it's proved to be just as versatile. (See photos, page 59.) It can cut more aggressively than a conventional handsaw because its thinner blade doesn't causc as much friction. The tensioning mechanism is adjustable and foolproof, and I enjoy the gentle sounds it makes compared to my noisier power tools. And as you'll soon see, this timeless tool is easy and inexpensive to make.

Choosing a Blade

Buy or make your blades before you make any of the parts for the saw. The dimensions shown in the drawing on the next page are for a frame that will hold a 24~in.-long blade. If you buy a longer blade, you can grind it to fit the frame, or you can adjust the length of the stretchcr to suit any length of blade.

To get the most from your bowsaw, I recommend keeping two blades on hand. I most often use a l/4-in. by 9-tpi, standard-tooth blade. This narrow blade is great for general-purpose work as well as for ripping and curved cuts. For finer, straight cuts, I use a 3/4-in. by 11-tpi blade. This is the one I use for crosscutting as well as for sawing tenons and dovetails.

Both of these blades arc available from Garrett Wade (800-221-2942). But you can also make your own from a length of handsaw blade.

Making and Assembling the Saw

I made the saw shown here from white oak. Other strong hardwoods, such as hickory or ash. will also work if they're clear and straight-grained.

All of the construction information is shown in the drawing, but two areas that deserve mention are the stretcher and the blade-holding mechanism.

To prevent the stretcher from bending under tension, I create a slight belly in its center when bandsawing the part to shape. (See drawing.)

The blade-holding device consists of one bolt, one threaded rod and two metal pins. Hacksaw a ^4-in.-long slot in the center of the bolt and the rod, for the blade to slip into. You'll need a strong steel pin to hold the blade to

Light,, strong and fast. A twisted cord keeps the blade taut in the saw's lightweight, three-piece frame as Chan makes a rip cut. A bowsaw like this one can cut both aggressively and precisely.

Start lightly. Begin a cut with light or no pressure, using your thumb and index finger to guide the blade. Once the blade is in the kerf, you can saw with more pressure and speed.

the bolt and rod. I made my pins from an old V32-in.-dia. drill bit, but any hardened steel rod will work.

Once you've made all the parts, assemble the two arms and the stretcher, and install a blade. Then wrap the cord around the arms as shown in the drawing. Check to see that the arms are parallel to each other. If not, make the necessary adjustment by turning the wing nut on the threaded rod. Then insert the tensioning stick inside the cord, and rotate the stick to tension the saw blade. Tuck the free end of the stick behind the stretcher to prevent it from spinning. The blade is tensioned properly when you can "pluck" it and produce a high, even tone.

Using a Bowsaw

Used correctly, a bowsaw is one of the fastest handsaws in the shop. And despite its size, you'll find it capable of precise work» too. Though bowsaw technique takes longer to learn than that of other handsaws, once you get the hang of it you will use it for most of your cutting. All cutting with a bowsaw is done on the push stroke, with the teeth facing away from you. The key is to hold the saw with a light grip and let the blade do the work.

Your first inclination may be to align the blade vertically with the arms of the frame, but don't. Instead, angle the blade 10* to 30° to the frame, so the stretcher clears the work and you have a clear view of the cutiine. The exact angle isn't critical; use the one that feels comfortable to you. If you need maximum clearance, such as for a wide rip cut, you can angle the blade all the way to 90\ Make sure both ends of the blade are in line with each other to prevent any twist in the blade.

You can do all your sawing at the bench, using clamps or bench vises to hold the work. For heavy cuts such as rip cuts, I find it convenient to saw on a pair of low sawhorses. This arrange-

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Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

THIS book is one of the series of Handbooks on industrial subjects being published by the Popular Mechanics Company. Like Popular Mechanics Magazine, and like the other books in this series, it is written so you can understand it. The purpose of Popular Mechanics Handbooks is to supply a growing demand for high-class, up-to-date and accurate text-books, suitable for home study as well as for class use, on all mechanical subjects. The textand illustrations, in each instance, have been prepared expressly for this series by well known experts, and revised by the editor of Popular Mechanics.

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