… and why you need one.
Most of you will know that the vast majority of my tools are what I would call good quality ‘workman like’ tools.
I have a few modern posh things, but they’re not in daily use.
It’s nothing against them, but my old friends are like comfy old work boots. They let in a bit of water, but I just avoid the deep puddles.
My most expensive daily user could be yours for about thirty five quid.
And that’s my Stanley No. 5.
There is one exception to this though, and that’s my dovetail saw. It’s my one tool where I really find that quality counts.
If you watched my naff rant the other day, then you’ll know that I connect cutting good dovetails, with good pace (that’s the important bit) with a good saw.
So I thought I’d give you some of my thoughts on buying a good dovetail saw.
Buying Your Dovetail Saw – New or Old?
Almost always go new.
Unless you’re very proficient at setting and sharping, then an old dovetail saw will do you no favours.
Cost wise, a good old saw seems to cost close to some of the new ones. If you do see a nice one at a bargain, then buy it. But don’t learn with it.
What Size for a Dovetail Saw?
Don’t buy a ‘dovetail saw’ for your dovetails.
They’re too small.
Instead go with a small tenon or carcase saw.
These will still cut your dead small joints but will be much, much more versatile. Particularly if you’ll be jointing a lot of carcases and the like.
It will also cut your small tenons and shoulders.
Even if you’ll use your saw mostly for run of the mill drawer dovetails, the longer length will give much straighter cuts, and be much faster. It will also help you to see square.
Go for around the 10″ (250mm) mark. Maybe a little longer if you work thicker stuff.
What’s important is that you don’t go for one of these deep cutting saws. So the shallower the depth of plate, the nicer the saw will feel.
The versatility of this allows you to put your money in to one great saw, rather than splitting it up between several.
Plus it fits well with a minimal tool kit. This part is personal, but I prefer to look after a few familiar tools, rather than have the pick of many.
How Many Teeth on your saw?
Just because your joints want to be fine, doesn’t mean you need super fine teeth on your saw.
Quite the opposite in fact.
Fine teeth, like a short length, will lead to inacuracies.
They also clog quickly and are a pain in the arse to sharpen.
At 20 teeth per inch (tpi), my Pax saw came with too many teeth.
It makes it impossible to cut accurately. So I filed them straight off and set it up with about 14 tpi.
The difference was day and night, and I haven’t found another saw that I prefer to use (except for a Skelton).
Try to pick a saw out the box that has no more than 15 tpi. Go for slightly less if you work thicker or softer woods.
Do You Need Rip Cut, Cross Cut Or Both?
I find cross cut teeth a waste of time for anything other than very coarse saws. They come in useful below around 8 tpi.
When you’re dovetailing, most of the cutting is rip anyway, and even for others things finer rip teeth crosscut just fine.
If you are worried then just create a knife line prior to sawing.
Blade Thickness for your Dovetail Saw.
You want a saw with a nice thin plate (which all good saws will have).
A thin blade makes for a very precise feeling saw.
Do avoid going for the ‘super thin kerf’ though.
These can be so thin that if you rush the saw (and who doesn’t), they tend to drift.
If you’re buying a tenon or carcase saw then you shouldn’t need to worry, as these are all a little thicker anyway.
The big factor to consier is that you can get a coping saw blade down the kerf. And I mean a proper coping saw. I don’t like fret saws, particularly when you’re jointing at full thickness.
This is another good reason to avoid a dovetail saw and instead opt for a small tenon. Nice and thin, but not too thin.
Another note, and this is most certainly personal preference, go for a nice heavy saw.
A saw that can plough on its own steam is always more accurate, and a lot less prone to doing that bouncing thing when you’re trying to start your cut.
Anyway, there’s a bit for you to go at there. I’ll go into more detail on individual elements another time.
In the meantime, read my thoughts on the best dovetail chisel to go alongside your saw.
Or see my full tool guide for minimal woodworking with hand tools.
Some Notes on Our Tool Buying Advice:
We often hear it. I provide some thoughts on buying tools and it gives an excuse for people who dislike the advice to jump on the ever faithful ‘he’s in all the tool makers’ pockets’ thing.
My thoughts aren’t the only solution for buying a good dovetail saw, but when we provide tool advice we want you to be certain of two things:
1) The solution works for me. I use hand tools solely and aim for speed as well as precision. My tool kit is minimal and workmanlike, so a tool can’t be naff, nor will it be posh for the sake of it.
If this sounds like your kind of woodworking, then I hope you’ll find the advice useful.
2) The advice is always impartial. We’ve never had any kind of sponsorship or payment for anything we’ve published, and don’t plan to do so in the future. Stating this means it would be illegal for us to do any other.