Woodworking: Making a Backsaw

By CRAIG KUNCE

This tutorial shows how I made my own backsaw.

I found it difficult to find a good backsaw. It seems like a lost craft. I have seen a few websites that sell a new backsaws and hand saw for several hundred dollars. Since that isn't in my immediate budget, I decided to try to make my own. All the other saws are made by human hands—why can't I?

So here's a step by step record of my progress and process. Enjoy!

Step-by-step

I started with two Simonds backsaws. One blade was 26" long the other was 22" long. I'm sure they were miter saws in their hey-days. I found one at a local antique dealer for $45. The other I bought off ebay for $22 plus $11.50 shipping. If this works I will have four quality saws for less than $100. Not bad.

I preferred buying from the antique store because I could hold it in my hands and check the straightness of the blade and the condition of the teeth. Both were in great shape.

 

My first step was to cut the blade. I wanted to keep the two original saws as they were but shorten them. I kept one at 16" long and one at 14". This left me with about 9" for the two new saws.

I cut them with a rotary tool and a cutting disk. I did this outside to cut down on the sparks and dusk inside my house. I took several passes over a Sharpie marker line. I was careful to only take a little off with each pass. This helped me control the cut and to not heat up the saw blade. I read that too much heat could mess with the tempering of the saw blade and reduce its ability to stay sharp. I went through about 20 disks in the process. They would break after a few passes.

I cut the teeth off the saws too. The blade was too high as it was. I wanted the two new saws to be much smaller that the originals. The new blade height was 3 1/4" including the saw back. I tapered the blades to 3" at the toe.

 

Here's the two blades after being rough cut with the rotary tool and cutting disk.

 

Next, I filed the plate flat on the edge where the teeth will be filed in.

 

I double checked it with my combination square

 

Here are the two plates filed flat

 

I wanted my two saws to have 14 teeth per inch (or about 14 points per inch) I hopped on my computer and drew the tooth patterns for a crosscut saw and a rip saw. I used Adobe Illustrator to draw the teeth.

I set the crosscut teeth to have a 15° rake. The rip saw teeth I drew at a 5° rake.

 

I cut the teeth out and glued them directly to the saw plates. My thought was that I would file off the black part and be left with the teeth I want at the correct rake angles. We'll see how that goes when I start filing.

 

Making the Handles

I set out to make a handle for my new saws out of some very old walnut I had in my shop. I used to repair antiques for a couple of local dealers. In my spare time I would buy a few antiques for myself. One summer, I bought an old bed out of an even older farmhouse in southern Minnesota. The headboard and foot board were solid old-growth walnut. The bed was an odd size and no modern mattress fit it. So, needing extra space in my storage room, I disassembled it last summer and started building furniture out of it. One of my antique dealer friends told me that he thought it was an 1860s country Victorian era piece. I don't know, so I'll go with that.

I studied several saw handles that I have in my shop and tested several models in my hand. One in particular felt the best. It was from an old full-sized crosscut saw I bought at a garage sale years ago. I started sketching and tweaking that layout until I felt I had what I wanted.

 

Next, I cut the handles out with my band saw. I had to buy an 1/8 inch blade to cut the tight corners.

 

To shape the handles I decided to use a carving chisel instead of a router bit. I didn't want these two new saws to look modern and fancy. I prefer my work to look as handmade as possible, yet still professional and even artsy.

I drew lines on the handle blanks to show where the handles should round to. Then I grabbed my chisel and started carving.

 

As I progressed, I liked the look the gouge was giving the handle. I started to take out small chips so the walnut looked like hammered bronze.

After carving both handles, I applied four coats of oil finish. I mix my own finish so I have some control over the sheen and saturation of the oil. I like how they turned out.

 

Final steps

My final steps were to finish filing the teeth, set them, sharpen them, and then fit the saw blade to the handle.

The old steel blade was extremely hard! It was extremely difficult to drill through it for the holding pin. I managed to get through it and the pin fit nicely. I initially thought I'd have two pins holding the blade, but I ran out of space. One pin made the saw pretty tight, but it did wiggle a bit. I covered the handle with blue painter's tape where it met the blade's back. I dripped glue into the opening to stop the movement. It worked well and the handle is firm and doesn't move a bit.

Here's the final saw:

 

The most important lesson I learned: appreciate people who make saws. This saw feels great in my hand and cuts well, but it was a lot of tedious work. I enjoyed the process immensely, but might not choose to do it every day. I'd rather use it to make furniture.