Cutting Dovetails With A Hacksaw


So, I was talking with Bob Plummer last weekend in the shop and we was lookin" at some drawer boxes that I had cobbled up for these fancy kneehole desks that I've been working on.
Bob asked me, "What kinda saw do you like for cuttin' out the pins and tails on yer drawer boxes?"
I said, " Well, when I do a bunch, I like to use the Leigh Jig, but when I do a few, I have this nice Pax Dovetail saw that I like a lot."
Bob reflects on this a bit and then says, "Have you ever considered cuttin' yer dovetails out with a hacksaw?''
Hmmn, Bob's a friend and I wouldn't say anything to intentionally insult him, except in the regard of his incomprehensible love of the Chicago Cubs, for which I take him to task most heartily, and at every conceivable opportunity - but the idea of using a hacksaw on fine joinery?
"I never have given that much thought, Bob."
Now, let me say that when Bob starts to thinkin' he starts to workin' his jaws a lot - and Bob chaws - you might say "chews" where you come from but the point is that he keeps a wad of Redman workin' in his cheeks, pretty much twenty four hours a day. When he gets that thoughtful look in his eye I'm always afraid that he'll let go and spit - although I've never seen him spit in twenty five years of knowin' him and actually suspect that he simply absorbs the chaw into his system - which worries me a little bit, as he is a decent friend.
Anyways, the tension of waiting for the unreasonably expected expectoration onto the shop floor, or the tools, if he is tired enough to not be entirely accurate, adds a bit of suspense to our shop time together.
After chawin' for a good bit Bob continues, "Ya gotta figger, Tommy, that the point (Bob never made a pun in his life, so I won't include one here, as it wouldn't seem natchural) of those fancy saws is to have a buncha fine teeth bitin' into the wood - and what has finer teeth than a hacksaw?"
I was sorta wishin' that I was a chawin' man at this point, so as to have time enough to reflect on my answer - but I settled for a belch, as Bobby and I had been suckin' down a bit of Yuengling Lager - and it seemed like a reasonable comma to the dialogue.
"Well, Bobby, let's give her a try."
Seriously, that was the best that I could come up with.
I pencilled out a dovetail and struck it with the layout knife, put the stick into the bench vise, and had a go at it with the hacksaw.
Now, I've got a few hacksaws and I was careful in my selection. I opted for the tubular framed Stanley, as I thought that it would take the sort of tension that I intended to apply to the blade.
I was less fortunate in the avaialability of blades and had to settle for a 32 tpi of nondescript origin, as it was the only fresh blade around.
Bobby camped out right over my left shoulder. I've always hated that.
"Bobby, would you give me a little room to breathe here, I'm tryin' something I've never done and yer makin' me nervous."
"Hell, I was just tryin' ta see if you was gonna start forwards or backwards."
"Bobby, I don't think there's any right or wrong way to start a dovetail with a hacksaw, since, so far as I know, it's never been tried."
"Well, come on, Tommy. One ways gotta be better than the other, and it's something to consider, technique wise and such."
I was trying not to concentrate too much on the thought that I was about to violate a piece of haf assed decent white maple with a plumber's tool.
"Alright, Bobby, we're a goin' in."
I ultimately decided on the pull stroke, as it seemed more natural to me, and it seemed to work just fine. In fact, the push stroke and the following sequence of pushes and pulls worked to such a satisfactory degree as to make me lay out a few more and cut them.
"Ya see, Tommy, it cuts clean as a whistle."
Well, it did at that!
I'd not be the one to say that I will give up my fancy saws, as I enjoy the heft of them and what they do - but Bobby Plummer had taught me that a man doesn't need a sixty dollar saw to cut a decent line.
So, the moral of story is: if'n yer ever stuck out in the woods, with nuthin' but a hacksaw - you can pursue yer fine wooddorking hobby without fear of poorly results.
That damned hacksaw works just fine.
Tom Watson - WoodDorker tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (email) http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1/ (website)
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wrote:

HEATHEN!
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    Greetings and Salutations...
On Thu, 21 Jul 2005 17:37:34 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@all.costs wrote:

sort of thing for years...perhaps decades. It is not quite the cleanest cut, but, works very well for making that fine line.     Regards     Dave Mundt
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Dave Mundt wrote:

ah yes... I forgot the smiley on my last post. I've used a hacksaw for that sort of thing too.
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Makes sense. Some fancy miter saws are like hack saws. It the tension is high enough and the blade stiff, why not?
There are always odd ideas. Remember the one in FWW about a guy who cut dovetails in a single cut with a frame saw for shipping crates?
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On 22 Jul 2005 02:47:46 GMT, Bruce Barnett

Hacksaws have wave set, mitre saws have almost no set. Although a hacksaw barely works on wood anyway (no chip clearance space), if you did use one you'd have an unstable cut direction.
As there's no shortage of blade materials to choose from, hacksaws would be right down the bottom. I've cut "rough" dovetails with a bowsaw using thin bandsaw blade.
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Andy Dingley wrote:

not all hacksaws have wave set.

on very hard woods like ebony and rosewood they work a charm.

choose the blade carefully. there ae a lot of tooth patterns available in hacksaw blades. granted, most of them are too fine to be really effective for general woodworking, and some of them would be screaming disaster in any woodworking context, but not all.

why? most are high carbon steel. it makes a dandy saw blade. many are either HSS or HSS laminated to a carbon steel back. while HSS isn't really necessary for a woodworking handsaw, it performs fine.
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Where do you find them? One of my pet gripes about hacksaws has long been the limited range of teeth. I can't get a rake angle that isn't set up for metal. Now on ebony or bog oak this would be OK, but even on rosewood I have saws with better tooth shapes. I also can't find anything coarser than 12tpi.
My real gripe about hacksaws though is junior hacksaws. You can get excellent little frames for these, but no blades other than the cheapest of medium carbon steel.
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Andy Dingley wrote:

I don't really know where to send you for blades. I haven't needed a hacksaw for wood in a while. make no mistake, they *are* designed for cutting metal. heh, except for the one I have with pruning saw teeth, mebbe 2TPI on that one.... I have a pile of blades that I have accumulated over the years- it's one of the things I look for when I check out a new tool store.

I don't have one of these, but I see plumbers use what sounds like one. the blades for them are set up for cutting plastic pipe quickly- I suspect that they would do a passable job on wood, but any decent woodworking saw should outperform them.
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Never trust a plumber who cuts plastic pipe with a hacksaw ! (a favourite topic in uk.d-i-y)
This is a common cause of leaks. The push-fit fittings used for plastic pipe really don't like the rough edges left by a hacksaw. Trapped swarf is one of the most common reasons for pinhole leaks from them. Use the proper cutter.
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I've found that a "jeweler's" saw, fitted with a mid-range scroll saw blade, does a really nice job also. When you get to the bottom of the tail or pin, turn the saw & cut off the bottom of the waste. No need for chisels except to clean up the cut! (rotate the blade 90d in the frame if necessary for clearance on deep drawers)
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wrote:

<<< Snip >>>

:)
Good folksy advice, and a hell of a story! Nice post, Tom.
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Tom Watson wrote:

IIRC, the late Cecil Pierce, an American woodworker of no small renown, used a hacksaw to cut dovetails. As I recall, he used the thumb (the only digit remaining on his left hand) on the front of the saw.
Since most people cut them with a one-handed saw I presume Mr Pierce preferred the hacksaw based in some way on its own merits.
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FF


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snipped-for-privacy@spamcop.net wrote:

First of all, I never trust a woodworker who's all thumbs. ;-)
IIRC, in his book, Pierce also stayed outside the layout lines and pared his dovetails back to the lines. So that would indicate that he was not expecting a final finish from the saw.
FWIW, when I started doing dovetails I stayed outside the lines and pared them to fit. I found that introduced more likelihood for errors than if I simply tried to make them fit straight from the saw. Since I changed my method and started cutting "on the waste side of the line", most of the time my dovetails fit without any paring (or at worst, with only a bit of cleaning up of the corners).
I've tried the hacksaw method, as well as using a cheap new Stanley "dovetail saw", a $20 Korean dozuki, a $40 Japanese z-saw, an old Spear backsaw re-filed rip, and the L-N dt saw. The first two were intolerable, the third was OK, and the last three made life much easier.
And since I wooddork as a hobby, I like to choose tools that make life easier. :-)
Chuck Vance
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For what it is worth, and in the context of dovetailing I've tried to illustrate sawing to a pencil line on my web site - Dovetailing Detailed - A close-up On Marking Sockets.
I hope this helps.
Jeff G
--
Jeff Gorman, West Yorkshire, UK
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