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Strength, patience and a sharp saw turn scraps into treasure.
The hardwoods I use they are almost always torn or divided by a trunk. When I need thinner pieces than usual, I split them again. But there are times when I have some broth sawn in the mill and the way to get that thin is to either flatten it or reseg it.
Tearing the boards across their thickness rather than their width is cutting. Doing this by hand is more manageable than you might think; but it requires some strength and patience.
A shop cleaning recently discovered some black walnut scraps; quartersawn boards no less. They were 1 1/4“Thick, about 6” wide and 20 “long. They were ideal for a carved box but had to be halved, both to get enough material and to reduce the footprint for the size of the box.
I started by filing and setting the saw. This job is a great test for your cutting and sharpening of your saw. The jigsaw is the easiest saw to sharpen. It usually has quite large teeth and their shape is simple. I clamped the saw into a store-made saw vise and ran a file along the entire length of the saw. This creates a small plate on top of each tooth. Next, I took a triangular file and filed the front edge of each tooth. I try to do the same number of strokes on each tooth, filing until the plate I created disappears. Tilt the file to create a leading edge of the tooth that is almost plumb. At my age, I also wear magnifying glasses to file a wide-toothed saw like this one.
After filing, I set my teeth so that everyone else is bent away from the neighbors. Check the “set” at the beginning, you want to be sure to bend your teeth in the same direction they are already headed. There are several types of saw sets; many use a squeeze handle to press a small trigger against a solid block or anvil in the set. Pinch the teeth between this trigger and the holder and squeeze the handle. You’re not trying to bend the tooth as much as possible, but just enough to reduce the saw’s tendency to bind into the cut.
Place every other tooth along the entire length of the saw, then turn it over and place the others in the opposite direction. Many saw sets have regulators so that more or less pressure can be created. Too much set means the saw cut will be wider. This way you lose more wood powder; and spend more effort driving the saw through the wood. Too small a set and the saw will bind into the cut. Aim for something like Goldilocks “right”. It’s easy to shrink the set later, so maybe more compression at first, until you get a feel for it.
Once the saw was sharpened, I was ready to cut the walnut again. I planed a straight, aligned edge and used a gauge to draw a line in the center of the board thickness. This drawn line is drawn all around the edges and ends. I put the board in the grip of my cabinetmaker’s bench. Tilt the board so that only one corner is cut at the beginning. Start the saw right on the corner and gradually lengthen the stroke so that you reach the closest side of the board and through the grain of the top end. Don’t let the saw run along the furthest edge you can’t see. When you have reached the opposite top corner, stop and turn the board in the vise. Then start from the near corner again and repeat the same process. When you reach as far as possible on the near edge and hit the far corner, stop and reposition the board again. Then place it vertically; and saw the area in the middle of your first two cuts. The saw should guide itself fairly well into your cuts. From here, it’s just repetition.
Continue to reposition the board, extending the cuts on each side. Tilt the board like this, then that way, and then vertically. I haven’t seen where you can’t see the line. If the cut starts to move out of line, twist your wrist slightly to bring the saw back. The adjustment is in the direction you are heading, so if you are on the right, turn your wrist slightly to the right. A small adjustment is usually enough.
If the cut is closing on the saw; tap a narrow, thin wedge at the top of the cut to open things up a bit. You will feel the saw loosen in the groove as this wedge does its job. Near the bottom of the board, the vise pinches the board, making it difficult for the saw to pass. You can flip the board from one end to the other and start sawing from the new top end. I tend to plan my cuts, so I take the board out of the grip and leverage the last few pieces. Re-sawing is good exercise and a nice way to warm up on a cold morning.
Peter Follansbee has been involved in traditional craftsmanship since 1980. To learn more about green carpentry, antique tools and other topics, visit pfollansbee.wordpress.com.
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