The Mini Sawyer


A friend showed up today and dropped off a chunk of birds eye maple that had split on him when he felled the tree. I’m not sure what happened to the rest of the tree, boy would I like to know! In any case I found myself in possession of a small piece of wood, and for sure it would make some fine bowls turned on the lathe, but I don’t have access to a lathe at the moment. Being highly figured wood, and a small piece at that, I figured the best use would be to saw into thin boards, either for veneer on drawer fronts or small presentation boxes. With birds eye grain the best figure is gained from flat sawing, not quarter sawing, which also happened to work out to give me the widest pieces.

The problem is, how does one saw an oddly shaped piece of wood like this without a large bench vise as I am accustomed to? I started by planing down the outside face until I had established a flat land worth converting into the first board.


A bit of the figure shows in the bark, as well as being quite obvious in the freshly planed surface, quite beautiful!


With one flat face I knew I could use a marking gauge to mark for the cut, but my end wheel gauge doesn’t have a large enough fence to register against, especially when the surface to be marked is sloping heavily away. Luckily the wooden straight edge I made a couple of days ago was at hand, and already had a hole big enough to pass the bar of the gauge through, now the first board could be marked.


I’ve thought of using a technique analogous to this for marking highly irregular logs, akin to the sled that an Alaskan chainsaw mill uses for aligning the first slab cut.


After marking with the wheel gauge I darkened the line in with a soft pencil.


And clamped the chunk of wood to the closest near vertical thing at hand, a ladder to the loft above. You have to move the clamps around a bit as you cut, and keep the kerf open where its clamped with some wedges, but it obviates the need for a large bench clamp. The same function would be served quite nicely by a 4×4 timber, and it could even be made free standing in the shop if you were to add some cross pieces at the bottom for feet.


The figure became more pronounced as I sawed through.


I titled this post “The Mini Sawyer” because this is basically the miniature version of what I go through sawing a proper sized log, same orientation, same dynamics of the saw at various angles to the grain. The crossing grain of the birds eye was quite noticeable when sawing, a bit like small pin knots but softer.

For those unfamiliar, the saw that I’m using is a home made Japanese style rip saw, re-purposed from an old western panel saw. The steel is nothing special, but I’ve done a lot of sawing with it at this point, and it does a good job because the blade is flat and I sharpen it frequently. If you’re into Japanese saws you may have run across mention of saws that hold their edge for forty hours, almost mythical stuff, I had to sharpen for every board I cut, sometimes it went dull a couple inches before the cut finished. You know its time to sharpen when the middle of the tooth line is dull and you start snagging on the outside teeth because of the increased pressure of using a slightly dull saw.

I started having problems with cupping in the cut and became increasingly frustrated until I noticed that I had sharpened most of the set out of the teeth, hadn’t been keeping track of that even though you’d think I know what I’m doing by now. Carrying enough set in the saw is seriously important for wide rip cuts in green wood, which as you can see from the photo above tends to cup when flat sawn, especially if the outside surface has had some time to dry and introduce some stresses in the wood. Sawing like this is fundamentally quite different from how a joinery saw is tuned for minimal set. Even the most skillful hand sawyer wouldn’t be able to track a straight line ripping boards in green wood if the saw was under set. How much set is enough? That depends, but generally its towards the maximum that the saw can handle for the thickness of the plate, I tend to run this saw at about 2/3 of maximum set because I also use this saw for seasoned lumber. Don’t feel bad about the wider kerf, its peanuts compared to the extra wood you’d have to plane off if the plate gets pushed around as the wood warps in the cut.

I stickered the boards as I cut them to keep the drying even, and stacked a couple of really heavy slabs on the hole affair to keep things flat as they dry. My stickers aren’t even in the photo below, they should be directly over each other or you could end up introducing warps into the slabs as they dry.


No band saw involved, no great fuss, just time, effort, and paying attention to the saw. Its your best teacher.

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