Howarth Bowsaw – Beech – 2014

With David Rae

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I have been looking forward to this for months.  David and I journeyed down to North Carolina for a weekend workshop at Roy Underhill’s Woodwright School.  It is sort of a magical places, with back doors that open on to a bar and an antique shop filled to the brim with planes and irons long ago foregone by modern manufactures.  Check out his FAQs; where I learned a new slight to cast upon  “normites” whose methods differ from my own.  The school is set in downtown Pittsboro, with all its accompany charms steps away – including Lake Jordan – where david and I camped.

We set to reproduce a bowsaw designed and crafted by the English toolmaker James Howarth in the 1830’s.  While we jump off of Howarth’s design the technology has a heritage a couple of millennium  older than his operation.  Bow saws have fallen by the wayside as band saws replaced some of their applications in the modern shop.  The saw blade is held taut by a string which pulls the arms together.  After use the pressure is released by unfastening the mortise and tenon joint holding the string – genius!  For generations these saws have been used for cutting curves, re-sawing and general applications that don’t lend themselves to a firmer saw blade (check out this article on using bowsaws).


Our instructor and guide through the process was Bill Anderson – his method for the saw is available here (although there are other iterations here, here and a bunch of other places); you should take a moment and peak in Bill’s shop here and admire his wall of molding planes.  Bill has mastered the bowsaw; fully encapsulated in its function as well as its wonderful curves and lines.  Plus he is just a swell guy.  This class was just a lot of fun.  Here David and I posed with the master all of us holding our newly crafted tools.

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Inserted a spline into the base of the arm – this will provide additional strength where the handle is inserted.  David is sliding the handle into a tapered hole – over the years the hole will widening and the handle will slip further in.  We used a metal reamer to taper the hole.  The saw is made of a hard quartersawn beech – which has wonderful flecks in it but also is tough enough to last a lot longer than me.


Starting to look like a saw.  We basically spent a 3/4 of a day getting it to work like a saw and a day and 1/4 making it look like one.


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Lots of shaping – cut out the profile of the arms with a coping saw.

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The rest of the shaping fell on the capable shoulders of rasps – a tool which before this project spent more time on the shelves of my shop then in my hand.  Boy was I missing out!   The profile of the rasp determined the curves of the arms and than the flat portion brings down the wood to a pleasing shape.  I did spend the better part of 6 hours sliding a rasp across the wood with varying levels of intensity and focus.


One of the features that bill likes most about this saw is the wonderful curve where the stretcher meets arms.  Essentially we rasped straight across the arm, and than used a spoke-shave to form the shadow line and round over the arm.  Definitely pushing the way I think about design.


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David finished his saw by the warm confines of a fire as he and Marcie celebrated the end of her semester on the AT.  We added a couple of coats of shellac and then strung the two saws up side-by-side.


Not the first time that davids bow-saw was tuned up but the first time it was tuned up with a coat of shellac on it.  It cuts just as well with or without finish but this time it doesn’t have marks from his camping trip on its clean lines.  Leave no trace should apply even when you get home from the woods too.

Great saw.  Great Class.  Its times like this I wish heaven was actually a giant pasture in the sky with the good-deeded of generations past watching from above: Somewhere there would be a woodworker watching curiously as the saw he spent a little extra time building was faithful reproduced and put back to work.


8 thoughts on “Howarth Bowsaw – Beech – 2014

  1. Pingback: Mountain Dulcimer Number Two – Walnut & Zebra Wood – 2014 | raecreation

  2. Pingback: Mountain Dulcimer: Three – Walnut & Zebra Wood – 2014 | raecreation

  3. Pingback: Back saw – Beech and Walnut – 2015 | raecreation

  4. Pingback: Coping Saw – Beech – 2015 | raecreation

  5. Pingback: Jointer plane – Beech – 2015 | raecreation

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