Coping Saw – Beech – 2015

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What a fun idea – Canadian Woodworking magazine is organizing “a build together” – woodworkers each sweating away in their own shops can peer over others’ their digital shoulders and see what they are doing through the power of the internet:  What a great way to push myself to greater heights.   The theme – shop made tools – a theme which conveniently lines up with the coping saw I was planning on building. David is working on an anarchist tool chest and I have been mulling over a dutch chest so a new coping saw would give us the option of heresy – to saw out the waste of the 150 or so dovetails our projects entailed.  As you may remember last year I made a bowsaw under the tutelage of Bill Anderson.  This time Bill lent me his tapered reamer and I set to work on my own with out the master at hand.

I used beech for the project – both because its a traditional wood for tool making but also because its tough straight grain can help hold the tension of the saw.

I am still blown away this works – without fasteners the saw is held together by mortise and tenon joints and than tensioned by wrapping  jute around the top of the saw.  While the technology itself is ancient, the particular artistic flares in the saw herald back a 150 years or so.  Getting a working saw only took a couple of hours, working with rasps and spokeshaves to add the shadow lines and shape took much longer.  Does a saw you made yourself cut faster and smoother – who knows but it sure as hell feels like it does.

The Irony

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So the first step of building a coping saw is to cope the pieces.  Starting with beech stock, I cut the mortises into the arm and than used a coping saw to cut the arms to shape.  After the pieces were cut to size I put the left and right together and ironed out the errors with a spokeshave.  This step always takes me longer than it should.  When the saw is fired up a lot of pressure is exerted on the head of the coping saw arm, so I used a piece with fairly straight grain – if the grain did not run the length of the piece the saw would be so much more likely to fail.  I don’t know if I could cope with that.  Cutting out the arms is not a fast task – as I was once counselled – sit back and think of green pastures.

Shaping the pieces;

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Making both the bowsaw and the coping saw have opened my eyes to all the wonderful things that the rasp can do.  Here I am shaping the stretcher – I am using the profile of my french rasp to add the little pedestals to the ends.  I transferred this shape to either end of the piece on all four ends.  One of the challenges is trying to keep the rasp square so everything is on the up and up as you move on to the next steps.  Its also critical your reference lines meet and don’t invoke some Escher sketch.  None of this is particularly necessary for the tool to function but adds all of the character which makes it a pleasure to use.


The whirl on the top has a groove preventing the jute for slipping out of place.  I used a rat-tail rasp to shape the track around the piece.   Everything has gotten just so much smaller since the bowsaw project.  I used a back saw to cut a small piece of beech roughly to shape and than used a rasp to shape the whirl to the elongated egg shape.


After finishing up with the rasp, I used a spokeshave to cut a gentle curve along the backside of the arm.  This s the true genius of this design, a boxy coping saw no longer, the spokeshave adds the shadow line flowing out of the pedestal when the stretcher connects.

Turning the handles;

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So I am pretty pleased with myself – after getting my feet wet turning on a mallet last year, I got a six-pack of beer for my friend Nick and asked if I could use his lathe again.  For a first attempt at more decorative turning I think they turned out great.  I elongated the handles a-little but from those on the bowsaw, a position which I find more comfortable.  The handles are made from part of the hickory tree that David and I harvested last year.

Cutting the joinery;


Mortise and tenons hold the saw together.  Since the saw can be disassembled, one needs to dress up the inside of their joints a little more than usual or heaven forbid someone’s eyes cast judgement.

Raising the Tension;


The saw sings like a dream!  Here I am coping our the waste between some abandoned dovetails.  The coping saw much like the bow saw has wonderful shadow lines.  Given the smaller size the curve in the primary arms is more gentle.

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So you make tools to make things but then end up just making more places to store your tools.  Check out all my shop made tools here – above is a staged photograph of all the tools I made at or with plans from the Woodwright school in North Carolina.


One thought on “Coping Saw – Beech – 2015

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

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