Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Gramercy Tools Bow Saw Kit: Sort of a Review

A couple of years ago I used the Lee Valley gift cards I got for Christmas to purchase a Gramercy Tools Bow Saw Kit.  I wanted it partly because of the limitations of my band saw (3" max. cutting height) and partly because I am a sucker for anything that I can use to build a tool at home (See plane, spokeshave).

The kit hardware consists of two handles, brass pins that go into the handles, and three blades.  There are measured and full scale drawings along with some construction notes that offer helpful advice but no step by step instructions.  The lack of instructions may take this out of the 'beginner' class, but it is still a pretty straightforward project.  I didn't see any drawback to not having detailed instructions.

Even so, I did go online and check out other bow saw builds and it did yield some useful information. The most significant item was actually a note that I had planned to ignore.  In the drawings the spot where the crossbar and the arms meet is curved.  In the notes it says "Since our saws are made on automated production machinery it's pretty easy for us to do.  If you are working by hand, squared up mortises, tenons, and faces are the way to go."  I, of course, took this as a challenge.  I could curve my shoulders as well (almost) as any machine.  What I saw online changed my mind.  A couple of people had tried it and got the curve wrong.  It didn't wreck the saw but it just looked wrong.  I decided to leave mine flat.

The handles that came with the kit were hickory but I didn't have any of that so I went with beech instead.  In order to make the cross bar as strong as possible I wanted it to be quartersawn. Fortunately my flatsawn beech was thick enough that I could get the crossbar out of it.  I marked the quartersawn grain on the board and cut along one line to avoid runout as much as possible.

Did I mention that I ran the bottom side of the board over my jointer first?  I did that so I would have a reference surface.  After that, I could do the rest of the squaring up with a hand plane.  Eventually I wound up with a very nice stick.  This may not seem like a big deal to you but I am still kind of new at using hand tools and making something flat and square is a big deal to me.

I followed the same procedures and made two more sticks for the arms, except I had to leave them flatsawn because of their width.  Then I glued photocopies of the full scale drawings on to them as a guide for cutting the rough shape.  Before actually cutting them out though I drilled the holes for the pins and made the mortises for the tenons on the cross bar.

  It was a lot easier to do this while everything was still square.  This was another thing I learned from the internet.  I like to think that I would have thought of this on my own, but...

The next step was to cut the tenons on the crossbar and check it for length.  I did this by putting the pins in the arms and installing a blade, then putting the crossbar in place and squaring one side.

If the length was right then the other side would be square as well.

Of course it wasn't.  If you've read my blog before you would expect that.  At least it was still too long.  A couple more tries and it came out right.

Once the crossbar was right I cut the arms out with my wife's scroll saw.  If I had already had a bow saw I would have used that, but then there would be no need to build a bow saw.

If you are good with a scroll saw you can get a pretty good finish from it but I need a lot more practice before I can do that consistently.  Fortunately I cut a little off the line which left me some room to smooth things out.

The next step was to taper the upper part of the arms.  I had expected difficulty in getting a nice, consistent taper but I used my block plane an was surprised how easy it was.  I just started near the top end and worked my way back, and was able to adjust the angle easily by changing where I started my stroke.

When it was time to move to the other side I put a wedge under the back end so that the first side had  support for the whole length.  After that it was just a matter of chamfering the edges and shaping the bottom end to finish the arm.

There is something about the process of shaping wood that I find to be deeply satisfying,  I can't really explain it, but using rasps and files to soften a corner or create a cove simply feeds my soul in some way.

The chamfers on the crossbar were not quite as straightforward because they were wider in the middle and tapered away as they approached the ends.  I made a template for the curve by marking a straight line on a piece of cardboard and then putting nails in separated by the length of the chamfer.  I then bent a strip of wood so that the bend matched the bend of the chamferand marked the curve.

I then cut along the curve and bent the cardboard along the line and marked the chamfers.

Then it was just a matter of chamfering to meet the lines.

The last part to make was the toggle for tightening the string.  The instructions were to turn a toggle and taper opposite sides, but I just made mine from a square piece of beech.

At this point all that was left was to assemble the saw and tension it.  Wait, where's the string?  If you remember the start of this post, there was no mention of any string in the kit contents.  Actually, part of the reason it took me two years to start building this kit was that there was no string with it.  For what I paid for this kit I really think I should have gotten some string.  You can buy the string separately on their website, but it still doesn't come with the kit.  As a woodworker, I think I would have rather had string than the handles.  I can make wooden handles.  By the time I was done building this saw I was pretty worked up up about the whole matter.   I was ready to trash Gramercy and the saw and everyone associated with it.

So what stopped me?  Well I went out and bought some string and actually tried the saw.  It was, to put it simply, a delight.  The saw is surprisingly light and nimble.  It cuts great.  It feels good in the hand.  All my angst about the string melted away as I made the first cut through some 2" thick beech.

It also gave me a chance to try out the new branding iron that I got for Christmas.

So, overall, I'm pretty happy with the saw.  I still think it should come with string, though.