Warning to parents: If your child becomes interested in working with wood, this may result in a variety of physical, social, and mental health consequences.

Your child will develop hand-to-eye co-ordination, learn manual skills, grow in self confidence, find expression for their natural creativity, develop problem solving skills, develop a greater appreciation for trees, reduce their dependence on electronic entertainment, build muscle strength, increase dexterity with their hands, become handy around the house in future years, and may even develop a lifelong passion for woodworking.

If this scares you, please leave this site now!!

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kids can readily use saws to cut wood to length.

When kids are making their creations, they will commonly want a piece of wood to be cut shorter or to a particular length. This is a great time to teach them how to use a saw properly. It is amazing how quickly kids can learn to use a saw, so long as we provide a saw which they can handle comfortably and a few pointers to help them develop good and easy technique. Sawing technique is one of those wonderful life skills which, once mastered, can prove very handy throughout our lives.

In this post I'd like to offer a few suggestions about which type of saws will be best for kids to use. There are basically two different types of sawing we undertake in woodwork:
Ripping is cutting wood "with the grain", that is, in the same direction that the grain runs - usually this is along the length of the piece of wood, to cut the piece of wood to width.
Cross-cutting is cutting wood across the grain as the name suggests. It usually means cutting the piece of wood across its width - which mostly means cutting a piece of wood to length.

Traditionally, the teeth for ripping and crosscutting are shaped differently. Ripping teeth are more like little chisels and cross cutting teeth are more like little knives in the way that they cut. However we will not get too caught up in the technical stuff around this here!

At this point, we are only considering the cross-cutting of wood. The saws used for this purpose we will discuss here are those belonging to the family known generally as Backsaws.

The family of Backsaws.
Traditional saws of European origin (Western style saws), are mostly designed to cut on the push stroke. While there are Japanese style saws available on the market, which cut on the pull stroke, I do not normally use them for teaching kids or adults. To help build consistent sawing technique, I provide and use a range of backsaws with the adults and kids I am teaching. Backsaws have a stiffening piece of metal added to the top (back) edge of the saw blade to keep it stiff as it is pushed through the wood. Generally speaking with the older saws, British made saws tended to have brass backs and US made saws tended to have steel backs.

The saws from the Backsaw family we would mostly use with kids will be the Tenon Saw, the Dovetail Saw, and maybe the Gent's Saw.
The saw on the left in the picture is a traditional Dovetail Saw. While they often have open handles, the blades are small and short (around 8 inches) with fine teeth.  Light and well balanced, these are perfect for kids to use. However if the timber to be cut is too thick, the back of the saw will prevent cutting all the way through. Moments like these you may need a deeper Tenon Saw.

The saw on the right is a Tenon Saw. It is a real oldie, one of those wonderful finds from a garage sale. A Disston, as I recall the medallion on the handle dates it at being made between 1897 and 1913. Still going strong. While the blade is a bit pitted with surface corrosion, it still sharpenned OK.

Even though both of these saws pictured are over 100 years old, I use them both with kids all the time. Such lovely saws and so easy for kids to use.

The saw pictured on the left here is a Tenon Saw. It is a modern one, a Pax, made in Sheffield, UK. A beaut saw, it is deep in the blade, but very short for a tenon saw - 8 inches. The main problem with it is the huge handle, which is so out of proportion to the blade. Not very kid friendly because of this.

The saw pictured on the right is another Dovetail Saw. The main problem with this one is the steel back on the blade is very thin. It has been bent a couple of times by enthusiastic kids who were still getting the hang of the required piston-action in the arm.

Both of these are nice saws, but neither is ideal for kids to learn with I would suggest.

The saw on the left of this picture is another Tenon Saw. It is a special one for me, the one I use every day. Over 100 years old, it belonged to my great grandfather, who was a coachbuilder and wheelwright. Another quality old Disston, it has a steel back, a nice long blade, but not too deep in the blade. Beautiful to use.

The saw on the right is known as a Gent's Saw. Note the handle is a very different profile. I don't find that the handle shape and the way the hand grips it is always helpful, but for some kids it works well. The advantage with these is the teeth are usually super fine and they are very light. Soe fome applications, like small sections of wood and thin dowelling, these are the ideal cross-cutting tool.The disadvantage is that the thin blades and thin backs get bent really easily! This one has a small kink in it from one of my grandkids using it.

Note that these two saws are sitting on a bench hook. A bench hook is the crucial companion for cross-cutting with these saws. The bench hook is a simple thing to make, and a great aid for all saw users, not just for kids!

This little guy in the picture is sawing like a champion. I always teach the pointing forward of the index finger, as ergonomically it aids a good piston action with the arm. He is using a bench hook, and you may just be able to see the small cramp which is helping hold the piece of wood in place. His feet are the wrong way around for a right hander. It would be better if he had his left foot forward, but he is doing OK.

When learning to saw, trying to hold the piece of wood in place is one less distraction from getting the sawing action right. The kids quickly get the hang of using the cramp, and as their sawing action improves, they will soon no longer need to use it.

While the index finger pointing forward technique what I teach, I don't get too anal about it. I just gently remind them that it will help a lot if they use it. They get there eventually. It is always more important that kids are encouraged to have a go rather than us hassling them to develop good technique immediately.

While not holding the saw with the index finger pointing forward, this guy was still confidently sawing small comonents for his project, using a dovetail saw. You can see how nicely the saw sits in his hand. He is using the benchhook to steady the work, without using a cramp to help.The bench hook was cramped onto a pair of small low saw stools, about 22 inches (550mm) high. A good height for him.

On this project we were making wooden whistles based in their construction on wooden organ pipes. A number of small components are required to be cut to size, with some accuracy required in the measuring, marking and cutting - which the kids did brilliantly. The dovetail saw is just perfect for this type of task, cutting small pieces accurately.

Want to find a plan for a bench hook? There are plenty out there. Just put "Bench Hook" in your search engine and off you go...

Obtaining these saws.
The resurgence of interest in hand skills and hand tools has seen many boutique sawmakers coming onto the market with their wares. There are some very beautiful new saws out there, but they mostly cost serious money. Unless you are oozing with spare cash, you may like to look for nice tools through garage sales, markets and tool collector sales. Most of the saws pictured above I have obtained from these sources. Remember that most second hand saws will be very blunt, and will need to be sharpenned. Get a saw doctor to sharpen them for you unless you are proficient at doing it yourself. If I find a second hand dovetail saw for $10 to $30, and spend $15 getting it sharpenned, it is still a cheap saw. I can pick up second hand tenon saws for as little as $2 sometimes, some of which are over 100 years old. Garage sales are good for bargains!

Happy hunting, and enjoy helping kids get the hang of sawing!


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