Sawing Across The Grain

I don’t get out much. Getting to the tools is not the everyday thing I want it to be. Too much rubbish gets in the way. But doing simple things well can become a pleasure and at the same time the good exercise that we all need to stay healthy.

My wife Carol is about to take up Bee Keeping, so you can guess the next part, the requirement for a low stand upon which to put the hives fell to me. Nothing beyond me, simple softwood frame screwed together and 2×1 laths covering the top.

I have a huge bellowing machine shop at the back of my studio, so I decided to go nowhere near that. Hand planes, saws and chisels would be much more fun, and not a lot slower. For me its a bit like riding a bike, you always remember, however long it has been. Sure, a few wobbles, but confident pedal stokes, and off you go.

The frame was planed smooth, made up with legs screwed on and painted white pretty quickly. Its got to be pretty quick because the bees arrive this weekend. We get up before dawn to drive across Devon to pick the little blighters up. Why so early?  Well, I asked that! We have to be there apparently before the day warms up and the bees get “active”. Twelve Thousand Active Bees in the back of my car, I do not fancy.

The top was made up of nine laths two inches wide and an inch thick . These were unplaned and Tanalised to a rather unhealthy green, so I thought I would avoid painting and leave as bare wood. I planed them up with my lovely japanese planes and planned to cut the ends to exact length.

Sawing to a line across the grain is good stuff. Like planing softwood its good exercise and if you know the tricks very satisfying . And I am going to tell you the tricks.

First have a pretty sharp tenon saw, if you cannot sharpen a saw look it up on the blog here and learn how to do it. If you cannot sharpen your saw, you don’t own it, its not “Your saw” its still someone elses saw, the tool shop owner or the tool maker. Learn to sharpen, its very easy. My old boss used to sharpen at least one saw every week, last thing Friday night before he gave himself a few beers.

If the saw goes RAH RAH and has no shiney points on the teeth then we are set to go. Now mark out. I use a marking knife and score a good strong line maybe using the knife three or four strokes to make it. I score across the width and down the face edge. Not the back or the bottom . Not for this.

I then take a broad chisel and a mallet  and tap towards the line from the waste side. The aim is to create a channel the saw will sit in adjacent to the line. You can also do this paring across with the blade indeed that motion will help clear the waste

I now have a safe place to start the saw, its a channel right up tight to the line this puts my saw teeth right there.


Move the bench light so you can clearly see the line on the face edge this is where you are going to saw. Just alongside this . If you cannot see the line forget about sawing square, because you wont. Get better glasses.  That bench light is your best helper USE IT.

Set yourself up, rear foot well back and behind you, well out of the way. The saw, your arm and shoulder all in one plane, all in a straight line. The pivot from the shoulder. Side on.  If you play cricket, a batsmen facing a quick and dangerous bowler would adopt this side on position.  Present less of a target.

Start the run with the teeth of the saw at the far side of the job and smoothly enter the saw into the job. Use the weight of the saw to engage the teeth . Now this will sound daft but once that saw is moving do two things only.

ONE focus on that face edge line as if your life depended upon it. Watch that saw come down the line RAH RAH RAH.


TWO hold that saw handle as if it were the fingers of your first grandchild, guiding her across a busy road. Gentle but not loose.

Thats it, If you go off line rinse wash and repeat . Apply this goal and your body will put you in the right place . I see it year after year as students at Rowden learn to saw straight and feel good about using tools.


David established Rowden Atelier in 1995, a now world renowned fine woodworking school. Discover Rowden, the woodworking courses, and the work that students go on to do.

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