Woodworking in the great white north.

Roubo Frame Saw from the Hand Tool School

Years ago my world of woodworking opened up significantly when I began using lumber that came from a mill.  What was the big difference?  I could mill the wood!  I had bought a planer and jointer and could now clean up all that beautiful rough sawn lumber in seemingly endless varieties and dimensions.  I believe this type of milestone has happened once again.  This time, it also has to do with milling lumber, but in this instance it has to do with resawing.  I have struggled with resawing lumber into thinner panels and veneers for most of my woodworking journey.  I have tried aggressive rip saws, table saws and yes, my puny little bandsaw that just isn’t quite strong enough for the task on anything but pine and basswood….on a good day.

When Shannon mentioned that Semester 4 of the Hand Tool School would be looking at resawing I was hoping for a miracle.  The first foray into it was using a panel saw.  Painful work at the best of times.  But all was not lost as he introduced the Roubo Frame Saw to the semester.  The story is not as simple as just building a frame saw, oh no there is much more to this than that, but buried somewhere in the sawdust and iron filings there may well be a minor miracle.

First there’s the design, taken from a Roubo plate.  Ever try to build something from a rough sketch?  Then, there’s the hardware, complete with graceful curves and a leaved finial.  Enter the blacksmith, Vince Bomba of Artisan Iron Designs.  Shannon worked with him to design and prototype the hardware for this saw.  The results are outstanding quality workmanship and really great service.  With the hardware in place, what about a blade?  Of course, Shannon takes the least worn down path and makes one from a spring steel blank.  Sounds easy until you do the math, 48″ at 3 1/3 points per inch to be hand filed in hardened spring steel…yikes!

The level of detail in the two videos is outstanding.  Everything you need on the woodworking side, plus the entire process of making the blade from a blank piece of steel.  Even though Shannon is a glutton for punishment, he acknowledges that most of us are not.  Which might be an indication that he thinks we’re lazy….which might be true.  Now enter Isaac at Blackburn Tools, who not only supplies the blades, drill bits and files, but also does the teeth cutting and sharpening for a nominal fee.  A fee that was well worth it for me.

The woodworking was surprisingly simple, despite having to cut 8 dovetailed tenons to make up the frame.  In my case, I was able to find some nice Sapele that would fit the bill nicely.  Not a huge amount to say here about the building of the saw, join the Hand Tool School to get the details, it’s worth it.

Once built, there is a bit of work left to properly tune the saw.  Shannon explains nicely in the video how this is done by making rip cuts and observing where the blade wanders.  This is likely due to a couple of related problems with the teeth of the blade and is easily remedied by filing or stoning the teeth on the appropriate side.  In my case, it took two attempts to get the saw to track to the line pretty well.

There is definitely a learning curve to using this saw, but so far doesn’t seem that steep.  Now that I’m capable of doing some pretty straightforward and accurate resawing, my world of woodworking has opened up just that little bit more.  I’m no longer frustrated by wasting finely figured wood that could be bookmatched or veneered for use on a tabletop, doors and drawer fronts.  This saw has planted itself very high on my favourite tool chart right out of the gate.

If this post sounds like an infomercial for Shannon, Vince and Isaac then I’ll take that as a job well done.  I’m a huge fan of all things Lee Valley and Lie-Neilsen, but they can’t deliver the level of customization that guys like Vince and Isaac can produce.  I commend Shannon’s approach to getting these smaller guys into the mix, giving them some business and opening new avenues for these guys to succeed.  I, for one, am happy to spend a little more on some custom built equipment/tools if it will help keep the craft alive and flourishing.  Not to mention the fact that Shannon resurrected this tool from Roubo, I can’t begin to imaging the countless hours spent getting the design complete and functioning well.


3 responses

  1. Awesome stuff Ian and thanks so much for the kind words. I get a lot of eye rolls when I talk about this saw, but it sounds like you have experienced that watershed moment that I have been raving about too. It is amazing the doors this saw opens for you. One of my driving factors for using hand tools is the truly unlimited skill set it gives you. No more worries about capacity or angles and just woodworking. This saw falls nicely into that same dogma and any board is fair game now. I’m very excited to see what comes off this saw for you.

    August 7, 2013 at 9:53 am

  2. Nice work Ian. As someone who made a couple frame saws several years ago based on Adam Cherubini’s article in PWW, I can relate to the fun of building and using these saws. In my case I made everything from scratch and clearly you have to want to do it. My journey included picking up an antique frame saw and marveling at its signs of use. Sorry I don’t have a picture handy, but I might feature it in an upcoming blog http:/jimthechairmaker.wordpress.com. Blessings on your work. Jim

    August 8, 2013 at 6:42 am

  3. Great job, thanx.

    October 2, 2014 at 9:02 am

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