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The Gramercy Dovetail Saw

Just after New Year I travelled to Brooklyn to meet Joel Moskowitz, who runs Tools for Working Wood. After a great day playing with planes and saws and talking tools modern and old, Joel made me a gift of one of his dovetail saws. Joel was not aware that I had earlier planned to buy this saw, and so instead purchased his sash saw (a review for another time). The tool day did not end there as that evening my wife and I joined Joel and his family for a wonderful dinner ... and more tool talk .. I also learned where the name Gramercy comes from - it is the park near Joel's home.

My first impression was that the Gramercy dovetail saw is unusual, and that it should not work on my local hardwoods - not the 3/4" Curly Marri I have been dovetailing into a blanket chest. Not only is the tooth count high for hardwood - 19 ppi - but the saw is light, very light.

I've been using the saw for a little while now and it has become a favourite. I enjoy joinery and have several excellent saws, so this is high praise. One of my interests lies with tool design, and so have found the design of this saw a little perplexing. Why does it work so well? This is what I came up with.

First, let's look at the saw ...

Beautifully crafted from Black Walnut with a traditional brass spine and split nuts.

The blade slot is spot on ..

A striking etch …

But it has a 9" long skinny canted saw plate, with a cutting depth of only 1 1/4". At the toe it is a tad less that that. Compare this with the LN, which has a plate depth of 1 5/8" and a Wenzloff & Sons at 2".

Top-to-bottom: Independent Tools, LN, Wenzloff & Sons, and Gramercy.

The Gramercy weighs the least at 200 gms. The LN is 325 gms and the Wenzloff & Sons a “whopping” 400 gms in a shorter 8 1/4" plate. In part this is due to the brass backs: 1/2" for the Gramercy, and 3/4" for the others.

Was it the thin 0.18" saw plate and "aggressive" zero rake rip teeth? Well the LN has the same teeth configuration in a 0.20" thick plate and 15 ppi, while the Wenzloff & Sons is also 0.18" thick but 20 ppi. All a little different but not so much that the Gramercy should feel so different.

It was not simply that the light weight that stood out. There were two other features of significance: The handle was clearly skinnier than the others, and its hang was completely different.

I like the LN handle. It is thick and solid. The rounder Wenzloff is even nicer. I am used to these handles. The Gramercy simply could not be held in the same way. Its thinness forced one to grip the saw lightly. Where one would consciously have to loosen the grip with the LN or Wenzloff, as these encouraged a strong hand, I found that I did not hold the Gramercy tightly to begin with. The lighter weight added to this effect as there was less to stabilise.

Then there was the higher hang of the handle. Compared with the others, the Gramercy appeared to convert more effort into more downforce.

In the end all I could come up with was that the Gramercy more naturally allowed the saw to do more of the work.

All the saws were used side-by-side to cut several dovetails. They are all excellent saws, but the Gramercy was just more relaxing, less effortful to use.

How well does the saw start a cut?

To answer this question one must understand how a saw starts a cut.

A high hang increases the downforce of the saw, and this is desirable in a light saw, such as the Gramercy. Conversely, a saw with a lower hang benefits from a heavier construction, such as the LN (in the middle range when looking at it from the 15 ppi tooth count) and the heavier still Wenzloff (at the upper range, with its smaller 20 ppi tooth count, plus added fleam, which would be more work to push). At a more extreme level is the dovetail saw of Rob Cosman, which is built extra heavy (more brass and a heavy composite handle to balance the weight of the brass back), no doubt to get the initial group of 22 ppi teeth going.

Sawing height interacts with the rake of the teeth. The higher the angle at which one saws, the greater the effective rake angle. In other words, one can reduce the aggressiveness of a saw by angling it upward, and increase its aggressiveness by angling it downward.

So, when asked, “How does the saw start?”, the answer is complicated by the angle at which one chooses to saw the start of the kerf.

Based on comments made about preferred sawing methods by the following, I call this the "Rob Cosman" angle ...

... this the "Joel Moskowitz" angle ...

.. and this the "Adam Cherubini" ...

If you watch Rob in his videos he will talk about starting a saw cut with the gentlest of touches. In those videos he was using a LN saw with zero rake. No wonder these saw had a reputation for being tricky to start. All one has to do is start it like Adam does, and it starts like a dream. By contrast, the Gramercy saw is so light that it takes the weight off the teeth and it is the easiest of all to start on the horizontal. Starting at an upward angle is even easier.

Regards from Perth


June 2013