Back to Tool Reviews

The Knew Concepts Birdcage Fretsaw: a critical look

For reference, if unfamiliar with past reviews, there is an article I wrote about the development of the KC fretsaw for use in woodworking. This details how it came about and how it evolved, and is really essential reading if interested in but new to the KC fretsaw:

Having been there from the start of the woodworking models, it is not surprising that I am still interested in its progress even though I no longer have input into the design. My good fortune is to have a great friend in Lee Marshall, who sends me saws and asks my opinion. 

Here is the new (left) and the original (right) versions of the 5" fretsaw:

New (bottom) and original (top) ..

The change in the construction of the titanium model was forced upon Lee by the cost of the material. Lee had to find a better way of using it - a one-piece construction was too wasteful of titanium sheets and too expensive to manufacture in this form. And so the "Birdcage" design came about (my name for it is the "Eiffel Tower"  ).

I raised concerns (from photos) with Lee even before I had a chance to try it out: the reason why the original fretsaw has been such a hit is partly because the frame is so stiff to create high blade tension, and partly because it is so light to create great control. The new saw design threatened to maintain the stiffness but at the expense of the lightness where it counted - at the back of the frame where it would affect the balance.

Lee sent me a fretsaw (actually, he sent me the new coping saw as well - photo later), and I had the opportunity to put it through its paces. This was now several months ago, and it was used in my then current project, the Kist-of-many-dovetails

After using the fretsaw to remove the waste on about 60 through dovetails in hard and interlocked Curly Marri, my opinion was that the back of the saw did noticeably weigh more and that it indeed changed its balance negatively.

It must be pointed out that this would likely go unnoticed by those who did not have the opportunity to use the two saws side-by-side. The differences are not great, but are nevertheless real. I thought that the new saw was not as nice to use as the original version. 

The other change in the new saw was a slightly improved blade adjustment mechanism courtesy of a wider knurled knob. I think that the knurled knobs for the blade were made standard a while ago, but they were originally T-bars, which did not look nearly as nice or work as well as the knurled knobs.

Old above, new below ...

What appears improved further is the blade tension. The original saw created high tension. The new version goes a little better. More tension is good tension.

How to use the new fretsaw

It dawned on me that I could – and should - use the saw in a different way for dovetail waste removal. One of the factors that stirred my thoughts was my preference in handle design.

The original saw came with a handle that I considered to be short ... but then I like longer handles in my chisels, so that should not come as a surprise to those who have read my comments on chisel handle design. Lee agreed that the (original) fretsaw handles could be improved, however he saw this as an improvement in looks/materials and not design or ergonomics. If you want a handle made from a more exotic wood, Elkhead Tools make them, and they are indeed stunning!

There is no doubt that these fretsaw handles are in the same class as the Dave Jeske's Blue Spruce chisel handles, which I consider some of the best around. But the Elkhead are not my design of choice in this instance since they are not actually much longer than the originals (having stated this, they may well now have alternate designs available).

My preference is for a longer handle. Here you can see the KC handles alongside one I made ...

It was this handle that gave me the idea to use the new fretsaw with two hands rather than one ..

What a difference! Now the saw was completely rock solid and balanced. 

I have used this grip on the KC coping saw as well. Again it creates a solid, balanced saw for great control ..

The double-handled grip may be used with the existing handles on the KC saws. They do not need to be changed out. However, the double-handed grip is easier with a longer handle. Easy enough to make if you prefer this. Or get one made (try Elkhead). If others agree, I will work on Lee to offer an optional longer handle.

Bottom line: if you have the original version, you have a great saw. If you have the new version, you have an improved version of a great saw.

Regards from Perth


December 2013