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The Knew Concepts Fretsaw

from prototype to production

It all started when I began discussing cutting dovetails with fretsaws with Lee Marshall, the designer at Knew Concepts . I had read a post on his fretsaw on one of the forums, and they promised to be a possible end for my search for a stiff yet light fretsaw.

I’m not sure if you experience the same frustration as I when it comes to removing the waste when sawing dovetails. Fretsaws are great tools for this. However they are either too short or too flexible, or both. Flexible frames make sawing very tricky. The blade wanders all over the show. Then the blade twists, and snaps! Damn, I used to snap so many blades. There is some technique in keeping the blade from twisting its kerf, but this is made all the harder to avoid if the saw frame is not stiff enough.

And then there is the situation where you are cutting dovetails on a wide board, such as the carcase of a cabinet. You can’t use a dinky jeweller’s saw, such as my favourite vintage Hugenot-Tissot. Great for small drawers or boxes, but …

What is possible is that one can twist the blades at 45 degrees, but I must confess that I found this hit-and-miss. Plus there is the problem achieving enough tension in the blade. Some do not seem to be too fussed with this. I guess I am too fussy.

I tried coping saws. I have a couple, such as this one by Olson.

Olson also offer blades that are thin enough to squeeze into the kerf of the average dovetail saw. The advantage of sawing with a coping saw is that the frame may be kept short – and stiff – and then the angle at which the blade saws may be adjusted so that the frame runs clear of the top of the carcase. The downside of a coping saw is that the blades are still thick and heavy, and they saw a wider arc than the fine blades of a fretsaw. Sawing out waste needs to be done in two separate movements, not one continuous saw cut. For example, as in this breadboard end ..

Then I discovered a long – 12” – fretsaw sold by Lee Valley, the “Featherlight.

I really liked this saw. It was definitely not perfect – not by a long way – but it offered more stiffness and, especially lightness, than any other fretsaw I had tried in this length.

What is so important about a light fretsaw?

Well the jeweller’s saw is small. Just under 3” depth of cut. Lightness does not matter much for me at this size. It is only when the depth of the saw begins to stretch out, and especially when it gets deep as 12”, that the balance of a heavy frame becomes noticeable. A heavy, unbalanced frame is more difficult to control and more fatiguing. It occurred to me that a Jeweller may not experience this if their sawing is done vertically. However a woodworker needs to saw with the frame held horizontally, and this places much different stresses on the wrist.

So I contacted New Concepts to enquire about the stiffness of their largest model, an 8” made of aluminium, and met Lee Marshall. We got chatting, as one does, and it became evident that Lee was really passionate about his fretsaw design. He built this for jewellers. His website proudly shows some amazing fretwork …

Few woodworkers have discovered Lee’s fretsaws. Indeed, when we began our discussions Lee had no idea how a dovetail was sawn – and, thinking it was for the vertical strokes, he tried to convince me to purchase the 3” model!

Lee mentioned to me that he also had a titanium model in the works.
"The Titanium frame is my attempt to "turn swords into plowshares". The material that I have access to is 1/8" thick that was left over from the F-22 fighter."

If you go to the Knew Concept website you will find lots of red fretsaws. Red?

Why red? Lee believes that the colour aids creativity.

I was going to purchase the 8" model, but at this point decided to wait for the titanium to go into production. It would be stiffer than the aluminium, which is The Good Thing I had been searching for.

Anyway, I received a email from Lee a week or two later to say that he was sending me a gift ... a titanium fretsaw, an early prototype, the design of which had since been improved (on the aluminium model).
"It was cut pretty early in the design stage and is now obsolete. I have made numerous changes that make it even stronger, lighter, and that also increase ease of use."

It turned out to be this beautiful, really cool fretsaw.

Close up of the clamping mechanism ..

Inserting and tensioning a blade is easy. Just loosen the tension on the holder, then release the blade clamp. To replace, simply insert the blade, clamp and tension. Done.

Using this fretsaw was like a dream come true. Stiff, light and balanced.

Most sensible people would be satisfied and leave well alone. But I had this dream ..

I mentioned to Lee that the ideal fretsaw for a woodworker would have a 5” titanium body with a blade angled at 45°. A short body would be stiffer, lighter and better balanced, and the 45° cutting angle would mean that it could be used on any length. Best of all worlds.

Well the postman delivered a pizza box yesterday.

I opened it excitedly, hoping that it did not include anchovies. I was rather disappointed that all it contained was another prototype fretsaw ...

This was the order I placed for a 45 degree blade in a 5" Titanium frame.

There was a bonus extra topping ... new lever action for fast release ... mmmm .... mmmm

And did I mention light? How light is light?

Remember that titanium is heavier than aluminium. But it is considerably stiffer. Therefore it needs less reinforcing at bends, and the design is slightly different to the aluminium models.

Olson Coping Saw

250 gm

Hugenot-Tissot 3” jeweller’s saw

175 gm

LV Featherlight 12” fretsaw

255 gm

Knew Concepts 8” titanium fretsaw

190 gm

Knew Concepts 5” titanium fretsaw

150 gm

Of course I had to try it out today. I was busy on mortice-and-tenon joints for a cabinet, so you will have to excuse the practice dovetails I offer as a demonstration.

So we start with the tail board. Well, actually tail boardsI was planning to build a box at first. I just did not have the time.

Sawing the waste first requires the fretsaw to be leaned over to the left …

and then the right …

There was more to saw when it came to the pins ..

OK, I should have taken the time to sharpen my chisels as the pine was soft.

So what was the result? Actually, this part is really unimportant. It is sawing the waste that is important. What was that like? Well it was easy and effortless. This is the fretsaw to aim for when cutting dovetails. End of story.

Thanks to Lee-the-pizzaman.

WAIT …. There’s more!!!

I received the latest version – the production version – of the Knew Concepts Fretsaw from Lee shortly before Christman 2010. This is now described as the “Woodworker’s version”.

It differs from its predecessors in a heavier construction and a new quick-release, adjustable-angle blade holder …

Below is the titanium version, which sells for the price of a decent dovetail saw. There is an aluminium version as well, which is about half this.

A close up of the cam release and adjustment mechanism ..

The blade will swivel 45° each side (just loosen the cam and rotate the clamps – a 2 second task), and there is a zero indent for centering the blade.

The saw has now been optimised for a thicker saw blade, while the metalworker version (that is described earlier on here) requires the blade insert holes to be drilled out for the wider blades. I continue to use 18 tpi Eclipse blades (from the UK). Lee has tested these and was impressed. But they are difficult to access in the USA, and so he supplies the fretsaws with an Olson 12.5 tpi skip tooth blade.

My first efforts with the new fretsaw was to cut a bunch of dovetails for a box.

It has a more solid feel to the earlier version (keeping in mind that this was a prototype). It is taut and solid, and making it easier to maintain a straight line.

So there we have it .. Lee has put together an even higher quality package.

A fretsaw for the woodworker.

Regards from Perth


Updated January 2011