Thursday, June 13, 2013

CTR 6: Deer brand Gent's Saw

Let's get it out of the way right now:  This is a $16 saw.  It's not going to be the best tool you'll ever use.  Woodworking is one of those weird places where, up to a point, you really do get what you pay for, and $16 is CHEAP for a back saw.

This is the saw that WoodCraft sells as the "4140/250 Straight Back Saw".  My first impression was pretty poor, but I've figured some things out since then.

What do you get, and what's the construction like?

It's a back saw;  wood handle, steel saw plate, steel back.  The handle is a touch small for me, but I find that the grip is reasonably comfortable.  It's around 15TPI, filed rip.  Remember here that with teeth that size, it really doesn't matter whether teeth are filed rip or crosscut:  it does both equally well.  Mine has held up pretty well:  the printed logo is worn off to just about exactly half the depth, showing that it's really deeper than it needs to be for most things I use it for.  I think that, in large part, that's because I like the Shark ryoba better for longer cuts. 

 How does it work?

Initially, it was terrible.  Slow cutting, hard to start, hard to keep on a straight line, and with a miserable finish left behind.  If it wasn't for the fact that it's the perfect size to use with a bench hook, and the ryoba isn't, I probably never would have used it.

However:  last week I went out to the shop to putter.  I've promised myself I'll spend some time, no matter how little, doing SOMETHING in the shop every day.  I picked up the saw, and thought about trying to hand cut some dovetails, but I just couldn't bring myself to deal with the hassle of using it.  So instead, I started trying to figure out why it didn't work well.

A saw is a simple tool.  It needs:

1) A straight, flat sawplate.  This one had that, so that wasn't the problem.

2) A handle you can grip reasonably comfortable for as long as you're going to use it.  This saw also had that, so that wasn't the problem either.

3) Sharp teeth.  OK, the thing could use some sharpening, but it's not THAT dull.

4) Proper set to the teeth.  Huh.  To quote, "Well, there's your problem!"  The set on the teeth made the kerf nearly three times the thickness of the saw plate.  That's ridiculous.  How many of the problems could fixing that address?  Let's see... Slow cutting?  Check.  Hard to start?  Check.  Hard to keep on a line?  Check.  Lousy surface after cutting?  Maybe. 

Once I'd figured out the problem, I decided on the easiest solution.  The back of my machinist's vise has a small anvil on it, and I have a small hammer.  I went up the blade, tapping each bunch of teeth with the hammer.  This is a lightweight hammer, and I basically dropped it on the teeth from about five inches up.  The teeth had visibly less set when I finished one pass, so I took the saw back to the bench.... and it's like it's a completely different tool.  Starting is a lot easier, it cuts straighter, it cuts far, far, faster, and the surface left behind is a little bit cleaner.  Not much, but a little.

At this point, the saw could really use sharpening, but it's no longer a matter of cursing when I realize I need to use it.  Now it's just another saw in my toolbox, and worth grabbing if I have a job of the proper scale for it.

Final Thoughts?

I'm normally opposed to tools that need work before you can use them.  If it's used, fine... all tools need tuning once in a while, and who knows what the previous owner did.  But, out of the box, a saw should be sharp, set, and ready to cut.  This one isn't.  But... it's $16.  A good dovetail saw will cost four or five times that:  that's why I don't have one.  So this is a reasonable compromise, in my opinion.  If this is what you can afford, it's possible to turn it into a pretty decent tool with very little work.

Would I buy another?

If I needed a really cheap saw of this size, sure.  For what it is, it works fine.  That said, I plan to sharpen it once, then find a higher-quality dovetail saw to use instead.  Sharpening it will give me practice filing teeth that small, and give me some time to find a good dovetail saw I can afford.

UPDATE:  I'm now using a Veritas carcase saw (reviewed later on in this series) for almost everything I used to use this saw for.  It's in my tool chest, and it comes out occasionally for cutting really small pieces, but I barely use it.  Like I said, don't buy this unless you can't afford to buy better.

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