Frame saw build along – wood selection and design

I have wanted to build a frame saw for years. I have no pressing need for one, and don’t know if I will use it regularly, but have always admired the graceful forms that some of these saws take on.

I am fortunate to have accumulated a variety of domestic woods over the years, and have access to even more. I thought of using black locust, ash, and a few others, but finally settled on beech. Strengthwise, it is comparable to ash and within spitting distance of most hickories and black locust. Although splitting or riving the arms from the log was my first instinct, I already have a large amount of straight-grained and quartersawn beech. It has been air drying for 18 months, and its moisture content is down to around 12%, so work can begin immediately.

Measuring the moisture content.

Measuring the moisture content.

Quarter-sawn and stright grained, with some nice ray flecking.

Quarter-sawn and stright grained, with some nice ray flecking.


With the wood chosen, I moved on to sketching out the arms. Almost everything I have drawn in the last few years has been done with a mouse and on a screen. While the computer has certain advantages, I dug out my old lead holders, French curves, scales, and eraser, and sat down at the kitchen table for this project.

The next several hours were very enjoyable, and reminded me of just how easy it is to get lost with a pencil and paper. The different feels of soft and hard lead on paper, sketching out and shifting lines, shading, and erasing – these all provide freedom from the mathematical constraints of computerized design.

To really understand why a tool has the form it does, there is no better start than to begin sketching it out. Try changing the shapes, curves, and proportions, and you will most likely learn that, for the most part, these shapes have evolved deliberately and logically.

As a case in point, my first sketch had the arms curving outwards. The shape pleased me, and I wondered why I had never seen it elsewhere. As I sketched on, I realized that the outward curve would force the tensioning string to slip down towards the stretcher. While the string can be held in place by passing it through an eye or around a nock, the better design uses the geometry of the curves to keep it in its place.

An early sketch. When the cord is tensioned, it will wedge itself into the return of the eye.

An early sketch. When the cord is tensioned, it will wedge itself into the return of the eye.


I finally finished this design in the early hours of the morning, and think it will be a good jumping off point. It will undoubtedly be refined (hopefully for the better) as I translate the sketch into wood. For now, the sketch hangs above my bench where I can glance at it throughout the day. Doing this is a good way for me to see it from different angles and through fresh (and sometimes tired) eyes, often revealing subtle imperfections and unfaired curves.

Sketch of the arm and stretcher.

Sketch of the arm and stretcher.


Since this is my first frame saw, there will be some missteps along the way. If anyone has some friendly advice or criticism about the project, I welcome your comments.

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4 Responses to Frame saw build along – wood selection and design

  1. Jeremy says:

    Looks like it will be quite a nice saw. I like the lines in the second sketch, I’m not sure what you have envisioned for the “nib” on the lambs tongue but I’m sure it’ll look great. To my eye, it looks like the handle bulge might be a bit far back depending on how you use the saw. I “choke up” on the handle, allowing the frame to rest partially in the web of my hand, so a short stubby handle works well (as well as knocking down the points on the frame.) I suppose that a lot depends on the scale of your saw. I’m sure it will turn out excellent, I will enjoy following along and learning from your experience as I have several I need to finish up.

    • admin says:

      Jeremy, the “nib” was my poor attempt to draw a swan. I see now that it needs some more work.

      I took a look at your beautiful saw (I love osage orange), and like the idea of having handles of different shapes. They are the quickest part of the saw to make, so it will be easy to experiment with different shapes.


  2. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for the kind word re: my frame saw. I made a swan handled Pizza Peel. It may make a nice frame saw end. The original sketch may be helpful. Your sketch could be turned into an excellent python head given the “neck” recurve connecting to the end of the frame. Given the beech you are using, it could have interesting “scales” as well.

  3. Gerard says:

    Funny, your sketch looks a lot like the saws on this site :

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