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.
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.
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.
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.