Rip-sawing by hand


The first thing that comes to mind looking at this illustration from the classic turn of the last century manual The Complete Woodworker is, can we please bring back working in a tie, vest and apron? You’d probably have to journey deep into Brooklyn’s artisinal ghetto to find contemporary examples of dapper carpenters.

But I digress. What I like about this illustration is the deft use of the right leg in place of clamps when rip-sawing (cutting a piece of wood lengthwise with the grain). Some other pointers:

The angle at which the saw is held is of importance . . . A common mistake is to “lay” the saw: that is, to bring it too much into the horizontal, and this is especially the case when learning to follow the pencil lines with the saw. It is a habit which the beginner should get out of as soon as he can. The stroke should be wellnigh the full length of the saw, although this must depend somewhat upon the length of the worker’s arm; but in any case jerky sawing should be avoided. To lessen the strain on the hand and also to assist the saw in keeping to the line, do not grip the tool very tightly. . . In rip sawing the plank requires to be supported at each end, either on sawing stools or boxes. When the work tends to close and pinch the saw, a tendency which is always more evident when the sawing is not true, it will be necessary to hold the cut open, for which purpose the services of an assistant should be obtained, or, frequently, a small wedge may be inserted.

The illustration reminds me of the low to the ground benches and footwork of traditional Japanese carpentry:

And Egyptian carpentry:

I’ve seen video footage of present day Egyptian carpenters working barefoot. Feet, after all, can be just as handy as hands when it comes to manipulating a long board.

I’m thankful to be able to go electric rather than acoustic when doing rip-sawing around our compound. I don’t have a table saw, but I have managed to rip quite a few pieces of wood with my circular saw. That said, I’ve long felt like I need to learn some hand tool skills. Maybe barefooted and in a tie and vest?

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  1. Not sure about the tie but I always wear an apron when I am working which saves my pants and shirt and once I take it off I don’t drag that dirt in the house. Having done enough ripping wood by hand when I was younger I hope to not ever have to do it again. Good post.

  2. I like for hand woodworking how -to. Someday I’m going to make a proper bench. He has two designs for folding ones.

  3. My father began his apprenticeship for tool and die maker when he returned from being in the navy during WW2. he was 22 He went to work like everyone else. He wore a white shirt with a bow tie. The apron they lent him was white. I remember the shirt and tie when he was going out the door to work.

  4. A friend of mine who is a phenomenal woodworker and who appreciates my preferences for all tools human-powered (main evidence: bicycle), suggested _Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking_ (info on Tage Frid here: The book is excellent and provides some interesting commentary on trade-offs between different tool types. I don’t know if I’ll ever cut dovetails, but I’ve gained a much better appreciation for woodworking.

  5. When i stain a pair of khakis that i would use for work they end up being gardening/ household chores pants
    How ever, I dont look as debonair as the fellow in the post….

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