Folded Backs and Two Guys In A Garage
Two Guys In A Garage Tool Works is a pair of guys who happened upon a supply of spring steel scraps and, being woodworkers who loved hand tools, they hated to see the “scraps” going to waste - came upon the idea of re-purposing the steel into usable tools for the hand-tool crowd. Card scrapers, specifically...
As time has gone on, they've branched out into supplying spring steel plates for those who want to make their own hand saws, first supplying plates for stair saws then later expanding to larger saws and also saw-tooth pattern plates. Their plates come now with teeth pre-punched in a wide range of PPI and are ready for sharpening and setting.
I've linked to their web site before - Dom maintains an excellent library of saw handle templates online free for everyone to use. I see they have also added brass split nuts and screws to their list of available products, which means they are only lacking one thing for all of the metal parts of a saw - the back!
It would seem they are now ready to remedy that. Recently I was fortunate enough to be on a list of folks sent prototypes of their folded backs to evaluate and provide feedback. I am honored they would choose me as one to look at them. Here's what arrived:
Two of their prototype backs, and two 3" x 12" dovetail saw plates. The sawplates have teeth stamped out at 13 PPI ready for sharpening and setting. The teeth are wholly consistent, straight, and with a good rake angle for getting you started,
Using one of Dom's templates, a pair of their split nuts, some wood and one of their handle templates (or make your own) you have everything you need to make your own backsaw.
For my part of the review, I’m to look at the quality of the folded back prototype to see if I can help out with any suggestions or comments. I thought hard about how best to approach it... I have a couple dozen different brands of backsaw to choose from, here you can see the three saws I chose to compare their new offering against that I feel are good examples of the types of back they are trying to emulate in one fashion or another.
From the top to bottom they include a post war 10" Disston, a John Cockerill from around the turn of the last century, and a fairly recent Bad Axe saw with a blued steel back. Side by side with the TGIAG backs on the lower left, here's an end view of all:
In shape, the TGIAG back is most similar to the post war Disston, while in size it is similar to both the Cockerill and the Bad Axe. The latter is fully folded and pressed flat, while the former (both the Disston and Cockerill) are more "ankh" shaped and hold the saw plate primarily along its edge. It's debatable as to which way is better, though my thoughts tend more preferring the "ankh" shape. Having the blade held in a "pinched" back I believe allows for less slippage and a more firm grasp of the plate than the other method.
There are two difficulties with that shape you should be aware of. The first is fitting the back into the handles rebate for it - as the shape is not square, you may need to accommodate for it, depending on the design of the handle and how far the back fits into that rebate, as seen here in a saw I was making some years ago.
That back is pressed flat so has a consistent width along its entire depth. It's not an issue if it isn't - it's just something to be aware of when making your saw. An industrious soul might grind the length of the back so it is flat along its length. It’s my understanding they are working with their machinist on flattening the profile (to straighten the slightly “bulbous” shape to something more evenly shaped for their upcoming offerings. IMO that is the only detractor to their prototype, and it’s a small one, in my opinion.
The other thing to be are of probably isn't going to affect anyone who wants to make their own saw, but the shape is such that any stamp made into the metal would deform the back and make it unusable. It's for this reason that I chose the flat-folded method in the backs I made.
For how well the TGIAG back is made... Made from .090" steel, it was straight and consistent along its entire length, and the blade fit snugly into place. Removing the blade from the back was difficult, but not impossible - which is just as it should be. The edges are smooth, no rough spots. Dom informed me they were looking into using smaller shims to make the gap even tighter, but I don’t believe it to be necessary.
The thickness of the post war Disston steel back was thicker than the TGIAG, the other two were approximately the same. On other saws, the .090" would be about average - some thicker, some thinner, but the thickness Dom & Company has chosen is a good one, in my opinion. For a finish, it would be nothing to buff up the steel to a mirror shine - another option would be to blue the steel, or just to leave it as it is. There is also talk of them adding stainless and brass backs as well - we can only hope, but these are an excellent start.
Conclusions: These are a good deal if making your own hand saw is something you are interested in. Let me explain.
A quick re-cap may be in order... As readers may remember, I made scores of hand saws for time a few years back. At the time, there were no places to get the parts, and there were only a couple of custom sawmakers in the trade (and they weren't sharing). I was moderately successful and very proud of what I accomplished - but I lacked the real resources I needed to bring the level of quality to where I wanted without a large amount of effort. Make no mistake, it was a great learning project for me, and I did get OK at making the saws - but it took quite a bit of practice to get there.
I started off by recycling and re-using the steel from old handsaws, then later used new spring steel like the kind TGIAG is now selling. I tried making my own split nuts using just tools available in my woodworking shop (I'm no machinist). The backs I folded myself using a homemade metal brake I made out of angle iron and door hinges.
Fast forward a few years. Now there are several "boutique" sawmakers on the market, and there are a few that sell sawmaking "kits", but you are pretty much limited to a kit that is a copy of a particular saw they sell. Dom and TGIAG, with the addition of a folded back, open up a full range of possibilities to the amateur sawmaker previously unavailable. Virtually any configuration you want and you won't need a mill to cut a slot in the back nor a fancy (or not-so) homemade brake to bend the back. The hard work is done and at a reasonable cost (they haven’t set a final price for their backs yet but if they follow their current levels it should remain a good deal), even when compared to other saw kits available on the market.
The folded saw backs from Two Guys In A Garage are not available publicly yet, but Dom assures me it will be soon. Keep an eye on their website for more information, and for other products they currently offer.
Have fun building yourself a custom saw!
Norse Woodsmith saws photo courtesy Cian Perez
A short update - in about a half hour I straightened and polished the sides of one of them:
In a certain light, you can see the bottom of the "curve" still remaining:
It's shape is now similar to that of many traditional back saws, and it still retains a good grip on the plate.
This was done quickly, someone with a bit more care (read:time) could easily make these flat-out beautiful. I used a stationary belt sander followed by a magic wheel on an 8" bench grinder and polished with a buffing wheel charged with polishing compound on the same, all tools found in most woodshops.
I think it needs to be pointed out here that the 2 most difficult things to do when making your own saw is first the split nut - which few without a metal lathe will be able to accomplish - and folding the back. The back is a particular animal, as most brakes don't close fully, and it takes a large press to complete the bend if you don't have a brake with the capability. Neither lend themselves to one-offs, and getting them pre-made is a god-send.
As I mentioned, I'm not a fan of slit backs - I think folded ones like these are much better and more traditional. A little bluing (or not) and I think this is pretty much ready for a handle.