Well - what's the sense of going though building your own back saw, if you don't spend some time looking for the best possible handle you can get? I could have made one up myself, but what makes a good handle was as true 150 years ago as it is today. Saw making as an art was at its peak between 1850 and 1920, and there were hundreds of makers with many, many different handles, so I undertook a bit of a search to find one I thought was just right.
Choosing a Pattern
The first pattern I looked at was on disstonianinstitute.com's web site - an open handled saw made by Disston. I liked the basic lines of it, but I've handled older saws that are a bit more comfortable than Disston's. The main feature about the saws I found more comfortable was a small "hump" in the middle of the handle where it fits into the palm of your hand.
I found a handle of a saw made by J. Buck around 1900 or so on Bob Brode's web site that I thought would be perfect. To properly size a handle, the best way is to make a test blank to see for sure it it's the right size. Using Photoshop, I resized the photo for about 5 different sizes, then I chose 3 that covered the gamut of sizes and band sawed out 3 blanks to try for size. The one I ended up choosing was smaller than I imagined, but fit my hand quite nicely. It's only around 5% larger than the handles of the Disston saws I have, which surprised me - I thought it would need to be much larger. It seems it only requires the smallest change in size to make huge differences in how a handle feels.
I checked the Disston pattern, and it was not severe enough - at least to me. So, I went back to the Buck pattern I had, and in Photoshop, changed the angle so it was roughly half way in between the Buck pattern and the Disston pattern. Here is what I came up with:
It retains the handle of the Buck saw that I likes, yet the angle is more appropriate to my needs. If you wish to use the same pattern, the one above should suffice - right click on it and select "save image as" and save the image to your computer somewhere, and print it off with a graphics program such as Paint or Photoshop. If you print it directly from your browser, it may not come out at the proper size, which is 7.319" x 4.806", or 527 x 346 pixels at 72 dpi.
- Added 10/6: I've since had the opportunity to let others use some of these saws... most seem to agree that the handle is a bit too big. If you reduce the graphic above about 5% (or make it 500 x 328 pixels at 72 dpi - or 6.94" x 4.56") it will make it about the same size as the handle is was originally patterned after. My hands are large by comparison to most others, which is the reason the larger size feels comfortable to me.
- Here's the smaller version:
- Also - the swoop of the handle at the bottom back can be "shortened" (for a lack of a better term) - this has the same basic effect. My best advice is to try it with a couple scraps first. Remember, a rough sawn blank like the one in the photo below should feel just a bit small and constricting in your hand. Rounding over the edges has the effect of making them feel a bit bigger, too.
The grain of the wood in the handle needs to be oriented to there is a straight run of grain through the thinnest part of the handle, like you see in the photo above.
After band sawing out the blank, the next step is to mortise the handle to accept the blade. First, using a marking gauge, I mark the center of the handle where the blade will be - all the way around. I'll also be using it later to help guide my saw cut for the blade - bur first comes the mortise for the back.
After drilling the holes, it's over to the vise where I used a combination of different sized chisels to pare out the remainder of the slot:
I don't pare it completely to finished depth yet - it will be better if I can use the intended blade in the slot to get it to individually fit the blade into it's intended home. To do that, I need to cut the remainder of the slot for the blade.
The photo above shows the depth of cut I made. You can use the intended blade as a guide, drawing it's profile on the side of the handle blank at its desired location, and sawing to the depth it indicates.
As I insert the blade into the handle, it begins to bind against the sides of the mortise, so I pull it out and pare more wood away until it slides in snugly. You can see in the mortise where the blade is binding on the wood, as it will be compressed slightly, and a bit darker. Be careful and don't force the blade into it's slot, as the way the grain of the wood works in this area it makes it easy to break off the corner, making the handle a complete waste. If I needed to make the slot for the blade wider, I simply used folded up sandpaper.