European Woodworking Show 2017 – this weekend

Here’s your friendly reminder that the European Woodworking Show is taking place this weekend (16 and 17 September) at Cressing Temple in Essex. I will be there both days talking about progress on the John Brown book for Lost Art Press, furniture making and lutherie.

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I will also be demonstrating the new Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw by slotting fretboards a-plenty over the weekend. Mark Harrell of Bad Axe will be joining me for a presentation at 12pm on both days and we will talk about the design process and development of the Luthier’s Saw (and I’m sure Mark will be pleased to answer any other saw-related questions you may have). Mark is a super knowledgeable woodworker and saw maker, and I’m honoured to have him on my stand for these presentations.

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I will also have OtW stickers (£3 for a pair) and t-shirts (£15 each), so if you’ve wanted some OtW apparel but have been holding off, now is the time. I’ll also be doing a free give-away for people who wear their OtW tee at the show, so if you already have a tee (and there are a fair few of you out there who do) then show your allegiance!

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Please do stop by my stand to say hello and chat about woodwork (or anything else). This promises to be a great show, and I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends and readers. Just look out for the OtW banner!

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The Anarchist’s Office Suite?

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Nearly every project seems to start with my Vesper 10″ square and a pair of dividers

Once the Policeman’s Boot Bench was collected by the client I turned my attention to my next project – a staked worktable from The Anarchist’s Design Book. The maple had been sitting in stick at the end of my study (which is where the completed desk will stand) since April, and I’ve been looking forward to getting stuck into this project. As well as the desk I need an extra bookcase to house my library of woodwork and history texts, and so next year I am planning to build the boarded bookcase from The Anarchist’s Design Book, in maple to match the desk. Of course, a desk is no use without a chair to sit on, and I had originally planned to buy a generic office chair. Then, as I was tidying up the workshop at the end of the Policeman’s Boot Bench build, I looked over my timber stock and realised that I had enough surplus maple for a staked chair (also out of The Anarchist’s Design Book). So my plan is now to build a matching office set of desk, chair, and bookcase. Because it is good to have both a plan and a set of durable, stylish office furniture.

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Bringing the rough stock down to square for the legs

Due to various committments I’ve not generated much momentum or rhythm on this build yet, but the stock for the desk legs and battens is now processed, ready and waiting to be shaped and for the joinery to be cut, and today I have started to tackle the three boards that make up the desk top. This is all very much as I’ve written about before – flattening rough boards with a No.5 jack plane followed by a No.8 jointer. Because the legs and battens are structural components I processed them in two stages to ensure they would not move once at final dimension. The first stage involved flattening one face and one edge of each piece, and taking the opposite edge and face down until they were 1/’8 shy of final dimension. I then left the stock for another week to rest before taking to final dimensions. Because the stock had been stickered for 4 months, and the humidity in my study is reasonably consistent, the pieces didn’t move whatsoever. I then took them to final dimension.

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I love the change in texture from rough boards to a glassy-smooth planed surface

There are a lot of aspects of this project I am looking forward to. In addition to having a sturdy desk to work at (my first proper workspace in 5 years – no more writing from my arm chair) the desk will involve a number of new skills and techniques which I am looking forward to getting to grips with – half-blind dovetails for the drawer, turning the tenons, and the longest edge joint I’ve done to date (two 52″ long joints for the top). Then there are the finishing options – traditional soap, Osmo, or shellac and hardwax? And of course, a return to octagonalisation, with some big tapered octagons for the legs.

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Heavy cut from the No.5 jack plane.

Building the chair alongside the desk will be an interesting experience – as the chair requires many of the same techniques, but on a much smaller scale. So as well as practical projects these should offer plenty of valuable learning opportunities.

Handworks – a survivor’s account

The following is adapted fom my article about Handworks originally published in Furniture & Cabinetmaking Issue 261.

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At first, Amana Colonies, Iowa, may seem like a strange holiday destination, and yet for many woodworkers it was precisely the dream location to visit during late May this year. The reason? Handworks 2017.

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Organised by bench hardware manufacturers Benchcrafted, Handworks is a two day long, bi-annual show drawing together many notable tool manufacturers, craftspeople, and publishers. As a result the show is an undisputed highlight of the woodwork calendar, and draws attendees from North America, Europe, and Australia. What is more, unlike most other woodwork shows Handworks is purely hand tool orientated – the mission statement is simply: “ask the makers about their tools and lean first hand how hand tools make woodworking mow precise, easier, more enjoyable, and more meaningful”.

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Bad Axe carcase saw in a Texas Heritage saw vise

Handworks 2017 promised to be the biggest instalment yet, featuring over fifty stalls spread across five barns as well as a Saturday morning presentation by patron saint of hand tool woodworkers Roy Underhill.

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Dividers and holdfasts by Peter Ross

Enter the Arena

So, what was Handworks like?” asked a woodworking friend a few days after the event. In a word, inspirational. The sheer range of demonstrations, tools on display, and makers to meet, was incredible and the two days flew by. It would be impossible to give an account of all of the tool manufacturers, makers, and demonstrators who had stands across the five barns (for that visit www.handworks.co). But what was instantly noticeable was that despite being billed as a woodwork show, Handworks was in truth a coming together of a variety of related crafts, covering woodwork, tool makers, textile and leatherworkers, and blacksmiths.

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Mary May has a better business card holder than anyone. Fact.

The wide variety of woodcrafts represented at the show was outstanding, including carving by Mary May, period furniture making, green woodworking by Don Weber and chair making by  George Sawyer, Peter Galbert and Caleb James, to name just a few. Blacksmiths were well represented by Peter Ross, Seth Gould, and Blackbear Forge, while Texas Heritage and Camp Robber both displayed an extensive range of workshop aprons and tool rolls. A personal highlight was trying out a Roorkee chair made by good friend Anne Briggs using sublime leatherwork by Texas Heritage. Texas Heritage sell the complete leatherwork for Roorkee chairs and camp stools, and seeing the finished article in person has bumped this project to near the top of my to-do list!

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Caleb James

 

Publishers and writers were also out in force, with Mortise and Tenon, and Lost Art Press stands both proving to be very popular, the latter hosting a number of their authors for book signings throughout the duration of the show.

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Mini holdfast and standard sized holdfast, both by Black Bear Forge

Tools, Tools, Tools

Of course, you cannot talk about Handworks without talking about the tools. No matter what your preference, Handworks had something to tempt the wallet and push airport luggage allowances to the limit. As well as the wealth of vintage tools sold by Patrick Leach, there were many modern tool manufacturers demonstrating their wares and answering questions. For many woodworkers, shows like Handworks offer a rare opportunity to see tools by smaller manufacturers in person, and to use infill planes by Konrad Sauer, wooden planes by Scott Meek, or marking gauges by Hamilton Woodworks. Other highlights included shaving horses and workbenches by Plate 11 Workbench Co, an opportunity to test drive the new Bad Axe Tool Works frame saw, and marvelling at the sheer beauty and precision of Vesper Tools’ in-filled marking and layout tools.

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Infill planes by Sauer & Steiner

Handworks has traditionally been an opportunity for tool manufacturers to unveil brand new products, and this year was no exception. Texas Heritage presented their new “saddlebag” tool organiser – perfect for hanging in a tool chest or above a workbench, while Blue Spruce Toolworks debuted a brand new coping saw design. One of the biggest product announcements of the show was a combination plane by Veritas modelled on the now-discontinued Stanley No.45, which attracted a constant crowd eager to give it a test drive.

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The Bad Axe frame saw is the most fun you can have with a saw plate.

Studley Two

One of the highlights of Handworks 2015 was a rare public showing of the iconic tool chest of H.O Studley, alongside which Don Williams had given a series of presentations about the tool chest and his book on the same subject, “Virtuoso” (Lost Art Press). The Studley tool chest, and “Virtuoso”, clearly had a significant impact on at least one woodworker, as Handworks 2017 featured a complete reproduction of the Studley tool chest made by hobbiest woodworker, and surgeon, Jim Moone. Jim estimates that the chest took him six months to make alongside his medical practice, including modifying tools to match the contents of the original chest. Jim’s reproduction is breathtaking in its detail and commitment to authenticity, and completing such an ambitious project is impressive in itself even without taking into account the brief time span of the project!

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Reproduction STudley Tool Chest, by Jim Moone

Community Is…

Community has been a constant thread in my writing over the past couple of years. The overwhelming atmosphere at Handworks, and the buzzword on everyone’s lips, was community. The tools were shiny and plentiful, and the demonstrations were fascinating. But what was truly special about this event was watching people who had never met in person before come together over a shared love of handwork, a passion for preserving traditions and crafts, and for making things. It was of course an opportunity to turn online connections made through the vibrant community on Instagram, and blogs, into real faces and friendships, and throughout the event there was countless moments when people would introduce themselves using their Instagram handles and then follow up with their real names. For two days, over antique tools, the latest products from modern tool manufacturers, or traditional German food, knowledge was shared, friendships forged, and contact details exchanged. This was the true magic of Handworks, and for many (including myself) the reason why they attended.

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Jim Tolpin and George Walker demonstrating artisan geometry.

While I doubt any attendee managed to leave without buying at least one new tool or book, it is certain that no one left without a sense of having found an inclusive, supportive, and welcoming community bound together by the woodcrafts. Where else could you find yourself sitting next to George Walker and Jim Tolpin over breakfast, or strum a handmade resonator guitar by Mule Resonators over pizza in the evening? But what was truly special about Handworks was witnessing just how welcoming everyone was, and I am sure that this strength of community will give real comfort to anyone concerned about the future of hand tool woodwork.

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Tool chest by Chris Schwarz and Jameel Abraham.

Handworks – a service to the community

Handworks ended with plenty of warm farewells, promises to stay in touch, and carrying away bags overflowing with new tools and books. Hundreds of people attended, and hundreds of different stories will be told. But winding through all of those stories, is the thread of a community brought together through a love of handwork and the joy of sharing that passion with other makers. Organising Handworks is a massive endeavour, and there is no guarantee that it will take place again. If Handworks 2017 is the final show then it will be a fitting end, but I for one certainly hope that there will be a reason to visit Amana in 2019.

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Jason Thigpen of Texas Heritage explaining the custom options available for his aprons

A print exclusive


Issue 262 of Furniture & Cabinet Making is now on sale, and as well as an excellent article by Mark Harrell on selecting your nest of saws, and more tricks of the trade by Ramon Valdez, my review of the new Combination Plane by Veritas is included. Unveiled at Handworks this year, the plane was not officially announced by Veritas until 15 of August, and I believe that the review in F&C 262 is the first UK print review of this new plane. 

Just a 12-string beauty pageant

When Gareth was in the workshop a couple of weeks ago we managed to find time to do a photoshoot of Esmerelda as well as the Policeman’s Boot Bench. I’ve wanted to have set of high quality photos of Esme for some time, so was delighted to see what Gareth had done. One of the benefits of getting a photographer in to take photos is that they bring a fresh perspective and spot details or angles which you (as the maker) can often overlook. So it was with this shoot.

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Esmerelda – super jumbo sized 12 string acoustic guitar

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The body shape was inspired by pre-war era Gibson guitars, with a large rounded lower bout, tight waist, and small square shoulders.

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Inlay of morther of pearl, black pearl, gold pearl, green abalone, and red abalone, on cocobolo headstock veneer.

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The Indian rosewood fretboard is developing some nice character after a decade of playing

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Rosewood/ maple/ rosewood soundhole decoration, and cocobolo bridge, on European spruce soundboard

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Mahogany neck, with a rosewood grain filler, coat of shellac, and waterbased lacquer

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Indian rosewood back, with maple and rosewood binding to match the soundhole decoration.

The Policeman’s Commission

My workshop has felt very empty since the Policeman’s Boot Bench was collected by the client a couple of weeks ago. I was delighted when the client sent me a photo of the Boot Bench in situ, and even more so when he very kindly sent the following (unsolicited) testimonial with the suggestion that I post it on the blog. Long standing readers have had plenty of discussion this year about the Boot Bench from my perspective – now it is time to hear about it from a different vantage point.

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As the (now ex-)policeman alluded to in many blog posts on Over The Wireless, I felt bound to exercise my Internet-given right of reply about the build. For anyone thinking of using a craftsman for a specific piece of work, I hope this provides some insight into the experience.

As the client, the process has been fascinating, and unexpectedly gratifying. I came to commission this build basically because the furniture market wasn’t giving me what I wanted. Two years ago I bought my own house in a slightly shabby part of the East End of London. I have been doing it up ever since. It’s a Victorian terrace with a long, narrow hallway – an awkward space for storing shoes. For whatever reason, the British furniture market does not do shoe storage very well. You either get horrid IKEA plastic trays for the wall, a monstrous church pew/bookcase hybrid from a ‘posh’ (read: overpriced) retailer, or a flimsy Argos open-frame that achieves an anti-TARDIS effect: taking up egregious amounts of space whilst storing very few shoes. With no good options, I mulled for some months. Then whilst griping to Kieran about the perennial First World problem of unsatisfactory shoe rack choices at his daughter’s first birthday last year, I realised with a start that I was chatting away with a skilled amateur furniture maker.

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I floated the idea of the build, and a commission was rapidly and enthusiastically agreed. The process was pretty simple. I had in mind, after many months of internet scouring, a rough vision of what I wanted. During September I drew up detailed sketches of front, side and base, including proposed dimensions, and passed them to Kieran. He responded with a request for photos and measurements of the space in which the piece would sit, to help in judging dimensions, materials and finishes – in particular as the boot bench would sit next to a radiator. He then suggested some fairly mild adjustments: less dainty feet, deepening the dimensions to accommodate bigger shoes (such as his own), a shift in style from country kitchen to Arts & Crafts, and the addition of a back panel to protect my hallway wall from scuffs. I was generally satisfied, but asked that the feet lift (to expose my prized encaustic tiled floor). I also rejected a suggestion of decorative nails to secure the shelves, as it was out of keeping with the style of the existing furniture in nearby rooms. The result was an elegant, practical piece that will work in many different settings as I move over the years.

From October it was over to Kieran for by far the greater part of the work. Every weekend for the following nine months I had the pleasure of prose and photos describing the latest progress on the build. First came heavy planks of wood, which I had the chance to see in person on a visit in December. These were left to acclimatise to the environmental conditions of the workshop. Then work started in earnest on New Year’s Day, and out of the rough lumber came unexpected geometry: smooth planes and clean lines, neat grooves for the shelves, and lastly sharply toothed dovetails. Kieran kept consulting where needed, such as when I requested a deeper curve to the foot detail for aesthetic reasons.

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In February, Kieran sent me out a sample board of waxes and shellacs – unremitting professional that he is. I had seen pictures of the sample board on my phone, and had one choice in mind of black wax and a reddish shellac, which would lend the wood a warm, grainy look.  In hindsight it would have been an error to choose without seeing the samples in person first as I surprised myself with my choice of a black wax and blonde shellac. These coats created a strong contrast, showing off the grain but maintaining the underlying cool tone of the wood. I was also able to visualise properly for the first time how the hallway would hold together visually: invaluable.

Spring saw the delicate process of fitting together all those carefully prepared boards, and the transformation from lines on a page to a three-dimensional object. My role in this period mainly consisted of frantically opening each of Kieran’s weekly updates, and thinking of new ways to express my excitement at each new development. In fitting the backboards, Kieran managed to sneak in an element I had ruled out: the decorative nails, which I had thought too chunky and visually out-of-keeping with other furniture in the house. I still think the original call was right, but I am glad of the cheeky addition at the back. It added interest to a part of the object that would otherwise be relatively dull, and will remind me of the build process every time I move the boot bench. Kieran is a fan of subtle gestures like this – such as the roughly scalloped underside of the shelves, and the out-of-the-way placement of his maker’s mark.

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I should warn and confess other readers that it has been something of a torment to have our joint vision realised so gradually. But, like a good TV series, it has been worth the wait for each installment. And, knowing Kieran’s busy family life and career, it has been touching to see the regular commitment of his spare time. That’s one thing to bear in mind with an amateur commission: it does take time. From that initial conversation to collection was exactly a year – of which seven months was building time, and the rest was faffing on my part. I would estimate that the build time would equate to about three or four weeks’ work if done full-time (although there were additional deliberate delays to allow the wood to adjust to its environment). As a generally impatient person, the waiting was difficult but not unbearable for me.

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And a few weeks ago I was finally able to achieve catharsis after months of anticipation: I rented a car and drove up to collect the boot bench while attending another gathering at Kieran’s house. First order of business on arrival was to view the boot bench in person. I was very, very satisfied to finally be able to see, walk around, touch, examine and test the weight of the thing. It has an unexpected solidity, and is a surprisingly tactile experience. After allowing other guests their own viewing, several of us carefully hoisted it into my boot, where I swaddled it in blankets. No longer bound to this build, Kieran took an expansive turn and began discussing more furniture to come from his workshop – including a more complicated variation on the boot bench for his own hallway. I meanwhile made an early exit, so I could get home at a reasonable hour and make use of my heavy-lifting housemates.

With the boot bench finally in position, my hallway has gone from messily cluttered to a state of butch elegance. The careful consideration of shape, proportion, material and finish have made the space substantially more functional and beautiful. My housemates have also stopped the boot-rack related banter (it’s a shallow seam to mine). The final seal of approval came this weekend from my mother, who dressed and photographed the boot bench for me – and said she’d be tempted to make a commission of her own.

Don’t fret, just keep slotting – the Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw on test

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The new Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw

I find it hard to believe that I first floated the idea of a dedicated luthier’s saw to Mark Harrell three years ago, in many ways it feels like the conversation started much more recently than that. Slotting fret boards for guitars (and other fretted instruments) is one of the most critical stages of a build, determining whether the instrument will intonate properly. For all of the jigs on the market to help locate the cut at the correct point of the fret board, I’ve never understood why, or been satisfied with, the proliferation of cheap saws to make these most critical of cuts. And so I decided to reach out to the best saw maker I know and see if he was interested in giving luthiers a high quality saw which could handle fret slotting duties as well as other fine cross-cut work.

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That conversation ended up lasting two years as specifications were circulated, adjusted, and ideas tested. We welcomed good friend and fellow luthier Susan Chillcott to the conversation, and continued to work through exactly what the specification for a fret slotting saw would look like. A protoype arrived on my workbench in March 2016, followed by the first production model in August 2016. And testing continued.

This is a test (this is very testing)

The best way to really get to grips with a tool is to live with it and test it on real life projects and in as many different applications or circumstances as possible. And here is what I found interesting – although the Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw was intended for fret slotting and other fine lutherie work, I’ve found myself reaching for it repeatedly for furniture work too. The depth stop was a real boon when cutting out the stopped dados in my School Box, and again came in handy when defining the tenon shoulders for the legs of my staked saw benches. So although this is marketed as a “luthier’s saw”, it is far more versatile than that, and is perfect for anywhere that a very fine furniture grade cross cut is desirable.

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The Primary Mission

And yes, it slots fret boards too. Far better than any of the cheap (read: disposable) fret slotting saws I’ve used in the past. Mark’s skill in sharpening saws is no secret, and the luthier’s saw has been sharpened to perfection. The saw has that familiar Bad Axe balance of aggression and precision, requiring only a couple of strokes to cut to the appropriate depth for fret wire, and despite the aggression it still leave behind a complete absence of blowout on the exit side of the kerf. In fact, this saw leaves the cleanest kerf I’ve seen on a fret slotting saw, by some measure. And that hammer-set kerf has been dialled in to deliver a 0.022″ kerf for most modern fretwire tangs. On a precision tool like this, getting the fine details right is the difference between a saw that works, and something that looks pretty but will stay on the shelf. Bad Axe have got all of the details right, and this saw is a workhorse which will stay in my tool chest until I’m ready to hang up my apron for the final time.

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Slotting a maple fret board

The open tote feels identical to my Bad Axe dovetail saw, and fits the hand perfectly with no hard transitions, flats or corners to cause fatigue, leaving you free to concentrate on the cut and not on the saw. Mark also did a great job on improving the plastic depth stop used by other fret slotting saws. The Bad Axe depth stop is substantially thicker than the plastic alternative used by other manufacturers, which gives a greater surface area to register on the workpiece, and instead of standard acrylic commonly seen, uses a Polyethylene polymer with a high lubricity. The difference is instantly noticeable – when you bottom out of the cut the depth stop glides across the work piece without catching or scuffing, preventing the saw from sinking deeper and leaving no mark on the work. The brass thumbscrews cinch down authorititvely and in many months of testing I never felt the deth stop slip in use.

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There are many ways to slot a fretboard, and many jigs which claim to make life easier. I recently took the plunge and ordered a fret slotting jig from Tony Wright, an engineer and luthier of 28 years, and the brains behind Necx Products and Lakestone Guitars. This is the same jig as we used in Totnes, and is the perfect pairing for the Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw. Most jigs rely on a guide board and locating pin arrangement to deliver the saw at the right location for each fret slot. This ties the user to just the scale lengths the jig manufacturer supports, and also requires additional cost (not to mention storing additional guide boards) if you want to build to a different scale length. In contrast, Tony’s fret slotting jig uses a vernier scale and a free moving carriage to move the saw along the fretboard, so any scale length can be cut without the need for additional accessories.

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The vernier scale enables the user to precisely locate the saw for each cut

As a combination, this really cannot be beaten. The fine gearing of the carriage assembly on the jig means that the Bad Axe saw can be positioned by increments of 0.1mm before making the cut. When you have an incredibly precise saw, you only get the benefit of that precision when you can be targeted about where it is deployed. Having moved the carriage to the right location the carriage locks down tight with a large brass knob, and the cut can be made. All in all, a fret board can be cut with absolute precision in little more than 30 minutes.

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The carriage locks down to prevent the cut from wandering

European Woodwork Show

I will have the Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw and the fret slotting jig with me at the European Woodwork Show next month, as well as a supply of fret boards. If you would like to have a go at slotting a fretboard do stop by and say hello.

The Luthier’s Saw is now on the Bad Axe website and is available for order.

Disclosure: I assisted Bad Axe in the design and development of the Luthier’s Saw, and my sole payment for that work is the saw pictured above. I receive no commission or payment based on future sales of the saw, and no payment  for writing about the saw. All content on Over the Wireless about the Luthier’s Saw is my own unbiased opinion.