rip-sawing to width

planing the edge of a wide pine board

I started in the other day on some of the applied moldings for the MFA cupboard. I needed a four-foot long section that is fixed to the front long rail in the cornice. So I took the board for the top and cut a section off it. It’s white pine, 25″ wide to begin with. I only need 21+” for the finished top, so it was perfect. Started by planing a straight edge, & then marked a line with the chalk.

chalk line

I like to saw at the workbench, not a low sawing bench. The stock is held by a holdfast, and I start the cut with the saw angled downwards, like this:

start of cut

After just a few strokes, I switch to a two-handed grip, and stand up straight. The saw is now held vertically:

sawing some more

I like this method, it uses both arms insted of just one, and the upright stance is easier on my back than hunched over. Also, I can see better, the saw is not leaning over the line.

I was sawing this way one day and a visitor to the shop told me it was just wrong to saw that way…made me like it more. I don’t do as much sawing as some other furniture-makers, but this method is one I use more often than not. I can’t re-saw the thickness of stock this way, but for cross-cutting and ripping the width of a board, I have found this to be both comfortable and effective.

8 thoughts on “rip-sawing to width

  1. I rip and cross-cut at the bench for much the same reasons.For ripping I use a bow saw with the blade 90 degrees to the arms and with teeth facing away.Ripping overhand was hard to get used to at first.
    It allows for much more room in a small shop.

  2. Your comment on “sawing the wrong way” reminds me of a line in Roy Underhill’s latest treatise, at the end of the chapter on Hewing: “Should you see someone hewing in a way that seems strange to you, think twice about correcting him. Anyone willing to hew timbers on a hot day is pretty much entitled to proceed in his own damn way”.

  3. Someone who says that ripping overhand is wrong hasn’t read any of Charles Hayward’s books – Mr Hayward always demonstrates this as an alternative. Also, the visitor to your shop might need to explain the features of a proper rip saw that allow you to hold it comfortably to perform this task in this fashion.

  4. In the Practical Woodworker by Bernard Jones, he illustrates your rip sawing technique, mentioning that it is “favoured by cabinet-makers chiefly”.

    The only difference seems to be that the saw is pushed instead of pulled.

  5. I like the handscrew board-stop on your bench. Saved the first photo in your blog posting to hard drive, for future reference. :)


  6. Recently finished reading through all posts on this blog, and I’ve marked is one of my favorites on my own blog.

    Sawing has always been a challenge to me, and only recently have I even considered doing it by hand. A combination of dull, warped saws and bad technique had me convinced I would never figure it out.

    Lately though, as I get more and more into hand tool woodworking, I am relearning. I’ve had some good saw experiences, and am now building a bow saw for use in the shop. The tensioned blade really helps, and so does good technique.

    If I ever get the chance to saw a board such as yours, I’ll try your technique to see if it works for me. If not, I’ll figure my own way and critics be damned.

    — badger

  7. Is there any evidence from paintings or writings that this sawing technique was used in previous centuries?

    Just curious,


  8. Thanks to all the folks who wrote comments about sawing. I can never really tell what post is going to interest people. this one seems to have caught some eyes. I have seen Hayward’s book(s) and B. Jones, but must confess I haven’t read them cover-to-cover. I’ll go back now & look at sawing. Other than those references, I don’t know where else it shows up “historically.” I think I caught it from a combination of ideas; one being an old article by Tage Frid in Fine Woodworking; the other being years of pitsawing.

    Then the other day, Chris Schwarz wrote about sawing “overhand” – a phrase I think I will adopt…his is called “Franco-Prussian” sawing…

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