Buying and Playing a “Real Saw”

The late, great sawyer David Weiss had a regular advice column in the International Saw Association newsletter. These articles offer wonderful advice for players of all skill levels. Here’s an excerpt from an article from 2003. Many thanks to Rodney Blacklock for his permission to reprint this.

“Many of us saw players like to help beginners get started playing the saw. This column is devoted to what I believe is the easiest and least expensive way. When I first started playing my saw in public, the question most often asked was, “Is that a real saw?” It gave me lots of satisfaction saying that it was, a true folk instrument, the carpenter’s tool right off the hardware store shelf!

Fortunately for beginners, there are several varieties of saws that are easy to bend, have a good range, and can make a decent sound without too much effort. The mistake many people make is to buy a saw that’s too expensive. For more money you get a saw that’s better for cutting wood, but harder to bend ( thicker gauge steel). I always recommend the following: Get a 25 inch saw, plastic or wood handle that tapers to about 1 1/4 inches at the top. This taper will give you greater range and flexibility.

The old Stanley Handyman that I started out on 20 years ago has changed dimensions over the years and is NOT as good these days. Instead, I suggest the Stanley “Thrifty” saw. The Stanley “Hard Tooth” works almost as well, with just a tad stiffer bend to it.

Other brands that produce saws of thinner gauge are Nicholson, True Value, and Disston. Each brand makes a variety of shapes so be sure to measure the tip. Pull one off the shelf and you can also tell by the resistance you feel when you bend it. It’s a good idea to go to more than one hardware store to check out the supply. Usually it will be the cheapest 26 inch saw on the shelf that will work best.

Once you get your saw home, take some fine sandpaper (400-600 grit) and gently rub the smooth edge to rid it of any shards or rough edges that might damage the bow hairs. You can also put a strip of tape over the lowest teeth to avoid tearing your pantleg. I use clear packing tape so it’s not visible to people unless they look very closely. Another idea is to use a small steel file and file off any sharpened points that would make contact. For beginners, I recommend using a mallet first. It is much more forgiving if you don’t strike it in the exact right place. A small rubber ball on a stick works well and they’re easy to find ( toy xylophone type mallets).

Another tip: for comfort of the left thumb as it presses on the saw, I place a 1 inch square of bulletin board cork between my thumb and the saw. It helps a lot!

Soon, if all goes well, you’ll be ready to consider getting additional saws especially designed for music, like the Charlie Blacklock Special, or Mussehl & Westphal, or Sandvik Stardivarius.”

Posted in ,


Rowena Southard, your blog hostess, is a musical saw enthusiast who lives in California. She loves all kinds of music and has a special fondness for unusual instruments.