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One Man Crosscut Saw, Firewood and French Polish

There is a wonderful rhythm in using a crosscut saw, the "shish" of the cutters and rakers clearing out a kerf almost becomes hypnotic, but your arms, shoulders and hips tell you that you are working. To work is to pray.

We don't need to heat with wood, the house has a steam heat furnace that is quite efficient. The fireplace is huge, but more for a romantic show. I cut about a cord and a half of lodge pole pine before these last 2 storms. My Husky 385 chainsaw is overkill on these small trees, cutting the wood to stove length is quick, but after watching "Alone in the Wilderness", a documentary on Dick Proenneke's life in Alaska, I pulled out the one man crosscut saws I own. I figured I need the exercise. This saw belonged to my father-in-law, it's a Monkey Ward saw with perforated lance teeth with a "D" handle, the auxiliary handle came from our place in northeastern California. This set up works though after using it for about a half an hour I put on a regular crosscut saw handle, it is what I am use to.

This saw belong to my maternal grandfather, I have no idea how old it is or what brand it is, I just know that I have cut a lot of firewood with it. The saw started out with perforated lance teeth, like the other saw, through repeated sharpening the teeth lost almost five eighths of an inch of length. I need to file out the gullets to add some more length to the teeth.

The maple guitar that is heading to a client in Sedona, Arizona. I took this photo to show him how a several sessions of french polishing can make the figure in wood really "pop". I wish that when I started making guitars I hadn't paid any attention to Bill Cumpiano, Irving Sloane, Stanley Doubtfire, etc., when they said in their books that french polishing was too hard to do. At least Roy Courtnall says that you can do it.

It is not hard to do, I find it much easier then trying to brush on some highly toxic oil varnish or lacquer. I don't have to apply any wood filler and then sand and sand and sand the filler down to the wood, then once you apply the varnish you have to sand, sand, sand. I don't like sanding and wearing a respirator while I sand. French polish, which is a technique used to apply shellac, is very friendly to you and the environment. Shellac is refined from what is secreted by the "lac" bug and it can be dissolved with 150 proof grain alcohol. You don't need a haz-mat locker for that.


  1. Nice pictures of the saws. I have one hanging on the garage wall after picking it off a Bitterroot Trail many years ago. Yes that Bitterroot and by the way I went to school in Missoula as well (History/Political Science). Retired from the log home business after 32 years and now work stocking groceries at a local Good Food Store. Starting to give up the power tools slowly and just go with hand tools, much nicer on the ears and nerves.
    We still live in Missoula but have family down in Woodland Park, Co.

  2. 1980 was my freshman year at U of M, that doesn't seem like 31 years ago. Last time I was in Missoula was 1998 and was amazed at the town's growth back then, but once we got to downtown, Missoula was still Missoula. It's a great place.


  3. I don't find much use for french polishing (I prefer a low- or no-gloss finish), but I do enjoy using shellac and it's about the only thing I use normally. But boxes don't need much protection aside from a few light coats of shellac.

    Always a pleasure to read your blog.


  4. Thanks, Ethan (aka TKW) for the comment, it's always great to hear from other woodworkers! I visited your blog, you do great work!


  5. Shucks...


    It's not luthier work, that's for sure. But I do enjoy what I do, and that is, I think, important.

    You keep writin' and I'll keep reading, MH! :)

  6. What did my dad use to say? If you don't enjoy it, it isn't worth doing, I wish more people had your attitude, TKW! Thanks for reading!


  7. I found a saw similar to the one in the top photograph in an antique store in Austin, TX. It has a small inset medallion on the handle that says Warranted Superior and an insignia that I would describe as triple D's in a circle. It looks to be in pretty good shape - don't know how old it is. I plan on giving it a try when I move to northern AZ and might need to start cutting firewood again.

  8. When you get ready to start cutting wood with your D-handle crosscut saw, make sure you tune it up and sharpen it! Warren Miller wrote a great little book, The Crosscut Saw Manual, that is available on line or from the Region 1 United States Forest Service Headquarters in Missoula, Montana. He shows how to sharpen the saw and talks about general maintenance. It's not hard to sharpen a saw, all you need is patience!



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