Monday, May 11, 2009

Sweet Swede

Photo: Jørn Moen

Here's me, going at it with a "Swede" saw. This is the saw to use for green wood. So far I have not used my chain saw up here. Too scary and dangerous, considering that I work alone. Also chain saws are a hassle to keep in shape, and offensively noisy and dirty. And if you've ever tried buying gas without a car, you'll know that gas stations are mysteriously placed at locations that are almost inaccessible without a motorized vehicle.
Ole Wik, in his excellent book "Wood Stoves - How to Make and Use Them" (Alaska Northwest Publishing Company, 1977) writes:
A few of us around here are still holding out against the chain-saw revolution, relying instead on bow (Swede) saws and elbow grease. I like bow saws because, above all, they are quiet. They use no gasoline or oil, and do not smell; they are light and easy to carry; they have no moving parts to wear out; they're practically indestructible; and they're inexpensive. (...) True, bow saws are slower than chain saws, but that means you spend more time in the forest. They take more work, but when the winter is over they leave you with good, healthy arms. (...)

Occasionally I've considered looking for another type of saw that might beat the bow saw without going to gasoline power. The search usually leads to the big two-man whipsaws that loggers used before the advent of lightweight power saws. My conclusion is that a whipsaw might be useful for working through a log that i too thick for a bow saw, but otherwise wouldn't pay. A whipsaw blade is substantially thicker than a modern bow-saw blade, so it cuts a wider kerf (groove). It takes extra energy to remove the extra wood. Perhaps this is why loggers called the saws "misery whips".
I've done enough sawing to have contracted tennis elbow (city pussy-wussy that I am), so I have taught myself to be amidextrous when it comes to this chore. And whenever I do carpentry I always use my Japanese saws, that cut on the draw instead of on the push.
There are several blades available for the Swede saw, including one for meat. I use the ones for cured and green wood. None of the ones I have found, however, can be sharpened once they're worn down. The rainbow tint on the tips of new blades indicate that they have been "induction hardened", and they sure stay sharp for quite a while. But once they're worn down, that's it.
In my experience, bow saws are not entirely indestructible. Especially vulnerable is the small aluminum tab that keeps the blade in place on the far end from the handle. And no, you can't buy replacements. I end up winding pieces of baling wire around it all to keep the blade in place. These days, it's even hard to find separate blades in some hardware stores, you're expected to buy the whole setup every time the blade wears out.
I've only ever seen the "whips" Wik writes about as rusty decoration in restaurants that try to be twee and rustic. But new ones are available for sale from places like this.
Wik's book is long out of print, but available at Abebooks.

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