Introducing Henry Landon:
I first met Henry several years ago while he was a student on a week-long bushcraft course I was teaching. I later got to know Henry better when he returned for further courses covering axe skills, campcraft and more advanced bushcraft skills. When you spend time with Henry, you notice not just his love for the outdoors and bushcraft but also his clear practical abilities. Henry has an affinity for working materials and is a natural with hand-tools. Henry has recently been learning flint knapping and basket weaving. Henry is a designer and works as an architectural modelmaker for architects Foster and Partners. This has given him experience in a whole range of areas. One of these areas – as you will see in the following article – is woodwork . This is Henry’s first guest article for my blog.
How to Make a Folding Bucksaw
Folding bucksaws are a simple means of taking a large saw with you on a trip. Quick to assemble and neat to carry in a case or pack, this size of saw is a natural partner to an axe. Folding bucksaws can be packed neatly into a back pack, canoe pack, onto a snow machine or dog-sled, even onto a horse pack, or slotted out of the way in a vehicle. In constructing a folding bucksaw, the aim is to create a solid frame that can be adjusted to create the right tension for the saw blade but easily collapsed for storage.
Many different designs have been used to achieve this aim, using either wood or metal folding frames. My personal preference is wood; some metal frames may be lighter and less bulky but made correctly wood is just as strong and possibly more durable.
Despite its great utility, the bucksaw adds weight to your equipment. There are methods of creating a saw frame while in the woods. One of my favourites is to heat-bend a sapling and insert the blade to create a bow saw. Being able to create the frame in the field means you can carry just the saw blade. One way to do this is to coil the blade up in a billy can.
Despite this method, if you are travelling from place to place with the need to saw significant amounts of wood on a regular basis, the folding bucksaw is a perfect companion. Also if you are intending to stay in the woods for an extended period of time, pre-making a durable saw frame is preferable to fashioning something makeshift and with a relatively limited lifespan.
Making Your Own Folding Bucksaw
To start with, a warning: The construction of this version of bucksaw is not a free-hand carving project. It would be hard to make a good one just using hand tools. As I alluded to above, there are versions of this design, created more simply, which may be made in the field.
The wood used for the saw frame is beech. “Beech wood is hard, strong and heavy, but it lacks toughness of ash and cannot be used for long handles subject to shock, since it proves too brittle.”1 Beech has dark specks in it called medullary rays, also called pith rays or wood rays. These formations of primarily parenchyma cells allow the radial transmission of sap. For comparison, oak has large sliver xylem vessels that do the same thing. “When the wood is cut into boards with the growth rings roughly perpendicular to the face of the board, the medullary rays often produce beautiful figures such as silver grain, medullary spots or pith flecks.”2
Beech has been used for tool handles for a long time. “Handles of chisels, screwdrivers and mallets that must take considerable shock but not extreme shock and strain are usually made from beech.”3
1,500mm (59.06 inches) is the length of 1” by 2” (25mm by 50mm) strip needed for one saw. It is best to start with more and work out the lengths before you start to cut the sections up – “a big tree attracts the woodsman’s axe.”4
The machines I used to make the saw were as follows: table saw, band saw, bobbin sander, disc sander, pillar drill and a table router. I also used a spray with a gravity feed and a spray gun. Not all these machines are essential, apart from the table saw. The bucksaw blade supports require a slot to be cut in them to accommodate the blade when the saw is folded. Other than the table saw, I can think of no way of producing such a clean slot in a blade support made of a single piece of wood. However, if you were to make the blade support in two parts and create the slot by adding a part-width spacer to separate them, this may work.
Making Each Component of the Bucksaw Frame
The first element of the saw to be made was the windlass. This was created by cutting a piece of beech to the right thickness, then drawing on a template for the outside edge. The shape was cut using a band saw and finished by hand with 120 grit sand paper to round off the edges. Then 320 grit to smooth off all the surfaces. After this, a hole was cut using a pillar drill. The hole could be cut with a hand drill but this is hard to keep the hole at 90 degrees to the surface. Once the hole was drilled in the windlass, a countersink bit was used to round the edges of the hole. This was done as this hole, and the holes in the top of the blade supports, have a piece of cord passing through them; in order to stop wear on the rope, all the holes were countersunk.
The next element to make is the main support. This runs from one blade support to the other and has to be exactly the right length for the blade. To make this part I cut a length of beech to the right thickness and height, then to the right length. Next I drew on the outline of the curve and cut this using the band saw.
I then used a flat top blade in the table saw to make the tenon joint ends to fit in the blade supports. To finish the main support I used a rounding bit on the table router to round off the edges evenly.
The last parts to make are tricky; these are the blade supports. Their basic shape is made in the same way as the rest of the frame, thinned on the table saw then cut to length. If you have a mortising machine, then you can use this to make the holes for the main support to fit in. I used a chisel, which takes longer.
Once the mortise grooves for the main support are in, a slot needs to be cut for the blade to fold down into, so that the two blade supports accommodate the blade. This was made using two different thicknesses of saw blade on the table saw – a 2.0mm blade and a 3.2mm blade. The 3.2mm blade is used first to cut the main slot for the bucksaw blade to fold into. Then the 2.0mm blade cuts the thinner slot where the bucksaw blade attaches to the frame.
Next come the holes in the blade supports, whereby the saw blade is attached to the frame. Again these were drilled with the pillar drill. The positioning of these saw holes is critical. I used a 7mm bit for the saw holes, then tapped in a brass insert for an M5 bolt. The positioning of the holes for the cord is less critical but it is best to mark them up to keep them even and not too close to the edges.
The M5 bolt I cut to length and notched a grove in with a hack saw. Then I filed the blots flat. The last part of the saw support is to finish them on the table router carefully stopping before the tenon joint locations.
The bucksaw is intended to be used out in the field. In order to stop it from getting warped and spoiled by water damage, I sprayed on two coats of sanding sealer, using wire wool between coats to give a smooth finish. “Beech has no natural durability in contact with the ground and is seldom used out of doors.” 5
Assembly of the bucksaw
The final assembly of the saw is quite simple: Position the bucksaw blade in the slots of the blade supports, in line with the holes, and screw in the bolts carefully at both ends. Then use some 4mm cord to thread through the windlass and both blade supports and tie off with a reef knot in the middle. Remember to burn the ends to stop fraying.
- 1,3 & 5: Herbert L. Edlin 2002 What wood is that?
2: Thomas Corkhill (1989). The Complete Dictionary of Wood.
4: Matthew – Bible