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Fleam, Bowsaws, History and Faith

I just this week read a post about fleam over on Popular Woodworking. Aparently Colonial Williamsberg does not put fleam on their saws, since there is no evidence of fleam on saws in Colonial America.

This got me to thinking, Tage Frid, an expert among experts,  liked to use a ripsaw  for cutting dovetails across grain.  If Tage Frid was comfortable with a ripsaw  for dovetails, It seems likely that, as long as a striking knife is used, and you are able to truely saw to a line, that a cross cut saw is in fact unneeded.  From my own experimentation, a cross cut saw tooth for tooth, is a bit slower, It also is more prone to shifting from a line.   The actual cut is a lot smoother with a crosscut and I rather like using a crosscut, but it could be  that a master carpenter of that day might have had little respect for the crosscut saw.

This also brings me to an odd point, history is being explored actively at Colonial Williamsberg.  This is a bit of a surprise to me, as I personally have good reason to have little faith in the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.  When I went to Colonial Williamsberg for the first time, My family made a point to sit in our family pew.

This was the front right pew, it was labeled ‘Uptigraph.’  When the church was built, one of the ways it was paid for, was  for the wealthy families to ‘buy a pew.’  My father’s mother’s family had  donated a hefty amount for the honor of having this be their official seat.

When I went back there with group while I was going to camp, the pew had been renamed.  Apparently Uptigraph was not important enough sounding, it was now the ‘House of Burgess’ pew.  It was pretty silly, but it made me somewhat question the authority of the place.

When I went back there when I was a camp councilor, the pew had changed names again.  Apparently the House of Burgess was not important enough sounding, it was now the ‘George Washington’ pew.   It really makes me wonder what else they have altered.   I have not been back since, nor have I taken my family.

So while I have good reason to have little faith in Williamsberg in general, it does seem that there are historians associated or employed by the organization, that are doing good work.

I don’t know how important an issue it is with them, Uptigraph is not that common a name, and it certainly isn’t my name, yet I suspect that any of them who knew of the pew and regularly visited it as a point of pride, are much less likely to donate or visit again.

But, back to the saws, I wonder if perhaps all the cross cut saws were worn down, or if woodworkers altered them on their own.  It seems that looking at cuts in wood is probably the best way to tell for sure.  Another possibility is that having loose fibers in a cut, made the cut hold well despite changes in humidity, and made the cuts glue well.  At a time when end grain and joints were mostly hidden in fine furniture, perhaps the smooth cut of a cross cut saw might have been a disadvantage.

Bob

3 comments to Fleam, Bowsaws, History and Faith

  • Bob: I got to reading your post on fleam and before I know it, we’re with you in that pew thinking about how history can be re-invented. It sure made me think a bit deeper — about saws and history. Thanks!

  • You are always welcome, Keith!

    I make an effort to read at least ten books on a subject before getting comfortable about my knowledge. Even then, I have been led quite astray quite a few times. The woodworkers testing these theories are doing good research, exploring woodworking with the limitations that they think may have existed at that time.

    Bob

  • Skip J.

    Keith said,in November 13th, 2008 at 10:22 am Bob: I got to reading your post on fleam and before I know it, we’re with you in that pew thinking about how history can be re-invented. It sure made me think a bit deeper — about saws and history. Thanks!

    What Keith said! I think your SCA side is coming out again… Love that history!

    Skip

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