Musical Saw History - And Future...

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What is a Musical Saw?

 

A musical saw is a very unique instrument.  It is basically a handsaw with a wooden handle - an ordinary handsaw can be struck or bowed to produce sound, if held a certain way, but the tone and note range will usually be very limited.  No one knows who first discovered that an ordinary handsaw could produce music, but woodworkers through the centuries have been aware that saw blades make whining, whistling noises when sawing through wood.  When a blade catches in a knot, it may twist a bit more than usual.  The combination of twisting and friction causes the metal to sing and whine!  As a musical instrument, the saw is technically considered to be an idiophone, which is an instrument that produces sound by the vibration of its whole mass, without the use of strings or membranes. The idiophone family includes chimes, bells, marimbas and xylophones, as well as rarer instruments like the glass armonica, the  crystal baschet and the Tibetan bowl.  All of these instruments can be bowed or struck, with different effects.


My own experience with musical saws goes back to when I first read about them in a library when I was sixteen.  I went to a little country hardware store and tried out their handsaws.  I bought a 26" long Disston saw with a very flexible blade.  Then I had to make a primitive bow because I didn't have access to a violin bow, and I first used some dried pine pitch instead of rosin!  I managed to get some pretty impressive sounds out of my primitive equipment...and I soon got hold of a real violin bow and rosin.  My playing really took off then.  Soon my inventive mind compelled me to add a tip handle, because I found that it was pretty painful to keep an effective grip on the blade tip, which has to be firmly grasped between the thumb and middle fingers in order to bent the blade into a slight "S" curve. With the tip handle, my discomfort ended, and I could now play an additional octave in the upper note range.  Then I found that the saw grip, which is used for sawing wood on a regular hand saw, felt pretty uncomfortable and inadequate between my thighs when the saw was played for more than a few minutes at a time.  So I got rid of the saw grip and mounted the blade in a larger, more comfortable base.  Finally, I ground off the saw teeth, after cutting myself several times.  After all of these changes, the saw was now a full-fledged instrument, and I eventually grew

into  a skilled saw-player.

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The Musical Saw in the Twenty-First Century

 

  

Most musical saws are still made pretty much like other handsaws - as they usually have been throughout musical saw history. Most of them still have teeth, and the makers usually obtain the pre-cut blades as blanks from saw manufacturers.  The reality of the situation is that basically very little actual engineering goes into commercially-made  musical saws. The makers are selling glorified handsaws  that might be fitted with a

"custom"  wood handles that are still  handsaw handles.  Many players are satisfied with this, actually priding themselves in showing people that they can play an "actual" handsaw - even one with teeth!  These same players disdain the use of a tip handle: they call it a "cheater" and refuse to use one.  There is a very strong mindset out there in regards to the musical saw - a resistance to  new  innovation in what is now regarded as a traditional instrument. Nonetheless, the instrument is very gradually undergoing a series of transformations, particularly in countries like France, where the "Lame Sonore" has been made and developed over the last century and more.  French innovators have actually been engineering these instruments as musical instruments only. Still, the changes are very limited in scope. There is currently a builder in France who makes concert-level instruments, extra long and tapered to a fairly narrow tip. These musical instruments are advertised as having a 4-octave note range.  They include a hand-carved tip handle of unusual design and custom wooden grips made for comfortable playing.  The metal used in the blade is extra thick, and requires some strength to bend, which makes the use of the tip handle more important. These new-generation musical saws are currently the choice of many professional saw players.  They are quite costly compared to other available saws, due to a labor-intensive building process and the cost of materials.

 

 

​​There are only a hand-full of musical saw makers currently, and their saws are all pretty much alike.  All of the  saws that you can buy are made from  spring-tempered high-carbon steel: the exact carbon content chosen by each maker is a closely-guarded secret!  There are many formulations possible, as well as different tempering and rolling processes.  But all of the available

saws in the world are made from steel - except for the special bronze blades that I make in limited numbers, in addition to my steel blades...


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My Work in Musical Saw Engineering

 

In mid 2015, I decided to try my hand at building a musical saw completely from scratch.  I had no idea what  kind of metal to use, or even where to obtain specialty sheet metal in small quantities.  I researched deeply on the internet, but could not obtain any real information directly from saw-makers.  I did however find some very helpful videos on YouTube, including published work of people experimenting with musical saw making.  I ended up corresponding with some of these people.  I also got lucky and spoke at length with a metal manufacturer in Europe, who took an interest in my work.  He happened to know which metals are used in Europe for musical saws, having supplied a number of builders over the years. I ended up investing thousands of dollars in all sorts of special metals in various thicknesses and dimensions.  I also purchased metal-working equipment and decorative inlay materials and hardwoods.  I made my own blades in many sizes and materials, as I learned how to work with metals. After many months and many failures, I settled on  carbon steel 1075, which is the metal of choice for any musical saw!  I also make a limited number of bronze blades - for a very unique, rust-free alternative to steel!                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

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My Musical Saws

 

I have spent three years and thousands of dollars developing my "Stradsaw" line of musical saws. Only the very best saws are given the Stradsaw brand.  To qualify, each saw must test out with a range of four to five full usable octaves.  These saws are exquisite works of art - as beautiful in appearance as they are in sound, made only from the finest hardwoods and best metals, with both deep engraving and optional inlay work . Each Stradsaw is given its own unique name and design - like the rare original violins built by Stradivarius!  

 

I have made musical saws from three different kinds of metal, and I offer carbon steel as a time-proven metal of choice.  I also have a limited supply of bronze blades, although they are not well known enough to be in much demand.  I have designed a range of sizes, from bass up to high treble.  Each saw is different, and each instrument that is for sale features a sample video where you can see and hear that instrument being played.  


Please go to the "Musical Saw Gallery" page on this website to see what I'm offering.  Take a look at  the  "Woods Gallery" to see all of the great choices of hardwoods that are available.  The "Musical Saw Blades" page will show you all of your options for metals and blade sizes.  I also can do custom work like inlay - contact me to find out more!

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Step Up to a Stradsaw -

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It's What a Musical Saw Should Be!