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Hamptons Life

Oct 8, 2018 10:58 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Use the Right Saw For The Job

A close look at the teeth on this ARS saw shows the angular cutting edge of the alternate teeth. When sharpening, it’s critical to maintain the tooth cutting edge angle and there are sharpening guides that make this easy to manage. ANDREW MESSINGER
Oct 8, 2018 11:17 AM

Last week a seasonal cold front moved down from upstate and a confluence of meteorological elements resulted in five tornadoes and lots of wind damage to trees in the tri-state area. And during the summer more than a few bolts of lightning were thrown down along with gusts of wind that twisted some leaf-laden limbs and shattered a few. Soon it will be the weight of wet snow or even an ice storm. The bottom line is that, sooner or later, we’ll have the kind of weather that does tree damage.

As gardeners, we try to take some precautions and plan ahead. Some of us buy electric or gas-powered chain saws for the inevitable. But when we need these saws most and there’s no power or no fuel, or a spark plug fails or the chain breaks, what’s a gardener to do?

But there are other times when less is needed. A tree limb gets too close to a house or gutter, and it just needs a bit of trimming. An apple tree needs renovating and shaping, or there’s just that one branch that’s too thick for a pruner or lopper. What to do? What to use?

The answer has been around for hundreds of years and it still works well. Environmentally, they’re quite earth-friendly, and it’s one of those things that can still be relatively inexpensive. These magnificent wonders are called saws and, in this case, they’re tree saws. But buy or use the wrong type and you’ll have all kinds of regrets from a sore arm to scraped knuckles, cuts and bruises. And you can also do long-lasting damage to the tree as well.

If you were really desperate, you could go to your basement or tool box and grab the old and probably rusted crosscut saw that you’d use on a two-by-four and cut that 4-inch limb in 10 minutes or so, but the right tree or pruning saw would do it in two minutes with much less effort. The difference is that the crosscut saw from the basement is designed to cut dry wood—for example, lumber like the two-by-four. Saws used on live wood are mostly designed to cut on the drawing stoke (pull), and so, were often called “pull saws” and the blades are often concave to maintain contact with the wood.

Smaller tree saws and some of the newer designs can have unidirectional lance teeth while the larger saws often have coarser, more aggressive tooth patterns that help clean the sawdust and sawing debris out of the kerf, or groove, being cut. A compromise often found in all-purpose outdoor saws combines the universal tooth pattern with fine teeth at the end of the blade for starting the cut and coarse teeth along the rest of the blade. As a rule, we try to use a saw with finer teeth for hardwoods like oak and maple while coarse-toothed saws do best on resinous soft wood trees like our pines.

Along with the tooth pattern and direction, the set pattern of a saw influences its cutting capabilities. If you examine the cutting teeth closely, you’ll notice that they are bent or set alternately to the left and right. The wider the set, the wider the kerf, and the less the saw is likely to bind and get caught in green, gummy or compressed wood. Wide sets and wide kerfs require more energy per cut because more wood is being converted into sawdust with each stroke. Some saws also have teeth called “rakers” that are designed to clean out strips of wood from the kerf. An example of this type of saw is the Corona Razor Tooth Raker saw.

Bow saws were designed with this problem in mind and, if used in the right situations, this type of saw cuts faster than any kind of hand saw. For a long time my favorite tree saw was a small 15-inch bow saw that was always in my traveling cutting tool kit. Because the blade is anchored at both ends to the bow frame, the blade can be narrower, thinner and more flexible than the blades of other saws. The drawback of this saw, though, is that you can’t get it into tight places.

The larger heavy-duty saws are designed to cut larger limbs on the push stroke, like a carpenter’s saw, or both the push and pull stroke, like the bow saw. If you ever see yourself climbing a tree or working from a ladder, you’ll probably find a duplex saw particularly handy. This tool has teeth on both sides (top and bottom) or edges with a fine set of teeth on one side for finish cuts and coarse teeth on the other side for the major work. One saw for two jobs.

A narrow-bladed saw is particularly handy if you have a small property and simply need to do some easy pruning or small twig and limb removal. This saw has only one cutting edge that folds back into its handle that can be either wood or plastic and these saws are generally 12 to 20 inches long when opened. This saw can deal with wood up to an inch and a half in diameter and it’s great in tight spots. A smaller variation on this type of saw is 10 to 14 inches long and often has a set screw that keeps the blade from folding back when used. Another variation is called the hardwood pruner, which has a 13-inch or so blade and it’s used in orchards because it can cut fruitwood without tearing the bark.

Other tree saws include the softwood tree saw, which is self cleaning, useful on softwoods and has a blade from 20 to 23 inches long. The two-handed pruner saw is rare but useful in cutting in precarious positions. It enables the user to cut large limbs with great speed and looks similar to a folding saw, but it doesn’t fold.

Pole saws are used where you need to cut a small branch or limb that would otherwise be out of reach. Pole saws are much safer than using a hand saw from a ladder. The poles are made of wood, metal or fiberglass and allow you to reach up to about 15 feet high. Remember, though, that the higher you reach the less control you have on the saw blade, which may bind in a cut or wobble due to the loss of direct control. These work primarily on the down stroke, and the blades can often be set to several cutting angles.

All of these saws need some simple care. Sharpening can be a challenge and is an art that you will need to learn. Thankfully, many saws have removable blades that can be replaced, but for those up to the challenge you can buy sharpening kits and some local shops can sharpen them or send them out for sharpening. Keep your saw clean. Nothing makes sawing more difficult than old, gummy sap on the blade. Isopropyl alcohol can be used as a cleaning agent, then the blade should be lightly coated with a light oil.

As I noted earlier, you can find a tree saw for 10 bucks at a hardware store. Resist the temptation and spend more as I can guarantee that $10 saw won’t work well and won’t last. Good, smaller saws can start around $20, and better, larger ones up to 20 inches will run up around $60 and more. Local garden centers seem to carry a small selection and if you can’t find what you want locally try amleo.com, where you’ll see over 30 choices. Keep growing.

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