Building a Classic Bow Saw with Steven Der-Garabedian

This past weekend, I took what my friend Bill Schaumburg calls, “A walk in the rum aisle”*.

I signed up for a day-long seminar at Lee Valley Tools to learn how to make a classic bow saw. For those unfamiliar with this tool, here’s a really nice example that looks almost exactly not at all like the one I made:

Not my bowsaw.

This was my first time doing a woodworking seminar – at Lee Valley, or anywhere for that matter. And I learned many important things.

First, the quality of the instructor and instruction is vital to a good experience, especially for a first-time student. Our instructor, Steven Derr-Garabedian, was excellent. I liked his philosophy of woodworking (he’s a professional – runs his own furniture-building business called Black Walnut Studio) and his teaching style put me at ease. I would definitely take another workshop from Steven – and in fact I’ll keep an eye out for more opportunities.

I would also take another seminar at Lee Valley. The experience was excellent for many reasons:

Safety was a priority and all safety equipment was provided, but the need to be safe was not rammed down our throats. Each time we were to use a tool – especially power tools like the table saw – we were given a quick overview and a quick discussion of safety, but nobody hovered or treated us like children. What’s clear is that Lee Valley figures that we’re here because we want to learn and we’re going to be respectful of the tools to ensure that everything is done in a safe manner. And everybody I watched used the tools did just that.

The venue was excellent (and of course the shopping opportunity in the store upstairs is always second to none). I especially appreciated that there was no attempt to force Lee Valley products on any of the participants. In fact, the hardware for the bow saw is not even something that Lee Valley stocks. Again, I like the philosophy at this store: We were there because we’re passionate about working wood with tools. There’s no need to up-sell us because we’re going to buy what we want anyway.

One of the most important lessons I learned – one that I know, but need to remind myself of constantly – is patience. Steven encouraged us to take our time and enjoy the process of building our bow saw.

In the model railway hobby, we’re often encouraged to “get it done” so we can run trains – we set goals like, “I’m going to get all the track down by the end of this year” and then rush through the track laying, instead of slowing down and enjoying the process of laying down ties, staining and distressing, spiking, forming rails for switches, and so on.

I think that’s wrong. We should enjoy the process of building a layout as much as the operation of the finished railway. If it takes two years to lay all that track instead of one, so what? You’re spending time in the train room, engaged in a hobby you love.

I also learned that just as in this hobby, the woodworking hobby is populated by a broad range of characters. It’s nice to know this isn’t something exclusive to model railroading!

I haven’t said a lot about the saw itself. My friend Chris Abbott joined me for this seminar and he’s written his own report about the experience, in which he describes the tool we built in more detail. I encourage you to give it a read.

(*”A walk in the rum aisle”. If you enjoy adult beverages, you’ll probably relate to this: Normally, you have a favourite tipple and when buying alcohol you tend to go with what you know – maybe gin, maybe vodka, maybe single malt. But every so often, you venture into a different aisle – “the rum aisle” – and pick up something you normally wouldn’t.)

3 thoughts on “Building a Classic Bow Saw with Steven Der-Garabedian

  1. Trevor,

    Great post, very useful tool. Several years ago went and learned how to make Windsor chairs. What fun!, still have not stained it, but one of these days.

    I prefer the whiskey and beer aisles myself, but every once in the while, find myself in the wine aisles!

  2. A grand day out! Need to locate a better rasp to help shape the cheeks and stretcher of the saw. The Lee Valley spokeshave is a real treat to use, however.

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