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Father and Son – Independence Tools and Lie-Nielsen saws
As I understand it, in response to a growing demand for a quality dovetail saw in the mid 1990s, Pete Taran and Patrick Leach started Independence Tools to market one based on a 1830s English design. They considered this design to epitomize the perfect dovetail saw. Eventually the business was run by Pete Taran alone, and later sold to Lie Nielsen, who continue to sell this dovetail saw today.
Before IT was sold to LN, several hundred saws were built and sold. Every now-and-then one comes up for sale on eBay and generally sells for considerably more than the LN version that replaced it. About a month ago I won an unused Independence saw, and if that was not enough of a gloat, then you should know it cost significantly less than a new LN.
Actually this is only half the gloat. You see, since the seller lived in the USA, I had the saw shipped directly to my buddy Mike Wenzloff.
I have owned the LN version of the Independence dovetail saw for the past few years. It does not get as much use as I hoped it would since it has been a little less than ideal in my experience. Now don’t misunderstand me – the LN is a fabulous saw, and I return to it more and more, and each time I do it seems to get better. It is just that I find it difficult to start a cut (no matter how I change the way in which I use it). The LN will “hop” a little, and the danger then is that I lose the line. I have another dovetail saw, a vintage $10 John Cotterill, which like the LN is sharpened 15 tpi rip with minimal set but has about 14 degrees of rake (sharpening and setting done by myself). This cuts slower but with greater ease when starting and, thus, more reliability than the LN. All who have used this saw really like using it. What I really want is a saw that looks like the LN and cuts like the JC.
The teeth on the LN are filed with zero rake for an aggressive cut. I asked Mike to work his magic on the IT. Shortly after receiving the saw Mike emailed me, “I don't think this saw has ever sawn wood, so the teeth are well shaped and set. But the rake is about 4 degrees or less. Much too little for your woods. I figure I'll add 2-4 degrees of fleam, try it on Bloodwood, Lyptus and Jatoba. If it starts OK, then stop there. If not, add a little rake. All in all, if the fleam makes it easier to start then the impact on the usable depth simply wouldn't be able to be measured”.
I believe that Mike only needed to add the fleam (which would have been about 2 degrees), and not resharpen, per se.
I picked up the saw at the Post Office this morning on the way to the Perth Wood Show. Over at the Fine Woodworking stand (a woodworking group I am a member of), I was able to try it out alongside a demonstration of saw sharpening (being run by a friend, who co-opted me into the demo). The demonstrator had his LN Independence on hand, and so I was able to try them out together. Well, I was impressed! The Independence cut more smoothly than the LN and there was no hint of grabbing on the piece of wood I was given (not sure what it was).
Back home I had had a chance to do a short comparison with my LN, this time on some brittle Jarrah. How did the IT fare? The LN cuts well but it will grab at times (without warning). This new Independence Tools saw is smooth, never grabbed, yet appears to cut as quickly and aggressively as the LN.
The two saws are very similar on a physical level, but there are differences.
LN on top, IT at the bottom
Both blades are 9” long. Both have Curly Maple totes. Both are filed 15 tpi rip.
Side-by-side it is very evident which is which. The LN has the more polished, better finished woodwork. However it looks machined, whereas the IT has a softer and rounded profile, one that looks Made by Hand.
IT at left, LN at right
Saw nuts: LN above, IT below.
So how do they compare in the hand? The totes feel quite different. The IT is softer, rounder than the LN but it is also thinner. The IT is 22 mm thick vs the LN at 23.5 mm. Across the center of the tote the IT is 33 mm thick while the LN is 36mm. The LN feels more substantial while the IT molds into the palm. I can see that this would polarize users – some will prefer the LN while others will prefer the IT. I need more time to decide.
Regards from Perth
Post script: It is now three years on and the IT has become my go-to dovetail saw. While I prefer the extra size of the LN tote – it is one of the most comfortable and secure-feeling handles I have used on any dovetail saw – the IT just cuts so smoothly and reliably that I have been prepared to accept its slightly thinner tote. I sometimes wonder how I should refer to this saw – is it an IT or, since the sharpening is so much a central facet of the saw, should I call it a Wenzloff-IT?