Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Saw That Never Was...

You really do have to love the power of the web. You really do.

On Monday, I was the proud owner of a very rare saw, one which was my only tool that originated in France, one made by an old and respected French company, one that was tuned and ready for a very specific use. Monday, I was the proud owner of a Française scie à bois de placage – a French veneer saw.

Two days later, through the power of the Internet, I now own a Française scie a recaler.

How did all this come about? Through the interaction and sharing of information on the web.

I posted an article on this blog on Monday that discussed a new purchase, one that I thought was a vintage French veneer saw. It was sold to me as a veneer saw and I accepted that this was its intended use as I had seen a few of these saws around the web and they were all labeled as veneer saws.

In the post I gave a link to an article written by D.S. Orr, which claimed this saw wasn’t a veneer saw at all, but a stair, tenon or molding saw. Having never learned to not argue with someone with more knowledge than I own, I gave arguments why I didn't agree with him.

Enter Stephen Shepherd: Tuesday morning, Stephen, from the Full Chisel blog, left a comment on this post stating he had seen the saw in a French tool catalogue and it was listed as a “scies a moulures, pour scier sur les boltes a recaler”. Stephen surmised that he thought this meant that it is probably a tenon saw used in a tenon clamp for making tenon ends of chair parts.

Stephen has a post about this type of clamp that he made, as well as one for the saw he created to go with it.

I have mentioned Stephen Shepherd often in these posts, so it is no surprise that I hold his expertise in all things to do with historical processes in woodworking in the highest regard. The man is a walking encyclopedia on the subject, so I was thrilled to finally have someone I know who is an authority on these things tell me the veneer deal with the saw is all wet.

My next order of business was to get an good translation of the French listing Stephen quoted from the catalogue.

Enter Google: To say my French is non-existent is putting things mildly. I am lucky *Canada is bilingual; otherwise I wouldn’t know that “champignons” stood for mushrooms, rather than an Olympic Gold Medal winner; a bit of French that I learned off a can of them.

Heading to Google Translate, I found it a little lacking as well. While trying, it came up with the English translation for, “scies a moulures, pour scier sur les boltes a recaler” as, “trim saws, for cutting on a Boltes readjust”. Ok, “Trim saw” I get, “for cutting on a” I also understand, I also can relate to the word, “readjust”, but what the hell is a “Boltes”? So I ask Google Translate to translate that single word as it is the most important word in the whole lot of them and it came back with, “Boltes” as…wait for it…”Boltes”.

Then turning to the all-encompassing and entering this single word resulted in hits for Jill Bolte, Henry Bolte, Fredrik Boltes, Frank Boltes…you get the picture.

Reenter Stephen: Asking Stephen what a “Boltes readjust” is, he really wasn’t sure as his French, it seems, isn’t much better than mine, but I give him credit as he is doing well for someone who doesn’t live in a *bilingual country where he can learn a second language off a soup can.

Enter W. Patrick Edwards: As the use of this saw has now been reduced to determining what two words in French mean in English, something I wasn’t able to determine through the usual routes, I sat here thinking of what to do. It suddenly dawned on me that some recent posts on WoodTreks about Hammer Veneering and Hide Glues, stuff I had read so much about on Stephen’s Blog, was actually the catalyst that caused me to buy this damn saw in the first place. The reason for this was that the craftsman that Keith Cruickshank filmed doing these demonstrations had an authority about him that wasn’t cocky or anything, it was just...well… authoritative. I was so impressed, actually, that I searched out information about him on the web and even spoke to Keith about him. It didn’t take long to discover that the W. Patrick Edwards that was demonstrating how to lay down veneer on a scrap of wood in these movies was actually a rather well known and respected historical furniture restorer and conversationalist who is also renowned in these circles for his veneered creations.

Doing more research on Mr. Edwards now resulted in a conviction on my part that this was the man for the job at hand; someone to tell me, and the rest of the vintage tool world, exactly what the hell this saw really is.

I started to write out Mr. Edwards résumé here, which would not only substantiate my position that he is an authority, but also be self-explanatory as to why I call this man “Mr. Edwards”, but the reality is, this blog isn’t long enough. Just to give you some highlights, Mr. Edwards studied under Dr. Ramond at the ecole Boulle in Paris where he earned his Accreditation. His “atelier” (Google Translate states this means “workshop”) in San Diego is also accredited by ecole Boulle, a rare honour anywhere outside of France. He is also the head of the American School of French Marquetry and an affiliate of The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. If you ever bought a jar of “Old Brown Glue” (animal protein glue), he was the one that developed it. His opinions have been published in multiple magazines and he has appeared on many television programs. If you subscribe to Lee Valley's Newsletters, you might remember Mr. Edward's name from the article from the May, 2010 edition entitled; "A Return to Tradition: the Marquetry Chevalet".

The kicker for me, though, was discovering that, as part of his studies to earn his accreditation, Mr. Edwards had to learn enough French, particularly in the area of marquetry and veneering, to appease his master.

If you are still not convinced that I should take this man’s word as gospel when it comes to what this saw is, here is a picture of his latest work…

These two examples are some of Mr. Edward's latest creations,
the original table, built in 1834, was owned by Louise-Marie,
the eldest daughter of King Louis-Phillippe of France

Ok, now that any questions about his credentials are out of the way, the question now is, would this man take the time to answer my question about this saw? Simply – Yes!

Here is exactly what came back to me from Mr. Edwards about an hour after I sent off my request:


I am glad you asked. I have the same tool, which I got in Paris. I believe it is not found in English or American workshops. It is called a "scie a recaler" and used with a "boite a recaler". In English this would be a mitre saw used with a mitre jack. The mitre jack was placed in the workbench to hold the molding or wood so that a perfect 45 degree angle could be sawn. The mitre saw has no set so that it is flush on the back surface and does not saw into the face of the jack. The jack has a 45 degree surface and a 90 degree surface on the opposite side. Either side is functional. The saw is worked back and forth, set with a crosscut tooth. After the saw is used a mitre plane is worked across the surface on the face of the jack to smooth the joint properly. So, you need a mitre jack, mitre saw and mitre plane for the complete set.

This is not a veneer saw in any case.

On top of this complete answer, Mr. Edwards even attached images of his saw being demonstrated by Patrice, Mr. Edwards' business partner:

While Mr. Edward's definition is not exactly the same as Mr. Shepherd's, they both share the common element of the saw being designed for trimming using a jack of one type or another; Mr. Edwards stating a Mitre Jack, while Mr. Shepherd states a Flush Jack.

So, Monday I owned a “Français du bois de placage de scie” and today, I own a “Français Boite a recaler, scie a recaler”. Go figure.

My saw will now head back to Daryl to be reconfigured so it is proper for the job it was intended for; a crosscut configuration for cutting angles in a jack.



Note: If any French-speaking individual finds my poor attempts at dealing with the French language insulting, I truly apologize. Any comments that I made regarding my attempts at translations were solely directed towards my own incompetency, and in no way reflect upon the French language.

*How Canadian Bilingual Laws Saved My Bacon (actually, eggs)…

My wife and I were on a Caribbean cruise and after a week of rich and heavy food, we were seriously fed up with it. On this particular day, we got off the ship in St. Maarten with the plans to spend the day wandering. While it didn't take long for ether of us to realize everyone around us was speaking French, because I didn’t have to communicate with any of them, I really didn’t give it much thought.

Come lunch, we headed to a beautiful French Bistro. Seated, with the waiter standing at our table ready to take our order, I finally clued in to the fact that we were in trouble as I did not speak a word of French. As it turned out, the waiter and I were even, because he, it seems, never spoke a word of English, either.

Thankfully, Canada is a bilingual country, our food labels listed, by law, in both French and English.

Visualizing a can of mushrooms, I remembered the French label stating it was “champignons”, my mind holding it simply because it looks so much like “champion”, something an idiot like me can remember. Racing around inside my mind for an image of a package of cheese, I finally remembered, “Fromage”. Where I ran into real trouble was that omelets, at that time, were not pre-packaged, so I had to settle for the two out of three.

With great gusto and trying to act the world traveler, I looked at our kind waiter and said, “Champignons uh, fromage, aww ohmalet”, and added, “deuo Coca cola, mercy”.

We did have the best lunch we had had in a long time, whatever the country, but I am sure that waiter turned to the chef after we left and said, “Jezzez, Fred, I thought I was going to bust a gut when I heard that idiot trying to speak French?”


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