Monday, 2 August 2010

Trempé Coulaux & Co Veneer Saw...

While I was yacking a while back in one of these posts I mentioned that I had purchased a new veneer saw that I hadn't seen yet. Well now the thing is sitting on a shelf right over my main computer station so I can sit back and look at it occasionally. I get a fair buzz out it, I have to tell you.

This isn't a veneer saw for the weak at heart. The thing is 20" long and 5" wide. The mahogany handle runs its full length and shows all the dings, dents and divots of having seen some serious use over its lifetime.

From the latter part of the 19th century, it was produced by Trempé Coulaux & Co. This meant nothing to me until I researched the company. As it turned out, this is the offshoot of the company that used to make Napoleon's swords. I do not hold Napoleon with anywhere near the high regard that many do, but I will acknowledge that the man knew quality when he saw it.

After purchasing it from Jim Bode Tools, I had him ship it to Woodnut4 so he could work his magic on it. A previous owner had tried to change the teeth to a rip configuration and had done a very poor job of it, so Daryl's first order of business was to joint the teeth, which served to display some very real problems.

The main problem was some missing teeth. According to Daryl, the steel is seriously hard, so when whoever tried to set the teeth, some simply snapped off. This resulted in Daryl jointing the teeth down to nothing and starting again.

With the blade off the handle, some other issues arose with the saw. Someone had added a shim between the blade and the handle, cocking the top of the blade away from it, I assume to give a more comfortable grip. What it also did was helped to throw the blade out of true, so I had Daryl dump it.

Next was a serious crack in the handle. To me, this is not a big deal. I mean, lets face it, if we don't have a crack or two somewhere when we are a hundred plus years old, it will be a miracle.

Daryl glued the crack up using CA glue.

Once the handle was secure, he jointed it with his Stanley No.10. Nice looking plane, by the way.

With the handle back to true, it was ready to accept the blade again, this time holding it true which I believe is the purpose of this type of full length handle.

As this is a French made saw, we decided to file the new teeth in the traditional French manner. There isn't a set to these teeth, each one filed like a "Peg Tooth", with equal rake front and back. The teeth configuration is so the blade can butt up against a guide and not have to worry about damaging them in the process. Completely done by hand, as you can see, Daryl has a very good eye for this sort of thing.

Assembled, the saw is now ready to ship to me so I can finally take a gander at it.

It was quite a coincidence that the Lee Valley Newsletter that arrived around the same time as the saw had the following image displayed in its, "What Is It" column. In it, D.S. Orr, a well respected authority on vintage tools, states that he believes the saw is not a veneer saw at all, but instead, suggests that it is either a dedicated tenon saw used by furniture makers or a molding trimming saw or even a stair saw. He does not think it is a veneer saw at all.

Hey, far be it from me to differ with an authority in tools, but...

I do not think that you can go by what teeth a vintage saw has as teeth configuration change over time.

Mr. Orr suggests, because Lee Valley's example has the secondary plate on top of the blade, it was used to rest on the floor, the secondary plate keeping the teeth from dragging on the floor while it was used to trim baseboards. If this is its intentional use, why is that plate so far back from the teeth? 

Mr. Orr also suggests that the handle was created for a two-handed grip. Maybe, but I don't have to stretch my imagination too far to quickly come up with a more comfortable tote arrangement that would be a hell of a lot more comfortable while cutting a baseboard on my knees. And while we are on the discussion of cutting baseboards on your knees, I would certainly want a saw with more aggressive teeth while doing it.

The article also suggests that chair makers and furniture makers might have used this saw from trimming tenons and such on partially assembled pieces. My saw is 5" wide. I haven't built much furniture with hand tools, but the little I have resulted in using a much, much smaller and narrower saw when fine-tuning joints.

If you look at any example of a currently produced French veneer saw, while much shorter, coming in on average at about 5 inches, you will instantly see similarities in design. They still use the same style of handle, the handle still runs the full length of the saw, and the saw has the same teeth configuration as Daryl laid on mine. This configuration matches other examples of this same saw that I have seen in the past.

My final argument against Mr. Orr's suggested uses for this saw is simple - both Lee Valley's and mine, along with every other example of these long versions that I have seen, come with a hanger ring on one end. To me, this makes it a shop tool, something that is hung on the wall or in a large cabinet. If it was intended to cut baseboards, molding or stairs, that ring wouldn't exist because the saw would normally be stored in a chest, and chests are not high enough to hang a 20" saw from a hook.

For me, this is a veneer saw produced to cut very large sheets of veneer. Right or wrong, that is what it is configured for now and that is what its future use will be for as long as I own it.

Veneer, stair, molding or tenon saw, it is still one very cool looking saw.




  1. Mitchell,

    I think it is a tenon saw used in a tenon clamp for making the tenon ends of chair parts.

    It appears in a French catalogue as: scies a moulures, pour scier sur les boltes a recaler


  2. And of course, with Stephen's knowledge of old materials, old processes and old tools, I had to do an immediate translation which only served to frustrate me further.

    The result? This email...

    Hey Stephen;

    Thanks for the comment but I'm in trouble with it as my French will get me as far as ordering a mushroom and cheese omelette, and that's it. I did a Google translation of "scies a moulures, pour scier sur les boltes a recaler" and it came back as, "trim saws, for cutting on a Boltes readjust". So the question now is, what's a "Boltes readjust"?

    I impatiently await his response.

  3. Mitchell,

    I to had a bit of difficulty, but this french tool catalogue shows the exact saw.

    Also the clamp [I posted about this on my blog] is called Boites A Recaler, which makes them related. The saw I use is slightly different but also listed on the same page that has a saw just like yours. The saw is used to cut tenons on the ends of pieces of wood used in chair making, etc.