Veritas 20tpi Dovetail Saw
By Derek Cohen
Veritas is well known for their innovation in
tool design, and this certainly applies when it comes to their dovetail
saws. While the design is recognisable as a backsaw – a saw with a blade
stiffened by a spine -
have broken with tradition when it comes to construction in order to
produce a design that can perform as well as expensive custom and
production saws … and sell for less than half as much.
Gone is the metal spine, and
no longer is the blade morticed into the handle and secured with
“Each saw has a spine molded from
an advanced material incorporating stainless-steel powder for weight,
glass fiber for stiffness, and a polymer resin binder. An over-molded
blade and stainless-steel handle-mounting bolt creates a solid one-piece
blade/spine/mount assembly. A single brass fastener secures the bubinga
handle. Made of high-carbon steel, the blade of each is 9-1/4" long and
0.020" thick, with a cut depth of about 1-9/16". (It is) 14-1/4" long
are now two dovetail saws in the range. The 14 tpi version was released a
year ago, and just recently Veritas have added a 20 tpi. It is the latter
saw that is the focus of this review.
the tooth profile
Dovetail saw teeth are typically sharpened to a rip
profile (filed straight across like little chisels, see illustration
below) as the cut they make is with the grain.The Veritas saw blades are
high carbon steel manufactured and sharpened in Japan. Unlike the typical
Japanese saw (which has impulse hardened teeth), the Veritas is capable of
being re-sharpened with files.
What is that?
Tooth size is generally measured by the number of teeth per inch. This is
referred to as “teeth per inch”, or “tpi”. To calculate this, over
the space of one inch, count the number of gullets (the V between
the pointy bits – see illustration below). Now you have probably also read
of tooth size being referred to a “ppi”. This stands for “points per
inch” and is just another way of measuring the same thing. Here you
count the number of points (the sharp bits) in one inch. What makes all
this more confusing is that there will be one more point in the first inch
that a gullet, so a 15 tpi saw blade is the same thing as a 16 ppi saw
blade! The Veritas 14 tpi is, therefore, the same as 15 ppi.
measure their saws in tpi. Side-by-side the 14 tpi and the 20 tpi saws are
identical to one another (other than the notation on the blade). Here is a
closer look at the differences in teeth size.
14 tpi to the left and 20 tpi to the right
The Veritas saw blades compare with most modern sawmakers, such as
Lie-Nielsen (and the original Independent Tools saw), Wenzloff & Sons, and
Adria, in having a thickness of 0.020”. Very recently some sawmakers have
begun introducing thinner blades into their dovetail saws, such as 0.015”
(Eccentric Tools) and 0.018” (Gramercy and Wenzloff & Sons). It is not so
much that a thin kerf is considered to be important for either sawing
accuracy or smooth walls, but that these reduce effort in sawing (less
wood to remove) and may aid in speeding the saw cut.
Surface smoothness is more likely to reflect the amount of set added to
the teeth. Dovetail saws are generally required to cut to a maximum depth
of ¾”, typically more shallowly that that, and very rarely beyond 1”. For
such a shallow cut there is far less chance of a blade binding in the kerf
and, consequently, most decent dovetail saws have very little set. This is
often referred to a “minimal set”. Typically, this is around .003” on each
side of the blade and, in this regard, the Veritas saws have the same
design as others mentioned here. The amount and the consistency of set is
an important factor in how a saw will work, especially with regard to the
straightness of the kerf it cuts. Too much set (as often found in cheap,
mass produced saws) leaves the teeth rolling around in the kerf and free
to go off in undesired directions. When we use the Veritas saw we shall
discover how straight it cuts.
The traditional backsaw handle is wood and attached to the saw blade with
nuts (see the IT, below). The Veritas handle attaches to the body in a
manner more common to a handplane.
the shape come from? Essentially, the shape of the handle was chosen for
its comfort, and modelled from a few vintage saws in the Lee Valley
archive. Those who have seen pictures of the Lee Valley’s vast collection
of woodworking tools will appreciate that they had many models of vintage
saw handles from which to experiment.
For a fascinating insight into the design
history of this saw, read
part, there is little to separate the handle profiles of the Lie-Nielsen,
Veritas and Independence Tools, with the exception that the latter is
Left-to-right: Lie-Nielsen, Veritas, Independent Tools
Why a saw blade with 20 tpi?
The thickness of drawer and panel sides is generally dependent on the
overall width and the weight the structure must carry. Drawer thickness
for cabinets may range from ¼” to ¾”. In the USA cabinet drawer sides
appear to be slightly thicker than their UK and Australia counterparts,
where sides 5/16” thick are often considered the traditional choice.
There is a Rule of Thumb that
suggests 5 to 6 teeth should always be within the saw kerf at all times.
In line with this, a 14 tpi saw is going to be better suited for ½” to ¾”
thick boards, while boards ½” and below will be better suited to a saw
with around 20 tpi.
The question I am curious to answer
here is whether this rule can be substantiated in practice?
Rake and their relationship to ease of sawing
“Hang” refers to the angle at which the handle is orientated to the
blade. The hang of the Veritas saws is identical to that of an
Independence Tools (IT), my reference dovetail saw, one long considered
the model for dovetail saws in the modern period. It is also identical
to the Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw, for those looking for another example.
however, a difference in the rake of their teeth. The Veritas saws have a
rake angle of 14°, the IT a rake of about 4° and the LN a rake of 0°.
All things equal, the more vertical the teeth (0° being
vertical), the more aggressively (faster) the saw will cut. Conversely,
the greater the amount of rake, the less aggressively (slower) the saw
will cut. The advantage to fast cutting is that there is less
opportunity for errors to creep into the saw cut.
The disadvantage of teeth with little rake is that the
saw will have more difficulty starting a saw cut. And conversely, the
greater the amount of rake, the greater the ease in starting a saw cut.
Hardwoods also benefit from more rake. Those with the
least rake will be experienced as “notchy”.
Less teeth per inch equal larger teeth. More teeth per
inch equal smaller teeth. 14 tpi will cut faster than 20 tpi.
upshot is that the 20 tpi Veritas saw, with its 14° of rake, is expected
to start easily, cut smoothly, but also more slowly.
When starting the saw cut one has a choice of
three methods from which to choose. The
method is to start at the far edge of the
board, saw a slight bevel, and then saw horizontal. The advantage here is
that the blade gains a purchase in the wood for sawing. The downside is
that a saw with zero rake will get stuck in the kerf.
method is to start on the horizontal and cut the wood evenly. The saw here
is easier to start than with Rob’s method.
method is to start the cut on the near edge so that one can follow the two
adjoining marked lines, and then level the saw. This also effectively
reduced the rake of the teeth and makes for an easy start. The downside is
that a low bench can make the stance uncomfortable.
significant issue in evaluating the “feel” of a dovetail saw is that the
saw may be used differently by users. The hang, the rake of the teeth, the
angle at which it is held to the wood … all these factors affect the
relationship of the saw to the wood. One saw may be experienced
differently by a variety of users because they do not use these aspects in
the identical manner.
The IT was the forerunner to the Lie-Nielsen
(who later went on to manufacture the IT under their own name).
Information about the IT may be found in an article
Veritas 20 tpi saw was the principal focus in this review. I included the
Veritas 14 tpi and the 15 ppi Independence Tools (IT) dovetail saws for
Independence Tools (IT) saw above, and the Veritas saw below
the saws felt in use
hand and unweighted, the handle of the Veritas feels nearly
indistinguishable from my Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw. They have
near-identical dimensions, especially in the girth. The IT has a slightly
thinner handle. My palm measures 4” across, which I have been told is on
the broader side (I don’t really believe that!). The Veritas (and the LN)
is my preferred fit. The IT feels just a little too small. The only reason
that the IT has remained my go-to dovetail saw has been that it cuts so
this is a long way round to say that I very much like the Veritas handle.
saws are weighted, it is evident that the brass-spined IT is heavier in
the toe. The lighter Veritas’ (both the 14 and 20 tpi) have a neutral
balance. In practice this translates into the IT requiring less downforce
as you saw. The differences are not great, however, and both saws respond
positively to a light touch when sawing.
that that 15 ppi IT started fairly smoothly in all woods, hard and soft.
I’d score it 7/10. There was never a hint of any binding once sawing.
tpi Veritas also started smoothly, more smoothly than the IT. I’d score
this 9/10. It would cut cleanly and easily until it reached a depth of
about ½”, when it would begin to bind very slightly. This was never enough
to impede the saw cut, and really only apparent when used alongside the
IT. This 14 tpi Veritas also cut faster than the 15 ppi IT, which came as
a surprise (bearing in mind that the Veritas has significantly more rake
than the IT).
tpi Veritas started like a dream – extremely smoothly - the easiest of the
three saws. Easily a score of 10/10. It also cut the slowest of the saws.
This was noticeable in the presence of the other saws - generally
requiring an extra stroke – but otherwise may not have been evident. As
with the 14 tpi version, slight binding was present. This was less than on
the 14 tpi and again minimally intrusive.
with the slight binding was easy enough – a wipe of candle wax across the
teeth was sufficient to cause this to be a non-issue.
Waxing the teeth.
the saws cut
interested in the straightness of cuts and the smoothness of the kerf left
behind. The latter should be self-evident: it is more common to join woods
of different densities, one hard and one soft. If the join is a tight fit,
the softer wood will compress and fill any gaps in the completed dovetail
joint. However, if one is using two hardwoods, neither of which will
compress, then the accuracy of sawing is more important, as is the
smoothness of the kerf. Further, thinner boards will create smaller
dovetails, and in turn this maximises the impact of the kerf quality. Note
that the width of the kerf is actually unimportant, other than a
wider kerf requiring more effort to saw.
the results are of sawing different thickness boards – from ¾” down to
1/8” – of both hardwood and a medium hard wood. The hardwoods were West
Australian Jarrah and USA Mesquite, both recognised as brittle. The medium
hardwood was Tasmanian Oak (a eucalypt).
of these segments is a front and rear elevation. As seen in all the series
of pictures, the kerf straightness was similar for all the saws. None
experienced any difficulty in holding a line.
measured the width of the kerfs using a set of feelers. Mine are metric,
however I converted this to imperial.
Veritas saws created a kerf .45mm (.0177”) wide In Tasmanian Oak. The IT
created a kerf .50mm (.0197”) wide.
these measurements did not make sense as the kerf should be .020” for both
saw blades plus .006” for the combined set, producing a total kerf of
.026” (.66mm). It occurred to me that there must be some springback within
each kerf. This hypothesis was supported by the .05mm wider kerfs on
Jarrah, a stiffer wood, although there appears to still be some springback
in Jarrah. I could squeeze .55mm (0.0216”) through the IT kerf and .45mm
(.0177”) through the Veritas kerfs.
Importantly, the figures indicate that there was more set on the IT than
on the Veritas saws.
a sample of the kerf faces by the three dovetail saws. As may be seen, the
14 tpi and 20 tpi Veritas saws were essentially identical and produced a
smoother surface than the 15 ppi IT saw. It must be noted, however, that
the surface of the IT was not considered to be unnecessarily coarse – just
that the Veritas kerfs were noticeably smoother.
test for the 20 tpi Veritas was to saw kerfs in a ¼” thick Jarrah board
approximately 1/16” apart. I did a great many of them. The saw cuts as
straight as a dye. It is a “point-and-shoot”. Here is a sample …
saws are capable of being used in all wood thicknesses. I liked
the 20tpi Veritas best for thin boards. It was easiest to start and
smoothest in practice. This is important with thin boards as they tend to
flex slightly and, especially with hardwoods, as larger teeth tend to
catch. I was
impressed with the 14 tpi insofar as I recognised that the smooth start
linked to the 14° rake makes this saw a dream for a novice dovetailer. For
the more advanced user on a budget, this saw will surprise with the speed
it cuts. It was faster than the IT, which I put down to the 14 tpi having
less set, which then required less waste to be removed.
boards greater than ½” I will, however, continue to stick with the 15 ppi
IT. It may not be as fast nor as smooth to start as the 14 tpi Veritas,
but it cuts more easily in the kerf, and it does so without the need for
lubrication. The reason appears to be that it has a touch more set. This
does make enough of a difference.
a dovetail saw
dovetail saws are about cutting dovetails, I have included below a
pictorial of some of the steps involved. This project used boards that
were ¼” thick, and therefore provided another vehicle to assess the 20 tpi
Veritas saw. The plan
was to build a box with a coopered lid for my wife.
is Jarrah. Final dimensions: 6" long x 3 1/2" wide x 3" high (at the
have the coopered lid along with the un-dimensioned boards that will make
up the sides. In the second picture the board ends are marked for the
depth of pins/tails.
are marked (and cut first), and then the boards are ganged together and
cut. The second picture demonstrates the finger support for the blade as
the saw cut is started.
are sawn, and then the waste is chopped out with a 1/16” dovetail chisel
(all that would fit). These are going to be tiny and skinny dovetails!
shoulder waste is removed ….
are traced from the outline of the tails with a thin-bladed marking knife.
I first remove the waste from the pins with a fretsaw ….
clean up the baselines with a chisel. I test fit only the ends of the
tip. Brittle wood into brittle wood is a recipe for splitting corners. I
support the sides with a clamp to prevent blow out when I hammer the ends
Once together I use a wedge of wood to tap between the pins.
close up of the dovetails:
… and the
completed box …
The Veritas saws offer a reliable
low price entry into the world of hand sawing at a level of performance
that rivals saws double its price. What impressed me most about the 20
tpi Veritas saw was the ease of starting - especially in very thin boards,
the comfort of the handle, the control of the saw, and the straightness of
the cuts. I was a less happy with the very slight binding. Overall, I would conclude that the
20 tpi version fulfils its brief as a dovetail saw for thinner boards,
specifically those under ½” thick.
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