Ship Saws and Boat Builds

Many of our salty, sawdust encrusted friends who are building backyard boats have discovered that a piece of equipment that is paramount to a successful boat build is the ship saw.  Unlike a regular band saw, which has a table that can be set at different angles, with a ship saw, the whole thing tilts while the table stays flat. It’s this feature that sets a ship saw apart from a band saw. This tilting saw becomes important when cutting rolling bevels, an angled edge that changes over the length of the plank. Each of these boatbuilders, from Leo building Tally Ho to Alix and Steve building Arabella, and even Louis Sauzedde, have sourced an older, vintage model ship saw that they restored and basically rescued from certain demise. It’s a testament to the story of passing down old tools of the trade to younger craftsmen who appreciate the history and the importance of these original boat building tools. 

If you were to try to source a new ship saw today, you would have a hard time finding one. These vintage machines were largely built after WW1 in a time of prosperity for the US. Shipbuilding was keeping many laborers busy and these saws were found in many of the larger shipyards and boatbuilding shops.
In fact, if you travel around today, you will find many of these same saws in public boatbuilding museums such as Mystic Shipyard where they are busy restoring the Mayflower II.  The Wooden Boat School in Maine, The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock has a ship saw built in the 1930s by L. Power & Co. of Philadelphia and so will most of the bigger wooden boat building yards – and most of them will be “vintage” machines.


As Leo describes in the first Tally Ho video below, acquiring an old machine such as a ship saw, is a responsibility of sorts. Most are sold for a song or passed down with the understanding, as is the case with Leo, that it will be restored and put to good use, hopefully restoring or building a ship such as Tally Ho.

Check out each of these master’s ship saws and admire the tool that completes any great boat shop.




11 responses to “Ship Saws and Boat Builds

  1. I am restoring a 32 in ch saw- She is done except for power. I have a couple of brand new 3 ph motors and would like to know if any of you use a digital speed controller and if so how does that work for you?

    1. Ours is set up with a 3 hp 3 phase motor with a VFD. The VFD converts the single phase power from the outlet to 3 phase for the motor and also gives us digital control of the speed. It is set for a slow soft start and a slow stop, we can also adjust the speed on the fly. Our VFD can be programmed with a bunch of different settings, we set just the slow start/stop and for it to go to a mid range speed, we just adjust it from there depending on the task.
      So far it has worked very well, time will tell if it holds up in the long run.
      Hope that helps!

      1. Forgot to mention
        The 3hp seems adequate, it bogs down if you try to cut big timber too fast (re-saw 14″ dried white oak) but if you feed that same timber nice and slow it will eat it right up if the blade is decently sharp.
        Same with speed, we run it at a much lower rpm than most modern band saws. I personally really like that it cuts slower and the blade is not moving at mach 2, helps keep it from over heating when cutting the big stuff.

        1. can you tell me what VFD you are using. I bought one online and it seems a bit fragile although they say it will handle a 5 hp motor
          The documentation keeps you guessing and is definitely not complete
          so I am thinking of finding another. Any foresight is appreciated..

          1. Ours is a teco fm50 fluxmaster it’s supposed to handle up to 3hp. A chap from Germany helped us figure it out, gotta love the knowledge on the wooden boat forum!
            The vfd’s don’t like extreme temps, sun or dust. I built a wooden box for ours with a clear panel in the lid so I can read the display and the whole bottom is a air filter, the vfd is mounted in the middle of the box with 2-3” of space all around it. Hopefully in the long run it keeps the sun off, dust out and has plenty of space and air to keep the vfd cool. The speed adjustment on the fly and soft start/stop is in my opinion totally worth the quirks of the vfd so far.

  2. Really nice saw. I like to know if anyone know about a similar saw. As I am looking for one that have solid table and adjustable blade. for cutting frame angles. where you can adjust while cutting. I have a project going with a 60 fot cutter. Old Norwegian fishing boat.

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