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 ship saws, 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.