May 12 2012

Improving the Bench Hook for Sawing.

We’ve all used them; the venerable old Bench Hook for sawing. They do the job, sure, but they also have limitations for many situations. Plastic miter boxes too can have their limitations. Height is one and guide wear is another. The pivoting miter box with saw is a cool looking gizmo, and some work well.

The down side of good miter boxes that come with a pivoting saw is that the best ones came down the pike a century ago, and even then they were not all created equal. Many create as many conundrums as they were meant to resolve, the good ones take a lot of effort to find, and there is one saw for cutting everything with them. One saw for all crosscuts does not work well for all situations.


I’ve wanted to develop a Bench Hook that would be a good companion to our shooting boards for some time now, and quite a few of our customers have expressed a want for one as well. My criteria for such a tool was all about the capabilities. I wanted more flexibility, and to remove some of the limitations of the common mitering fixtures and improve the ergonomics of sawing for the woodworker. This required that I take a different approach than the traditional route, and to a degree the sawyers skill is a bit more in play, but I feel the overall gains were worth it!

Our shooting boards and accessories allow woodworkers to shoot a lot of angles, and a bench hook was needed to help with that. Accurate sawing close to the line creates a superior shooting experience. I also wanted to create a fixture that would allow the woodworker to choose the right saw for the work, rather than limit them to just one.


We call it the East/West Bench Hook. It’s the ergonomic Western or Japanese style handsaw bench hook solution. It’s a new approach to an old problem, fixturing work so it can be sawn. We wanted a tool that worked both with the wood and with the woodworker. This fixture helps create possibilities!

One of the biggest barriers to accurate sawing is poor body posture and ergonomics. Sawing at 90 degrees to the work offers the best body mechanics, but as soon as angles are introduced to the left or right, our bodies have to over reach or we have to introduce flex to our wrists that always affect accuracy when sawing. Sadly, it is always in the miter where our want for accuracy is highest

Proper posture and good body mechanics are a large part of why successful sawing takes place. That and a sharp, well tuned saw that is right for the work. Our new bench hook focuses the sawyer on proper body position, always sawing perpendicular to the bench, with no contortions or over-reaching that introduces poor ergonomics and posture while cutting angles. Besides, why not develop sawing skills?

The East/West Bench Hook removes many of the barriers to good sawing technique. With this bench hook, the sawyer guides the saw. The work is positioned to facilitate the sawyer. All the sawyer has to do is develop their best stance, concentrate on good posture and mechanics, then focus on sawing to the line with clear vision of the work at any angle.

The fence is the East/West function of the Bench Hook, and offers that distinction in a couple of different ways.


The fence is located in the middle of the fixture, and can pivot 90 degrees above and below the centerline. It has a fixturing point at 90 degrees, and dual fixturing points at 22.5 and 45 degrees both above and below the 90. There is adjustment in the fence mounting, should one want to set the angle for high accuracy. The pivot and fixture points are threaded inserts set in counter bores and bedded in epoxy. Simply tighten the thumbscrews in place with finger pressure.


Fixturing any angle that is not provided for with fixture points is easy! This fence can be set for any angle +/- 90 degrees from center! All that is needed is to remove the fixturing thumbscrew and position the fence as you require. Clamp it to the bench with an “F” Clamp. The fence is long enough for a clamp to reach at nearly any angle.

Setting the fence for any angle is easy. Like our shooting boards, the fence is designed to be set with commonly found, inexpensive plastic drafting triangles. Align the triangle with the edge of the replaceable insert, and set the fence angle. Then either use the fence mounting screws or clamp the fence in place as based on your angle. Remember handsaw cuts are not usually super high accuracy, and leave a rough surface. Fine cuts that are destined for high accuracy and smooth finish are meant to be followed by a plane on the shooting board.


The other East/West is that both sides of the fence work as a stop for the work, so both Western Push Saws and Japanese Pull Saws can be used with this fixture. The Pull Saws work best when the Hook is clamped in a vise. To add to this sawing versatility, you can choose from any appropriate saw you have for the work you’re doing, So long or short saws, and coarse or fine saws can be used to fit the task at hand. This is important, because the appropriate saw for the job is why there are different saws in the first place.

The East/West Bench Hook is sturdy; it’s made to handle wear and tear. While the fence is set for accurate angles, it isn’t sawn through. This bench hook has a replaceable “sacrificial surface” under the sawing area. There is a line drawn down the middle as an alignment target for accurate sawing.


The fixture comes with three replaceable inserts; one is installed, and 3-Packs of replacement inserts can be ordered as well. No matter how much this fixture gets used, the replaceable inserts help keep it in top condition. The inserts can be changed very quickly with a 5/32 hex key.

Another nice feature of the East/West Saw Hook is it’s size. It is robust, yet low profile, and has approximately the same size footprint as our shooting boards. If fact, when storing, this fixture will easily stack on top of one of our shooting boards and take up little storage space!


When using the fixture, Set the fence to the appropriate angle, position the layout lines on the work over the line on the fixture’s replaceable insert and you’re on target. Plenty of room for leaning the saw to any angle for compound cuts, or focus on keeping it square to the work, then all you have to do is focus on the sawing. Remember, the working stock can be placed in front of the fence for use with Western style “push” saws, or behind the fence for Japanese style “pull” saws.

Whether the work is 6 x 6 bench legs or fine moldings made with hollows and rounds, this is the sawing fixture for it. Choose the saw you have that best fits the circumstance. Again, compound cuts are as easy as cutting squarely. Lay out the lines as you normally would, and pivot the fence to match. Then simply focus on sawing to the line with proper body stance and position.

We build the East/West Bench Hook to last with proper care. Available in Right or Left-Hand versions to help you saw the way you want to. Let us custom make one just for you! We’re taking orders. Please have a look at all our Handsaw Accessories in the Woodworks Store!

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© Copyright 2012 by Rob Hanson for All Rights Reserved.

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