Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hand Saws and M-16's

My drill sergeant taught me to shoot more accurately by making me shoot left handed.  I was thinking of this today while watching a video about hand sawing technique.  Interested in finding the link between the two?  Then you'll have to read more of this rather lengthy post.

Set-up for precision sawing requires many different body parts and movements be in line to ensure that sawing is square and true.  As a little refresher here, remember that no matter what kind of saw you are using, you want a good, light grip with the index finger sticking out like you are pointing it at what you are sawing, relaxed wrist, elbow and shoulder in a straight line with your sawplate and line of cut, and your feet spread apart with one in front of the other.

One other tidbit is your head should be right over your sawplate so your eye can see the kerf and where your saw is going without throwing any of the other body parts off-line.  Bob Rozaieski of the Logan Cabinet Shoppe has a great video blog about saw technique here.  Bob discusses a tip in this video of how he makes a small change with his head position and his saw cuts all became much more accurate.

While watching a video on my computer today by Ron Herman (over at Popular Woodworking's ShopClass On Demand), he mentions the importance of eye dominance with correct sawing.

In a nutshell, he says that most right handed people are right-eye dominant, and most left handed people are left-eye dominant.  This is great for sawing as it puts your dominant eye in the best place for seeing what is going on if your head is in the right place.

But, what if you are right-handed, but left-eye dominant, like me?

This is actually more common than you would think.  Ron Herman uses a variation of a trick I learned in Army Basic Training to help you determine your eye-dominance.  Here is how I learned it:

Pick a point to look at on the other side of the room.  Something like a letter on a sign or a corner of a picture frame or something.  Next, make a triangle with your hands, and while your hands are held out at arms length, put that point in the center of the triangle like this:

Now, close one eye, and then the other.  Which ever eye you can still see that point with is your dominant eye.  Try it 100 times and it will work every time.

If your dominant eye is the same as your dominant hand, then good for you, this is all easy.  If not, there are a few choices we need to make.  I think some of the ones I used in the Army may work here, too.

Before I joined the Army, I was a terrible shot, as I never really learned any of the fundamentals of shooting. Growing up in Montana, it is assumed that you are born with them, so if you can't shoot straight there must be something wrong with you.

This was actually beneficial when learning to shoot an M-16 at the rifle range.  I didn't have to unlearn anything before learning the right way.

My drill sergeant had the whole company do the simple trick that I described above, and I was one of many that was cross-dominant.  His solution was for us to learn to shoot left-handed.  Believe it or not, it worked and I shot left-handed every time I qualified at the range and kept my expert marksmanship badge every single time (every six months for eight years).  Shooting using my dominant eye rather than dominant hand allowed me to keep both eyes open while shooting, aiding in seeing the targets and reducing any unnecessary stress in the body.

I never would have considered shooting left handed on my own.  Now I can shoot either right, or left handed.  There really isn't any magic to how you hold a rifle, as M-16s are designed to be ambidextrous.

I learned another trick while learning to shoot skeet.  With shotguns, you focus on the target, whereas with rifles you focus on the front sight post.  Also, left-handed shotguns are not that common, so it is easier to learn to shoot shotguns right handed.

When focusing on the target, you are relying on your peripheral vision to see the sighting bead on the front of the gun.   This always leads to missing the target if your dominant eye takes over.

The trick I learned in this case was to put a little dab of Vaseline on my shooting glasses right at the point where my left eye would be trying to focus on the clay pigeon.  This worked awesome, as my left eye couldn't see, so my right eye took over.  All this without loosing depth perception.

Ron Herman  suggests closing your dominant eye, to train the other eye to take over while sawing.  This may work, but I sure am not disciplined enough to do it.  I imagine that this might be frustrating and perhaps dangerous.

I think I'll try these two techniques I learned while shooting and see what happens.  I am not such an expert sawyer that I will lose decades of experience and muscle memory trying it left-handed.  My guess is that with a little practice, one could get just as good that way as the other.  There could be a secret side benefit to this, too.  I find that it is far easier to cut to a line when the waste is on the left side of the line.  Perhaps my dovetails will grow in accuracy if I can change hands!

OK, that sounds crazy.  Perhaps the dab of grease on the glasses is a bit easier.

I'll let you know.


  1. I have this same problem and it effects my sawing dovetails big time. I now it do so I cut with the saw to the right of the cut line. When I do I one side I turn the board 180 and do it again. It's working so far for me.
    Now if I can xfer that to ripping/cross cutting a board.

  2. WOW. that is a nice trick.
    I just discoverd that I am left eye dominant. (I am right handed too).
    Coming to think of it, I normally compensate for this by turning my head a little, and thus making the right eye see the center.
    But perhaps I should try to see if I could saw using my left hand. It will definitely require some training though. I am also afraid that I might kink the sawblade on my dovetail saw.

    By the way, Ambidextrous is a cool word.


    1. Diane's favorite word is "Trajectory."

      I'm doubtful that sawing left-handed is a good answer. But, I'll give it a go and let you know what I think.

      My favorite German word is "Selbstbedinung."

    2. I can follow Diane on that one. That is a good word too.
      You mentioned a really good and seldom used word when we were having pizza. Sadly I don't remember it anymore.

      There are so many really cool German words. Especially because they don't see a problem in joining together several word to make up one precise description. Like Geschirspülemaschine (dishwasher).

      Say hi to Diane