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The Wakeling sawing is a version of the illusion of sawing a woman in half generally credited to American magician Alan Wakeling. In many ways, it is an improvement on the original Selbit sawing illusion that incorporates features of other later sawing illusions such as the Thin Model sawing. Like the Selbit sawing, the assistant is completely enclosed within the boxes covering them, and restrained by ropes fastened around their neck and feet. However, the boxes are similar in thickness to the Thin Model sawing and have doors in the side, as also found on the Thin Model, that allow the assistant to be seen within the boxes.


This version of the trick is generally associated with magician and inventor Alan Wakeling. Whilst Wakeling performed this illusion and perfected aspects of it, the general configuration and method have been attributed to an earlier magician, Virgil Harris Mulkey (1900–1989), aka. "The Great Virgil", who first performed it in 1942 and later passed on the idea to Wakeling.[1]


The magician presents a rectangular table just big enough to accommodate a person lying upon it. An assistant is introduced and several assistants are recruited from the audience. The magician presents a set of restraints consisting of a sturdy collar and a pair of ankle straps, each attached to a length of chain or rope. The assistant sits on the table with her legs stretched out and volunteers are invited to fasten the restraints around her neck and ankles. The ropes or chains are threaded through holes in the table and the ends given to volunteers, who are instructed to pull them tight and hold them that way throughout the illusion. The assistant is thus pulled down onto her back and secured in that position. Two halves of a large box are presented and fixed in place over the assistant, covering her completely. Side panels are opened to show the assistant is still in place lying flat on her back. The doors are closed again and the assistant is then divided into two by the insertion of two metal divider blades. Catches are then released to allow the table to be separated into two halves along with the box. The halves are parted and the assistant thus appears to have been cut into two completely disconnected pieces. The box and table are then pushed together, the restraints are released and the box is removed to allow the assistant to emerge unharmed.


Wakeling divided doors open

A Wakeling variation with the assistant shown divided.

Some magicians emphasize the cutting of the assistant by sawing between the two halves of the box before sliding the dividers into place.

In some performances, after the divider blades have been inserted, a sword is then thrust down through a hole in the centre of each half of the box, apparently impaling the divided assistant within, although many magicians omit this step.

Recently, some magicians have begun performing a slight variation on the illusion, in which the doors are opened for a second time after the box halves have been separated. This allows the audience to see the divided body of the assistant within, helping to confirm that they have indeed been cut in half.[2]

Wakeling variation1

Marcel Kalisvaart's Wakeling sawing - securing the girl.

In September 2011, Dutch illusionist Marcel Kalisvaart began performing a new version of the Wakeling sawing. In his version, the table and boxes are metal, rather than wood. Also, the table top is mounted so that it can be tipped into the vertical position and slid along on top of the supporting legs. Kalisvaart's performance begins with the table top in the vertical position at the base of the legs. The assistant to be divided is introduced, apparently unwilling to take part in the illusion. She is made to stand against the the table top, and the neck and ankle restraints are placed on her, securing her to the table top. With the assistant now restrained, the table top is lifted into the horizontal position and slid along so that it sits on both sets of legs. The metal boxes are then placed over the assistant and locked in place, and the divider blades are thrust through the gap between the boxes. With the dividers in place, the boxes are separated, dividing the assistant. Rather than then restoring the assistant, the boxes are rolled off stage with the assistant still divided.

Wakeling variation2

Marcel Kalisvaart's still-divided assistant on her tricycle.

Kalisvaart then continues with the rest of his show, apparently unperturbed by the fact that he has left one of his assistants. Suddenly, he is interrupted by the still-divided assistant riding onto the stage on a tricycle, with her upper half balanced on a thin board over the front wheels while her legs peddle the tricycle. She berates him for leaving her in two pieces before telling him that she is quitting, and then rides off-stage again.

Although Kalisvaart usually performs the illusion on one of his regular assistants, in early 2012, he appeared at a special pre-Olympics event in London where he performed the illusion on medal-winning cyclist Victoria Pendleton.

Notable performances

  • Kalin_and_Jinger-thin_sawing_in_half

    Kalin and Jinger-thin sawing in half

    The performance of this illusion by husband and wife illusion team Kalin and Jinger is generally considered by both other magicians and audiences to be the best in the world.


  1. Charvet, David and Julie (1991). The Great Virgil. Charvet Studios. pp. 78–79. http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/search_post.php?topic=153378&forum=7&post=5066417 
  2. Rob Lake Magic 2013 HD - video containing performance of illusion where the doors are opened after the box halves have been separated in order to show the divided assistant within.