I was useful once, capable and true…

“Where you gonna plug that one in?” the old man said as he nudged my elbow jokingly.

I was standing in the scorching sun at the local stockyard flea market. I my hand, an artifact. The rusty spring steel and bleached apple wood bones that I held before me called out from a distant past:

“I was useful once, capable and true.”

The skewed back, evidence of an elegant tool of a more civilized age.

Now, I don’t know if that old timer grew up using hand saws or not. In all likelihood even if he had to use one as a boy, his first Black and Decker circular saw “liberated” him from it long ago. That didn’t bother me, just like it never bothers me that people use power tools. My grandfather was an electrician and spent his whole life wiring and maintaining a factory to use power equipment.

What was curious to me was that he spoke to me like I had no idea what I was holding in front of me – like I was looking for something to hang on the wall as decoration, or to paint an awful farm scene on. Certainly I wasn’t expecting to use that old saw, was I? IMG_20150610_214659

I picked that saw and two others up for a total of $3, threw them in my trunk and headed down the road.

I was on my way to a week of conferences so they just traveled around with me for a couple of days in the back of my car while I dreamed about what might be under that rust. The one I was interested in was clearly a Disston and the other was one of the mysterious “Warranted Superior” saws that float around the margins of the hand tool world. The third is a small unidentified skew-back that will probably make an appearance in a future post. All needed plenty of work.

When I got home I took the plates off and threw them in a vinegar bath for a few hours. While they were soaking I inspected the handles for cracks and fixed a few with CA and/or epoxy. Turned out that the WS was pitted beyond what I generally want to deal with so I’m not going to write anymore about that one, but the Disston is a jewel.

IMG_20150613_221409Underneath all of that rust and dust the crest began to appear and confirmed my hope that it was a D-20. The etching also helped me narrow down not just the model but the date. Notes at the Disstonian Institute tell me this saw was manufactured after 1910 but before 1928. The medallion on the side narrows the range a little dating its manufacture between 1917 and 1928.


IMG_20150614_202408Here you can see what that bleach dry tote looked like after some TLC and a couple of coats of tung oil. It fits my hand like a glove. I cleaned the dirt, paint and grime off of the tote, but I left just enough of the wear and tear to remind me that this saw had been in hands before mine.

1917 was the year my (aforementioned) grandfather was born. It was just as common to see horses and wagons on the streets of most cities as it was to see automobiles. War was raging in Europe and I guess it became a World War when the United States of America started shipping troops overseas.

In the eleven years that followed, the United States ratified the 18th amendment making prohibition the law of the land, the Chicago “Black Sox” threw the World Series and Women finally got the right to vote. The State of Tennessee took Mr. John Scopes to trial over his “radical” views on our primate ancestry, the first twangy notes of the Grand Ole Opry went out from the WSM broadcast towers and Charles Lindbergh flew solo over the Atlantic. Not to be outdone, Amelia Earhart did the same thing a year later and somewhere in the middle of all that, my saw was made just a short drive from where I was born in the Northeast corner of Philadelphia.

That’s the reason I’m restoring this saw.

Well, one of the reasons.

It’s true that part of me wants to bring back this artifact. To make it functional and beautiful again and to give it a chance at another century of service. This saw has seen some things in its day. It has a story that’s not finished yet.

The other reason is that it has all the makings of a really great saw. The plate is flat and strong. The tote is perfectly serviceable, and also perfectly beautiful. The teeth are well set and need only a little filing to get them back up to speed and at 5.5 ppi/rip it fills an important gap in my current lineup.

Oh, it needed new screw nuts. That’s it. I’m waiting on them and then this curvaceous beauty is going to be knocking ’em dead.

Viva la Disston!


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