Saw

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While working in an environment where my only hand tool was a utility knife (that’s a little exaggerated; I had some chisels for scraping off glue), I would stand at my bench and wonder how the same result would have been accomplished before electricity. Most of the answers to my questions could be found in books, but getting actual experience has been difficult. Acquiring decent vintage hand tools has been a challenge; either the prices are higher than I want to pay, or the condition isn’t user friendly—or both.

This has led me down the path of learning to restore old tools. I much prefer using the tools instead of repairing them and I’m not a collector for the same reason. But it seems to be par for the course.

Of course, I could buy new tools. They function perfectly. They are beautiful to look at. And they work right out of the box. But they all come with a heavy price tag. I believe the price is justifiable, so don’t think I’m complaining, I just can’t afford it. And I have done lots of crazy things to get new tools including selling blood/plasma.

But for a new handsaw?

Nope. Panel saws are the most available old tools in my area. It’s a little difficult to find really good ones, like the D8’s everyone raves about with a reasonable price tag, but if you aren’t picky a saw can be found for a few dollars. I bought the one in the picture for $3.00 at a flea market.

I couldn’t find any evidence of a maker on the saw plate. There weren’t any signs on the handle either. In fact, this is one of the plainest saws that I’ve ever owned (None of the wheat carving or pretty medallions). This leads me to believe that it was either really cheap or really old. No signs of a maker are often a good thing in my book; I feel much less guilty about tearing into it when it doesn’t seem to be worth much. But really, how much is a saw worth that sits on a shelf and doesn’t get used for what it was designed?

When I found this saw, I was attracted to the handle. It fit perfectly in my hand which meant that I didn’t need to figure this out on my own. I bought it with the intention of replacing the handles on all my other handsaws with ones just like this one. I’m not sure what kind of wood the original is made of, it seems like a soft wood, but that doesn’t seem to make sense. Instead of refinishing the original handle I’m going to save it for an example and make a new one. I’ll clean up the plate and make my first attempt at sharpening—it’s already filed cross-cut at 9ppi so I’ll leave that alone.

Since I don’t really know what I’m doing, it remains to be seen whether I will donate blood for this one as well.

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21 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m in the same boat as you, trying to refurbish cheaper vintage tools when possible. The good thing is that when people find out you’re interested in that you start to get some freebie leftover tools from their attic.

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    1. Eric Key says:

      Seriously. I’ve yet to discover a nice way of rejecting old tools (and a part of me doesn’t want to either). I have an entire cabinet full of stuff that people have given me. Sometimes it saves a lot of cash and the sentiment is always appreciated.

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  2. The handle looks like, and likely is, beech. It was the most commonly used wood for saw handles (just like wooden planes). The pricier saws sometimes used apple or mahogany, but those are much rarer than beech.

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    1. Eric Key says:

      It sure doesn’t feel like beech. The density doesn’t seem to be there. I can push my fingernail into it and leave a mark which is why I was assuming that it was a soft wood.

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      1. I’ve seen beech handles that have gotten soft and somewhat punky over time. I always assumed the tool was stored in a humid/non-controlled environment (barn, old shed, etc.) and the moisture didn’t agree with it. I’ve seen this with a few beech planes too. It’s certainly possible that it’s not beech and is something softer. You never know what you’re getting really. But most of these old saws were made by a small handful of companies (Disston, Atkins & Simonds being the three major players) and were then re-branded. That’s what makes the off brands such a great buy for the budget conscious (the saw was likely made by one of the three previously mentioned). But for most of the makers, beech was the most commonly used wood for handles, especially on the non-premium lines.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Eric Key says:

        That is a ton of great information! Being in Indianapolis, I’ve encountered many Atkins saws and a few Disston saws. Most of what can be had at garage sales and such are brands like Craftsmen and even those have a hardwood handle. I’ll go with “punky” beech on this one. Thanks for all the feedback!

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      3. I second the Beech suggestion, only because I ran into the same thing with an old Disston no 7. It was almost as if the wood had begun to dry rot.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. meanmna says:

    I have a mix of vintage and a few new that I have saved up to add one at a time – with the tool they replaced going into my son’s toolbox or one I am building for the Boy Scouts. I find saws the easiest to restore and tune up and the biggest reward for the money. That said, initially learning to sharpen the cross cut (rips are dead simple) had me getting that “big tooth – small tooth” issue but once I learned out how to watch out and correct for that I was good to go. Cleaning them up – provided there is not significant pitting – is quite easy as well and there are tons or resources out there for this. Evaporust, white vinegar or citric acid all work equally well I have found.

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    1. Eric Key says:

      I’m sure hoping I’ll be able to wrap my mind around the sharpening. Thanks for the tips on cleaning things up! I’m playing with some old school methods just for the fun of it and will probably write a little about it.

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  4. Paul Hawkinson says:

    This book on saw sharpening came highly recommended.

    http://www.mcssl.com/mobile/hhpaysoncompany/books-by-dynamite-payson/keeping-a-cutting-edge-saw-filing

    Keep on making chips.

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    1. Eric Key says:

      Thank you! I added it to my book list.

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  5. donovandak says:

    After reading the Schwarz’s stellar review, I bought the Ron Herman DVD “sharpen your handsaws” (https://www.shopwoodworking.com/sharpen-your-handsaws-w5169?r=pwcsbf080111W5169). It is indeed excellent, particularly how to check whether the amount of set is correct and how to give the saw a natural tendency to cut straight. After sharpening my panel saw with this method, I felt like I had brand a brand new tool.

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    1. Eric Key says:

      I’ve been watching those videos over the last couple of days–fascinating stuff! Wouldn’t it be fun to build a house the way Ron does? He includes so much stuff in his videos its a little like drinking from a fire hydrant. Before I started watching the videos I had myself convinced I would only need a couple of saws. Now I’m considering a saw buck. Things get slippery pretty quick.

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  6. 9TPI is pretty fine in the grand scheme, and MeanMNA is correct: big tooth little tooth (caused, in my experience, by (i) not flipping the saw around for the second pass at the other angle and (ii) not keeping the file level) is a risk to new sharpeners. Perhaps give it a quick joint with a mill file and then reshape the teeth to be a rip cut? Baby steps.

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    1. Eric Key says:

      That’s good advice. I think I’ll go ahead and try sharpening crosscut and if that fails miserably reshape it for rip. I’ve watched some good videos and don’t think it’s going to be too difficult. Of course, ignorance is bliss.

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  7. Todd Reid says:

    Eric,
    I’m in the same boat and was struck by lightning when visiting WWA 2016 (speaking of WWA is there going to be one this year?) with the notion that I should us more hand tools. As a matter of fact buy some hand tools! I had no luck finding anything in my price range in the antique market locally and was scared of eBay when sellers don’t show if the sole is level or cracked. So, I have embarked on a one tool a month quest to build this collection. I found the market price of a Lie Valley or Veritas not being to far off in price to the antique. I’m not a point in my journey that I don’t have enough hand tools to doing anything with except collect dust or fondle. Ever been caught by someone fondling a new tool? It’s a strange look they give you, similar to when my boys all lived at home and would come in from the mail box to announce that “Dad has WOOD (Magazine)!” I have been watching the David Charlesworth series I purchased ten years ago and never got around too till now. Mentally I can sharpen my chisels and hand planes but, can’t physically do it until next month when I buy stones. LEARN and the pass you can afford. Cheers

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    1. Eric Key says:

      Your kids sound hilarious. I’ve had the best luck finding old tools at Midwest Tool Collector meets. I used to use sandpaper and a block of stone counter-top to sharpen all of my tools. It was a little annoying removing and replacing the paper but it got the job done. The best part was the stone was free.

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  8. Mike Wasson says:

    Eric, take a look at Paul Sellers videos on saw sharpening. I have a few old saws and sharpen them myself because I learned how from Paul Sellers. This stuff ain’t rocket science. You do need to learn not to set your saws teeth to much because it makes them more difficult to start a cut. I have a good pattern for a saw vise, which you also need, but you can make one for a few bucks from scrap stuff. I’ll dig around and see if I can find it in a format that can be emailed. You also don’t need a ton of saw files a couple of 5x slim and a 4xxslim, besides for a good flat file. I’ll look for that pattern and let you know later.

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    1. Eric Key says:

      I’ve been watching Ron Herman videos and it doesn’t seem like its going to be difficult at all. More time consuming than anything. I have an old Wentworth saw vise but I would appreciate the pattern if you can find it. Just in case the Wentworth doesn’t pan out.

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      1. Mike Wasson says:

        How do I send it ? I have it in a PDF. Where do you want me to send it?

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      2. Eric Key says:

        You can email it to me if you’d like eric.key@sbcglobal.net

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