Let’s make a saw…part 3

Now that we know we have a good donor saw plate, and its been  cut and filed to final shape, we’re ready to clean it up and make it usable. And when ever I’m cleaning a sawplate like this and have no idea whats underneath all that rust and gunk, instead of just diving in head first with a thorough cleaning, I focus on the area of the etch and gingerly clean that first to see if there is indeed an etch hiding under there. Protecting the etch and taking extra steps to uncover it properly is well worth it, as this could be a really cool or rare saw. Plus, its as close to being  Indiana Jones on a great adventure as I’ll ever get!

Here’s our saw plate so far…

Underneath said gunk, some saws can have etches of biblical proportions…fancy scrolling, rambling steel descriptions, awe inspiring warrantees of quality and superiority, and–not to be left out and my personal favorite–all manner of idealic scenes from American life of men fishing, golfing and even bike riding. What any of those last silly things have to do with woodworking, I have no idea, but perhaps early 20th century marketing firms thought golfers and fishermen could sell saws better than, well, sawyers. Go figure.

So here’s some of the tools I use to clean a saw plate…

I’ve tried several different types of rust remover and I like this Krud Kutter ‘The Must for Rust’ the best…you can get it at Home Depot and its only $5 a bottle…plus it works real quick. And sanding blocks are a necessity as well when cleaning saws…this prevents you from abrading unevenly and digging into the etch. I used to use wooden blocks of scrap wood, but recently I found this Norton brand sanding block and I gotta say, its cut the sanding time in half. I recommend picking one up. Lastly, the scraper helps remove all the heavy rust before you get to the sandpaper….no sense wasting when surface rust can be scraped off with this little tool.

I’ll start with the scraper, and using a low angle, scrape with the length of the blade and remove said rust…

I go ahead and scrape both sides of the saw plate. You can see all the rust piling up in front of the scraper…thats what we want to see.

Next, we’ll focus on the etch as I mentioned. I use 220 grit Norton 3X paper and the sanding block and gingerly sand lengthwise using mineral spirits as a lubricant. Alas, after a minute of abrading, I find no traces of an etch, which is not uncommon with a saw in this condition…its hard to tell, but sometimes the saw is so rusted, the abrading just disintegrates it in process. Oh well…on to the whole plate.

Now that I don’t have to worry about protecting the etch, I drop down a grade of paper and go with 120, now using the rust remover as my lubricant/cleaner simultaneously.

Look at all that rust! This is only after a few seconds of scrubbing with 120 and the Krud Kutter…like I said, this stuff works fast. I use a fresh piece of paper for each side, cleanig the plate thoroughly before turning it over.  Here she is all de-rusted…

Next I  use a wire brush and the Krud Kutter rust remover again and turn my attention to the tooth line. This is a very important part of the process, as the teeth are the working area of the plate, and if any rust remains on them, they won’t work at their fullest potential. I squirt the rust remover directly on the teeth and scrub vigorously until all the rust is gone.

After the derusting is complete, I wipe down the whole plate completely with mineral spirits, as well as the benchtop….you don’t want any rust remover on the plate again, as it will start to stain the steel. Now she’s ready for 220 grit paper and using mineral spirits to lubricate, starting with a fresh piece of paper with each side. I thoroughly wipe down the plate with a clean cloth after each grit to avoid cross contaminating the grits.

I sand next with 400 then 600 grit with mineral spirits as a lubricant and use the sanding block. And before you know it, she’s all clean…

Just look at that shine! ;o) If this were a fine cross cut or back saw, I would finalize the cleaning with metal polish, but its not really necessary on a course 8 point saw like this.

Now we can unite the new saw plate with the handle and mark out the saw bolt holes. I install the plate and mark the holes with a punch and black magic marker…you can see that one of the original holes on the plate is a close match, but we’ll still have to move it over a bit to fit properly. Its very important that the holes be the proper size….not too big or small. While its tempting to make them large to ease installation of the handle this could cause the plate can work lose with vigorous sawing and you’ll never have a tight handle on your saw….very annoying. If the holes are too small, you may be tempted to force them and strip the delicate brass threads on the bolts…also a bad thing. So, they need to be perfectly placed and sized to ensure a proper fit. Here they are marked out…

Center punching AND marking the holes will both guide the drill bit and help me know when the size is right…you can’t be too cautious with this step.

Its over to the drill press to drill the initial holes. I use TiN coated bits of HSS to stay sharp and cool….drilling this kind of steel is a bear with regular high carbon bits…you’d need to sharpen them after each hole you drill. Even with a good quality TiN coated bit, I find myself sharpening them before every handle I mount…..I’m thankful I have my Drill Doctor around!!! (Thanks Dad 🙂

I start with a 1/8 inch bit, run at a low speed and use 3 in 1 oil to lubricate the drilling. Here you can see the plate clamped to the table and ready…

After the initial holes are drilled (you don’t want to drill to the final diameter in one step) I unite the handle and plate again and drill to our final size.

I clamp the handle and plate together and drill the final size holes using the handle as a drill guide…

Now we can use the 7/32 TiN coated bit and drill on through. With the holes now proper, I remove the handle one last time and file off the burrs on the back side of the plate created by drilling.

Now I install the handle, snug up the nuts and here she is..

I’d say she’s a real looker, no?

In the final installment, I’ll shape and sharpen the teeth, and we can see how she does!

Published in: on October 31, 2010 at 12:43 pm  Comments (3)  

Let’s make a saw…part 2

So now that we have a decent donor plate–thanks to highly sophisticated scientific methods–for our already nice Disston #12 handle, we can begin the transformation of the donor into our new saw plate.

The first step is to decide on a pattern, and for us, that’s easy enough. I’m staying traditional and making a straight back saw with nib, just like this #12 had originally. We could also do a skew back, as per a #112, but I want to stay true to this saw’s spirit. And since we’ve decided to go with a 22 inch saw, we mark out the new rough length on the donor plate. Now because this donor has been used and is not at full depth, to maximize the depth of our new saw, we want to take all the length we can off of the toe…that will maximize the depth of our plate. But since this donor originally had a let in handle, and our #12 handle is a traditional pattern, we will have to remove the relieved area on the donor to create the proper hang angle and shape of our new plate. I’ll use the old used up plate to mark the heel angle…

We lose a little length and depth here, but the rest comes from the nose, which we also mark for the proper angle.

Here she is marked out to rough length for cutting…

To cut saw steel I use an abrasive disk mounted in my drill…simple and effective. And you don’t need to cut all the way through the steel…just about half way to score it and then break cleanly with vise grips, or even your hands if your feelin’ lucky. Clamp the plate to your bench and cut slowly with the wheel….you’re in no hurry.

 Here’s the cut on the nose…

And breaking it along the score line…

I do the same with the heel and here she is roughed out ready to have the final pattern scribed and cut…

Now I use the old plate to scribe the nib pattern onto the donor. I use a scratch awl, and interestingly enough, the layer of rust makes a great medium for scratching on….scratch deep and the fresh steel is exposed showing crisp lines to file to. I also use the old plate to scribe in the final heel angle and heel return. Here’s the nib…


Here’s the nib pattern scratched in…

Its over to the grinder now to grind to the line of all except the nib itself (that is done with a triangle file…the same we use for sharpening). I use a grey aluminum oxide wheel, 60 grit, and this works great. You don’t need to worry a great deal about drawing the temper of the steel here…it grinds easily and a dip in water cools it, and even if you do blue it, its not a big deal in this area of the plate. Here I’m grinding the final shape of the heel…

Now I’m almost done with the final shape…its on to the fun part…filing the nib! I love doing this as its so easy to do and just looks so gosh darn cool. All you need is a triangle file….I’ve used as small as 4 inch double extra slim taper and as big as 7 inch slim taper. Here its a 6 inch extra slim taper, which seems to be just right. I mount the plate in my Disston saw vise and first start with the area behind the nib and rough in the depression…just file straight down into the steel like you’re shaping a new tooth, then do the same with the front of the nib. Its really a simple task….just remove the material until the nib is left. This is a great task to learn for repairing old saws (like #7’s) that commonly are found with the nib broken off. Here ‘s a look in progress…

Like I said its quick work….here’s the finished nib…

Now I bring the plate to its final dimensions with a mill bastard file. I mount it back in the vise and file all of the edges–the back, toe and heel–smooth until all the grinding marks are gone and the they are true (use a straight edge to guide you).

And here’s our donor saw plate shaped to finality and ready to be cleaned…

 Tune in tomorrow and we’ll clean her up and mount the handle. It won’t be long now!!!

Published in: on October 29, 2010 at 9:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Let’s make a saw…part 1

A few months ago I found an elderly lady down the street having a yard sale with a bunch of old saws. In addition to some good users, I got a turn of the century Disston #12 with the blade all but used up….so much that the plate was coming to a point. So, I basically bought it for the remarkablly nice handle, which was in near perfect shape…

These old #12 handles from the golden age of Disston are such gorgeous works of art themselves I hate to see them retired just ’cause the saws used up, so I decided to make a project out of it….and these projects are the most fun…turning old saw parts into new saws!

If you’ve never undertaken making a new saw plate don’t sweat it…its very simple and straight forward when you use a donor plate from another old saw. I always haunt yard sales and flea markets for saws and donor parts of saws, and keep a little cache of saw stuff on my parts shelf. For the new saw, I’m thinking this handle will go nice with a 22 inch plate with 8ppi. I want it to be a traditional pattern with straight back and nib, but I have no donor paltes like that, so we’ll have to cut and file one from a bigger plate.

When identifying a donor plate, there are a few things to look for in quality. Because this is the handle from a #12, which was the top of the Disston regular production line, I want a nice plate for it…preferably taper ground and well smithed. So, the $64,000 question is, how do you find a quality saw plate from the jumble of rusted crap at the flea market? If the saw has a nib, or is a skew back pattern, it can be a mark of quality as these required extra manufacturing steps and added cost to the saw. But even without these obvious characteristics, you can perform two tests to any saw to gauge its potential quality. Now, while these little “tests” as I called them are not fool proof, or gaurantees of quality, taken together they can be a good start.

So, the first thing we look for in a good saw plate (whether or no you want to use it as a donor, or just want to know if its a good quality saw) is a taper grinding. Taper grinding allows the saw to work without binding in the saw kerf and is a hallmark of well made saws. It was standard on all quality saws of yesterday and it added quite an expense to the manufacturing process. To test for it, we use the callipers to take thickness measurments at the toe along the back, at the back next to the handle, and at the heel along the tooth line. The plate should be thickest along the tooth line at the heel (under the handle), and should be its thinest at the toe along the back (at the point). It should be of a median gauge along the back. Here’s a pic of me measuring along the back…

You will indeed need a set of dial callipers accurate to 0.001 to perform the test (don’t worry, thanks to those industrious Chinese, you can get them cheap…mine were about $15 at Harbor Freight) This plate measures 0.040 inches at its thickest, tapering to 0.036 along the back and 0.034 at the toe….a nice tapering indeed.

So, now we know its tapered, how about smithing? What the heck is smithing? Well, its the hammer work that goes into a saw plate to make it tensioned and true and you can perform a neat little trick to hear if a saws been well smithed. Yes, I said, “hear” because when well smithed, a saw makes a pleasant tone if struck a certain way…kind of like a tuning fork. Remember those from music class? (I do….another recurring nightmare from junior high) This trick is a little harder to show and write about…you really need to see someone do it in person…my friend Josh Clark taught me how to do it…thanks Josh! Basically, you grasp the saw in your hands with one hand on the toe and the other at the heel and simultaneously tap the plate with your thumb while you bend the plate into tension. It looks like this…

When you do this, the best saws sing a crystal clear note that sounds like angels on high (well, at least that’s what they sound like to me, but I sleep with my saws so I’m weird) Anyone can learn how to do this trick…you just need to see it done (I’d be happy to oblige, but I would require at least a pint of Ben N Jerry’s in return) And this saw has a nice, clear, sweet tone so we’re in luck!

So now we know we have a donor plate worthy of our nice #12 handle. The next step is to rough out our new plate and grind the new pattern.

We’ll get to that shortly….stay tuned….

Published in: on October 28, 2010 at 5:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

That’s a Rip!

So, now that its meat powered saws only around the ole workshop, I thought I’d post about how exactly one goes about ripping a board without the electron sucking digit chomper around…..here goes.

When it comes to woodworking, when you cut a board lengthwise along the grain, its generally called ‘ripping’. Cross-cutting is….you got it…cutting across the grain perpendicularly. Ripping is a much more common task in the shop….I find myself ripping a heck of a lot more than cross cutting, so its a great skill to focus on.

Generally speaking, there are three different ways I rip in the shop…the first two ways are for rips of any length and the third involves the face vise and is for shorter rips only..usuually anything less than a foot or two. But when I need to reduce a whole board in width I turn to my workbench, or my saw bench.

First, lets talk about ripping at the workbench. Its simple enough….secure the board to be ripped on the top of the bench with the waste portion over hanging the edge. This is to allow for the saw to do its work unhindered by the benchtop. Here you can see our lovely demonstration board fixed to the bench with holdfasts….you can use regular clamps, but they are much more likely to hinder your work, don’t grip as well, and are a pain in the @$$ to set up.

Now that the board is secure, I grab the rip saw and have at it….but lets cover a quick few points before we start hacking away. Grip and stance are very important. For ripping at this height (my bench is 32 inches off the floor) its important to use a modified  grip called ‘overhand’ once you get the saw started in the kerf . It looks like this…

No, there’s nothing wrong with my saw…that’s how it was meant to be held….old saws have a cutaway to allow for this overhand grip. You’ll see below, that once you get the saw going, its much easier to thrust down and pull the saw on the up stroke at this height using a overhand grip. While I do use a combination underhand grip to begin the kerf, once I’m a few inches into the work, I switch to the grip above and saw with a motion that looks like I’m pounding my fists up and down onto the benchtop. Its also important to note that you stand aside of the work with the saw directly in front of you. Here’s how I start…

And after an inch or two, switch to the full overhand grip as such…

With this stroke, the work is quick and only takes a few seconds to rip the length. This particular board is black locust harvested locally here in the Ocean State, and my friend Mike calls it ‘…kind of like an American Teak’…its dense and hard as heck. Just about as durable a wood as you could ask for…it makes white oak look soft…..my point is this board is about 5/4 (a little over an inch thick) and rips pretty easy with a 5 and 1/2 point saw. Not too bad for about 500 year old technology. ;o)

So that’s ripping at the workbench. Let’s now take a look at ripping on the saw bench. A saw bench? What’s that? Well, my friend, its a bench you saw on. (Okay, maybe you didn’t ask that because its painfully obvious, but it makes me sound like I’m smart. …….ish) Here’s a pic of my saw bench cuddling with my favorite antique Disston #7 rip saw. Aren’t they cute together?

The saw bench is custom sized to rise to just below the knee cap of the craftsman (me, is this case) and that means about 19 or 20 inches. Needless to say, that’s a good deal shorter than the workbench, so a whole different stance and grip are called for. This process is probably much more familiar to everyone…its kind of intuitive and uses body weight to hold the work. Here’s what our lovely model looks like demonstrating its use…

I kneel on the board to hold it, using my quite substantial and daily increasing body weight to secure it. The thumb keeps the saw on track in the initial back stroke and then its away we go with the familiar plunging thrusts of sawing. Now, the first time I beheld a saw bench, I thought, “Wait, that’s never going to work….you’re gonna saw right through the top of the bench and cut it all up.” But alas, in my naivete, I was unaware of that great leap forward in saw bench evolution known as …………..The Ripping Notch!!!! Its that triangle shaped cutaway portion of the top that’s, well, for ripping. Here’s what ripping in the notch looks like as its happening…

So that’s a real quick ‘How To’ on ripping in the Pork Powered Woodshop. As I mentioned above, the third form is only for little rips…maybe if you’re still awake this time tomorrow, we’ll go over it as well.

Ta ta for now and thanks for lookin’

Keep makin’ saw dust!


Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 12:08 pm  Comments (6)  

A historical saw…

Do you know why I love collecting antique hand saws? Because you never know what you’re going to find.

Living in New England as I do provides the most fertile environment for the rabid tool collector (and believe me…tool collecting IS a disease!!!) because these lands are steeped in history. And thusly, the materiel of days gone by are no more present than they are here in the basements and barns of our near lands.

Exhibit A:

A few months ago, in the early days of summer, I was on my way to my wife’s grandparent’s house to help them refinish the oak floors in their living room. While sanding and sanding and sanding and sanding hardwood floors is not the worst way I could imagine spending a beautiful day, it certainly isn’t at the top of my list either, but nonethless I was happy to help (if you’d tasted Nana’s strawberry pie, you’d wanna help too! :o) And most sincerely, strawberry pie was the most I was expecting in the way of gratitude…which would have been more than sufficient.

As I pulled up to the house, I was greeted by Pa in his customarily friendly, “Hi” followed by, “I’ve got something to show you.” Okay I though, not knowing what I was about to behold. As Pa shuffled into the garage and returned with hands full, he said that he had just come home and passed by a yard sale around the corner. At this yard sale, as he continued, the elderly gentleman was selling a lot of old rusty saws and was asking 25 cents a piece for each. Now, Pa, being the astute kind of guy he is, and knowing of my aforementioned disease, takes the whole lot of 5 or 6 saws for the hearty sum of $1.50….and this is the bounty which he lays at my feet upon my arrival. “Here….” he says “I got these for you.” As I begin to exclaim how kind and thoughtful it was of Pa to buy the saws for me, I quickly realize that this was no ordinary lot of rust from the neighborhood yard sale…these were some premium saws. And the pick of the litter? That was a hand saw of 26 inches or so with a characteristic nib and London pattern handle that caught my eye immediately. While there was no etch to identify the saw, there was instead a stamped makers mark spelling out K-E-N-Y-O-N.

My heart stopped. Then it started racing. Then my voice cracked. Then my palms got sweaty…it felt  like junior high when I asked Kara Aucella to dance with me all over again!!!!

“Pa!” I said, “This one is special!!!” And special it was. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to finish sanding to get home to inspect my new prize. And Pa was plenty proud of himself for the score, and very glad that my “payment” for the floor was up to snuff.

So, as soon as I got home, I laid her out on my bench and beheld her….


Yes, she was badly beaten and broken. Yes, she was duller than a bread hammer.  And yes, her teeth were as crooked as an Irish pollster….but she was mine! I stood there drooling over her and in awe of her very presence! And much UN-like Kara Aucella in junior high, this little lady let me inspect her every conrner and crevice to my heart’s content! My findings were numerous….the odd chamfering along the top of the handle, the shape of the nib, the break in the lower swoop of the handle, the initials scratched into the underside of the flat handle return…I took in every detail and relished every sense of her.

Upon further inspection, the makers mark read fully “Kenyon Sykes & Co” and she the plate was indeed 26 inches in length.

Now, for those of you who are unaware, John Kenyon is perhaps the most notable British saw maker of the colonial era, due in part to his crafting of the legendary Benjamin Seaton chest of saws. These saws, locked away in a museum in the Old Country, are practically priceless, and origianl Kenyon saws in the wild are rare and valuable. Kenyon, in addition to his solo work, also had a number of partnerships throughout his career. In this case, the partnership of Kenyon and Sykes lasted for a handful of years around 1815 and THIS saw was one of their offspring…now in my noted possesion!

So, how frickin’ psyched was I!?! I was the proud owner of a piece of history!!! A legendary saw from the most legendary maker of British saws!!! After having the saw appraised (its worth a snot load more than the 0.25 cents Pa paid for it), the appraiser, Pete Tarran actually THANKED me for showing it to him!!!!! Just like they do on Antiques Road Show!!!! How cool is that!!!! Pete further counciled me to NOT restore it and bring it back to useable condition (as is my liking with antique tools, ’cause I likes to use ’em!) as he stated it was indeed a piece of history and should remain in its historical condition.

I can only imagine what history this saw has beheld….who elsed owned it, used it…what perhaps famous homestead or building had it helped create? What young apprentice slaved over sharpening its teeth….what noted craftsman labored within its grasp? History indeed!!! This is why I love old tools…because forever locked within their rusty and burnished souls are the tales of so many hardy men passed before me…some greater, some not so great, but all lovers of the craft and true men nonetheless!

Well, every tool collector has one of these stories….the Big One…the Big Score…the Monster Gloat….the greatest and coolest find in their tool collection. Odd that I should have mine so early in the onset of my disease…most old coots have to wallow around in rust for decades before they score a saw like this. The again, I guess Pa did the wallowing!!!!

Thanks Pa! ;o)

And here are some more shots of the jewel of my collection…

Published in: on October 21, 2010 at 11:13 am  Comments (5)  

The Saw Blog is HERE!!!!

Greetings!!! And welcome to the saw blog! This is the first of many posts dedicated to my love of hand saws….hand saws of all kinds….back saws, rip saws, panel saws…you get the idea! Anyway, without any more to do, lets jump into my first post…

This past weekend I decided to make a HUGE change in my woodworking routine…I decided to sell my table saw…..YIKES!!!!! Now, I know what you’re thinking….”How can you make anything without a table saw?!?!? Won’t your productivity grind to a halt?!??! What about the quality of your work?!??!” I’ve heard it all before, and to the nay sayers, I simply say, “NAY!” The whole purpose of my woodworking hobby is to ENJOY my work, and the reality is that I have always HATED my table saw…..its noisy, dusty, and DANGEROUS!!! So, since I now am able to sharpen and use rip saws to a satisfactory level, I no langer need my table saw.

Have you ever ripped a piece of 4/4 cherry in half with a hand saw? How about 8/4 mahogany? Will I have, and it is pure pleasure….smooth, quiet, meditative even….its just you, your muscle power, the soft munching of wood fibers and the warm apple handle of a gorgeous and supremely functional antique Disston rip saw. Aaaaahhhhhhh! Pure Zen!

Now, have you ever ripped a board on the table saw??!?! Its a pain in the @$$!!! You wrestle the beast onto the table, flip the switch with your knee (a lot of fun in itself, and safe too!!!), and while you;re desperately trying to not cut your fingers off, you get to choke on mounds of sawdust flying into your nose and mouth while the whine and squeel of the blade tears at the wood!!! Hey kids, who wants to get lung cancer AND be an amputee???? Oh, meeeee, meeee!!!!! I do, I do, I do!!!!

So there you have it….from now on, armed with a stable of antique rip saws, back saws, panel saws, miter box saws (the kind that run on YOU, not electrons!!!) I’ll be pleasantly, quietly, and peacefully cutting and working away in my uncluttered, safe, and wonderful wood shop.

Jealous? ;o)

Published in: on October 21, 2010 at 1:38 am  Comments (5)