A little Tillotson saw…

A few months ago in the early summer I found a guy on craigslist getting rid of a bunch of old tools and decided to go check them out. I ended up getting a little cache of nice things, my favorite of which was a sweet gem of a saw that I noticed sticking out of the bottom of a box of rust. All I could make out in the darkness of this guys basement was the finely shaped upper horn of a small back saw….but that was enough for me. I quickly fell in love with it and took it home despite its sorry condition. Here she was as found…

As you can see, she is heavily rusted, the brass nuts are green with tarnish, and the saw plate was as winding as a New England country road. Miraculously, though, the handle is in very good shape, with only a small chunk missing out of the upper horn. You can see from the shape of the tote how I was immediately struck by this petite belle!

A quick cleaning of the steel back revealed the arching maker’s mark as “Thos Ti…..” and “Sheffield” which I soon deciphered into “Thomas Tillotson” thanks to my trusty copy of  ‘Handsaw Makers of Britain’ (a book I highly recommend to any and all saw nuts!  Get it here) It turns out this princess was over 150 years old…I can only wonder what she has seen in her long years, and how long she sat un-loved in that dark old basement box o rust.

Anyway, I set about fixing her up over the next few days and bringing her near as I could back to her original glory. I am very happy with how she turned out, and it was a challenging project…the saw plate was badly kinked and required hammering true, the spine needed straightening as well, and the original split nuts needed replacement (which I slyly refabricated from a pair of domed nuts cut down and flattened to look like split nuts). Here she is all fixed up…

I have been using this saw now for a couple months and really love the way it cuts and feels…it has a very delicate saw plate (0.02 thick) and since I found it with 14 points and filed with fleam, I kept it as such. I love filing up tiny little saws like this….the steel is so thin and they are a joy to tune. You can really make them fly through the wood with little tweaks! 

This saw has become my go to worker for my bench hook and its smooth as silk….very nice! However, I am very tempted to file the fleam out of this little lady and see how she does as a dovetail saw…her size would make her perfect for a ‘tweener of a true dovetail and small carcase rip saw. Plus, with such a thin saw plate and fine pitch, I doubt filing out the fleam would effect the cross cut quality noticeably. Anyway, we’ll see….she’s certainly doing well as is, but then again, in my shop, fleam is never safe for long!!!! Hehehehehehe…..

And in case you’re interested, here’s a pictorial of the full rehab. I posted this originally on Woodnet over the summer as well…

Removing the back.

Cleaning the plate and spine.

Reinstalling the spine.

Cutting the broken horn section away (you can see the hole where a previous owner had nailed the break in a repair attempt)

The beech handle patched and taped up while the glue dries.

The handle with the new horn sketched in.

Refining the new horn shape (yes, I use power tools when making or repairing hand tools…ironic, no?)

Shaping the new horn with rasps and files.

The new horn stained to match.

I used newer domed nuts with their heads lapped flat to mimic split nuts, and here I’ve chuck them into my drill press to turn them down to the required diameter (7/16 like most old back saws of this size)

The finished nuts.

A few coats of shellac for the tote…

…and a quick jointing and filing for the saw plate…

…And she’s back cuttin’ wood!

After I originally posted this on Woodnet, my buddy Josh Clark mentioned to me that he has this saw’s big brother….a gorgeous 18 inch Tillotson tenon saw with an equally beautiful tote. Coincidently enough, said saw is now in my possession and waiting for a similar rehabilitation!

To be continued….


Published in: on November 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm  Comments (5)