A Disston Mystery?

This past Saturday I woke at the crack of dawn to attend a local antique tool auction a couple of towns away. The auction itself didn’t start until 10 am, but the real action happens in the parking lot of the event starting at 7am…that’s where you can find the “tool pushers” as Schwartz calls them.

Yes, Patrick Leach was there, as were many well known names in antique tools, including Roger Smith, who happened to have a nice pile of rusty saws for me to pick through in the whipping cold winds.

I picked out a couple nice 19th century British saws, including a really sweet Biggin and Son rip saw, and one odd Disston that caught my eye. Or should I say, it was the three medallions on its truncated handle that caught my attention….aaaahhhhhhh…the prize medal saw!!!

For those of you who don’t know, the Disston #99 is a very scarce saw made in the heyday of Disston. It included the Extra London Spring Steel blade as used on the #12, an apple handle, straight back and nib, and instead of the standard three nuts and one medallion, this saw was graced with three medallions and one lone nut.

Here’s a pic from the Disstonian Institute…

I quickly paid Roger and scurried off like a junkie with my score…locking myself in my car to drool on my new prize.

Now before you get all excited, you should know that there are some apologies for this saw. First, as I mentioned above, the tote was badly broken…nearly the entire hand grip and bottom was missing from the tote. Second, the central medallion, and largest of the three was also absent.

However, there is some good news. The two remaining medallions and nut were fully intact with their split nuts. The plate was in great shape…a little surface rust, and dead straight…I mean not even a little wavy! And finally, the most miraculous of all perhaps, the teeth were absolutely perfect…. 6 ppi, filed rip, each and every tooth looked factory fresh. Perfect height and gullet depth, and in an uncommon rip configuration as well.

Now for the mysterious part (did you catch that in the title of the post?)…the handle was beech. Yes, I said beech. If you’ve been paying attention, you should know that the handle on this saw is supposed to be apple. After all, apple was the premier wood and given to all top end Disston saws. So why was this one beech? Maybe its not a #99? Maybe its a #77..another triple medallion saw? And just to make things really slippery, not only is the tote beech, but it has a lamb’s tongue instead of the requisite double loop in the bottom section of the handle. Hmmmmmm…..perhaps this is a very early #99???

Well as soon as I got a chance, I got her home and started the investigation. I gingerly disassembled the nuts, removed the tote and cleaned the etch and plate.

Here’s a pic after clean up…


The etch is indeed present…its faint, but it’s there. It reads as  “Henry Disston and Son” making this a saw from the desirable post-Civil War years when Hamilton joined the firm, but before Huey, Duey and Lewey followed suit.

In addition to the “one Son” you can read that the plate is indeed Extra Refined London Spring Steel and unless my eyes are playing tricks on me, the second “9” of the #99 can just be made out. I did my best to photograph it, but it didn’t come out great. Take a look…


Now before you think I’m makin’ this up, it really starts to get interesting.

As you may know, all saw plates from the Disston factory that were given the Extra Refined London Spring Steel designation where stamped with an “X” at the upper corner of the plate above the heel (and normally covered by the tote) So, if you’ve ever removed the handle from a #12 or the like, you can see this “X”. Well, it seems this saw indeed has the “X”, buts that’s not all….it also has the words “MADE FOR 99” under the tote as well! Take a look…you’ll have to click on the file to enlarge it and once it’s full screen, click right above  the first top handle hole and you’ll see it clearly stamped…

Have you ever seen anything like that? I certainly haven’t…let me know if you have, cause I’m thinking this could indeed be a very early version of the #99….earlier than those shown in the well-known 1876 Disston catalogue.

Here are some more pics….

The tote after cleaning…


The two medallions…showing the Disston eagle with the “Warranted Superior” mark…

Here’s another shot of the etch…not too much better…

So I’m pretty excited about this little lady….the plate being in such perfect shape, its beggin’ to be put back to work. I just happen to have the perfect “one Son” medallion for the vacant hole, and I’m already picking through my beech stash for a handle patch.

It won’t be long ’til she’s rippin’ again!

Published in: on December 7, 2010 at 9:32 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Congradulations on the find. That was a very interesting post. For those of us not in the know, can you explain the significance of the medallions?


  2. Thanks for the comment Yaakov.

    Medallions served to identify the maker of the saw and also as a badge of quality. The statement “Warranted Superior” was a common one that stated the tool was of the best quality. Many, if not all makers used the phrase. In this case, the center medallion (the one missing on this saw) would have the makers mark, “Disston and Son” flanked above and below with the Warranted Superior medallions.

    Medallions became common in the mid 19th century and were the standard during the Industrial Revolution onward. Before medallions, saw nuts or rivets were just plain with no marking (although some did have an “X” stamped into them).

    Aside from attaching the tote to the saw plate, they served as a place for makers to identify their products….just like any other badging found on countless western manufactured goods.

    I guess you could say medallions are the hood ornament of the saw world.


  3. Matt,
    That was a very cool dissection of the different facets of this saw’s genealogy! Sort of like Indiana Jones reading a line of Egyptian Hieroglyphics! I look forward to seeing the saw being “reborn”

  4. What stuns me is how clean you got the wood handle. If you’ve shared your techniques, I’ve missed them.

    What do you do? I’ve got lots of spiral screwdriver handles needing similar work.

    • I wish I could take credit for the cleaning Chuck, but that was the handle as found. Funny thing is, I find a lot of saw handles in that condition….with wood as raw as the day they came out of the sanding room at the factory. Reality is that enough time and elements will celan anything to the bone!

      FWIW, I do have luck with Citrustrip when i do need to strip and clean a handle. Its 100% biodegradable and non-toxic and you can get it at Home Despot.


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