Check out these nuts…

Wiktor Kuc of (the finest old tool site on the web!!!!) requested some close up shots of the domed brass saw nuts on my recent Cresson saw rehab. Wiktor is one hell of a guy, and I’m always inclined to oblige him, so I disassembled the saw one more time and took a bunch of pictures for him. I figured I might as well share them with all while I was at it. I’m a nice guy. 🙂

So, here ya go!

Here they are all together…you can see the blank medallion nut, which is larger than the others. Before the advent of true stamped medallions, saw makers would include one, larger blank nut…don’t ask me why…

Here’s some shots of the larger nut….the underside is actually recessed, not solid…

A comparison in size to one of the smaller nuts….

That’s about it…thanks for looking at my nuts.



Published in: on February 28, 2011 at 7:57 pm  Comments (3)  

A Cresson saw with class…

You never know what you’re going to find at the bottom of a bucket of rust, and that tantalizing  few minutes after spotting a rust-heap is enough to keep me diving into dumpsters, yard sale piles and flea market bins for the rest of my life.

Case in point is a great old Cresson saw I found a couple weeks ago in a 5 gallon bucket lot of old rust…

She’s rusty for sure and the tote is in pretty bad shape, but those brass dome nuts and steel plate just look sexy as hell, as JoshClark likes to say. You can clearly identify the “Cresson” stamp on this saw despite the rust.

Walter Cresson was an early Philadelphia saw maker in the 1840s and 50s who was bought out by Henry Disston some time before the Civil War. His saws are characteristic of the early American style that drew heavily on English tool forms, but what makes this saw truly unique is the steel plate over the tote and domed nuts. You can read more about Cresson at Wiktor Kuc’s wonderful site here.

This saw is a wonderful candidate for restoration as the plate is dead straight and still rings true as the day it was smithed…impressive for its age! Here are some more pics as found…

You can see the crack in the tote that goes clean through under the steel plate…

Here’s the stamp…it clearly reads “IXL…W. Cresson…Philada…Spring Steel….Warranted…Extra”

The toe…unfortunately missing its nib…

And the back side of the tote…

I disassembled her gingerly and set about cleaning up the saw plate….I use a biodegradable rust remover to start. The great thing about cleaning up really old stamped saw plates is that you don’t have to worry about obliterating an etch.

Here’s the plate all cleaned up…

Now I can turn my attention to the real challenge of this rehab…the tote.

I cleaned her up with a good scrubbing in denatured alcohol…

The first step is determining exactly what kind of wood the tote is made of….tradition would suggest apple or beech. Further, the “Extra” distinction on the saw plate suggests that this is a top of the line model saw, warranting the nicer species of apple. However, the open pores and grainy nature of this wood says it is def not apple. My first thoughts were walnut, and after cutting away the broken section of the top horn, the choclatey color of the untouched wood inside further confirmed my thoughts.

Mahogany would be the other possibility for species, but to me, this grain seemed too varied in color for mahogany. After doing a little research in some old saw catalogs, I found that all of Disston’s steel plate saws in his 1876 catalog indeed had walnut handles…and since he bought out Cresson some 10 or 15 years previous to that year, maybe he was taking a cue from Cresson to continue using walnut in steel plate saws? Disston certainly had a habit of maintaining the characteristics of the saws made by makers that he acquired.

So, I decided on walnut….here’s some close up pics of the tote for your curiousity….tell me what you think….

Before I started on patching the upper horn, I first glued up the crack that goes clearly through the front section of the handle. As soon as it was dry, I planed the broken top horn smooth and patched in a chunk of walnut to make the new horn. I used Titebond II for dark woods to hide the glue line as best as possible…

It will be very tricky to start shaping this tote, as you can see where the new patch starts to encroach on the upper hounds tooth detail…those are always a challenge to blend well, as the glue line does not take well to fine detail. You can see where I’ve started to sketch out the new horn shape.

Here it is rough cut after the glue dried…

I shape the new horn with my GramercyToolsSawHandleMakersRasp (have I mentioned this tool before? 😉 ) Here she is starting to take shape…

Now on to that tricky area of the hounds tooth to blend….

Now I can smooth the new patch to the surrounding area by feathering it in with 220 and 320 grit paper.

The challenge now is to match the color of the old wood to the new. And to complicate things, I’m going to use boiled linseed oil on the whole tote to bring out the warmth and age of the wood. The BLO will darken the color of the tote significantly, and much more so on the older wood of the tote and less on the new patch….so that means I have to stain the new horn darker to match the resulting darker walnut after oiling. Confused? That’s why you should always practice on scraps.

So, after settling on a color after some experimentation, here’s the new horn stained. You can see how much darker it is before I oil the whole tote. Once I oil it, it will blend beautifully…

This is often times the trickiest part of handle repairs….you can stain the new patch to match the old wood as it is, but as soon as you put a new finish on it, the old wood and new wood absorb finish in totally different ways and don’t color the same. So you have to anticipate this difference ahead of time and color the wood to the finished product, not in the raw.

After the BLO, I apply two coats of 1lb cut amber shellac and then clean up the steel plate and nuts.

And here she is reborn…

I’m very pleased with the way this saw came out…I’m giving her a place of honor on my historic saw wall next to my recent Disston#99. 🙂

Thanks for stopping by,


Published in: on February 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm  Comments (13)  

A Bad Axe Review…

BE WARNED: Mark Harrell is a dangerous character.

Not only because he is a retired Special Forces Colonel and could probably kill you with a tooth pick, but also because he is now the purveyor of fine back saws at BadAxeToolworks…and quite frankly, to an obsessive saw nut like myself, that is the more foreboding distinction.

A few weeks ago I got an email from Mark asking if I’d like to try out one of his new saws…the 12 inch Hybrid Dovetail/Small Tenon saw.  So, like any eager and simple-minded galoot, I of course replied in the positive….duh. And I think Mark knew to expect my answer, because barely a few days had gone by and the new saw was at my door. Oh…and just so you know what kind of corrupting agent we’re dealing with here, Mark was “kind enough” to also send me a set of his new bench hooks. Nice guy, right? HAH!!! (As you are reading this to yourself, please ensure that you read that last exclamation with a heavy dose of sarcasm -Editor)

Now, If you’ve never been the recipient of one of Mark’s saws, then prepare yourself……and I literally mean to prepare yourself, because opening one of his shipping packages is an experience that I can only relate to high school. How’s that? Well, because just like my 10th grade girlfriend, you’re going to need a good 45 minutes of cajoling, levering, tearing, fighting and lubricating to get at the goodies contained in the box. No kidding….Mark packs his saws for shipment like there’s a chance they might fall off the truck and get used for target practice….with a rocket launcher. Let me tell you, it’s a good thing Mark only uses environmentally friendly packing materials, because if he didn’t, he’d single-handedly be responsible for deforesting a small South American nation. So rest assured, if you make the grave mistake of welcoming Mark into your otherwise quiet life by ordering one of his saws, then at least you know the saw will arrive as safe as a new-born babe upon your steps.

After that, however, your life will never be the same.

Before I share with you my impressions of the saw, I should make a full disclosure: At first, I wanted to hate this saw. I really wanted to find things wrong with it. I wanted to use it and dislike it from the first moment I let it cut wood. Why? Because maybe as a born skeptic, when I hear nothing but positive things about a product, or person, or theory, I think that people are just being duped. So, I wanted to be the guy that bunks the collective impression. Call me a subversive.

Well, damn if I wasn’t duped too. Upon the first moment I held this saw I was sold.

The tote, which Mark tells me he has made by CNC, is a replica of a 19th Century Wheeler, Madden and Clemson back saw and is finished by a professional piano re-finisher. Well dang if that boy can’t lacquer the hell out of a saw handle, too!!! This thing fit my hand like an old pair of jeans. I told Mark that it does look a little lifeless compared to a hand shaped tote, but in all honesty, the thing is a work of art…

Not only is the tote nice, but the whole aesthetic of the saw is amazing. This saw looks like no other saw that I’ve ever seen. Mark calls them his Darth Vader saws…and I would say that is an apt moniker. I could prattle on about the looks of the saw, but this isn’t a tool fashion blog, it’s a sawing blog. So how does the thing cut?

In a word: lovely.

Here’s a few more: Smooth. Sweet. True. Effortless. This saw is amazing….and I mean that in its literal sense…it amazes me the level of refinement and subtle perfection that Mark is able to build into this saw. In fact, to even call it a dovetail/small tenon saw is perhaps an insult…it is capable of so much more. I used this saw to make deep ripping cuts for tenon cheeks in cherry, walnut and maple….the saw flew through the wood like balsa. I made cross cuts in 1/4 inch thick strips of purpleheart, oak and locust….very splintery, hard woods: the saw handled them with noteworthy adeptness and even left an acceptable finish thanks to the 5 degrees of fleam on the teeth from Mark’s well-seasoned filing skills.

I was so struck with the smooth action of the saw that when I first used it, that it took me about 20 minutes to remember I was trying to hate it!!! Well, try though I did, I could find no flaws in the tool.

I even liked the slight canting of the sawplate…slight though it may be, it has really sold me on the effectiveness of this historical element. Canting refers to the tapering of the width of the plate as it progresses towards the toe. Canting the saw plate, as it were, is intended to smooth the action of the teeth in the cut. I really liked this, and to my knowledge, Mark is the only maker offering this on a new back saw today. You can see the slight canting in this pick…

Having used this saw for a few weeks in my shop, I have reached the conclusion that if I were only to have one back saw at my disposal, then this would be that saw. I don’t know any other more effective way of describing it. It is smooth, cuts true, and can handle any nature of work you may throw at it. And believe me, in my shop, I throw a lot of things. 😉

So, now after trying to convince myself I don’t need another saw (a most ridiculous exercise in futility!) I find myself fully enamored with this most Bad Axe Saw, indeed.

Damn it!!!! And in case you’re wondering, yes….I had to pay for the saw. Now I’m just hoping that Mark doesn’t find out I’m lusting after his 18 inch tenon saw……that would be the end of me. (And my marriage!!!)

So, now that I’ve told you the story of Mark Harrell, do you finally understand why he is such a dangerous character?!?!? He is one of the notorious “Tool Pushers” that Chris Schwartz so vehemently warns us of!!!! Your shop is not safe from his saws!!! Your bank account is not safe!!! Your wife will hate you (more)!!! You will never see your children again (you’ll be sawing all day and night)!!!! You’ll grow a long, scraggly beard and stop bathing (what few people congregated with you before will now most surely be scared off)!!!!

Lock your doors!!! Turn off your phone!!!! Cancel your internet connection!!!! Don’t pay your tool club membership dues!!!! Stay away from the lumber yard!!!! Don’t bring in your mail!!!! And whatever you do, do not, under any circumstances go to and look at Mark’s saws.

You have been warned!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

-Matt 😉

Published in: on February 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm  Comments (7)  

The Disston Mystery…..solved???

Its been a very busy few weeks in the shop lately….I’ve been neck-deep in saw rehabs and sharpenings. I’ve had a lot of requests for saws over the past two months and I’m just catching up now, plus I finally finished the SuperSawBench, and have tried to squeeze in some sharpenings for my own saws, plus the normal rigamaroll that goes along with it all.

I have been stealing time here and there to make progress on my mysterious original Disston #99…a saw that I found at the last Spicer auction. I fell in love with this saw the moment I laid eyes on its truncated handle poking out from the bottom of a rust pile. You can check out my initial thoughts on it here.

Here’s a pic of her that day after a cleaning…

I’ve conferred with other saws geeks and hand tool punditry and it seems that this is indeed an early Disston #99. I was perplexed at first given the beech tote with a lamb’s tongue, but my above sources say that was indeed the way the originals came before they switched to an apple tote of more subdued styling, as seen at the Disstonian Institute and elsewhere. So, it appears that that means this little lady is a bit of a rarity…… 🙂

Anyway, knowing she was special motivated me to be extra particular with the impending rehab…..and it took me a good six weeks of hemming and hawing to decide how to patch the tote, which was the major focus of the process and biggest obstacle to overcome.

The first step was to find a nice piece of beech to perform the critical patch to the handle, and I searched high (, low (my dad’s firewood stack) and in between (Josh Clark and Mike Hendershot…fellow tool geeks)  to dig up that special piece….which, by the way, needed to be quartersawn and seasoned by about 150 years to match properly. 😉

In the end, I took Josh’s advice and dug into my ever-expanding pile of old transitional planes to scavenge the necessary flesh for the transplant. And it turned out to be a genius idea! The reason is, that if you get addicted to antique tool auctions, like so many of us do, then you invariable end up with piles and piles and racks and racks full of tools that you swear will be of some use to you some day, either to rehab and use, or sell and become rich, but which equally invariably, you never end up doing anything with except giving to friends who come over and drool on them, or selling for a song just to get your wife off your back.

Anyway, the point being that it turns out I actually have a supply of well aged and quartersawn beech to rival the New Brittain, Connecticut Stanley Works at the turn of the century. Go figure! So I picked a poor old transitional jack plane from the rack–ensuring first that it was way beyond its useful years– said a prayer to the Tool Gods (don’t laugh….they exist and will curse you with crappy tools if you don’t pay heed to their power!!!!!) and cut into the little buggers body to extract the necessary meat. Once I stopped crying, I quickly sawed and planed the chunk down to finished dimensions for the patch.

Here’s a pic of the first stage of the glue up for the handle…

My leg vise was surprisingly handy for this application…it worked like a charm….I can see myself using it often for small glue ups like this.

Anyway, you can see from the pic that the patch will proceed in two stages. This first stage is actually two pieces of beech glued to the tote to create the main grip. In the next stage, I had to plane down the bottom of the grip section perfectly parallel and co-planer with the lamb’s tongue section remaining to create a sound surface for the patch and glue line.

Here she is glued up and ready for stage two…

Once the two patches were glued up, I proceeded to rough shaping the new handle…

With the hard part over and my heart racing in anticipation, I shaped the lamb’s tongue and grip with my trusty Saw Handle Makers rasp (have I told you I love this tool?!?!?!) I lapped the shaped handle on a granite plate with 220 grit paper to blend the patches and create the flats, as the factory would have at the saws birth…

She’s really starting to take shape now!

Last week when I was working on this, I guess I got so wrapped up in the process that I forgot to take pics of fixing the upper horn, which you can see is also in need of patching. Oh well!

After finish sanding, I turned my attentions to color matching the patches. I used Golden Oak oil stain, a bit of Early American followed by three coats of 1lb cut blond shellac. A judicious buffing with 0000 steel wool, a cleaning of  the three medallions and here she…born again……..the Disson “One Son” Prize Medal saw….

The split nuts were actually in good shape and gripped up very nicely….no stripping or breaks. The medallions cleaned up sweet as well, and the patch looks decent….I’m pleased with the results.

Here’s some more pics….

Now all that’s left is to sharpen her up and let her get those teeth back into some wood….I’ll get to that this weekend I hope. She’s a 6 point saw and I was thinking of filing just a touch of fleam into the teeth….maybe 5 degrees or so…to sweeten up the action. I’ve got way too many 6 point rip saws, so I think a specialized filing for this unique saw may be in order. We’ll see….

Happy sawing! 🙂


Published in: on February 10, 2011 at 9:36 am  Comments (12)