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)  

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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You did a great job on that tote. Nice work!


    • Thanks Yaakov! I’ll get back to work on your saws now….:)

  2. Very nice rehab job, Matt!

    Equally impressive is the even color of the finish.

    Not too sure about adding fleam to rip teeth though. Doing that has always seemed to compromise both the ripping and crosscutting qualities of the saw.

    Again, very nice job!


    • Thanks Marv!

      I appreciate your thoughts on fleam as well…I may end up just filing it straight across…not sure yet.


  3. Hi Matt,

    That is a beautiful restoration. What’s impressive, is just when one may think something is un-savable, it is!

    Keep up the nice work Matt!



  4. Hi Matt,

    Inspiring stuff – thanks.
    Quick question: when you talk about the finish what is “Early American”?



    • Simon

      “Early American” is simply the name of the pre-mixed oil stain that I used (in addition to Golden Oak). Its like a medium brown color.


  5. Great Rehab!!! Beautiful work. It shouldn’t surprise me but it does. Pat yourself on the back.

    5 degrees becomes 6 becomes 7 becomes 8….. 22.
    Pretty soon you will be where the rest of us are.

    By the way do you have any skew blade planes or chisels, or any cutters on your planes? Or do you grind and file them straight across?

    • 🙂 very funny Rick!

  6. Matt,
    So this is what I have to look forward to… Funny, I was looking at a lot of Stanley transition planes that looked like they needed a better home than what they have…

    Best regards,
    Albert Rasch In Afghanistan™
    Hogs and Dogs!

  7. I’m enjoying your Blog very much! I found it through my friend Albert at The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles™; he seems to find all the best blogs on the internet. I’ll be reading your posts as the weeks continue.

    When I was much younger, there was an Italian gentleman that came through our neighborhood on foot. On his back he carried a folding trestle table, grinder and vise. In his pockets were stones and files. He would walk the streets ringing a bell, calling to the neighbors. The ladies would bring out their kitchen knives and scissors, an occasional man a knife or saw. He would sharpen them right there on the sidewalk.

    Thank you,
    Big Bob

  8. […] 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. […]

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