The Big Tillotson…

Last year, after I rehabbed a LittleTillotson saw that I found in an old barn,  JoshClark emailed me and said that he had the saw’s big brother for me. So, more than a little intrigued, the next time I saw Josh at a local antique tool auction, he presented me with said ‘big brother’ and I quickly understood why Josh had referred to it as such.

Here she is as found and delivered from Josh…

18 inches of pure, refined Sheffield cast steel a fixed to the most gorgeous saw tote I have ever laid eyes on!!!! 

Here’s a shot of the makers mark…

Sure, she was beat up as all hell….and the saw plate was as crooked as a mobster…but I was in love!

I thanked Josh profusely and upon returning home, hung her in a place of honor in my shop along with the dozens of other saws on my Waiting to Be Rehabbed wall. The next several months passed and every few weeks I would take down this big, beautiful British beast and caress her in my hands. Sometimes my wife would come down with a load of laundry and find me drooling, eyes glazed over and rocking back and forth with the saw in my arms. I cannot describe the look to you, but I’m sure you’ve seen it before.

Anyway, a few days ago, I figured her time had come to move from the Waiting to Be Rehabbed wall to the Tuned-Up and Ready to Be Used but Only on Special Occasions wall….a notably loftier location in the antique tool hierarchy.

My first step was to remove the handle and carefully mark the nuts with their placement in the handle…when I put her back together, I wanted every nut to go back in the original spot. Next, I gingerly removed the folded steel back from the saw plate.

Here she is disassembled…

You can see the line of crud and rust that marks where the back has been improperly resting for the last few decades or so…

See how the line from the back gradually angles downward towards the toe? That shouldn’t be like that, but is a very common occurence on old back saws, and is often the cause of a wave in the tooth line due to uneven tension along the spine. These waves then make the saw bind in the kerf and cause kinks. Thankfully, the fix is relatively simple….though sometimes a bit risky, as kinks require hammering out and this must be done delicately in such relatively thin steel.

But before getting to the smithing, I clean the plate thoroughly with rust remover and 400 grit paper. For old saws like this Brit, I have stopped going up to 600 grit and beyond…I’ve found that the polish is too garish. The dull sheen from 400 is a much nicer compliment to the saws natural patina and plenty fine enough a finish for the steel.

So now back to the hammering….the plate on this saw did have a very pronounced wave and two requisite kinks…one going in each direction. Thankfully I was able to remedy them with some judicious hammering on my little anvil…

As I’ve been teaching myself saw smithing over the last year, I keep the words of master smithers like Ron Hermann and Bob Smalser in my mind at all times…..you can never remove a kink fully, only compensate for it and correct 80 or 90% at best. I was actually very pleased with the result of this plate….I was able to remove most of the kink and straighten the toothline properly. Again, not 100%, but for 160 year old cast steel, I don’t need perfection anyway…just so long as I can sharpen her up and use her occasionally.

Now that the saw plate is all cleaned up and hammered true, I can re-install the folded back, and for this, I use my Moxon twin screw vise. I’ve found that clamping the saw plate in the vise jaws with the exact depth of plate I want buried in the back makes for a much easier task than the tap, tap, measure….tap, tap, measure….tap, tap, measure procedure that most employ.

Here’s the saw plate in the vise…

I like to use a small dead blow hammer to install saw backs…it makes for much more accurate and safe back installation. Plus, the one I use is coated in rubbery plastic, so there’s no risk of damaging the steel of the back. I rub a healthy amount of paraffin wax on the saw spine and tap away…

Here she is all reunited with her partner to a uniform depth…

On to the tote….which was in miraculously fine condition considering the age. I simply gave it a good scrubbing with mineral spirits to remove the crud from the crevices, then a light coat of dark brown Briwax…

And next, I reinstall the tote to the saw using my dandy little new split-nut driver (maybe I’ll post soon on how to make this very handy tool)….

Now I turn my attention to the teeth….which are quite coarse for a tenon saw…9ppi (or 8 tpi, I should say, as this is a British saw). This is certainly just about the coarsest tooth spacing you will find on a back saw….but they do make for great big cuts!!!

I use my Moxon vise once again with a saw vise carriage made for re-toothing. I’ve been using my Moxon vise more and more for saw filing lately…you just can’t beat the solidness of it…

It took two jointings and filings to correct the very misshapen teeth, but once completed, they look ready to chew lead and spit bullets. 😉 Given the coarse spacing, I filed them with 10 degrees of negative rake…

And here she is all tuned up and ready to fight…

Hardly able to contain myself at this point, I hastily chucked some 8/4 cherry into my leg vise and had at it with my new British blade…

Now I have to say, I wasn’t expecting much from this old girl…but when she flew through this cherry like a spring (steel) chicken, I nearly crapped myself…the old lady can cut!!!!!!! And the action was sweet right from the vise….dead nuts straight to boot!

How about some close-ups?

The mark all cleaned up…

The back side of the tote and split nuts…

And how about a reunion? Two saws…separated at birth for 160 years….two Tillotson’s together again…

Excuse me while I insert  myself into this little party….

😉

-Matt

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Published in: on April 11, 2011 at 7:10 pm  Comments (18)  

Hand Saws: Not just for the shop….

Over the past couple of weeks, my wife and I have begun the first of many home remodeling projects on our modest two bedroom ranch. And like any willing woodworker, I relish the opportunity to take my hard-earned skills from the shop and apply them to the home and beyond. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to crack the whip on my new bride and flip the otherwise skewed power dynamic by playing foreman. 🙂

We decided that the first of our projects should be removing a section of the wall dividing our kitchen from our living room and installing a bar top style eating area.

So when I first told my wife that our goal was to complete this entire project —which includes building two temporary support walls, removing a large section of the main load bearing wall, and framing in a new header and rough opening for the bar top—with only the use of meat powered tools, she thought I was crazy. (Actually, my wife already thinks I’m crazy…but this further confirmed the previous assumption)

As demolition and framing got under way, however, she quickly saw (no pun intended) that I wasn’t completely off the reservation. And further, she even enjoyed some of the work.

I’m happy to report that the only use of a power tool was when I had to whip out the Sawzall to cut back about two dozen protruding nails from a stud that I couldn’t access. Not too bad!

Here’s a shot of me cutting down some studs (which will become cripples for the new half-wall) with my trusty 20 inch panel saw…

Anyway, the most fun part of this whole project was framing in the new wall…who doesn’t like cutting 2x4s with a hand saw?!?!?

If you’re new to hand saws and want to wade into the waters slowly, then I can think of no better first project then building with construction grade lumber. Soft, white pine boards cut like a song with even the worst tools…never mind if you’ve got a half-way decent cc saw and a proper saw bench. Pure Zen baby!

I know what you’re thinking…this sounds like real work man! And it is…but what sweet work, at that! The cool breeze….the soft zzzzzzzrrrrip, zzzzzzzrip, zzzzzzzzrip of the saw cutting through the pine….no cords, no 80 decibel squeal from a power saw, no cloud of dust blowing back into your face when the wind changes….just peaceful, satisfying work. And one of the coolest things about doing work like this with hand saws is that its like practice for your woodworking without the pressure of furniture grade accuracy.

So, I always mark my 2×4 cuts on two faces….it makes it much easier to ensure an accurate cross cut….square and plumb….

And you can see here how I brace the work with my body…the thrust of my downward stroke pushes the board into the kneecap of my right leg and my left knee and left hand hold the board down on the bench…

And here’s a shot halfway through the day…all that’s left is to double up the new cripple studs and the framing is done. You can also see the old fashioned balloon framing and brick and mortar fire blocking in the open stud walls….

Damn, this was a good day!

-Matt  🙂

Published in: on April 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm  Comments (2)