Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life.

Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life. Sunset at Telegraph Point.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Repairing Broken Saw Handle Spurs

Hand saws today are most commonly provided with a plastic handle, and a blade with hardened and non re-sharpenable teeth.  As a bonus, they are comparatively cheap, and have become a disposable commodity, to be discarded after they go blunt in use.  Their replacement is often just another throw-away saw to be discarded in its turn.

The handles are generally designed for a four finger grip, with the thumb on the opposing side.  These are ergonomically primitive, and can be a chore to use.  They lack the point-ability of the older three fingered grip - that allowed the forefinger to be placed beside the handle to create stability in the direction of the saw's cut.

Occasionally, a company decides to take the issue of handle ergonomics seriously, and a contoured handle is produced to follow the curves and shapes of the operator's hand.

Here is Bahco's effort in this regard, that has a detachable handle and interchangeable blades.  The handles, of necessity in this design, are dedicated right or left handed.  It is impossible for a left handed person to use the right handed version, and vice versa.   They are essentially a mirror image of each other.  With a solid  aluminium core, they are padded with a soft rubber compound for comfort in operation.
 Unless they are a sale item, however, they are expensive and even when on sale, they are not cheap.  Compared to a  traditional wooden handled saw, they are also heavy, but - in spite of this - they are still well balanced.
The handle is still a four fingered grip, and even though I'm sure I could get used to it, this is not my preferred way of holding a saw handle.  Old habits die hard.

From time to time, a perfectly serviceable old-time handsaw comes along, that has had handle damage.  This is particularly true of older wooden handled saws from the golden age of hand tool manufacture.  They hold decided advantages over their modern equivalents in terms of price - and also because they are re-sharpenable.  They can be used with either left or right hand, and are an ergonomic delight.

The top and bottom spurs are essential for the accurate use of handsaws.  The bottom spur cushions the heel of the palm, and allows an easier sawing action by directing the thrust of the cut from the whole arm and shoulder.  Without a bottom spur, there is too much pressure placed on the hand grip, and fatigue sets in quickly.  The top spur cushions the web of the palm between thumb and fore-finger, and prevents the fingers from sliding up the grip and becoming cramped into the top of the handle.

I have always found it to be important to try saws for the fit to the hand, before deciding to buy.  The handles are a bit like gloves, they fit your hand - or they don't.  And a saw, without one or both of its spurs, is near unusable for any length of time.

This is the handle from an old Disston that has presented with a broken top spur.   Originally made from apple wood, the grip is as smooth as silk, and its position on the saw blade is exceptionally well balanced in use.  I don't have any apple wood, so a piece of Mackay Cedar was selected as a timber with suitable similar density and closeness of grain.  After cutting out the broken spur to create a squared surface, the block is glued in place with two part epoxy.  I have taken care to align the grain direction of the block with that of the handle.

Once the glued block has dried, it is time to sketch a suitable upper horn.  I tried two, and opted for the lower of them.  A quick rough cut on the bandsaw, and I am ready to start shaping with chisel, files and sandpaper.

The finished shaping now only awaits some stain - to help match the new timber with the old patina.

Of course, the finished saw is a joy to use, and cuts like a dream.  There is a warmth to old wooden handled tools that plastics simply cannot capture.  There is also the knowledge that other hands have held this saw, and that in some small tactile way we are sharing in the last 100 years of this saw's history, and the lives of the men who have used it.

Pretty cool when you think about it - that's why I love using old tools.

D.H. Lawrence

“Things men have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into
are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing
for long years.
And for this reason, some old things are lovely
warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them.”

............... and happy woodworking to all .................


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Marilyn. It was a fun project and I did most of the shaping while on duty over at Timbertown in the Guild Clubrooms. Visitors love to see the old tools and old skills in action, so it is a win/win for both of us.
      Love what you did with the Stanley number 5.

    2. Very nice article thanks Tom!

      I've been promised a visit to Timbertown as a lure to get me to go on holidays up that way next year, so we'll have to catch up


    3. Let me know if you are up this way Andrew - it would be great to see you.

  2. The finished shaping now only awaits some stain - to help match the new timber with the old patina.