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.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Old Hand Saws - Diamonds In The Rough

You can find them everywhere - garage sales, Sunday markets, estate auctions, ebay, Trade Me, Gumtree, and at the back of grandpa's work shed.

Old hand saws are the tools that few want, and most discard.  I have walked past the same bunch of hand saws at our local market every Sunday for the last six months.  While other tools sell, saws sit and languish.

Cheap power tools have made working wood by hand something to be avoided by the majority of people.  Of all the woodworking tasks that we perform, cutting timber by hand is - comparatively - one of the most laborious these days, and is much more easily done on powered equipment.

However, there are so many times when cutting can't be done any other way, and a hand saw is the only answer.

I have just spent the day with my eldest son replacing the dutch gable on one end of our home.  The old hardwood weatherboards were not only tired, but showing signs of rot and splitting.  Down they came and their replacements - weathertex - installed.

Cutting the angled ends of these was much safer and almost as quick as using a power saw.  We used my old Spear & Jackson 10 point cross cut - which breezed through the timber.  Even my son had no trouble with this, and he is not a woodworker but an auto-electrician.  I caught him grinning while sawing a couple of times.

Cross cutting timber with a sharp handsaw is an absolute joy.  It is a Sunday here, and I know that the neighbours are all at home relaxing with their families.  The last thing that they want is the ear-piercing scream of a power saw shattering their family day together.

Few of my handsaws have been bought new.  Most have been acquired as hand me downs, or knocked down at auctions or tool sales.  My father's Disston D-8 crosscut 8PPI is one of my treasured possessions.  It was the only saw he ever owned.

I was lucky enough, many years later, to inherit a saw from my wife's father, which has always puzzled me. I never knew who was the manufacturer.

We used it extensively, Lindsay and I , when building the roof of my first home - exactly forty years ago.  It is small enough to hang from a tool belt while climbing among rafters, purlins and collar ties, and was used daily in this area when cutting purlin props, roof battens and hanging beams.

It is unlabelled and without etch - even the medallion is plain - but it has a nib, and the medallion is distinctive.

It is only in the last month that I have discovered that this is a Disston.  Referred to as the Disston - Our Saw.  Here is what it would have looked like as a newer saw.  This saw is offered in the Disston 1914 Catalog as the No. 090 “special saw etched to order.” That catalog lists the smallest size of this model as a 16 inch panel saw, but mine is just a little longer - 16-3/8 inches. 
Apparently, the circle of dots on the medallion is typically of Disston origin.  While it's nice to know what it is, its value to me is in its history - including part of my own.

Other cross cut saws that have proved useful are these two - an Atkins Perfection 7 point,  and the Spear and Jackson 10 point saws.  I used the S&J for the weathertex because it is a manufactured board with fine fibre structure, and the 10 points left a much nicer finish that didn't need further dressing.  The Atkins Perfection 7 point is a great general purpose cross cut, that makes short work of  timber preparation in both carpentry, and wood sizing in cabinet work.  It is very good on tighter grained timber, but can be a bit too aggressive on open grained wood, leaving a ragged edge.

I don't usually like to use plastic handled saws, but I will make one exception.  This Sandvik cross cut saw dates back to the 1960's, and even though the handle is designed for a four fingered grip, it can be used with three. It is nowhere near as comfortable to use as the wooden handled saws, but it has a superb blade that will tackle just about anything in the timber line.

These are always cheap at markets and auctions. I got this one for $25 from an old tools sales store. I have seen them even cheaper.  My cousin, David, who is a builder - swears by them.

Finally it is worth considering the usefulness of a hand rip saw.  Absolutely no-one but collectors wants these, and they are difficult to sell, cheap as chips, and are often given away.

If you can't tell whether a saw is a rip saw or not, look at the teeth.  Rip saws are filed straight across the teeth (@ 90 degrees), and the teeth themselves have a more vertically oriented presentation to the wood.  They are flat across the bottom of the tooth - like a chisel.

There is an excellent explanation HERE

These three are all ripsaws, but with different features and uses.

The Bodman - top - is set at a very aggressive 4-1/2 points per inch, and is good for fast ripping of thicker timber stock.  The Disston - bottom - has 7 points and is excellent at ripping one inch or so boards that need reducing in width. The Tyzack Nonpariel has 6 points, and is good for those timbers in between these sizes in thickness, or for denser one inch stock.

Of course, ripping with a handsaw was a job often given to apprentices, as it was sooo physically demanding.  I still try to avoid it, but often there is no alternative - and sometimes - when time is not an issue, it can be very zen-like.  Get into the groove and become the saw.
Doesn't happen often, I can tell you.

It is a pity that these grand old tools aren't more popular than they currently are.  I can see a day coming when we will look back on the scrapping of these lovely old handsaws with regret.  Now is the time to grab some while they are still around.  They are the product of an age in tool manufacturing when quality mattered above all, and the hand saw maker was revered as an artist.

Happy woodworking to all ...............


  1. Another great blog post. I'm only new to collecting saws - I got this particular bug badly for backsaws but now have what seems to be an indecent number. I have bought 19th century saws for a few dollars, which seems crazy. Cleaned and sharpened they are indeed a joy to use. I have now branched out into the bigger ripping and crosscut saws and bought a saw vice. BTW My youngest daughter has told me not to talk about saws in public...

    Keep up the terrific blog.


    1. I have three old saws - does anyone want them - Live on the Central Coast

    2. Thank you for your generous offer.
      Do the saws have any brand names on them - this can be a good guide to quality.

  2. Ha hah - old tools are addictive, and it isn't hard to acquire more old handsaws than one needs - especially for the prices that they often go for. I will admit to having more than is necessary for what I do. No matter, I have three boys and they are all handy with their hands. There will be enough to share amongst them when I am gone.
    Thanks for the kind words Tim.

  3. Old saw is great topic choose by you.I need this information for my new blog.Thanks to post nice information.

  4. The Disston at the bottom is actually a No. 12 not a D-12 , there's not a lot difference between the two, well i guess there is a fair bit if one is to look critically, the D-12 replaced the No. 12 in the range in the late 1920's, its claimed the steel was improved on the D-12, the taper grind is meant to be more (but i haven't found that to true), blade shape changed, the nib is gone though occasionally #12's don't have nibs either and the handles on the D-12 has improved fitting to the saw plate, wrap over top (no slit in the top of handle) and an extra nut, but, became more blocky. I prefer the #12 myself, the well crafted hand finished handle makes it the pick of the two. A great find, many would be envious and a #12 in a 7 ppi rip saw variety is scarce as well....kudos'

    1. Thanks very much for the clarification as it is always best to be correct in identification. I appreciate your expertise. It is a lovely saw to use.

  5. just wondering if anyone can help
    I have an old saw has a button with disstonon it .was given to me 6 years ago by a 94 yr old lady who said her husband had had it for ever it has 3 bolts plus the button and has ? wheat stalks carved in the handle
    blade is 64cm long ...have pics but dont know how to attach here
    any help would be appreciated
    thanks for your time

  6. Hi there Ross,
    Lucky you to have this saw.
    You have a good saw if it is a Disston. You can check its lineage at the Disstonian Institute web page which lists almost every type of Disston ever made. See here:

  7. hi, i have an old sandvik handsaw No.277 with the dragon handle and it has the sandvikers jernverks a.b. medalion on it id say it is allmost in mint condition and i would like to know if theres any value for it, i tried googling it and didnt find the exact kind. Thank you!

  8. Hard to say what it is worth, and difficult to place a monetary value on such a saw.
    It would be a wonderful tool to use and a prized saw for whoever owns it. As to who might choose it over a better known Disston, only the market can decide. I would value such a saw - but I might be in the minority.
    A search of completed listings on ebay would be a good guide.
    Happy sawing

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