Here's an article that I was asked to write for the CRAFTS of New Jersey in 2002 that first appeared in the February of 2003 issue of the "TOOL SHED". I will most likely be updating some of this and adding more pictures. In the meantime I hope you can glean some information from it that will aid you in restoring and sharpening your vintage saw.

Vintage Saw Restoration

I guess it's been a while back now when I first fell in love with old hand saws. There were a couple hanging out in my father's shed in rural Illinois that were rusty, dirty, the handles had dried out age cracks and the horns had even been chewed by mice. They probably shouldn't have even been restored but they had belonged to my Great Grandfather who in his early years had been a box car maker around St. Louis and they held some sentimental value. When I uncovered an etch on the H. Disston & Sons D-8 panel saw that to me at the time should not have even showed up, I was hooked. I still have these saws hanging up and though I don't use them much (they do a reasonable job of cutting) they remind me of my first attempts at saw restoration and sharpening. Many saws have followed since then!

I have loved woodworking since school but my interests in tools has gradually switched from power to hand. Hand planes came first followed closely by handsaws. How many of you have tried using hand tools but became frustrated because they never performed up to your expectations and then set them aside never to be used again? They were probably not sharp or tuned properly and hand saws are no exception to this rule. When properly sharpened they slice through wood with ease and are a pleasure to use.

There are some questions to ask when searching for a saw to restore that will make your job a lot easier.

1.Blade: How rusty is it? Is it straight,bowed,kinked? Any dings? Teeth missing? Cracks around the gullet? Has it been sharpened down to nothing (and I don't mean a ship point)? Taper ground?

2.Handle: How does the handle feel when you hold it, is it comfortable? Chipped or broken horns? Cracks? How much finish is left? Is the medallion and all screws/ nuts present?

Look for a blade that is as straight as possible. Ones with bows can generally be worked out by bending gradually in the opposite direction of the bow. Stay away from severely kinked blades but minor kinks and dings can usually be worked out with a piece of end grain hard maple serving as an anvil and a copper or a good convex faced hammer to tap with. A pin straight blade is great but hard to find. I might get some disagreement on this one but as long as you can get the main imperfections worked out there really isn't much of the blade engaged (percentage wise in length) in a 1" to 2" thick piece of wood anyway. I have not found to much tracking and cutting differences between a pin straight blade and one less perfect.

I always look for a saw that has a taper ground blade. On these the blade thickness remains the same at the cutting edge

but on the back becomes gradually thinner from the handle to the point. This reduces the weight a little and provides some built in clearance so you don't have to put as much set in the teeth. Less set means a smaller kerf. The benefit of this is a saw that is a little easier to push because you are removing less material. I have heard of people referring to a saw as double taper ground where it gets thinner at the cutting edge from point to butt end.

Click to view larger image

I don't believe this too be true. It really makes no sense to me, as it would create the possibility of binding as you sawed. I think they have mistaken the top view in the photograph at the left (Atkins is not the only one to have illustrated this) to mean the blade is like that through out it's width. It is actually only showing the blade thickness at the very back edge. The small end view along with the 20 gauge markings shows that the cutting edge remains the same thickness the whole length. Blades will start measuring thinner at the cutting edge, at the point than the butt end, the more they are sharpened. This only makes sense since the taper is more severe at the point than the butt, which has hardly any taper grinding at all. That being said I have also had some old non-taper ground saws that cut admirably when properly set and sharpened.

Look for a handle that pleases you and is comfortable to hold. The older saws have beautifully rounded details, thinner horns, and that nice bump in the grip that fit's so comfortably in the palm of your hand. Ergonomics was nothing new to

Now that you've found that perfect saw where do you begin? This will depend on what you want your saw to look like and how you want it to perform. If the handle is O.K. and you like the patina on the brass leave it alone and start cleaning on the blade. If the handle needs some work and you want the brass clean take the screws out but be cautious. If you have split nuts mark them with a small felt tip marker or pencil as to the location on the handle and the orientation (vertical,etc.) so you can put them back in the same location. You will probably have to take a regular screwdriver and grind it thinner to fit in the slot of the nut and grind or file a small slot into the center of the blade to clear the screw to remove them. I have had good luck driving them out with a small diameter pin punch. Proceed slowly and gently because if you break them the only resort for most would be to have someone silver solder them.

If you run into to much resistance tapping them out you might consider stopping and leaving the handle in place because you run the chance of buggering the threads up to where you can't even get the nut back on.

Allot to think about, Eh. The modern style nuts present less of a problem. There is one thing I look at before I remove them. For some reason on some handles (more often than not) over the years through wood swelling and screw tightening the wood fibers around the perimeter of the screw heads and nuts have flowed over them. If you remove these they can lever tiny slivers and chips right out of the handle which can be glued back in place

Click imager to view larger version
Click image to view larger version

with cyanoacrylate glue but it's best to avoid this altogether if possible. My method to help this situation is to use an X-acto knife which I very carefully trim and score around around the heads to remove these fibers before I take the screws out. I usually back the nuts out part way and tap on them with a plastic mallet to free the screw from the handle and blade then remove the nut. Some can be stubborn and if they still aren't loose enough to remove you might have to use a punch to tap them out the rest of the way. The handle can be pulled off next. This can take some effort on some because of the burrs left behind on the holes in the blade. These have a tendency to grab the walls in the handle slot and hang on!

Cleaning the blade comes next. If you still have the handle on you'll have to clean around it the best you can. I usually start in the area where the etch is. If you can see it that's great, if you can't, take a guess at the location, usually it's centered in the middle of the blade. Try to get the blade laying on a fairly flat surface. If the blade has a heavier brown rust on it I'll start with a heavier weight 150 grit aluminum oxide and sand dry in the area where I think the etch will be. Just be cautious and go


slowly. If an etch is still there, I'll usually start seeing one appear, then I'll start being very carefull in that area. If and when it appears fully, I'll start concentrating on the rest of the blade and leave the etch for the finer grits. I know this sounds crazy but it's kind of thrill to me to see if I can read any of the script on the blade that's been hidden all these years. If you're blade is cleaner you can skip down to the steps below.

Once your satisfied with the etch you don't have to you use the block anymore. I only use the block to keep my fingertips from following the very shallow depressions of the etch and to keep from rounding over the edges and distorting it anymore than I have to. Now comes the tedious task of removing almost all of the remaining rust on the rest of the blade, front and back. I say almost because you'll probably still have some dark areas mixed in with the steel gray. This is O.K. because you're not striving for


a shiny, new, perfect blade (it's not, that's kind of why you got it in the first place) just smooth. To me this is were the beauty of patination comes in on an old tool, not in the previous rust that would make this a tool useless to cut with. Lastly I'll polish the blade with some worn 600 grit, used dry only. When you're satisfied with the cleaning put a coat of paste wax on it to protect it followed by a good buffing out. My preference for this is SC Johnson paste wax but any good paste wax should work. I'd try to stay away from anything with silicone in it that could contaminate the wood surface and cause finishing problems latter on.


Now the edge of the saw probably needs attention. Most of the saws I pick up need the teeth jointed, reshaped, set and sharpened and yours will probably be no different. Site down the edge. Is it fairly straight or does it have a slight crown to it. If it's convex you probably have what is called a crowning breast to the saw. This practice was used for a while which was supposed to aid in the cutting action by keeping all the teeth engaged in the cut due to the natural arc motion of the arm while sawing. If the saw has a crowning breast I use to use a tool that was made for filing the crown and setting the height of the raker teeth on large timber crosscut saws.

This tool will hold an 8" mill file at 90 degrees to the gauge fence and have register surfaces at opposing ends with a screw in the center. By setting the gauge fence against the saw face you can purposely bow the file to match the curvature of the blade. My gage happens to be a Simonds but I believe most of the major saw manufacturers had their own version. Any more I just free hand the crown in the blade by sighting down the edge while I'm filing it to determine where I need to remove metal. If the edge


is straight you can make you own jointer from a block of wood with a groove plowed in it 90 degrees to the face. Make the groove wide enough so your mill file will fit snugly into it. Relieve the corner of the groove directly below the file so there will be clearance for the set that are in saws teeth. There are old cast iron jointers that can be found at flea markets that work well also. These straddle the blade while holding a file in place with screws from each side.

7" regular taper 4-5 ppi
7" slim taper 5 1/2-6 ppi
6" slim taper 7-8 ppi
6" x-slim taper 9-10 ppi
6" xx-slim taper 11-12 ppi
5" xx-slim taper 13-15 ppi
4" xx-slim taper 16-18 ppi
Looking down the side of the blade

Pick the saw up and hold it at eye level with the back edge of the blade toward you and site down along both sides. You should be able to see the set in each tooth as a dark shadow. Chances are you'll see to much shadow and it won't be even from tooth to tooth or from one side of the blade to the other. If you had to joint allot there might not be any set left which to me is ideal because I would just as soon start fresh. I use a pair of dial calipers to check the thickness of the blade just below the teeth and then to check the set. I shoot for about .005" set per side, or .010" total, on most hand saws and about .003 per side, or .006" total, on back saws. You don't want binding but the less set you can run with the smoother the cut will be. If there's to much set you might have to live with it or at the very least even it up with a saw set trying not to put any more in than is already present. I have had good luck taking some excessive set out with a sheet metal hammer and a hard flat surface, such as an anvil. I have read you shouldn't do this but I'm always experimenting. Set the teeth of the blade on the surface and lightly strike the teeth that are bent upward. You can start at the front of the blade or the back, it really makes no difference. Check your progress once in a while to see if you're removing any of the set. When your satisfied with the one side flip the blade over and do the other.

Sharpening a crosscut is slightly different in that you're trying to create more of a knife edge for severing cross grain fibers than a chisel edge on a rip that actually plows the wood out with the grain. Make yourself a wood gage that has a shallow kerf cut in opposing faces at 25 degrees (or whatever you want to bevel file at) to the edge. When viewing one of the kerfs, the opposing side kerf should be angled in the same direction as the one being viewed. This gauge will straddle the cutting edge of the saw and serve as a visual

Bevel gage
Bevel gage flipped

guide to bevel file the teeth. With the heel at right side of the vise place the gauge on the saw so that the end farthest from you is angled to the left. Position the file in the gullet basically the same as you did for a rip but now angle the file to line up with the edge of the gauge. You will be filing a small bevel on the front of one cutting edge and the back side of the other tooth. The objective is to hold the file in the correct position to remove an equal amount from each tooth, top to bottom, (again the cutting edge of one and backside of other) until the outside edge of the tooth becomes sharp and you've filed up to the point of the tooth.

Finished profile

Cleaning or repairing the handle is another subject. If most of the original finish remains on the handle or it has a nice color (patina) to it I usually just clean it with some #0000 steel wool and paste wax. Then I buff it with a towel when dry. Most of the time I encounter handles that have little or no finish left and can have a brownish gray cardboard look to them. Sometimes the finish is so bad it just flakes off when rubbed a little.

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