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Hand saw handles more than mere looks

There is more to the saw handle than you might realise. Yes a good grip is important.Comfort too. And having it fit your hand with enough heft to it so that your finger nails don’t cut into your palm makes it about the right size. Sometimes we have little choice on such things, but usually there is a lot you can do to saw handles that creates a dynamic power tool in the right hand.

I like to buy secondhand hand saws of different types for different reasons. One is I hate to see good steel, good brass and good wood go into the landfill or, worse still, get recycled into a throwaway Bahco or Spear and Jackson plastic handled saw.Two, they are often made with good materials. Three, for 50p (40c USD) and an hour or two’s weekend work they can cut as good as the best of the best. (Get my book and video course Working Wood The artisan Course with Paul Sellers to learn how)









The saw on the left shows the saw handle position as it came from the careless manufacturer in the 1950’s. The war years advanced mass making to its zenith and left us with low grade hand tools. The same saw right with the adjustment made to the handle line. See how the handle has been lowered to offer force more directly behind the teeth, bot NOT too low.

Some, many, of the old saws and indeed new ones too are presented inline at an awkward angle and this presents the saw to the wood without a true COT (center of thrust). That means that the hand is more overhand and on top of the saw rather than directly behind the row of teeth actually doing the cutting. This is never so apparent until you give the saw to as student who struggles to get the saw to make a full cut along the whole length of the teeth. In effect, the saw seems to ‘trip‘ part way along and of course the student thinks that it is him or her and not the saw.

This handle is in the position it came to me. It’s one of those post-war saws that marked the demise of British excellence in saw making. Bit like Canadian Disstons were to Henry Disston’s masterpieces pre-war V post-war. The handle is too high on the hoof  and aloof if you will. It needs rotating downwards so the in use, the heel of the hand is more directly behind the line of the teeth as the saw  thrusts forward into the cut.

First, remove two of the handle screw nuts and bolts and loosen the third slightly. Just enough to allow the swivel of the handle.







Here is the handle in its altered position. After lowering the handle, I drill out new holes alongside or into the old ones but now offset. Replace the screws and cinch tight.

My next post shows how redefine the handle. The saw already cuts perfectly now, but it needs a graceful hand made profile like the old Disstons and the Spear and Jacksons. How ashamed those old makers would be if they saw what had happened to their product line.


  1. Juan Moreno on 10 March 2014 at 6:31 am

    Mr. Sellers, I have a couple questions about COT. How would you quantify this variable via measurements of a given handle? Or is it more a matter of feel in-hand? I’ve seen a drawing where a triangle is created whose lines are the tooth line, along the grip of the tote, and an imaginary line 90 degrees to the end of the grip line at the top of the handle and intersecting the tooth line. Then I read a claim that the ideal hang angle is when this last line connects to the first tooth. All seems rather tech-y.

    I suppose my question is: how do you go about making sure you have the proper hang angle when making a new handle? There’s lots of handle templates out there, I plan to use one of them and I imagine that the screw holes can be moved to change the hang? Thank you!

    • Paul Sellers on 10 March 2014 at 4:08 pm

      You can take the existing handle and alter the drop by removing the screws and clamping small clamps to the handle in place of the screws until you feel it matches your expectations. It is also important to remember that by altering the tooth rake (the front pitch of the teeth) you can develop a completely different feel and this is how most saws are adjusted. A more negative rake 9perpendicular to the saw axis) requires nearer COT (centre of thrust). It is all about dividing angles between the aligned teeth and the angle of the hand inside the handle and then that part of the hand you use as the point of thrust. Sometimes we compensate for difference by pressing with the heel of the hand and other times we press that part between the thumb and forefinger.

  2. Dewald Kruger on 10 June 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Dear Paul.

    Most of my backsaws (Disstons, S & J, Sanderson) have play or rock in the handle. It is almost as if the nuts do not “clamp” with enough force. Is the nuts too long i.e. Are the bottoming out or have the holes been worn over the years to such an extent that no amount of clamping will ever cure the problem? They certainly do not look elongated.

    Most of these saws have seen better days but in S Africa you take what you get!

    I am at a stage of restoration where i do not want to ruin the saws. They certainly cut well but the rocking just does not seem right. Or this the way old saws behave?

    Your suggestion will certainly be appreciated. Perhaps you have dealt with this in prior blogs or perhaps new material for a future one.


    • Paul Sellers on 13 June 2014 at 10:05 am

      Sorry for delay. I am going to answer shortly via a blog.

  3. john Danks on 28 August 2017 at 9:26 am

    I have a brand new Tyzack series 120 14 inch tenon saw without the handel.
    Do you know were I can buy one.

  4. James Paul on 23 November 2017 at 9:16 am

    Thank you so much for giving us such type of information.

  5. Philip on 13 December 2017 at 11:57 pm

    How do you loosen studs on Spear & Jackson handle that has no slot for screw driver.

    • Paul Sellers on 14 December 2017 at 8:18 am

      You don’t. They’re not meant to be loosened because they are friction studs where the male part slips into the female part and they are hammer tightened. If you do want to take the handle off you will need to drill through the centre of the studs but then you cannot reuse them so they must be replaced. You can tighten loose handles by hammering the stud against a solid lump of metal like another hammer.

  6. Ryan lee on 26 May 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Were the new holes drilled in the steel plate or the wood handles?

  7. Jeffrey on 4 August 2018 at 9:58 pm

    Mr Sellers,

    I have a friend who’s had his own woodshop for many years, but depends primarily on power tools now.

    Yesterday I was discussing with him putting a Reagan (Disston) handle on a 14″ Lynx Tenon saw. The saw is RIP toothed and he commented that the angle of the handle (tote?) should be less in line with the spines parallel as a RIP saw needs more downforce than a XC saw. Can you comment please?


    • Paul Sellers on 5 August 2018 at 9:44 am

      Nope! He’s of a more modern era where they think they know. I have yet to see any handsaw or tenon saw that did not benefit from the most in-line direct thrust. Usually, in my experience, machine woodworkers using only machines, and then carpenters know very little about our side of woodworking but often act as though they do through owning a ‘superior attitude’. Bit like carpenters telling you to lay the plane on its side yet they never use one. Go back to the carpenters of a hundred years ago and you’ll see men who knew.

  8. Claudio on 7 October 2018 at 11:37 am

    Has anybody used a french polish finish in a saw handle? I’ve never applied a french polish, and all tutorial I’ve seen are only on a flat surface, so I was wondering about this. Or maybe a french polish in a handle is a terrible idea anyway?

    • Paul Sellers on 7 October 2018 at 1:59 pm

      Claudio, French polish is actually the technique of applying shellac and not actually a finish or material but the act of applying shellac. The art of French polishing, applying shellac, results in one of the most ultra high-gloss surfaces you can get from a completely natural material, allowing for a depth that looks the same as looking into spring-clear water. This method of applying shellac with a cotton pad filled with wadding like cotton wool or wool, works well on large, continuous surfaces as you describe and the technique comprises many, many coats of super-thin layers being applied over a period of time using a ‘pad‘, often called a ‘rubber‘ or a ‘fad‘ too.
      You can apply shellac by brush and it will give the super shine as with French polishing. Three coats is usually enough. Here you can see my plane handles which I recently did with shellac. The trick is speed in applying and not fussing with the brush once it’s on because the three coats all suffuse into one another to make up one thick coat rather than three layers as with most other finishes. It os very comfortable and excellent for tool handles. A 1″ flat brush with fine hairs works well for application.

      • Claudio on 7 October 2018 at 3:41 pm

        Oh, thank you Mr Sellers. I do know what shellac is as I have followed your instructions for applying it it projects and plane handles (we even applied with a friend to the handles of his bicicle, wich he covered before in cotton thread). I mean the french polish technique seems very dificult to apply in surfaces like a saw handle, so I was wondering if it was possible. More out of curiosity or maybe experimenting, not so much as really wanting it.

        I’ve only applied shellac with a brush, never with a cotton pad. The reason I was wondering if it was a good or bad idea (in the case that doing it in such irregular surface was possible) was because It’s a handle and I don’t know how a french polish feels, maybe It’s slippery, not sure. I think I saw a table once with shellac applied in the form of french polish, but I didn’t touch it.

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