Saw beyond restoration

Well, this one was a challenge but I did it for you.




John Elsworth was a well known maker in his day, late 1800s early 1900s, and made good saws, of that there is no doubt. He had a an established reputation earned for the thinness of his steel and the comfort of his handles. He earned his reputation. Modern day makers rarely have that. The reputation is really a result of someone else. I remember an American maker of recent years who made a saw called the Independence saw. That owner earned his name as one of the best saw makers of his day. Bob Wenzlof of Wenzlof saws did the same. Makers like Thomas Flynn simply bought up all the names of sawmakers of old and added them t their list of names. They then made saws under different brand names of old and never actually earner=d their reputation. Fact is that they rarely make trull good saws that match the Independence or the Wenzloff’s.




Here is a very ugly looking Elsworth. The teeth are the worst I have ever seen or at least close to. My first task is to remove the rust. This rarely takes more than about ten minutes with #120-grit paper followed by #250 and then #600. Any surface rust would have already killed any engraving so I didn’t need to worry about that in this case because of the severity of the rust.

I find it best to dismantle the saw when I can; so I can to the rust right in the corners.








With all the rust removed I can now focus on the teeth. When the teeth are so badly uneven (sergeants and sappers) I generally remove all of the teeth right down to flat using a single mill flat file. This only takes a couple of minutes usually, but they must be removed completely.




I clamp the saw in the saw chocks and in the vise and mark increments onto the chocks with a knife as shown here. This gives me a guide as to spacing. On a 12” tenon saw, I like 16 ppi, which is a good sized tooth that is readily sharpenable. Anything less is hard to sharpen because of size, depending on the thickness of the steel; the thinner the steel the more likely you are to file out two teeth in one swipe. Increments in standard imperial are in 1/16” increments so that’s an easy one.




I now line up the file with each increment and take three or four swipes to establish the vee. I move along to each increment, keeping the line to my right and moving the file with each stroke to the line on the chock. At this point I am not so bothered about depth but more evenness. Bright spots on the edge mean that I haven’t yet reached the full depth, but after doing a couple of inches I go back and take consistent swipes evening out my discrepancies. Don’t worry. It works.

With all of the ‘V’ shapes along the length of the saw I can now settle the height by closely monitoring my pressure across the length of each stroke and keeping a rhythmic sequence to the strokes. It takes me about ten minutes to do a recut like this and then 5 minutes for final shaping, sizing and sharpening.

With the teeth cut, it’s simply a question of setting with pistol-grip sawset. I never use a set more than #12 on any of my saws. Sometimes even this is too much so I put a hammer in the vise and remove some of the set by tapping the teeth with a second hammer, using the other hammer face as a small vise.




Raw steel, freshly sanded should not be left to the elements. It readily rerusts so coat it with oil. As you use the saw it will take oils from the wood and your skins and will stop rusting the more you use it. My used saws never rust. My oiler is a 4-oz can with a rolled up cloth wedged tightly and evenly inside and soaked in light machine oil. 3-1 oil is fine. This puts exactly the right amount of oil on the steel.


On the handle I use glass cleaner. Not window washer or window cleaner but Glass Cleaner. This will remove the dirt and grime but leave the patina, and once all dirt is removed a simple brushing with a shoeshine brush restores the lustre.




Use 0000 fine steel wool with the glass cleaner to remove the dirt.




I use a Kiw shoeshine brush to polish out the finish.





This is how the finished saw looks replete with the original maker’s name visible again on the spine again.


17 thoughts on “Saw beyond restoration”

  1. I just did a ’35 Keystone air master that was totally brown with rust. This kind of thing really helps although I’m not brave enough to take off all the teeth! Thanks for the education.

  2. Hi, Paul, I recently restored an old brass-backed tenon saw using what I have learned from your Youtube channel and this blog (thank you for that). I cleaned the rust, sharpened it and refinished the handle which was pretty banged up. The only thing I could not do was fix the wobble in the handle. It is mounted using some type of rivet-looking things instead of screws so I cannot tighten them. Is there any trick for fixing this that you could recommend?

    1. Mostly, not always, these”rivet-looking things” are loose because the wood shrank a little. Usually they can be tightened the same way they were made and that it is they are pressed together and have a none reversible press fit. Often, when the wood has shrunk even a little, you can place the handle on somewhere solid, preferably steel, like another hammer in the vice, and with a steel hammer tap each of the rivet heads and they will tighten. If that fails, and almost never fails, you can drill them out and replace them but that can be expensive. If the saw is not a high dollar saw and you are content with just having it as a user. Superglue will do the trick too. Squirt superglue along the meeting line where the handle fits the saw plate. Not too much. Let it cure and then add more until you feel it is solid again. Super glue in this situation will work fine.

      1. Hi Paul, hope you don’t mind me jumping in on this one.
        Mick, when I get a saw with a loose handle and missing/damaged bolts I use gutter bolts.
        I can hear the screams of horror already! Firstly, hear me out.
        I only use them on ‘users’ that would otherwise be junked. These galvanised bolts with there large flat slotted heads and square nuts can be had in different lengths and are cheap. I remove what remains of the damaged sawbolt and open out the hole using a 6mm tile drill bit. Then recess in the head and nut of the gutter bolt. When cut and filed flush they look better than you may think. Thanks to the 6mm thread and the slotted head, they tighten much firmer than sawbolts ever would. Try it out on a basket case, orientate all the nuts so two corners are parallel to the tooth line. Maybe paint them?
        Hope this helps. Keep up the great work Paul and crew, it’s much appreciated.
        Kindest regards, Mark.

          1. No need to be sorry Paul, I knew it would be contentious. I have too much respect for you to be offended. What bolts do you recommend? I keep looking for a more elegant yet affordable alternative to the gutter bolt.

          2. I think the problem is that there is not enough money in it to be worthwhile as business entity and so the makers of saws can charge a premium for the ones they use. It wouldn’t take much to solder brass plate to threaded rod and make something that works though.

        1. Thank you for the quick reply, Paul. I followed your advice and gave each rivet several solid whacks using the hammer-in-the-vice technique. This took care of most of the slop but the handle still wobbles a little and I am afraid that if I hit the rivets any harder I might break something. I will give the superglue a try tomorrow and report back.
          Thank you for the tip, Mark. This saw came as part of a job lot of three saws. This one does not have any markings on it besides the words “warranted steel” stamped on the back. The others are made by H. H. Swann and Son and Drabble and Sanderson. The Swann saw is in better shape. It has its original bolts and almost no rust. The handle was cracked at some point and the previous owner reinforced it by putting in a dowel all the way through the back of the handle. The Drabble and Sanderson saw is in the worst condition by far. It has a missing rivet and the plate is split in two places. There is a 5-mm split in the row of teeth and a slightly longer one in the front just beneath the brass back. I intend to use these saws so I will give your gutter bolt idea a try. I got them for 10 pounds so I have nothing to lose. Thank you again for your help.

  3. Just wondering about the mill file that you are use to top off the teeth: are you using the same single cut 40 tpi mill file that you use for sharpening scrapers, etc. – or do you recommend something coarser?

  4. I am new to this restoration business and have a quick question. After buying a rusted but otherwise nice Simonds saw the other day, I watched a YouTube video of a guy soaking a saw in white vinegar to remove the rust. The rust came off easily.

    My question; does the vinegar affect the saw in any adverse way?

    Thanks for all you do for woodworking, Paul!

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