Saws are a legacy


I have a theory about saws and planes that’s different than hammers and axes. People sell planes and saws when they get dull and stop cutting because there’s nothing they can do about it. A dull axe on the other hand they will use no matter because a steel wedge on a stick will always split wood. Even a rusty hammer drives a nail or stake and you don’t need a computer or a licence to drive it either so these tools are usually left where they are, uncared about and unsold.

My theories are often wrong but here is the other half. Of all the saws that I’ve bought secondhand through the many years not one ever arrived sharp, even though each seller often declared them to be sharp and in good condition. They mostly arrive beyond dull with fully rounded and abused teeth . By that I don’t so much mean an odd missing tooth or even a bent or kinked plate, just plain over worked.

The saw teeth often look like this one below. This saw will be fully functioning inside four minutes at a cost of 30 pence.


I ask myself what the people were thinking (if they were) and what they must have thought about it (if they did). I would say all the ones I’ve bought have been abused beyond workability by about 100 hours. None of the saws I have bought would cut through a stick of pine 3/4” thick with or across the grain more than a few millimetres deep without a lot of force and adding to the demise.


Sellers on eBay are a savvy bunch for the main part. Terms like vintage means if anything is wrong with the tools you can put it down to its age. Terms like, “needs a little TLC.” means the rust is too deep for me to bother with and, “fully restored.” can mean a wire brush in an angle grinder was used to remove everything including clues as to the maker and all metal has bee retextured. Another term that has crept in is, “Please see photos as these form part of the description.” Often the images are too bad, black or blurry to form much of anything. That said there are chances we take that turn up trumps and out of every hundred items or so I think perhaps two might be dishonestly described. On the whole, eBay has been the best resource for inexpensive goods in general if you are buying second hand. I noticed that every saw on eBay is sold as a crosscut saw. My theory on this is that crosscut and saw kinda go together; like peaches and cream or something like that. The truth is 99.999% of the sellers don’t know whether it is a rip or a crosscut saw so don’t take this as part of that which, “form part of the description.” Because there is usually an additional get-out clause somewhere that says they are “not experts, just being honest.”

P1140761Having seen the new vernacular being used to create bolt holes from responsibilities by sellers, I still find that my best buys come from there. Some of the saws are becoming quite scarce if not rare. These two from the mid sixties have Rosewood handles were the offering of Spear & Jackson.P1140758

I bought these saws over the past two months because they are ones I find the least expensive with the best quality of materials. They are mostly saws people bought and used until they stopped cutting and then got stuffed in a dark hole somewhere and were forgotten until eBay came along. The average price was around £12 plus £3 for shipping. They take me 4 minutes to sharpen them and usually they always have enough set.


The saws I buy usually are almost rust free and I generally look for that. Try to avoid pitting. Deep pitting can be very hard to work with. Whether you buy a new or old saw, within a few hours you must learn to sharpen them. That is the most simple of all sharpening tasks. Saws like these with unbreakable handles don’t have to brass backs as steel backs work well and cost less. Secondhand saws are good to practice on.

30 thoughts on “Saws are a legacy”

  1. Christopher mitchell

    Here is what’s so funny. Just last night I started to email you to ask why is every Disston backsaw I buy on eBay or from Vintage tool dealers crosscut . Did Disston even make rip saws?

  2. Have you noticed that eBay is not that cheap, when an average no 4 Stanley or Record plane used to go for less than £10 and I’m talking about decent planes, Nobody 5 years ago wanted them, now they go for £50-100 and a router goes for £45-150!!they never use to be as much as even when bidding. I think the eBay sellers are cashing in on this now since Paul’s popularity on the internet.

    1. It’s the buyers not the sellers and yes we have sent the prices up but they still cost less than the week’s wage they cost me back in 1965. These planes are actually worth at least $50 and double that really. Aside from the premium planes, these tools last a lifetime. I am still using Stanleys and Records from 1965 today and they are the best for the added wear I have put on them. I have done so much work with them I am on my 5th iron on my 4 1/2 and I don’t use mechanical grinders of any type but just use hand power on diamond plates. Now that’s got to be good value for dollar. Do you know my personal planes have never broken through normal use? That has to be worth every penny of £25-30.

  3. It is more than that. In some areas ( like my own) old tools are hard to come by, and when one is found the high spenders are willing to pay premium for (and get this) decoration. It irritates me to no end.

    Just last week I found a Stanley 45 is decent condition with the cutters. $300. Rediculos if you asked me. The seller wanted no less because “it is a rare piece that will look great in your man cave or mantle”

    Pshh…they should be used. Not collecting dust on a shelf of some “man cave”

  4. I agree I’ve bought four good user diston back saws in the last year for about 40$ at flea markets

  5. What’s your thoughts on keen cutter saws bought real nice panel saw love your videos on sharpening saws and to see one on sharpening cross cut though really struggle with those rip I do alright with get cofused with which tooth to put the fleam on the one closest to me or away

  6. Since discovering your website back in March this year I have become interested in woodworking with hand tools and have been buying various tools secondhand on TradeMe, New Zealand’s version of E bay. Most of the saws & planes arrive blunt, even though they are described as being sharp and in good condition. Except for the near new Adria Dovetail saw. I don’t think this is because the seller is “pulling a swiftly”, but they are clearing out Grand dad’s old tools and they don’t have a clue what they are. Even some dealers get it wrong.

    I got a Record 044 plane described as having an alloy body and apparently only one blade. Even after it arrived it took me some time to discover the complete set of 8 blades in a holder on the OUTSIDE of the custom made box for this plane. Clearly the seller never realised this either, the body of course is nickle plated. Something in the WAY it was described made me take a punt on this overpriced plane as on the auction. Holding the control key while scrolling zooms the image for a closer look on the computer.


  7. I really appreciate your saw sharpening video, Paul. I’d love to see a similar video for sharpening a cross cut pattern. It’s a tricky skill for me to develop and YouTube resources are few and far between, especially of the depth and quality we’ve come to expect from you. Thanks for all you do!

  8. @joe I completely agree – tools are made for their function first and foremost. I recently picked up a tyzack brasses backed saw on eBay that the seller sold as being in good condition. When I got it the handle was loose and the saw plate wasn’t straight. When I went back to the seller regarding their description she said it was listed under collectables and was only selling it for display and not as a working tool. You could put it down to a lack of knowledge but all one would need to do is hold the saw by the handle and you can feel how loose it is. When I try to tighten the brass screws they just twist freely. Anyone know what I could do to remedy that? I managed to straighten the saw with Paul’s trick of striking the brass back at different points with a soft faced hammer.

    1. Hey Mike. It’s probably just due to the wood of the handle drying and shrinking over time. Very easy to remedy!

      File down the ends of those screws a bit on a flat file. Shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes to get that handle nice and tight again.

  9. Thanks for yet another great article Paul. I recently came over a Sandvik backsaw at a car boot sale. It’s filed rip, more or less free from rust and it’s from the good old pre-plastic era (wooden handle, “Sandvikens Jernverk” medallion…) and it cost me less than 2£. So far so good, the problem is it’s back is missing. I’d be interested to restore it to working conditions, perhaps add a wooden back or even use it without a back or would you say it’s beyond rescue? At least I have something to practice my sharpening skills on…


  10. Christopher Mitchell

    I bought a WWI #4 from Patrick Leach for #130.00 ,In came in the mail today But this plane had never been sharpened or maybe used once or twice and put back in the box. It took me all of 20 Min to lap the back and sharpen it the Paul Sellers Way, and It purrs like a kitten . I asked Pat to look out for some Planes like this one, t and He” emailed me ” when He got it. And everything He said about this Plane was spot on.

    I have New Planes in fact I have almost every Plane that Lie Nielsen makes but when It comes to every day use I reach for the Stanley every time.For me a buck thirty is still cheap especially for this type.I like the way the early type Stanleys feel in my Hand and.Last week I got really lucky and found a complete box of 2″ Stanley irons Brand New with the V logo. There was six in the box so basically I’m set for life now. This makes Five Stanley #4’s of the early 1900’s one late 1800″ A Bedrock with the round body like the Bailey’s, and I have less than $325.00 in all Five Planes . That’s the cost of one Premium plane. I cant see getting a better deal anywhere.
    Now I just need someone who knows how to use

    Paul Did you see my first comment on this page . I’m really curious about these Saws, Why is every Disston Backsaw I buy a crosscut? Did they not sell many rip saws. I find myself needing rips more so than the crosscuts. I cannot file a saw and It cost me $100.00 to have them sharpened . When I had three of them filed rip I could barley use them. There almost impossible to get the cut started. I have Rip saws but there all new saws. BadAxe and LN.
    But I want to use these Vintage saws for rip.I think he used a 4 degree rake on the ones he filed rip for me. What is a want to be woodworker to do. Thanks Chris

  11. I’ve found it to be a general rule on eBay that used edge tools sold as ‘sharp’ will inevitably arrive blunt as a spoon. I don’t know if the sellers are deliberately overstating the condition or if they simply can’t tell the difference between blunt and sharp.

    The one exception was a (relatively expensive) saw I bought that was advertised as ‘fully restored by a retired cabinetmaker’. It had been freshly sharpened, not very skilfully, but it was at least usable. The catch was that it was advertised as a rip saw but sharpened cross cut!

  12. Yes I agree, but it is the sellers too with the “buy now” option. Most sellers put a reserve price at the start of the bid, and sometimes the items they are selling are incomplete, so you have to buy 2 or 3 of the same just too make the 1 good one especially when it comes to planes like ; plough, routers and rebate. because no one makes spares for these anymore, which is a shame. I use 2 of my dads planes and saws which he past down to me, and they are in great shape mainly because of how they have been looked after over the years and the quality of their build. Setting my moaning about eBay aside, it shows what you are doing and trying to get people to use hand tools is great, you are spreading the word and I think that is a great! I can only take my hat off to you sir. Keep up the great work.

    1. I think that we should also remember that there is another feature to eBay often forgotten. There is a returns redress or refund. In the past two years two items arrived damaged beyond repair. In both cases the sellers made good within 24 hours and asked that I not return the goods to save them shipping back. I have known the same for others who have received good service in the same situations. One time I received a plane from a dealer who had cobbled three plane types into one and sold is as a Stanley thoroughbred. I decided to let him know i could see what he had done but that I would keep the plane for spare parts for the planes I might used them on.

  13. I had a mixed blessing,via ebay, I got a goergous very old tyzak back saw. Tha was seems to have never seen a piece of wood. The plate is for the most part rust free, with a grand thick brass back. Down side, the saws been sitting in water at the handle. Need to make a new handle. Hopes are high. Cheers Peter

    1. Funny, I saw a lovely old 12″ Tyzack back saw in a shop yesterday. The handle was used but fine and the brass-back polished shiny but the saw blade/plate was badly pitted and still actively still rusting badly and flaking away in the middle, the cutting edge was ok for now though. Probably beyond repair, unless a replacement blade could be found, although wire brush, wire-wool, rust convertor and a few wipes with the P.S. rag-in-a-can-oiler might make a rough worker of it, for a while. Sounds like it should be the other half of your saw Peter!

  14. Hi Mike. One of my old saws, one left by my father, had such a loose handle. There proved to be two faults, one being that the holes for the two screws had rusted away enough for them to be loose in the hole, and the other that the brass shoulders on each side met in the middle. I filed down the brass slightly on the inside ends, and sleeved the steel bolts with a scrap of thin walled steel tubing I found in my hoard. It took some fiddling, but it did tighten up the handle to make the saw good again.

  15. I haven’t bought anything from E – Bay in a very long time, I have had a couple bad experience’s which turned me off from E – Bay. The bulk of my tools are vintage and buy from a few people on They have been as described and priced fairly.


  16. I’ve done fairly well on EBay ( at least I think so), but Paul’s assessment is dead on.

  17. Thanks momist for the info. I’m not sure how to actually take the screws out as they just free turn on me. I might have to get brutal and cut a small slot on the reverse side so I can use a screw driver on both ends.

    1. If the screw head has a slight dome you can take some of the silicone shelf liner used for lining kitchen shelfs and draws to prevent slippage. Place it on a scrap of wood and clap the wood to the saw handle so that the line is in contact with the screw head and turn. Usually that will hold the screw head sufficient to remove the bolt from the barrel. This has worked for me even with flush heads.

  18. Christopher Mitchell

    This is another subject that I find curious . It has to do with Planes and not saws. Are the Stanley Plane Irons any different depending on where they are made. US V’s Eng. And Second Most of the Stanley Planes I buy the iron is bent at the tip I suppose from where its been attached to the chip Breaker for so long. So this creates a problem for me when I go and try to lap the backs Its almost always hollow from the tip and about 3/16″ back.
    I have found that by the time I get it flat that Ive removed so much metal now I have a problem with the chip breaker making a good solid contact on the iron. Would it be ok to turn the chip breaker over and attach it to the other side of the blade then flatten and polish it up before sharpening the bevel. . I tried this yesterday on a #4. It had a full blade , never been sharpened but it had been sitting somewhere since the early 1900’s with the chip breaker attached so i didn’t want to abrade off all that metal just to get it flat and polished at the tip. Any suggestions on this?

    Oh yea as for my other question listed above about the Disston Saws I saw where they only filed them as rip saw’s If it was requested by the dealer or customer.. I guess I could just have them sharpened with the Hybrid pattern and see how that works.. So I suspect that’s why I never see a rip pattern on the #4’s and #5 backsaws.. I’m sorry about asking so many times.on this blog series.
    Thanks Chris

  19. Mike,
    I have had this problem with a couple of second hand saws I cleaned up. I clamped the handle with a clamp I have with two pads on one side and the screw on the other. The screw was placed above the saw bolt, leaving me access to the split nut on the other side The nut came off easily, but its best to use a little release oil as the brass can shear off if its really tight. I then drilled out the holes in the handle and glued in wooden dowels. Once set, I drilled them for the saw bolts. I used the clamp again to push the bolt into the wood so that the square below the head is forced into the wood and that will prevent it turning.
    I confess that it took me two attempts to get the dowels centred properly, so have patience and check before you drill.
    Good luck,

  20. Learning to sharpen a saw can be a truly rewarding experience. I rounded up about a dozen disstion saws to use and one craftsman to pratice sharpening. My plan was to sharpen each disstion to different rips and fleams so I could cut any thing with ease. However thanks to Mr. Sellers sharping videos and blogs my pratice saw has become my primary saw. It is sharpened rip and I have use it to get clean outside corners on crown moulding. Works great on pine, popular, beech, maple, cherry and oak with or accross the grain. And when I need that super clean cross, a knife line and a couple of passes with a #4 does it. One day I will get to those Disstions.

  21. Thanks for all the tips and tricks Keith, Paul and Momist – it’s great being able to tap into literally a world of knowledge!

  22. Darren (Green Change)

    Here in Australia, almost all eBay auctions for hand saws seem to be described as “crosscut rip saw”. I’m sure they’re just keyword-stuffing to catch all searches :-).

    That said, I’ve picked up a number of bargains. Weekend markets are an even better source, as you can look at the teeth properly, check the blade for straightness, look for faint brandings, etc. Even the so-called specialist dealers at the markets usually don’t know what they have, and often let something slip through their fingers for a bargain price.

    Now, if I could just find a cheap set of blades for a Stanley #45…

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