Ebay Saws Are Still the Most Inexpensive Resource

Three saws for under £20 for the three. Such is the legacy we have here in the UK. Imagine such a thing!
Three saws for under £20 for the three. Such is the legacy we have here in the UK. Imagine such a thing! Compared to the Japanese one in the background at three times the price I think I got a good deal. Oh, and the saw kerf of all three of the western saws here is less than that of the Japanese saw, contrary to all that you will be told.

I found these saws recently, via ebay of course. They generally sell between £6-12 but they can go for more too. The one at the forefront is a split nut S&J and that was a good saw for the price I paid and it is a lovely saw comparable to the very best I have I would say. I almost felt guilty at the price. A modern day equivalent maker would be selling around £100 for such a saw.

I don’t know when I will restore my last saw. I see them and wonder how they will be after I’m done. Restoring most back saws takes me less than half an hour usually, no longer. People feel less about steel backs but the only difference really is that they are a little lighter than the brass cousins. As far as cut goes you just add a little extra hand weight to the strokes and you have good saw. Most older saw handles are coated with shellac. When they become grubby, a few strokes with 0000 steel wool removes both grime and a layer of shellac. P1500190Applying another coat or two of the same shellac restores the gentle lustre needed for good protection. P1500191Steel wool and furniture polish softens the feel but is more pleasant than essential. P1500193Removing rust and surface grime requires the same operation and I use old 250-grit sandpaper for this. P1500182I’ve grown a dislike for the brown packing tape everyone sticks to the steel of saws and planes. P1500184You know how the sticky brown part sticks to the tool and the clear comes away. P1500187Meths works well to remove the residue from the steel. A few rubs dissolves everything and a wipe with a meths-soaked pad gives you clear steel again. P1500198Coat the surfaces of steel with furniture polish or light machine oil and then just use the saw and keep it clean from here on.

23 thoughts on “Ebay Saws Are Still the Most Inexpensive Resource”

  1. Hi Paul,
    I’ve been lurking around your blog for a month or so, collecting knowledge and gradually building a set of basic secondhand tools. My wife and I wish to learn more about working wood and are operating on a shoestring budget. Your advice has helped us to get everything we need and nothing we don’t – all for less cash than some folks spend on their dinner.

    I just wanted to say “thank you” for making this knowledge available to any and all who want it. Now I’ll be off, I’ve got a couple old saws to restore…

  2. Sorry, Paul, but everytime you endorse some thing like this the auction price goes sky-high.
    Lots of us buy old tools and do them up.
    Groves saws….. Stanley routers…. Marples chisels…. there are more.

    1. Christopher Barnes

      Paul thanks for sharing. Keep it up. All my hand tool purchases still don’t add up to the jointer and planer I couldn’t afford that almost stopped me woodworking. Your presntations of hand tools now make me believe I can build anything. I may not be good, but now I can four square a board and saw any line I can draw. If the price of tools is going up its only because we are all realizing that it’s time to snap up all the 100 year old tools before they are gone. Buy a new stanley number 4 and you will see they don’t build them like they did 100 years ago. Keep up the good work. I’ll keep following you from the USA. And thank your for rekindling mine and many others love for working wood.
      Thanks Chris

    2. Yes, they will ‘jump’ up for a short time. But they will drift back once everyone gets a couple or forgets about it. Paul is very popular (Justifiably!), but not even he can shift things in ‘the big picture’.

  3. Y Saer:
    How inconsiderate of you. Naked commercialism is not to be compared with the rest of the woodworking world drowning in ignorance.
    I’m sure Fine Woodworking and Popular Woodworking would both love for Paul to shut the hell up.

    1. What is inconsiderate about what he said, it’s true. He made no mention of FW or PW and no one can shut anyone up. This is the internet a place of free speech or whatever’s left of it. Do you not the the price of hand tools sky rocketing, just because there are a few items that are cheap on Ebay doesn’t make Ebay a cheap place to shop. Do you know what it used to cost to buy a hand plane 5 years ago? Look it up and compare what it costs today. Yes it’s sky rocketed mainly due to the hand tool resurgence.

      If Y Saer or anyone has an opinion then you should respect that opinion even be that a negative opinion and not jump down his throat for it. We’re woodworkers lets support and respect one another not form alliances against one another.

  4. Some of my best saws are ebay specials, but as I live in a place where carpenters outnumbered cabinetmakers probably 50 to 1, handsaws comparatively grow on trees. But then, what handsaws we have! And I paid $5 or less for most of them, many $2 or less! Don’t lurk just on ebay if you are still in garage sale or estate sale season. Get out there and pay even less than Paul does!

  5. Car boot sales are another good source of cheap tools (often better value than ebay).
    Recently I came across someone selling five panel saws, four by Spear and Jackson and one cheapo plastic handled one from B&Q.
    On enquiring “how much?” the seller said the S&Js were all £1 each, but the B&Q one, being newer and still in its cardboard sleeve, was £2.
    Three of the S&Js were oldish having screw rather than stud fixings for the handles. Nice saws that were straight and with teeth in good shape that Just needed cleaning and sharpening up, so I bought them. A bargain. The fourth S&J was newer and the same as one I’d already got so, I didn’t bother with that, or needless to say the “newer” B&Q saw.
    Other bargains at the same boot sale were two perfectly servicable gouges for 20p and 50p. Both cleaned up and sharpened beautifully.
    If you need tools and you’re working to a budget and have a car boot sale near you, give it a try. You might find nothing, but you might also bag a bargain.

  6. Hi Paul, i have been looking for a dovetail saw on ebay for a while now, and have bid on some but keep getting outbid, ( not you i hope bidding against me every time ha ha), the problem i have is the postage cost to Ireland its often the same cost if not more than the item and makes me think twice about buying it. i will keep on looking. Keep up the great blog. Karl.

      1. The materials to make a top notch backsaws is under £10. The engineering can be minimal; mostly drilling three holes using a jig, installing bolts, milling grooves and shaping a handle. Funnily enough, the most complex part (or only complex part) is the woodwork in shaping the handle, which we can all do like a breeze. Perhaps that will spark someone to make a high-end saw without ridiculous pricing. Handsaws is a different culture. There seem to be no modern makers able to make handsaws like the old Disston or an old model Spear and Jackson (amongst many other UK or British makers of old). Maybe one day they can get it right.

  7. Hey Paul… Just found your site, awesome stuff! I couldn’t agree more with finding solid tools, they just don’t make them like they used to. I often check out garage sales in my area, they often have woodworking tools that are made solid and not with plastic that breaks after a few uses. I’ll have to keep an eye out on eBay with these tips, thanks for sharing!

  8. Hi Paul,
    Thank you for all the post and sharing for wood working hobbyist like me.

    The thing is in Asia, especially SEA, things are niot easy to come by as most listed tools are from Europe or America, and the shipping cost are getting out of hand.

    I bought many items from Amazon and Ebay too, but had to pay high premium for shipping and sometimes taxes and duties, which made it very costly. However, not many of the finer things are available here and, I belief many hobbyist as well, had no choice but to get it overseas. Many a times, the cost of shipping with insurance and duties made it more costly than the price posted, new or used!

    However, keep sharing the tips on tools and methods so that we can continue to learn and enjoy the hobby. Thanks once again.

    Tan Raymond

    1. Hello Tan, I realise that this is the case and also that most of my audience does not. Our global presence and impact has changed drastically over the years to be more inclusive of hundreds of thousands each month who are not from the USA and Europe. We are indeed fortunate in having access to tools so readily but my hope is that we will continue to see growth and that some of the very fine Asian tool making companies supplying Europe and the USA will indeed start making their own fine hand tools available to their own continent too.

    2. Tan,

      Is it perhaps cheaper for you to buy and ship Japanese-style tools or Taiwanese tools like Mujingfang planes in Asia?

  9. christopher Mitchell

    Hey Paul,
    In reality I think you actually get a much better deal buying those saws your talking about there than you would if you bought the highest quality modern saw that’s available today.
    I’ll take that cast steel from the old days anyday over the 1095 steel they use today. It works fine for back saws since they have a back being brass or steel but for handsaws they flop around like a wet noodle.

    I buy lots of vintage tools from most of the dealers here and abroad there just for my personal use and for my collection.
    I’ve asked them straight out if you have any impact on what they sell and for how much and most don’t even know who you are … Most tools dealers are not woodworkers but you know that. . And Paul I don’t mean this in an ugly way, I’m just saying, like any commodity price is based off of supply and demand, righ?
    I could be wrong but this is a great big world we live in here.
    I feel like you can talk about anything you want price, brand whatever and the only thing it’s going to effect is to help people like myself have a better understanding of the tools how to use them and maybe where to find them.
    So Please keep it coming. It’s Great Stuff !!

    Hey Tan, I tell you whats really cool is, I’ll be doing something like fettling a #4 smoother and it will be giving me a fit not wanting to cut right and then I’ll remember watching Paul fix the Cap Iron on one. So I’ll do what he Paul does and Wow its working now !!. And the list goes on and on. Everyday I remember something that I got from his site and now I’m seeing the results on a daily basis so for me that’s a great feeling……. I cant thank Paul enough for doing what he is doing He is truly a good Man. Hang in there. You wont regret it I can promise this.

  10. To Paul;
    I’ve been in the building trades most of my life, but have neversucessfully sharpened a saw, I am going to read and watch your instructions and give it another go, but only for my own pleasure and private use. I say this because I cannot reconcile the cost of sharpening a saw against getting a new hardpoint out of the box. If you buy as I do,hardpoints when they are on sale you pay £5-£7 pounds a saw. Now if youcan sharpen a saw in twenty minutes ? (inclusive of setting up and putting away your kit ?) That is a third of an hour, which as sure as little apples is going to come to more than £7.Also you have got to make up that twenty minutes lost work, and you have to cart your saw chops about.
    However there’s nothing pleasing about hardpoint saws apart from them working (well some of them) and I would like some pleasing ones for home. I actually enjoy sharpening hand planes and hope I might enjoy sharpening saws too.
    Keep up the good work.

    1. Hello S Richardson,

      The biggest advantage I have found now with resharpening my saws is having the ability to pick and choose for the job. Recently I had an unusual one, 170mm-120mm round logs for a pergola requiring repair. 5 point crosscut worked a treat and I am not sure I could get a hard point in that configuration from the local big box store. Having a number now I don’t find the sharpening an onerous chore and I find that the maintenance , as with my other tools to be just part of the process. It is an interesting dynamic when customers watch , often with fascination, simple sharpening on the job of hand tools . The culture of your tool maintenance being part of your working isn’t as confronting to all the customers as it is to us tradespeople it seems. I have to keep track of time and some things are preferably done in the workshop by way of maintenance but the essentials such as edge tools I do on the job all the time. With a range of handsaws, 90% being second hand or salvaged I resharpen if I hit something nasty or swap over for the next day when I get home. Having a sleeve to store them in when in the vehicle prolongs the life as well. I do have a hard point , reserved for really cruddy cuts in rough material. The sharpening ? practise and practice. Oh, a clear mentor by way of Mr Sellers is extremely helpful too.

    2. I can’t say I would ever draw comparisons or make decisions the way you seem to have. Blue plastic handles, throwing good steel for recycling. Let’s give it a shot though. In some ways resharpening is recycling as you simply file teeth and get back to task. My saws from my apprentice days are still daily saws after 51 years to date of, well, just basically sharpening. It’s a funny thing, but the men skilled at sharpening their saws showed less pride in their sharpening skills than the men that seemed so proud in declaring that they just threw them away when dull. Files do wear out after 30 sharpenings so a file costs me around £7 every five years per saw. The saw cost me a week’s wage of £3.50. much more than they would today. I take 4 minutes per saw to sharpen one and the saw needs setting about every ten sharpenings so that’s about every three years.
      Of course my saws have wooden handles, lovely to feel and then there is much more to owning something all of your working life; you know, shaping it to your hand by work. Not sure how you would quantify these other things but I do meet many joiner’s and carpenters that are so proud that they buy “throwaways” because they can’t be bothered sharpening them. Of course they can’t sharpen them because they were too smart to learn. There is much more but I hope that you can understand that anyone can sharpen a saw and that eventually you can even sharpen saws to many specific saw sharpening tasks determined by your experience. You can’t rip well with throwaways because of course they’re designed to crosscut.

      1. Hi Paul. An avid follower. This discussion of having tools for life reminds me of a piece of advice my grandfather gave me. (A furniture maker from Poland who immigrated to the USA in 1904) He said of quality when buying a tool; “only cry once”. I have but a few tools of his, nearly all was lost due to a house fire my eldest brother had.

  11. After watching your videos, I bought a couple of saws on ebay. I sharpened one as per your video for ripcut sharpening and it works well. Another one I bought was a Groves and it is in poor condition, but I will clean it up and see how it goes. The brass bolts on the handle appear to have been tightened with a centre punch and I might have to drill them out. I have another saw which a previous owner replaced the brass bolts with steel ones and they appear to work fine. I was given some hardpoint saws and I haven’t thrown them away, but I will use them until they are blunt.

  12. I recently bought an old Ibbotson Bros tenon saw on eBay. The teeth are breaking when I try setting them with a new Somax saw set. Is this a common problem with old saws? Are there any remedies for this?

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