Another 16” saw lives

I once found a mid 19th Century Henry Disston handsaw being sold on eBay and bought it. `it’s a lovely saw and my favourite of all. It’s nott a common item and few will own this one particular type. It’s very lovely. My Disston is possessed and owned by me. It’s actually a small saw that some today would refer to as a tool box saw though that’s not correct at all. My small Disston, ripcut and 10 points, is my bench saw. I would not use it on saw horses, but to cut wood held in my bench vise or on wood in things such as frames on my bench top. Here I comfortably I cut off the extensions to frames and then again my tenon cheeks too. I might also rip many things from veneers to beads moulded with moulding planes. It’s a handy size at 16” long in the plate and readily suits much of my bench work. Longer saws with bigger teeth, 6 points, work better on boards suspended between two lower saw horses where I kneel on the wood to hold it firm and can take long strokes into and through the wood.

I have several shorter saws; I have some as short as 10” and 12” long. These work well too. This last week I left a higher bid on eBay on another saw of a 16” long. Even these work too. In the image on eBay it looked like nothing. Not something you’d regard at all. But scrutiny payed dividends. I bought the saw for £18. I think it’s worth £200, personally. It turned out that textured roughness was not rust but a coating from built-up unuse. Unuse is the lesser condition saws unused meet in the demise of dysfunctional life. When I saw the first photograph I sensed a tool that had merely been left as an abandoned piece that could not keep pace with the destruction and abandonment of craft.

Saws no longer keep pace with the industrialising of woodworking. So, though still abandoned, it was the abandonment and the dullness of unsharpened teeth that preserved the saw and held it fast in its present condition for future use. Hard to imagine a rare-find saw like this for so small money. It was made somewhere around 1867 and on. A patent on the button medallion says the patent was Dec 27 1867. So, still hard to imagine a saw 150 years being so very functional. This 8-point saw had need of topping (jointing) to straighten its tooth line. This inevitably highlights the unequality of tooth height and size. By the variation of the width to the flat tops resulting to the tops of the teeth I evaluate the placement of the file, the pressure I apply, the effort to the left or right of the stroke, and then the length of stroke in each of the gullets. This saw was a crosscut.

Ripcut bottom, crosscut above

I changed it to a ripcut pattern. I will decide what it will be soon. My sharpening, topping and profiling results firstly in the shaping of the teeth—inevitably the process results in sharpness in a ripcut pattern—If I choose to keep a ripcut saw I need do no more, if I choose to make it into a fleam-cut tooth for a crosscut pattern I must now develop the tooth patterns into a pinnacle, three-sided profile from its four-sided profile.

Anyway, I just happened on this saw. Very nice!

Cutting through the surface coating, perhaps a wax or grease originally, but then dust settlement absorbed into it, I saw telltale works of an orbital sander. Only slight sightings. Nothing too bad or deep or enmass. The super-light surface pitting happened long ago. In the plate the engraving is less clear. Made in USA “cast steel” “patent temper”. It measures the same thickness as my 16” Disston at 0.68mm and has very good balance between spring and stiffness: essential for push-stroke hand saws.

I think this is what I like about eBay in particular. At one time saws like this might never have connected with an enthusiast user. The bid system means you set what you are prepared to pay rather than being held to ransom by what may well be an exaggerated price. More than not, tools  are sold at fair and often mostly bargain prices.



    1. It’s not the date of the saw that was interesting on that saw Joe, but the length of the saw. I have three such lengths of saw. My Disston dated by engraving on the plate was made for Hammacker Schlemmer in celebration of their New York store in 1848. 16″ saws are hard to find these days yet they work so well at the bench

  1. Hi Paul. I may have given you one like that ?
    I have several Disston saws…..Bought three on eBay. One like yours plus a 28″ 4TPI With a thumb hole, rare I believe plus another Disston 24″ ..7TPI ALL TOGETHER WITH A 1944 WD canvas carry bag………all for £23!!!
    Interesting to read you cut mouldings made with your MOULDING planes….I have asked, no pleaded, many times for you to show a vid on moulding planes.

    Keep up the good work and thank you again for all you have taught me


  2. I had this particular saw custom made for me, it’s my most favourite saw and most often used.

  3. One useful tip I saw this week was to avoid leather contacr with a steel saw. The leather tanning chemicals seem to induce rust. I thought of that when I saw a leather saw holster on sale from Australia. I have ordered a bottle of Camellia oil as the Japanese use that to protect their tools. A saw with a nib gives you a historical patina Paul .

    1. My saws are always in use and never get wrapped so I never consider the issue of the wrapping material. Whereas I am sure some often go a week and more without use, they never seem to go rusty and mostly just using them keeps them free from rust anyway. I never liked Camellia oil either, just 3in 1 works fine and it seems to last much longer too.

      1. The Disstonian website has a very good explanation of all the medallions from day one and it’s the best way to date the saw. Just google “Disston Saw” and you’ll see it. You can also verify age by the handle and by the etching (or lack thereof). Early Disstons were stamped – not etched – etching of the plate started around 1865 or maybe later. That nib somebody mentioned is a constant source of debate. Must be several hundred guesses at the purpose of it. I think old Henry just put it there to confound us!

  4. Would someone please explain the purpose of the step-down and the nib on the back of these saws for this newbie. Thanks.

    1. There is no actual known reason and no recorded information has ever come to light but there are theories that are no more than that; everything from drawing circles to drawstrings for tying on a wooden blade guard exists.

      1. On the cover photograph of the book “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists”
        a very shiny example perched on the leg of an apprentice ….collar and tie!!
        From pre First World War. I’m sure it’s mentioned somewhere in the book
        Amazing read

  5. I have bought a 16″ rusty saw like this for 2 euro on the local “brocante”. It is with split nut screws. After de-rusting and cleaning, I can see peugeot freres ♦ on the plate, it has the knob too. I recut the teeth to RIP, kept 8 TPI. Works very good, I fill good every time I use it. More I use it, more it’s polished and reflecting light. My father always given me a rusty tool saying I have to work with it and it will shine.

    I have another saw 18″ without knob, but with a very elegant shape, no name, looks also very old, I found it on the street near my home. Restored to 7 TPI RIP like it was, and use it for rough fast cuts.

    I suppose this saw lengths and higher TPI are better for finer work, cut wide panels after gluing for example, because all other tasks we can do with backsaws.

    1. Old Peugeot tools are great quality and dirt cheap in France. Not to mention surprisingly easy to find and, in my opinion, underestimated. When I see one I like I usually don’t hesitate.

  6. We have a Habitat for Humanity store in Mankato MN. Bought way too many handsaws that I have cleaned and treated . Use only one or two as I’m a hybred woodworker, but I do use them. Thanks to you Paul. LOL!

  7. Two weeks ago I bought a Sanderson Newbould 20″ (6 TPI) saw at a second-hand store for 2 euro. It was dull, the blade had a few bends in it (which were easy enough to straighten) and the teeth had every imaginable (and non-imaginable) shape.

    I just sharpened it (using one of the new Sandvik saw files I bought a year ago at a fleamarket, cigar box full with new and used saw files, for 0,50 euro for the entire box…. Sandvik, Nicholson, Öberg…. enough to last me a lifetime), set the teeth (again, with one of the fleamarket-find sawsets, paid at most 0,50-1 euro for these), hammered the set out a little and then gave it a test run, not expecting too much from a first-time sharpener.

    Amazing. A revelation. So sharp. So easy to saw. So effortlessly. Absolutely *no* comparison with my ‘disposable’ saws (which means they’re blunt, I realize now; but, how does one know that a saw is blunt when you’ve never held a sharp saw in your hands in the first place?)

    At age 43 I just sharpened my first saw. The only regret I have is not having learned this 30 years earlier.

    Mr. Sellers, a very big ‘thank you’ for all the time and effort you invest in your teaching videos!

  8. Paul, you know that the more we look at your old saws, the more we love them! When I first discovered your blog while trying to learn to freehand sharpen tools, I had no idea that the majority of your daily use saws were indeed as old as they are. How neat is the fact that these old saws are working again, daily, weekly and even monthly? Whether you ever start a trend for these old smaller sized saws or not, I have talked to quite a few people looking for them now because of your influence. I just hope that everybody leaves one or two for me, they would be wonderful bench saws and a much more handy size than sometimes using either a back saw or even maybe a larger panel saw. Thanks for being such a good influence on us all!!
    Mike Z.

  9. Paul you did an article recently on a new Chinese Spear and Jackson saw . You added some new curves to the handle. Yesterday I decided to add a groove for my thumb. Some Disston saws had the groove and also an extra hole for the left hand thumb . That suited craftsmen who cut large quantities of wood. Then the hole was abandoned .But why did the thumb groove disappear as well ? I find that groove is such an improvement in comfort . Interestingly the drawing Disstons used in their patent shows the right hand and the forefinger is wrapped around the handle and not poining forwards . Tut tut . Likewise in the Art of Manliness the photo demonstrating the use of a hand saw also shows the forefinger tucked away out of sight . They put it right later in the page .

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