I Bought A Saw

I didn’t need another saw but I had good reasons to buy it—this one at least. It looked lovely. It caught my eye by its proportion. More than that even, it looked like a working saw and I usually only buy working tools. I am coming to the end of my own buying of tools.

Perhaps `i just like the old models but actually  they still give best value for money and no new maker has surpassed what’s out there for very little effort and very little money. I am surprised that none of them have come up with 16″ series. They are perfect for any size of person including teenagers and people of extra small stature, which I am not. Course, I am not looking for showpieces, ergonomic designs with plassy or composite resin-poured into moulds to make soulless handles. Because I’m a woodworker I want good working pieces and wooden handles seem always the very best to me. Then, even more though, this saw, third from the in the top picture, was 16″ long, an older Henry Disston & Son model, and the handle looked just lovely. You see 16″ handsaws are rarer now, almost “scarce as hen’s teeth.” (Texan saying). I recall buying my first Henry Disston & Son 16″ one that was etched with the name Hammacher Schlemmer & Co New York City 1848. for just £10 on ebay. It’s a lovely handsaw to have at the bench and indeed it is a very responsive saw to work with. When I first sharpened it up I was stunned by its punchiness, and gutsy performance because I thought the smallest size suited to woodworking would be 22″. Its short length means that direct thrust delivers the teeth to the wood with short shrift and in similar fashion to a brass-backed tenon saw but with unlimited depth of passage. Once I fettled it it opened my mind to the reality that short saws have true purpose. Certainly not a boy-toy of old as some erroneously say. Thankfully, back then, they were thinking differently. No “big boy toys” or Prizecut toolbox saws, Ergo and, stupidly, Cobra and, even more stupidly, Barracuda cut saws. Such is the condition of manufacturers creating terms instead of cut quality with longevity. What’s nice is the saws I have shown were utterly ergo designed for cutting at extreme levels of efficiency to speak nothing of them having been sharpened and resharpened a thousand times so that they lasted 150 years and without plastic. How good is that?

The one I bought this week is an altered plate cut to 16″ from a vintage Disston D7. It cuts beautifully and the 10ppi teeth are a combination cross-, rip-cut for dual cutting. It has a 10-degree rake with 10-degree angle to the teeth. It cuts well both as a ripcut and crosscut and so is a handy saw to take with you when space is tight in your luggage.

16″ handsaws are really fine saws for benchworking wood. It’s the compact punchiness mostly. Short, sharp and strategic the flex readily as needed and think they are big. My saws have different number of teeth per inch. Any duplications with regards to points per inch enable me to own a fleam-tooth crosscut and then a ripcut too. I know, it’s a luxury. Whereas my collection generally cost me very little. They are probably worth ten to twenty times the price I pad for them. But I still want them as users and not to just sit pretty.

I bought the new-to-me saw on ebay from a man who sharpens and restores saws. Jakob runs his saw restoration  business as an independant restorer and sets and sharpens his saws by hand. Adding it to my chosen saws completed the ones I will use for the rest of my life. They will work alongside the two newish Spear & Jackson saws I have been recommending for the last few years. In some ways, mostly I think, it was the thought that Jakob had hand shaped the handle from scratch. It was an urge to support an honest maker that replicated the classic Disston handle Disston was  once know and respected for. The men I worked with as a boy swore by the Henry Disston saws of old. I do now too, even though I would never port with my R Groves saws. It’s the support of something unpretentious I think most. This saw would last a user like me for a hundred years or more. Imagine such a thing in an age when new saws last for a few weeks of use and are thrown away. Shouldn’t we be thinking long term and learning to sharpen in a day when even science admits producing something that is so damaging?

Uh oh! 16″ saws just tripled in price for a couple of weeks. Never mind.

28 Comments

  1. Evan on 3 January 2019 at 8:52 pm

    I love a 16″ saw at the bench. Makes it easy to work in the limited space I have between bench and wall storage.



    • Paul Sellers on 3 January 2019 at 8:56 pm

      Whereas it does, I wouldn’t want people to think it is any less of a saw because it wasn’t made for limited space at all. It is a fully productive saw.



  2. Phill on 3 January 2019 at 9:30 pm

    the “Sellers effect” — oh well.



  3. Phill on 3 January 2019 at 9:31 pm

    PS: that’s a beautiful handle. Just needs some sweat.



  4. bill morris on 3 January 2019 at 10:01 pm

    Paul – you bought it from Jakob for much the same reason I will buy tools I don’t “need” from current makers – to support their efforts. I view those tools as investments in makers’s lives and more than likely my children will realize at least of return of my investment should they choose to “pass them on” to a future generation of hand tool woodworkers. That’s a win in my book.
    Bill in Kerrville



    • Paul Sellers on 4 January 2019 at 9:22 am

      Sorry Bill. Nope. I am not that altruistic. I wanted the saw because it was a 16″ knowing the steel and the handle and knowing that if it didn’t suit because of set or sharpening I could always change what was there. As I have said before, many makers complicate what is readily available in vintage quality for a fraction of the price. I realise that if there were no more planes ever made there would be sufficient to keep up with demand for the next 500 years. We are more likely to see less planes used than more. Most professionals today, perhaps as many as 99%, will not use hand planes or hand saws again.



  5. Ronald Moravec on 3 January 2019 at 11:59 pm

    I found a little used Diston X cut in my shop, price tag still on it $10.99 Sears & Roebuck. Seemed dull so I had it sharpened.

    That was no help except now it makes tons of sawdust. Still takes 75 strokes to get thru a 1.5″x3.5″ pine, USA construction 2×4.

    Bought 3 Lynx from Woodcraft, 5 pt rip, 12 & 10 pt x cut. These have have half the set as the Diston and they cut effortlessly. I brought a caliper to the store to measure.

    I suppose I could have flattened some set and put it back smaller, but I have never sharpened a saw and was afraid. But if I ever want a extra wide kerf, the Diston is always there. I still may try now that I have decent replacements.



    • Paul Sellers on 4 January 2019 at 9:17 am

      I am sure the Disston would equal any other saw if it was sharpened and set correctly which obviously it wasn’t. If only you had just tried sharpening and setting it. You just might have surprised yourself and you would have lost nothing.



  6. nemo on 4 January 2019 at 12:27 am

    Linking your previous post on plywood to this one: how do you feel about plywood saw handles?

    I bought a used plywood-handled Sandvik (‘Sandviken’) saw last summer, it’s about 14″ long with a plywood pistol grip handle. I like how it saws and handles, but initially suspected the plywood handle wasn’t original. But it turns out the handle (brandmarked ‘Zweeds masonite’, i.e. Swedish masonite) is the original one. Judging from the saw and the handle, I think it’s from the late ’60s up till the mid ’70s.

    It’s the only saw I’ve seen that has a plywood handle. And I can find absolutely nothing wrong with it. But the fact that I don’t see other saws with plywood handles suggests to me there’s a reason for that….

    Incidentally, that saw was bought from someone who works at a local psychiatric hospital, along with some other high quality tools. Had a pleasant chat with the seller (always curious if they’re woodworkers – he wasn’t) and he told me that they closed the woodworking department of the hospital as they couldn’t find suitable staff who were skilled in both woodworking and dealing with mental patients. He said there were now only two forms of activity/therapy: repairing bicycles and gardening. Thought it was sad that woodworking was cancelled.

    When making new saw-handles, would you suggest using plywood? Because, again, I can see nothing wrong with that handle – but I’m a new kid to the block and might very well be overlooking things.



    • Paul Sellers on 4 January 2019 at 9:13 am

      I have seen plywood handles on and off through the years and they are a good idea in that the cross ply gives added unbreakability IF the plywood itself is a high end quality because not all plywoods are created equal.



    • Sylvain on 4 January 2019 at 9:16 am

      I would think plywood is better than plastic especially if you have sweaty hands.
      You can refine the shape with a rasp if needed.
      It will not break if the saw falls on concrete.
      For me it seems a very good solution.
      If I had to make a new tote for a plane, I would consider plywood also.
      Sylvain



    • nemo on 4 January 2019 at 5:23 pm

      Thank you for your reply, Paul and Sylvain. When I need to make a new handle for a saw I’ll probably make one out of plywood then. The Sandvik saw handle is made from pretty good plywood. And it’s most definitely plywood – even though it’s marked ‘masonite’. It’s definitely not the steampressed hardboard stuff.

      Sylvain, yes, I have pretty sweaty hands and plastic-handled tools only make it worse. Hadn’t contemplated it for plane handles myself…. but indeed, why not. I’ve always enjoyed the look of the edges of plywood, with its layers. And I happen to have quite a bit of high-grade, used plywood.

      Finally, a happy birthday to you, mr. Sellers. And I notice that, contrary to tradition, it’s you that give us a birthday present (video of ‘top 10 woodworking tips’), instead of the other way around. Wish you many more years of woodworking in good health.



  7. Max™ on 4 January 2019 at 5:16 am

    Heck, I’m pretty pleased with the 14 inch crosscut kobalt I rehandled, when I’m working in a bigger space with larger stock I imagine I’ll find myself wanting a bit more saw but currently it’s perfect.

    Nicely tempered for a big box store saw too, gives a nice “piinnngggggggggg” when you flex it a little and tap it with your fingernails.



  8. Sylvain on 4 January 2019 at 10:00 am

    I have bought a small 11″1/2 saw on a flee market. The handle is perfect for my hand (I don’t have small hands). I have sharpened it for rip cut (my first attempt at sharpening a saw). It works very well. (I usually only rip pieces to make boxes).
    I have a no name plastic handled hardened teeth 20″ saw which doesn’t work well especially as it tends to wave ( flap? ondulate?) when used with some energy. So as I follow the line on the entry side, the other side tend to drift.
    How to prevent this behavior of the plate? I have heard of tensioning but it seems to be a black art.
    Sylvain



  9. Frank McInroy on 4 January 2019 at 10:52 am

    Hello Paul , as an engineer and enthusiastic woodworker ,I would say it’s the 10 degree rake that makes the saw so effective. The rake angle would have the effect of helping the saw to push down into the wood , as long as the teeth are sharp it will continue to cut very well . As we engineers have found out , cutting metal with a positive rake always takes the load off the tool , but in our case the tool will dull more quickly. I suspect the same is true for wood , it would be interesting to try the same process on hardwood , I would guess you get the same results but you would have to sharpen more often.
    After sixty plus years of making things it’s nice to know old tricks never die.

    Regards Frank



  10. Adriano J. M. Rosa on 4 January 2019 at 2:15 pm

    Happy birthday mr. Sellers.



  11. Trevor Fernandez on 4 January 2019 at 2:56 pm

    I’ve been using a couple of 16″ saws for a few years now. They handle wonderfully and are great for the applications where hogging through rough lumber has already been completed. I’ve found best use for them in large joinery applications where the spine of my tenon saw bottoms out. I was turned on to them when I saw Paul using panel saws (22″ I believe). They looked so comfortable and responsive in his hands… I had to try. I ended up finding these smaller saws, and I’ve been able to put them to task ever since. Thanks for all the lessons, Paul! Hope you make it back to the States some time soon.



  12. Ronald G McGee on 4 January 2019 at 4:09 pm

    Many Happy returns of the day . Have a great day hope you’re feeling better



  13. George E Perentesis on 4 January 2019 at 10:00 pm

    HEY PAUL SELLERS: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HOPE YOU HAD A GREAT DAY.



    • G dube on 5 January 2019 at 6:47 pm

      My father had rip and crosscut saws. The Rip saw is gone but I still have the crosscut my wife wanted me to throw it out. It’s in bad shape few missing teeth, need a source brass nuts and bolts for the handle. So I asked her to compare it to her little orange handle saw a bacho I bought for her to cut stuff around the farm. She thinks it’s a great little saw but my dads saw in its poor condition can still cross cut a 2×4 in about 12 strokes so she doesn’t sneer at my old tools anymore



  14. P tiffney on 5 January 2019 at 6:36 pm

    Paul I would love you too come over and see my vintage saws by spear and Jackson, sorry, groves, disston, tyzack Turner. Plus my collection of chisels and planes. All are vintage tools in very very good condition all sharp and ready for work. Your an inspiration to me and many more happy birthday young man.
    Peter



  15. Joe Renta on 7 January 2019 at 1:21 pm

    Hello Paul,
    A nice bit of writing as I finish my 2nd cup of coffee & move towards my garage shop. A beautiful sunrise, a moment of prayer and a list of tasks before me.
    I did want to ask if you could possibly have a segment on how you personalize your tools. One day my children & grandchildren will have mine. An imprinted name is a good way for them to remember ‘Ol Pop many years from now.
    Thank you and Happy Birthday, Sir.



  16. Brian Miller on 7 January 2019 at 8:43 pm

    Bravo Mr Sellers. And yes, there is such a thing as the “sellers Sellers syndrome” as I call it. When Mr Sellers likes or recommends a particular tool, prices increase overnight for said tool by sellers of tools. Patience. Prices usually settle back down after a period of time.



  17. John Cadd on 8 January 2019 at 12:32 pm

    I noticed a number of woodworkers trying to find some plastic strips to protect their saw teeth recently .
    If anyone needs them the firm that makes them is Alplas Plastics Ask for Simple Poster Grippers which come in One Metre strips.
    I just bought a dozen and they work perfectly . Not expensive at all .



  18. John Cadd on 8 January 2019 at 12:45 pm

    Just looking at the new Brazil President`s attitude to rain forests etc I moved onto see how many trees were on the planet which was 400 Trillion and the annual rate of trees cut down is 15 Trillion . One forecast is that in 100 years there will be none left.
    But with long lasting saws and very litle oxygen left we won`t have enough puff to cut any wood . So if you have a big garden , stick a few new trees in there just to keep the balance right . Save the Whales , Penguins , Polar Bears ——and Trees .



  19. Mike Z. on 11 January 2019 at 9:39 am

    I have to say what a lovely saw that is! You have been a very bad influence on me as far as saw buying goes – I finally “bit the bullet” and put away my japanese saws to be replaced with vintage american Disstons. Now not one of them has cost more than £20 and could all be restored more or less to working fashion after some elbow grease and advice from you. The funny thing is that I never really realized just how many 100 + year old saws you owned until I really started looking at them closely to learn more about hand saws?! My pride and joy is now a 101 year old back saw that needed to be retoothed and I found a man in my old home town to do the job, it works great and looks even better. The steel and wood on these old saws is often times so much better than anything made since then – they truly are a joy to own and use on a daily basis!



  20. Joseph H. on 15 January 2019 at 1:16 am

    Hi Paul,
    I recently inheritage two Disston handsaws. One of them still has the etching on the steel. It’s a no. 16 and it’s in wonderful shape. The other is unknown. The etching is completely worn away, and the only thing that tells me it’s a Disston is the medallion in the handle. Perhaps only the handle is original. In any case, this saw has a very drastic taper. The nose of the blade narrows to only 1/2” or so. About 2-3 inches from the tip, the blade is bent…or maybe warped is a better term. When sighting it down its y length, the bend is very pronounced. Otherwise when looking at its face, I can’t see any flaws or creases or folds or anything that indicates a problem. Can I straighten this saw? If so, how?

    Thanks for all you do!

    Joseph.



    • Paul Sellers on 15 January 2019 at 9:18 am

      With regards to the narrow tip, this is just that the saw has been sharpened so many times and it has last a couple of inches of steel over the many years of use. Quite common in handsaws made and used in the early half of the last century. Yes, if it is a gradual bend just bend it the opposite way and it should be fine. If it is a sharp bend, more a kink, it may not straighten so readily.