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Collecting the Past Makers

Just when you think you’re done, eBay finds yet another tool you missed from your collection that most likely you would never have found or even known about outside of eBay. In the last year or so I have found R Groves saws I didn’t know existed, adding them to my still growing but quite modest collection of saws. Just when I thought I had them all I found my compass saw followed by a table saw designed specifically for circular and oval tabletops. Then surprise, surprise I found the exceptionally rare 16″ tenon saw for another. A month ago I found the rarest of treasures in a 16″ (my favourites) handsaw as well and then perhaps a not so rare log saw too.

If you recall a previous blog from years back I told of one of my favourite of favourite saws of all and that is the Henry Disston 16″ handsaw made especially for the department store Hammacher Schlemmer in New York City back in the 1860s. I doubt that any other saw could replace it, but my new R Groves comes really close because my family of Groves saws has steadily grown since the first one I bought decades ago.

One thing I have noticed of late is my growing interest on former proven technologies. Whereas history and the burgeoning development of the Industrial Revolution has always fascinated me, my interest in the Groves family of saws parallels the development of say makers like Henry Disston and of course a whole group of 50 and more then British makers. The most famed and the longest lasting is the Spear and Jackson with an ampersand betwixt the two names. Of course the Disstons were not really better than those earlier British makers, as with all and every maker the demise soon followed with the development of machine sawing available to all. Who doesn’t have a tablesaw and a chop saw in the USA, and with its mass of acreage and extra large homes with outdoor space large enough to accommodate two and four-car garages, space was rarely a limiting factor to setting up a dedicated machine shop. I say demise because in the 60s or thereabouts the USA Disston company was bought by a Canadian company to make the Canadian version of the Disston.

This company never paralleled the Philadelphia Disston but an ugly version of saw made with utilitarian components. The plates were way thicker with too little flex and so too the handle no more than an unrefined oversized clunky chunk of beech wood. Two World Wars saw to this deterioration of both quality and pride in workmanship. In general we lost the refinement of the handsaws in general though there are some makers who’ve taken on refinements in the handle aspect of manufacture on a small scale and of course there is high price to pay for it. It’s a funny thing but the plate takes such little work compared to the handle shaping which takes the most effort. Even so, a power router followed by flap sanding produces the necessary refinement in a few minutes with only a little tilting and tipping of the handle to the flapping abrasive by someone who’s been trained to task.

Needless to say that there is no shortage of saws available to us on eBay and other secondhand outlets. £10 to £20 gets you a good maker and if you follow my sharpening videos on woodworkingmasterclasses (for free) you will have perfectly good lifetime saws for life.

14 Comments

  1. Keith on 9 August 2019 at 12:47 pm

    I think I saw that on eBay and passed because I’m not skilled enough to address the damage yet. I would like to see it after you fix it up.

  2. Ken on 9 August 2019 at 5:54 pm

    Lest everyone rush to spend all their hard earned on Groves saws it’s worth remembering that virtually all the old saw makers offered many different quality lines with often little beyond handle decoration, or dare I say price, to distinguish 1st from 2nd 3rd or 4th grades. Whether the plates differed is up for debate too so there is not necessarily anything much to be gained paying through the nose for a fancy handle or a “Groves” or indeed any other make that might be recommended on the internet.

    In short old makers names are NOT the reliable guide to quality we might like them to be. The only exceptions are the made up names all of the bigger makers used to avoid damaging their brands with truly budget lines – Spear & Jackson, for example, used Lloyd Davies and John Cockerill on their cheapest saws.

    Remember too most makers (along with their trade names and marks) were eventually bought out by competitors who would then apply their own ideas on how best to deploy the many names they came to own. This started happening from the very beginning and consequently by the time you get to the late 19th century makers names potentially signify even less. Groves itself was bought out by Moses Eadon in the 1980s and again by a large consortium called Sheffield Steel Products in the 1920’s.

    Of course in use some saws you will like more than others but that would probably be the case even if you could time travel and bought two brand new apparently identical saws from the same old maker. After all being hand made by any of the thousands of people employed or subcontracted by the “maker” over a few decades each saw was probably unique and has since had a hundred years of use and sharpening by multiple owners which must inevitably have changed the character of the saw. Better then to simply buy cheap or buy from the stalls at shows where you can pick them all up and saw in hand choose the one you like best.

  3. Charles Blascsok on 9 August 2019 at 10:28 pm

    Paul, I wonder if you could address the slope of the handle on older saws. A lot of them seem to be at an angle below the continuation of the top of the blade, some more pronounced than others – a good example being the picture showing 7 handsaws, the third one down on the left.

    Would this have been more common on ripsaws as opposed to crosscut saws and what would be the reasoning behind it? Comfort or efficiency?

    • Paul Sellers on 10 August 2019 at 9:12 am

      The more direct you can get behind the row of teeth the more efficient the cut. It’s even worth altering the pitch if you can remove the handle and rebore the holes in the plate even fractionally if you intend to use the saw d=for a lifetime. I have never found the ‘hang’ on dovetail saws particularly effective either even though some exponents say it is better. That’s far from true. Best at a much lower presentation.

  4. Charles Blascsok on 10 August 2019 at 12:15 pm

    Thank you. I’m in the process of making one saw out of two old ones and was wondering how much to let the handle hang down. I’ll go with more hang. Aesthetically it will look a bit strange but efficiency wins every time. Boring through those plates is hard going though.

  5. sla on 11 August 2019 at 7:34 am

    It’s not possible anymore to click on an image and see it better.

  6. John Cunneen on 12 August 2019 at 10:49 am

    Today I cleared out a space in the garage and picked out some old saws. I looked at several, the one that took my eye was my father’s handsaw. It was used to cut parts for billy carts and fence palings. Each year up to their deaths in 1975 the saw would be wrapped in paper and taken 300 miles to the grandparents where my Grandfather, then in his 80’s would sharpen it on his frame which he used for all saws including Canadian circular saws. I realised the teeth had been last sharpened by him and I looked at his work, seeing the set and marvelling at his sharpening. I need to sharpen it and his tenon saw with the loose handle. Sharpening in the shadow of a master. So sorry that I did not ask him to teach me and sorry that I did not watch him either.

  7. Steve p on 12 August 2019 at 3:57 pm

    I thought for some reason that the 16″ saws were “boys saws” to teach kids saw use. Is this not the case? Do you prefer these for actual use for day to day? I passed on one before because I thought it was more for kids.

  8. Keith Clague on 12 August 2019 at 4:10 pm

    I’m Keith too, but a different one to the Keith that commented on the 9th August.
    I was fortunate enough to go to my local second hand shop and found a 14″ Groves tenon saw in a rummage bin of rusty and broken stuff. I bought it for £1. It cleaned up well and I repaired the handle. It could have been better but I learned a good lesson about how parts slip when glued. the only problem left is that the threaded portion of the medallion is missing as is the split nut. If anyone has come upon this problem before and could enlighten me I’d welcome the advice. I assume I could braze a brass screw onto it but I don’t have the brazing tools. Soldering would seem possible but weak.

  9. Don Hummer on 12 August 2019 at 11:26 pm

    As a carpenter I am amazed how little props the mighty hand saw gets. I carry one in the back of my pick up to saw large boards into smaller ones for portage. I have back saws, rip saws, crosscut saws, hand miter boxes with saws. There are times when only a hand saw can make a certain cut. I can take myself, another carpenter, a pair of marking guages, and a couple of good low angle block planes and install wooden siding faster than a three man crew and a chop saw! I am amazed looking at old woodwork in pre 1900 homes the work done with handsaws, a plane, and a shooting board. I use a shooting board while adjusting small moldings say around a paneled wainscoating, no ambling back and forth to the chop saw, just cut it with a homemade miter box and adjust with plane.

  10. John Cadd on 13 August 2019 at 5:53 pm

    In the photo of 7 saws I noticed the 2nd saw down on the right and the angle of the handle . It`s much less vertical and that suits my hand (or wrist ) far better . The angle is between the teeth edges and where the palm of the hand touches . Height above the tooth line is not so noticeable for me . The more vertical angle throws pressure against the base of the thumb and tends to press the wrist joint offline. Atkins saws made the handles more tilted.(less vertical ).

  11. Steven Newman/Bandit571 on 15 August 2019 at 5:27 pm

    Right now, as soon as a skin infection in me right leg is cured up, working on bringing back to life a “Sheffield” brand panel saw made by Atkins….has a very bad case of “Cows & Calves” for the 24″ of teeth….

    Just finished up a rehab of a Stanley No. 346 Mitre Box and saw….was made before the “SW” era….maybe…1910 or so? You have to wax the saw, as there is no bearings in the guides, ( came later) nor is there any grooves in the guides to hold any lube….

  12. James Fox on 15 August 2019 at 7:47 pm

    Mr. Sellers:
    I’ve never been good with planes until I watched your video on setting up, sharpening and true-ing planes. I now sharpen my planes to only 30-degrees. I have never planed so square a board nor so flat as I do now. Whenever I need to do anything with woodworking I whatch your video’s on you-tube. I have never learned so much about woodworking as I have with you. I hope you continue with your classes for years to come!!!

    Thank you so much for your help and guidance.
    James Fox

  13. Jim Schowe on 31 August 2019 at 4:47 pm

    I recently went to an auction and purchased a coffin plane that was of exceptional condition. It was used by the mushrooming on the end of the plane’s blade but otherwise in excellent shape. After I got the plane home I noticed there was a gentle convex curve to the sole. Perhaps you could give me some information as to it’s use and date of manufacture. On the end is the name Adkins and sons with a logo shaped like a horseshoe with ‘BENEFACTOR’ on the horseshoe’s perimeter and A&S inside the horseshoe logo. Also on the front of the plane is written: Adkins & Sons Sheffield Works Birmingham. The plane measures 6 3/8″ in length, 2 1/2″ at its widest point and 1 3/16 inch wide on the front of the body. If I had to guess the diameter of a circle the plane’s sole would cut I would say at least 18″

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