Did you know that saw handle making was a profession in its own right in the 19th century? Young men underwent an apprenticeship lasting 12 months before they could call themselves a saw handle maker. It seems a long time doesn’t it? One year, just to learn how to make a saw handle. However there was quite a lot of detailing to do on a 19th century saw handle. Some features were purely for decoration, whilst others had a distinct function.
The handles in the following photograph from two other saws in my possession illustrate some of the detailing. The handle on the right is from a backsaw made by W H Armitage & Co. around 1849 and the one on the left is from a saw made by W. Tyzack, Sons & Turner in 1887, but sold through a reseller in Newcastle upon Tyne, by the name of Cowell & Chapman. It is exactly the same as the handle on the saw I am restoring (no I’m not going to just swap them out :o) ). You can tell a lot about the age of a saw by studying the handle, but that’s a subject for another post.
Sadly many of these features began to disappear as skilled craftsman were replaced by machinery. The need to compete on price and streamline production eventually saw an end to the wonderful detailing and tool marks displayed on 19th century back saws.
In my mind at least, out of respect for the men who made them, refinishing one of these old handles is not something that should be rushed. This is not the domain of belt sanders and Dremels. Rather it is an opportunity to move rasp and file where once they moved theirs, to retrace the angles and curves that make these handles so appealing.
The handle on ‘Big Joe’ isn’t too bad. I’ve certainly seen a lot worse. However since the finish is cracked and rough to the touch, I decide to take it back to bare wood and refinish it.
There are two areas in particular that will need repairing. The first is a chip to one of the cheeks just below the bottom saw nut.
The other is a chip on the lamb’s tongue where it touches the plate.
Before I can repair these two chips I first have to get the handle back to bare wood. I’m probably missing a few photos here, but my process was as follows:
1) Clean the handle with methylated spirit to remove any ground in dirt.
2) Hand sand as many surfaces as I could starting with P80 grit, then moving through P120, P240 and finally P320.
3) Then I broke out the files and started to restore the detailing such as the clip, lamb’s tongue, chamfer stop, v-groove, the horns, the hook and the top nib. I still have to do the chamfer stop on the side of the handle shown below, but I’ve done the one on the other side as you’ll see later.
I repaired the chip below the saw nut by paring the area flat and squaring the edges with a chisel. Then I cut a slice out of the middle of some beech dowelling. I pared the slice to fit and glued it in place, making sure to align the rays correctly. After it was dry, I sanded it flush.
I also started cleaning up the saw nuts and the medallion using brass polish.
I’ve still got a bit more cleaning to do on the medallion and I’ll clean out the slots in the nuts with a flat needle file, but they’re coming on.
Once I’ve repaired the chip on the lamb’s tongue, re-established the chamfer stop on the back side and sanded the whole thing to P400, I’ll be ready to apply the finish. So far though, I’m quite pleased with how it looks and I’ve learnt a lot about what went into making these wonderful handles.
In the next post, I’ll apply the finish and reassemble the saw.
Thanks for watching.
-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."