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The Restoration of a 14" Tenon Saw #3: Restoring the Saw Handle

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Blog entry by Brit posted 991 days ago 4673 reads 4 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Cleaning the Saw Plate Part 3 of The Restoration of a 14" Tenon Saw series Part 4: The Finale »

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.



13 comments so far

View Don W's profile

Don W

14671 posts in 1172 days


#1 posted 991 days ago

wow that looks good. I’m looking forward to the finish.

-- Master hand plane hoarder. - http://timetestedtools.com

View racerglen's profile

racerglen

2256 posts in 1385 days


#2 posted 991 days ago

As usual Andy..
Non Paraeil !

-- Glen, Vernon B.C. Canada

View Brit's profile

Brit

5109 posts in 1447 days


#3 posted 991 days ago

Thanks gents. I’m looking forward to the finish as well.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.

View SamuelP's profile

SamuelP

738 posts in 1251 days


#4 posted 990 days ago

Fantastic!

-- -Sam - Tampa, FL- "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns somthing he can in no other way" -Mark Twain

View mafe's profile

mafe

9456 posts in 1694 days


#5 posted 990 days ago

Wonderful sence for the details as always.
Look forward to see this one at the finish line.
Best thoughts,
Mads

-- Mad F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View Brit's profile

Brit

5109 posts in 1447 days


#6 posted 990 days ago

Srevratil – Thank you.

Mads – Yeah I’ve been thinking about the finish when I was travelling today.

I can’t decide whether to use BLO followed by BLO/varnish/turps mix or Teak Oil, followed by Teak Oil/varnish/turps mix.

On the one hand, I’d like to try the Teak Oil but I’ve never used it before and I’m not sure how it will turn out. I don’t have a suitable piece of beech to try it first. On the other hand, I like how the BLO looks on saw handles. Decisions, decisions.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.

View mafe's profile

mafe

9456 posts in 1694 days


#7 posted 990 days ago

;-)

-- Mad F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3302 posts in 1259 days


#8 posted 970 days ago

Yet again another informative drool fest from Andy.

Thanks for the recommend on the brass cleaner, I have been wondering.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Brit's profile

Brit

5109 posts in 1447 days


#9 posted 970 days ago

Ryan – I don’t think Brasso is any better than other brass cleaner. It takes forever to get all the crap out of a medallion nut. I wish there was a brass dip you could buy where you could just throw the bits in and pull them out shiny. I know you can get one for silver, but I’ve never seen one for brass.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3302 posts in 1259 days


#10 posted 970 days ago

I would try and ultrasonic cleaner, but I would be careful to use a fairly gentle liquid since there is quite a bit that can corrode brass (ammonia being one of them).

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View racerglen's profile

racerglen

2256 posts in 1385 days


#11 posted 970 days ago

Sniff..
We HAD to use brasso on our uniform buttons and hat badges..works great for an initial pollish but fades fast ! Autosol after keeps that smilin’ shine..

(Don’t know how many guys n’ gals used the tried and true method on those hat badges..a bit of sandpaper took the edges off, MUCH easier to polish..;_)

-- Glen, Vernon B.C. Canada

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

765 posts in 2778 days


#12 posted 532 days ago

Andy,

Sorry I’m a bit late to the party here… found the blog entry when searching for something else.

You said you sourced your Beech from dowel material. Can I suggest something? The next time you run across a Stanley Transitional plane or an old moulding plane (missing its blade and wedge) on the cheap, pick it up! The beech you then have in your hands is most likely QS and properly aged and will work very nicely in your tote restorations.

Lovely work, by the way. I have a Tyzack DT that is so sweet to use and a joy to hold. It’s my go-to saw for most any small joinery.

Cheers,

Ethan

-- Ethan, http://thekiltedwoodworker.com

View Brit's profile

Brit

5109 posts in 1447 days


#13 posted 532 days ago

Hi Ethan – That’s a good tip. Other people have suggested that on another thread. After I finished this saw, I went on to restore a load more backsaws of different sizes and tooth geometries, made a saw vise and went on to learn to sharpen them. You can follow my progress on my Saw Talk blog if you’re interested. The last post in this series will be a beginner’s guide to saw sharpening video which I hope will encourage others to learn and pass on the skill of sharpening saws.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.

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