After spending quite a bit of time researching the history of my W. Tyzack, Sons & Turner saws, I was looking forward to finding out about this Disston backsaw from across the pond. After all, we have the wonderfully detailed Disstonian Institute web site at our disposal. Yep, finding out about this backsaw was going to be easy, or so I thought.
When I started my research, I obviously knew it was a Disston backsaw, but I had no idea what model. This is how the saw looked when it came into my possession. The saw plate is 12” long, straight and filed 16 TPI Rip with just a couple of patches of minor pitting. The depth of cut is 3”.
The apple handle was also in pretty good condition with the usual dents, one small crack and the odd paint splash. This is the first saw I’ve purchased that didn’t have a plethora of owner’s names stamped all over the handle which was a welcome bonus. However I was amazed to see that at some point in this saw’s life, a previous owner had wiped the handle with a dark stain without removing it first. They wiped straight over the bolts, the medallion, the brass back and they even got it on the saw plate. Some people just shouldn’t be allowed to have nice tools.
This saw handle also features a double nib in front of the top horn and two hound’s teeth in front of the bottom horn. Now I’ve got nothing against double nibs, but in my opinion they are just too small on this handle. If you hold the saw at arm’s length, they become very difficult to make out. To my eyes, they would be more in proportion if they’d been filed a little taller, but what do I know?
So I headed on over to the Disstonian Institute’s web site to find out what I could about my saw. My first stop was to the section where they show all the different medallions that Disston used over the years. This is what mine looks like and according to the site, Disston used this 13/16” diameter medallion on their backsaws from 1896-1917.
My next port of call was to the Backsaws section, where I felt sure I’d see my saw. Not so. I found out that not counting their three dovetail saws (Nos.68, 70 & 71) or their miterbox saws, Disston made three general purpose backsaws from the early days of the company right up until 1928. The common No.4 had a blued steel back, the No.5 had a brass back and the No.7 had a bright steel back. Great I thought, it’s a No.5 then. However none of the handles on the page had double nibs. I couldn’t even find any mention of them in the backsaw section. Also interesting to note is that at that time, it was a ‘special order’ to have the teeth cut for rip sawing. The standard configuration was for crosscutting.
Apparently Disston ditched the traditional V-groove in their handles in 1918 in favour of a more rounded shape. This provided me with additional evidence that my saw was pre-1918.
I found some pictures of the different stamps that Disston put on their spines and it seems that they started using the stamp on my saw at the beginning of the 20th century. That enabled me to narrow the date down a bit more to 1900-1917.
For anyone interested in researching their own Disston backsaw, there is also a nice back and handle study by Philip W. Baker on WKFineTools.com. Although his study does show some older examples of handles with double nibs, there are none shown for the time period from which my saw dates.
So frustrated at not finding a backsaw handle with two nibs, I turned to Google to try and find a photo on the web of a No.5 that looked like mine. After a couple of hours, I eventually found a saw that was sold on eBay.com.au. It was a 14” No.5 with a double nib. Here it is.
See what I mean about the two nibs being indistinct? When viewed from the side they are almost invisible on this saw, but they are there.
Proof at last that I was the proud owner of a No.5. However, I still wanted to find out if the double nib was standard on these saws, or whether they were a special order. Luckily, another search took me to Hyperkitten.com, where I found a 12” No.7 with a bright steel back filed 11 TPI that had previously been sold on the site. It has a 3” depth of cut the same as mine. It is much older than mine though with the medallion dating it to around 1865.
The text said “The 4 and 7 were similar except for the finish on the back and a slightly more ornate handle on the 7. The 7’s handle had the double nib on top of the apple handle and double hound’s tooth on the bottom.”
When my saw was made (1900-1917), per dozen a 12” No.4 cost $16.00, a No.7 cost $17.00 and the No.5 cost $21.00. Since the No.7 was given a double nib handle, I think it is safe to assume that the more expensive No.5 would also have it, so that answered that question to my satisfaction.
Now that I knew what I had, I took it apart and started restoring it. The restoration followed the same process as before, however I did have some extra steps that are worth mentioning. When I examined the handle, I noticed that the side of the grip on the medallion side was darker than the rest of the handle as you can see here.
Once I had sanded and filed it back to bare wood, I found that there was indeed an ugly black stain which looked a lot like ink. Unfortunately, it was too deep for me to sand it out. Since the rest of the saw was coming up a treat, I was pretty hacked off that the handle would let this saw down. It was then that I did something stupid. I knew it was stupid, but I did it anyway. Tell me I’m not alone! I wiped on a coat of boiled linseed oil (BLO) to see what it would look like. Well it looked like this. Yuk! Now you could clearly see the stain and I was having one of those I wish I hadn’t done that moments.
It was even more annoying because the other side looked great.
At this point I figured I had three options.
- Carry on with my finishing regime and just live with it
- Make a new handle
- Ebonise it so that the whole handle was black.
I didn’t relish going with any of these options, so I asked for advice on the ‘Saws, using, collecting, cleaning and buying thread. Need2boat suggested that I try Oxalic acid, so I rushed out to pick up a bottle of Liberon Wood Bleacher.
Wearing long sleeves, rubber gloves and eye protection, I grabbed a cheap artist’s brush and applied the acid to the stained area. It soaked straight into the wood. I stood and stared, but the stain remained. Crap, that’s more money wasted I thought. Throwing caution to the wind, I hit it a couple more times. I had nothing to lose now and was already resigned to the fact that I’d have to make a new handle. At this point the phone rang and I went inside to answer it. When I returned after about 30 minutes, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The acid was working its magic and the stain was disappearing. The following photo is a progress shot. Bear in mind that the handle is wet here.
Filled with a heady cocktail of excitement and relief (or maybe just the fumes from the acid), I slapped on even more. After about an hour the stain had diminished further. I let it dry then washed off the acid residue under the tap. Once the handle had dried out, I applied the acid for a second time to see if I could get rid of any remaining traces of the stain. I’m pleased to say that it worked remarkably well. The following photo shows the final result of using the acid. At this point, I hadn’t sanded it at all.
Yes folks, proof that Liberon Wood Bleacher really does work. But alas, the drama wasn’t over yet my friends. Having been bleached, dried, washed, dried, bleached, dried, washed and dried again, the wood was now VERY dry. You remember that little crack that I pointed out in one of the previous photos? Well it had now opened up to a gap of about 1mm and the whole handle felt very fragile. So I grabbed a thin artist’s palette knife and some Titebond 3 and carefully pushed the glue down into the crack as far as I could. Then with my heart in my mouth, I gradually closed the gap with a clamp. Luckily, I didn’t hear a crack and when I removed the clamp a few hours later, the glue held. Anxious to relieve any internal stresses in the wood, I liberally coated the handle with BLO.
After a second coat of BLO had dried, I slid the handle onto the saw plate to see how it looked. I love BLO, but on some woods it can look a bit too red and I felt this was one of those times. Against the brass back, it just didn’t look right to my eyes. It needed to be more of a golden colour. So I wiped on a coat of Liberon Finishing Oil which is amber in colour. It is also less viscous than BLO and therefore seeps deeper into the wood. This gave me the effect I was after and toned down the reddishness somewhat. This was followed by three thin coats of satin varnish mixed 3:1 with pure turpentine to make it easy to wipe on. Finally I rubbed it out with 0000 steel wool and clear paste wax.
And so we come to the end of another saw restoration and it’s time for the reveal.
Here’s the saw before I started…
…and here it is now.
I gave this saw my ‘A’ game and it was A LOT of hard work. Looking at it now though, it was definitely worth all the drama. I LOVE this saw. So, just in case there is anyone out there who is contemplating paying me a visit in the dead of night to……er……borrow it, I’d like to make it clear that the Rottweiler’s teeth have been sharpened to a point and……well…..he ain’t happy about it!
Until next time.
-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."