Next up on my epic backsaw journey is a much younger saw (60s, 70s? – not sure exactly). It’s a W. Tyzack, Sons & Turner filed 10 TPI crosscut and sports an extra heavy brass back. I bought this saw because it was cheap and there was nothing wrong with the saw plate.
Gone is the subtle stamp that appeared on the brass back of a 19th century Tyzack saw. Instead, this spine has a rather garish impression. The crisp elephant logo now looks like a partially thawed out woolly mammoth, recently excavated from the frozen tundra.
What can I say about this plank of wood excuse for a saw handle? The words oh how the mighty have fallen come to mind.
What an eyesore! It is shapeless, uncomfortable to hold and possesses none of the finesse found on 19th century saw handles from this once great maker. Even the medallion has given way to a plastic washer. It is also longer than is necessary and totally out of proportion, at least to my eyes. Notice too, that it is made from thinner stock.
To illustrate why this upsets me so much, take a look at the saw plate with a Tyzack handle from the 19th century superimposed on top.
There really is no comparison is there? But let’s put them side by side anyway just to highlight the differences. After making wonderful backsaws for so long, Tyzacks suddenly decided it would be better to make the handle with a four finger grip instead of the traditional three finger grip that had served artisans well for at least two hundred years. The horns are thick and squared off, the hook, chamfer stop, clip, v-groove and nib have gone. As for the pathetic attempt at a lamb’s tongue, words fail me.
They have also changed the hang of the handle. The hang is the angle of the grip in relation to the toothline. Are they really suggesting that older saws got it wrong?
As you might have guessed by now, I hate it. In fact, I was all set to make a new handle in the style of their 19th century handles and I even sourced a nice piece of cocabola to make it from. Just for a laugh I was going to film the old handle going up in flames once I’d finished making the new one. Then I looked closer at it and I started to see that perhaps I could make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear. Sure I couldn’t change the four finger grip or give it a hook, but I could visualize all of the other features that were lacking. I had nothing to lose, so I sketched out some guidelines on the handle and prepared myself for a re-shaping session.
I gathered the tools I thought I would need. They are certainly not the best tools for the job. The rasps are too coarse and I could have done with a convex spoke shave and a larger half round file, but sometimes you’ve just got to make do with what you’ve got haven’t you?
So I started re-shaping it to see what would emerge. I decided to begin at the top of the handle and work my way around. For some reason all of the surfaces on the top and bottom of the handle are convex across their width.
I didn’t like that, so I grabbed the half round rasp and flattened them out. Then I gave the handle a nib with my crosscut saw.
After that, I sawed out the waste behind the nib which simultaneously increased the curvature of the upper horn.
A few swipes of the rasp blended the transitions and reduced the thickness. Then I smoothed it all out with a flat file and rounded the end of the horn.
With the handle held upside down, I shaped the underside of the upper horn.
Now it was time to add some shape to the back of the grip and bring out that all important bump that nestles in the palm of the hand. I marked out the waste in pencil…
…and removed it using a round rasp.
To blend it in, I folded a piece of P80 sandpaper and bent it into a U-shape held between my thumb and index finger. Holding the handle in my hand, I used a shoe shine motion back and forth whilst turning the handle. By squeezing and releasing my pressure on the paper, I found I could form different arcs which allowed me to shape the complex curves.
I then used some P180 sandpaper to refine it even further.
Time to try it for size and yes, it really does feel better already.
With the handle upside down in the vise, I removed the convexity from the bottom horn so that it too was flat across its width.
Then I wasted some more wood above the bottom horn to further accentuate the bump in the back of the grip.
I kept looking at the handle from different angles to ensure I wasn’t removing too much material. You can’t put it back you know!
After that, I blended the back of the grip with P80 followed by P180. Remember this is all just roughing out. I’ll refine everything further as the rest of the handle takes shape.
Now it was time to tackle the lamb’s tongue. Yikes!
I start by thinning out the bottom of the finger hole.
Then I moved up the back of the tongue, refining the curve and rasping out the v-groove.
Turning the handle upside down in the vise, a couple of strokes with my crosscut saw defined the clip. I always wondered why the clip was there and whilst working on this handle it suddenly dawned on me. Saw handle makers of old would probably have shaped the underside of the lamb’s tongue with a convex spoke shave. They would have worked with the grain shaving away from the horns. To finish though, they would have to go against the grain and the clip (probably cut with a chisel) would provide a definite stop cut to sever the fibers of the wood. I’ve got no proof of this, but it makes sense to me.
Next I file a flat in front of the clip…
…and begin scalloping out the underside of the lamb’s tongue with some P80 wrapped around a dowel.
It’s taking shape now.
Once I’d roughed out the basic shape, I sanded the rest of the varnish off the handle because I was starting to find it distracting. Now I could see how the light chased the shadows giving birth to the form. There was still quite a bit of refining to do, but I decided to get the other side to this stage before going any further.
It occurred to me that I needed a way to ensure that the other side of the lamb’s tongue would mirror this side, but how? What I came up with was really simple and worked well. I laid a piece of paper over the handle and held it still with one hand whilst running a finger over all of the hard lines of the handle to emboss the shape into the paper.
Then I penciled in the lines to make them clearer…
…and cut out the shape. I positioned it on the other side of the handle with bits of tape and drew around the lamb’s tongue and v-groove. Voila! – a perfect match to the other side.
In no time at all, I had it looking the same. So far, so good.
Now the fun started. You see, a lamb’s tongue is a very complex shape. It was a saw handle maker’s signature if you will and they really liked to show off. As well as the twists and turns I’d already wrestled with, the lamb’s tongue now had to taper inwards when viewed from underneath, similar to the one shown below.
Of course as I tapered the sides, the tiny flats on the sides of the tongue grew bigger and the undercut between the top of the lamb’s tongue and the cheek started to disappear. So I found myself working on the taper, then the scallop, then the undercut, then back to the taper etc, in a seemingly endless cycle. I was really in the zone at this point, constantly looking at the shapes from every angle, pausing only to wipe the sweat from my brow. However, I did manage to take a few shots of the process as I teased the form from the wood.
Finally I got to a point where it felt like the next stroke of my file could mean the difference between perfection and scrap, so it was time to stop and pour myself a large one. I have to say I emerged with the utmost respect for the saw handle makers of old. So here’s my first ever lamb’s tongue.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I moved on to where the chamfer stop would traditionally have been. This saw has a ridiculous notch and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to change this aspect of the handle successfully. After succeeding with the lamb’s tongue, I really didn’t want to cock it up now. In the end, I decided to go for it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to transform this mess into a proper chamfer stop. At best it would just be a nod to the past, but it had to be better than what was there now.
My flat file has teeth on one edge which I used to define the stop whilst simultaneously filing the chamfer.
Then I used my small half round file to shape the other side of the stop, pushing forward whilst rotating the file.
I didn’t want to file any more off the chamfer, but I still needed to refine the side of the stop. So I covered the teeth on the underside with masking tape, but left the teeth on the side of the file exposed.
To finish this section of the handle, I rasped off the convex shape from what used to be the hook…
…and smoothed it out with P80 wrapped around a dowel.
Finally, I ran my file across the flats on top of the chamfers.
All that was left to do now was ease any hard edges and blend the shape of the grip further with P180, then P240.
After all that, I looked at the handle and I still felt something wasn’t quite right. Then it dawned on me that the top horn was too long. It was out of proportion with the rest of the handle. So I cut about ¼” off the end and thinned it out again with my rasp and file.
So here’s the finished saw with its new comfortable, aesthetically pleasing handle. I tried to give this saw some dignity and I hope you’ll agree that it’s a vast improvement on what was there before.
I was too young to join any protests in the 1960s, so I want to make up for it now. To all the tool companies who continue to try to palm us off with crap like this…
I’d just like to say…
Thanks for watching
-- Andy -- "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." (Michelangelo)