Saw Talk #6: Cowell and Chapman 14" Backsaw Restoration

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Blog entry by Brit posted 02-26-2012 01:01 PM 10890 reads 0 times favorited 41 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: Shaping a Lamb's Tongue and more Part 6 of Saw Talk series Part 7: Drabble and Sanderson 14" Backsaw Restoration »

2012 is a big year for Britain. Not only are we hosting the Olympics, but we’re also celebrating the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne. It’s Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee. Even my wife is organizing a street party for around 200 residents and I’ve been roped into building all kinds of weird and wonderful things for the day. Yes folks, marquees will be erected, brass bands will strike up, flags will be waved and I’m sure we’ll all feel very patriotic by the end of it.

I’ve also noticed something strange happening to the goods in our shops. Slowly but surely, more and more items seem to sport a Union Jack on their tickets or slogans such as Proud to be British. It’s ok though because if you turn them over, they still say Made in China. Events like these are a gift to the commercial world. Companies are always looking for a marketing edge; something that will give them a leg up in the competitive jungle of consumerism.

Now you’re probably wondering why I’m mentioning these events on a saw blog. Well because it was in a patriotic climate such as this that our next saw was made and the retailer was quick to capitalize on the events of the day. The year was 1887 and the country was celebrating Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee (50 years).

During the course of the year, many celebratory events took place right across the land. The occasion of interest to us though, occurred in the north east of England in a town called Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

This was a proud industrial town, well-respected in the mining, ship building, arms and transport industries. As woodworkers, we often get excited by such events as Woodworking in America or the European Woodworking Show. Well let me tell you, these events pale into insignificance alongside the events staged by our Victorian forbears. The Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers hosted an event of gargantuan proportions to showcase local trade and industry in North East England.

The Royal Jubilee Exhibition, as it became known, sprung up on the outskirts of Newcastle, in an area known locally as Bull Park (where the town’s bull had once been penned). Even though the exhibition was only to last for 180 days, they constructed hugely extravagant buildings of steel, wood, stone and glass as only they knew how.

Four great pavilions were erected, in the centre of which they planted a formal garden. In the middle of the garden was an ornate bandstand which still exists to this day and is due to be renovated this year.

There was also a theatre, art galleries and a section dedicated to photography. To the right of the great halls, there was a lake. I’m not sure if they dug out the lake for this event, but I wouldn’t put it past them. Regardless, it was a nice feature to have and one the crowds would enjoy. However, they weren’t satisfied with just the lake. They built a replica of the old Tyne Bridge that had originally been erected in 1250 AD to span the river Tyne. The real bridge had been partially damaged in the great flood of 1771.

Around 400 exhibitors showed off their wares and over 2 million paying visitors came from miles around to marvel at the country’s skill and ingenuity and wallow in Britain’s industrial might. Nowadays it is easy for us to sit in our armchairs and find out everything about anything simply by clicking a Search button, but in 1887 this exhibition must have been quite a sight to behold. In fact when the Institute wrote to the Mayor proposing the idea, they stated that there were…

“…no other means so efficient, so rapid, and so economical of bringing together the producer and consumer as an exhibition of that character”. (Newcastle Daily Chronicle, May 12 1887).

Two of the exhibitors at this event were William Cowell and William Withers Chapman, who for a number of years had been the proprietors of a hardware store situated at 11 Pilgrim Street in the center of the town. Pilgrim Street still exists today and many of the buildings retain their old facades.

Cowell and Chapman were partners and listed their profession as General Hardwaremen and Plane Makers. During the course of my research, I discovered some of their plough planes (plow in the US) as far afield as Australia, America and France.

They weren’t particularly known for their saws though and yet it was their names that appeared on my saw plate. However, I quickly realized that they hadn’t made the saw at all, but were merely resellers. Take a look at the etch on the saw’s plate and see if it gives you any clues as to the manufacturer. From left to right, the etch reads:

Yes, it’s Nelly the elephant again my friends. This saw was made my W. Tyzack, Sons and Turner. It might have been assembled and sharpened by Cowell and Chapman to a particular customer’s specifications, but they didn’t make it.

If you take another look at the aerial photo above showing the exhibition pavilions, you will notice that the etching is a rendition of the three arches that formed the main entrance to the exhibition. You can see the two towers and the statue of Britannia in the middle.

Here is the saw as I received it. The saw is 14” long with a 4” depth of cut. It’s filed 10 ½ TPI crosscut or to put it another way, 21 teeth every two inches. The handle is exactly the same as Big Joe, my steel-backed 14” backsaw by W. Tyzack, Sons & Turner. As you can see there is a fair bit of pitting, certainly too much to remove without also removing the etch.

Now if this was a common saw with a common etch, I would have no compunction in sanding the saw plate. Of course I would do my best to keep the etch, but if it wasn’t possible it wouldn’t be the end of the world. However this isn’t a common saw. For all I know, this could be the only surviving saw from Cowell and Chapman bearing this historic etch. While it is in my custody I won’t be doing anything except cleaning and polishing it so that the next owner can hopefully get as much pleasure from owning it as I do. I did decide to refinish the handle though because the finish was wearing very thin in places and the bottom horn had a tiny chip that was annoying me.

The following exert from the London Gazette reveals that Cowell and Chapman parted company on 31st December 1899. The business was carried on thereafter by William Cowell.

So here’s the finished saw, all ready for another 125 years hard labor.


-- - "The hand speaks to the brain as surely as the brain speaks to the hand." Frank R. Wilson

41 comments so far

View Jim Rowe's profile

Jim Rowe

980 posts in 2034 days

#1 posted 02-26-2012 01:19 PM

I’ll second that. That’s a really interesting story and the link with the plane is great. I doubt that we will see any similar products made this year that will survive for another 125 years. Thanks for letting us into the history and congratulations on a great restoration job.

-- It always looks better when it's finished!

View saddletramp's profile


1180 posts in 2360 days

#2 posted 02-26-2012 01:32 PM

That’s a beautiful saw Andy and a hell of a story.

Congrats to you and all of GB on your Diamond Jubilee.

-- ♫♪♪♫♫ Saddletramp, saddletramp, I'm as free as the breeze and I ride where I please, saddletramp ♪♪♪♫♪ ...... Bob W....NW Michigan (Traverse City area)

View Don W's profile

Don W

18415 posts in 2289 days

#3 posted 02-26-2012 02:06 PM

I typically scroll to the end of a post before reading it. By the time I got through the scroll, I could hear the band playing. Mads actually put the music in his post, you didn’t have to it was implied.

Your really do make your saws look amazing. Great job, both the restore and the blog.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View racerglen's profile


3112 posts in 2502 days

#4 posted 02-26-2012 02:43 PM

Andy, you never cease to amaze, great history, great saw and great work !

-- Glen, B.C. Canada

View hhhopks's profile


650 posts in 2099 days

#5 posted 02-26-2012 02:48 PM

Beautiful restoration.

Any recommendation of places to visit during early part of March? I know the area have many points of interest but actually got very little opportunity to do any real site seeing. I do know the region has:

Just a beatiful country.
Awesome castles,
Beautiful churches.
Wonderful charming cities/towns.
Birth of railway system (What Thomas the Tank engine trains are model after).
Roman walls.
Oh yea, ancestry home of George Washington (to the south).

-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

View Brit's profile


7101 posts in 2564 days

#6 posted 02-26-2012 02:49 PM

Jim – Thanks and welcome to LJs. Good to have another countryman on board. You raise an interesting point about whether any British toolmakers will release a special diamond jubilee edition of their tools. You would think the likes of Clifton and Ashley and Ray Iles would jump on it.

Bob – Thanks. Any excuse for a few beers and us Brits are there.

Don – Not much to do on this one really. A bit of spit and polish was all that was required. I will admit that I had to fight the urge to make the plate shiny, but I think I’m right to preserve the etch on this occasion.

Glen – Only one left to go now Glen. The weather is warming up now, so I’ll soon be able to work out in the garden again for longer periods. Can’t wait to sharpen them all up and try them out.

-- - "The hand speaks to the brain as surely as the brain speaks to the hand." Frank R. Wilson

View Brit's profile


7101 posts in 2564 days

#7 posted 02-26-2012 02:52 PM

hhhopks – Where exactly will you be in Britain? Newcastle? Let me know and I’ll tell you a few places to see.

-- - "The hand speaks to the brain as surely as the brain speaks to the hand." Frank R. Wilson

View jusfine's profile


2422 posts in 2647 days

#8 posted 02-26-2012 02:56 PM

Very nicely written, the history is so interesting!

The restoration is great!

Also like the little pig!

We are seeing the ads on TV already for your celebrations, all the best!

-- Randy "You are judged as much by the questions you ask as the answers you give..."

View hhhopks's profile


650 posts in 2099 days

#9 posted 02-26-2012 03:28 PM

I visited UK last year, my wife wanted to me to get some memerbila of the wedding. You know, plates, cups, spoon…..etc of Kate and Harry. The typical giftshop tourist things.

Being tie up with meetings…I never had a chance to really shop for it. I figure those things should be easily found at the airport gift shop. Right? Evidently not!

I was difficult to explained to you know who, when I returned home. ; (

-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

View ShaneA's profile


6790 posts in 2320 days

#10 posted 02-26-2012 03:31 PM

Wow Andy, great story and writing, and even better looking saw. Just an awesome post overall. A pleasure to read and see.

View BritBoxmaker's profile


4609 posts in 2758 days

#11 posted 02-26-2012 04:27 PM

Excellent restoration, Brit. However not all will be celebrating 60 years of QEII, I’m a republican.

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

View Brit's profile


7101 posts in 2564 days

#12 posted 02-26-2012 04:58 PM

hhhopks – have a look at some of the links on this site. March is a bit early for certain visitor atractions, but you might see some things you can fit into your schedule.

Shane – Thanks mate. It was a nice way to spend an evening.

Martyn – Actually, I’m not much of a flag waver myself. My wife is though, so I getting involved to give her a bit of support. Anything for a quiet life. Hope you like the Olympics instead then. :-)

-- - "The hand speaks to the brain as surely as the brain speaks to the hand." Frank R. Wilson

View Brit's profile


7101 posts in 2564 days

#13 posted 02-26-2012 05:02 PM

Randy – At the moment my spare bedroom is full of stuff sporting a Union Jack, ready for the street party. It isn’t until June and I’m already fed up hearing about it. :-)

-- - "The hand speaks to the brain as surely as the brain speaks to the hand." Frank R. Wilson

View BritBoxmaker's profile


4609 posts in 2758 days

#14 posted 02-26-2012 05:09 PM

I’m neither proud nor ashamed to be British. I like the country I was born in, particularly its tolerance of different viewpoints. People should follow what they wish. Monarchy just not my cup of tea. I agree the Olympics should be good though.

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

View AnthonyReed's profile


9207 posts in 2162 days

#15 posted 02-26-2012 05:30 PM

Thanks Andy.

-- ~Tony

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