Vintage Tool Rehab Projects #20: Restoring a 19th-Century Disston Backsaw

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Blog entry by Brad posted 05-18-2013 01:57 PM 4982 reads 1 time favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 19: Rehabbing a Coffin Smoother For Use In My Shop Part 20 of Vintage Tool Rehab Projects series Part 21: Rehabbing a Millers Falls No. 9 Smoother-And comparing it to my trusted Stanley No. 4 »

The Craig’s List ad said there were some old woodworking tools. That’s it. No pictures, no heart-throbbing prose. Still, the garage sale was in an older neighborhood. And close by in case it was a bust. So I fired up my Chili-Red Mini and motored on over.

Five minutes and $5.00 later I walked to my car clutching a Disston 16” backsaw, some brass screws and brass l-reinforcing thingies. The saw cost me 300 pennies. A bit of sleuthing on the Disstonian Institutes Website revealed that the saw was born between 1878-1888 per its medallion.

Here’s the prize of my quest:

As grungy as it looked, I was very happy overall. The top horn was split off but I figured I could find some apple wood to mend it.

A Horny Situation
In the interests of expanding my rehab skills, I decided to fix the horn. And to ensure an aesthetically-pleasing repair, I sought out two vintage handles. But that didn’t work out too well. The aged applewood didn’t pair well with either of the two donor handles. So I set them aside to wait for another handle repair. The horn would stay as it was.

The Rehab
I gave the sawplate the usual rehab as I’ve detailed here and here.

After experiencing a “glassy” look from the use of polyurethane finishes I decided to go with BLO followed by wax. That’s it.

I like the natural feel of the wood in my hand. BLO + plus was works pretty well.

The original tooth line suffered from calves and cows so I had some evening out to do. I also tried adding some slope to my sharpening for the first time.

Here’s the finished rehab.

The Testing
This baby has some pleasing heft to it. I also like the longer, 16” length versus my 12” Disston backsaw. I find it easier to keep it true through the cut. And the longer length allows for a longer stroke through the work piece.

And here’s a look at the cut finish.

So all it took to add a nice user to my saw next was a five-minute drive, three dollars and two fun-filled rehab hours.

Not bad for a 125-year old saw. I wonder if 125 years from now (c 2138) some woodworker will get as much pleasure from finding this treasure as I did. I can see her driving up to the garage sale in her fusion-powered Mini Cooper (some things never go out of style.) “I found it among some other tools on a table,” she’ll say to her husband. “And I only had to hand over three $1,000 bills!” Her ever-supportive husband is sure to reply, “What a steal sweetie!”


-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

10 comments so far

View bobasaurus's profile


3482 posts in 3209 days

#1 posted 05-18-2013 04:51 PM

Nice work. That’s a beautiful-looking saw. Sharpening the teeth by hand looks challenging, though. I have an old backsaw (a “Pennsylvania Saw Corporation No. 78”) that needs the same treatment so I’m paying close attention.

-- Allen, Colorado (Instagram @bobasaurus_woodworking)

View Brandon's profile


4152 posts in 2976 days

#2 posted 05-18-2013 05:01 PM

Wow, what a great find and an excellent restore. Some nice optimism, too.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View GMatheson's profile


478 posts in 2994 days

#3 posted 05-18-2013 05:24 PM

Great looking saw Brad. I need to find myself a 16” saw someday.

-- Greg in Ontario, Canada

View Don W's profile

Don W

18754 posts in 2592 days

#4 posted 05-19-2013 11:02 PM

great restore Brad

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

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 2865 days

#5 posted 05-20-2013 03:50 PM

beautiful rehab and nice find.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View CL810's profile


3798 posts in 3013 days

#6 posted 05-21-2013 10:18 PM

Textbook worthy restore!

-- "The only limits to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." - FDR

View johnLT's profile


24 posts in 2163 days

#7 posted 05-21-2013 11:16 PM

Saw the title vintage tool and thought I had slipped and went into Craig List! But wait, it is about Craig List.

View Brad's profile


1139 posts in 2765 days

#8 posted 11-18-2013 02:32 PM

Brian, to get the polish on the saw spine I sanded it through progressive grits through 600, then charged my grinder’s buffing wheel with white compound and buffed it to a polish. The sawplate, I spent a lot of time with progressive grits affixed to a sanding block. At 400 grit, I switched to just using my hand and progressed through 600 grit. Then added, and buffed out, several coats of wax polish.

Please note that vintage sawplates vary widely in their condition. I’ve found that some are more pitted than others. This saw plate has some pits, but for some reason, it simply cleaned up better than the others.

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

View b2rtch's profile


4861 posts in 3073 days

#9 posted 01-14-2014 05:40 PM

I only wish I could find one for me.

‘This saw plate has some pits, but for some reason, it simply cleaned up better than the others”
Something interesting here:
While in France I repaired two very old clock.
I noticed the the frame which was made a some kind of forged steel was as clean and as shiny as new stainless steel.
For some reason this steel just did not corrode nor taranish.

-- Bert

View richardwootton's profile


1699 posts in 1980 days

#10 posted 05-20-2014 08:40 PM

Great restore brad! Are you sure that handle is applewood? It looks a lot like the rosewood I see on my vintage plane totes.

-- Richard, Hot Springs, Ar -- Galoot In Training

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