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Forum topic by richgreer posted 04-29-2011 06:46 PM 3554 views 0 times favorited 23 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4541 posts in 3271 days

04-29-2011 06:46 PM

I found an old saw in a storage area at our church and notice something unusual. I took a picture of the end of the saw and you will see a strange shape on the top side of the saw, including a little nub. I don’t think this was for decoration. I assume it had a purpose. Does anyone know why the end of this saw would be shaped like this?

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

23 replies so far

View jackass's profile


350 posts in 3910 days

#1 posted 04-29-2011 07:00 PM

Hi Rich,
Don’t know for sure, but it looks like a saw used in the whaling industry. I remember a lonely tooth on some saws when I was a little gaffer, and an old carpenter said it was to get your cut started. The round end suggests some sort of specialty saw ie; the whaling industry or a meat cutter of some kind.

-- Jack Keefe Shediac NB Canada

View Bertha's profile


13551 posts in 2890 days

#2 posted 04-29-2011 07:02 PM

I read an article about what this nub was for but for the life of me, I can’t remember. I’ve got a pricing book for antique tools and they all seem to have them. Someone below me will remember but I’m told by the antique book that you want it.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View JJohnston's profile


1622 posts in 3488 days

#3 posted 04-29-2011 07:08 PM

What does the handle look like? Does it look like it’s set up to use upside down?

-- "A man may conduct himself well in both adversity and good fortune, but if you want to test his character, give him power." - Abraham Lincoln

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 3180 days

#4 posted 04-29-2011 07:30 PM

Its called a Nib, and as Jack stated it was believed to be for starting a cut. Although finding information on the net is scarce. It is also believed to have been for decoration and for some oldtimers to feed a line of BS to greenhorns. Bob of Logan Cabinet Shoppe demonstrates how to put a Nib on newer saws. My thought on the Nib is for the user to quickly identify it as a cross cut saw at a glance from a rip saw. I recall only seeing them on the cross cut saws. But then what do I know.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View Dan's profile


3630 posts in 3077 days

#5 posted 04-29-2011 07:48 PM

This is from the Disston Institute website…. I think it is the best answer you will find.

Q. What is the purpose of the bump on the end of the saw blade?

A. It’s called a nib, and discussions about its purpose, or lack thereof, have taken on the qualities of theological debate. One side says the nib had no practical purpose after 1693 A.D., but it may have before that date. Another side says nibs have always been ornamental and nothing else. A third group says the nib had an absolute purpose when it was invented, but, beginning in the 18th century, no one remembered what that purpose was, and further, we cannot agree what that purpose was either, but here is my theory…. The reason for the nib debate is the same as that for arguments among biblical scholars: there were no security cameras to document the events as they took place, and all records were generated long after the principal actors were dead.

Disston and Sons published an explanation in their Lumberman Handbook stating:

The “Nib” near the end of a hand saw has no practical use whatever, it merely serves to break the straight line of the back of blade [sic] and is an ornamentation only.
Carpenters have used the nib to hold a string that ties a blade guard over the teeth (probably a “found” use for the nib, not its reason for being). Some have started a cut by notching the wood with the nib (saw teeth do a better job of that). Speculators have speculated that saw makers tested hardness of the steel on the nib. Some have said early handsaws had an auxiliary handle near the toe to guide the flexible saws and prevent them from bending. The nib is said by them to be a vestigial handle which had become ornamental. At last count there were 117 recorded reasons, uses, or causes for the saw nib. I have heard nearly all and am not particularly committed to any of them. Please do not email your pet theory about saw nibs unless it is really funny.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View Bertha's profile


13551 posts in 2890 days

#6 posted 04-29-2011 07:50 PM

To the rescue, Dan! thanks, Dan.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3271 days

#7 posted 04-29-2011 08:06 PM

Something tells me we are never going to know, for certain, what the purpose of the nib (or the round end) is. Nonetheless, it makes for an interesting discussion. To respond to JJohnson – there is nothing unusual about the handle and it does not look like it was designed to accommodate using the saw upside down.

I’ll also comment that I could find no markings on the saw that might indicate manufacturer or dates.

Dan said that they have started a cut by notching the wood with the nib. To that I respond that the nib is not a saw tooth. It has no cutting edge.

Very interesting.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 3256 days

#8 posted 04-29-2011 08:11 PM


You have asked a question that is right up there with “Which came first the chicke or the egg?” Most of the hand saws made pre-1900 had a nib on them like that. Equally amazing is how many I have come across that had the nib broken off, which indicates to me that someone at least attempted to find a use for the darn thing. I have seen many theories as to the purpose, but no one that I know has come across a definitive reason for it to be there. We must assume it was purely because someone along the way thought it looked cool and everyone else copied them. I have an old Disston No. 7 saw from around the 1890’s that has a nib on it. I don’t think the nib has anything to do with it, but it is the best hand saw that I own and a pleasure to use. It is a 5 1/2 point rip saw and if I can ever find a matching 7 9 pt crosscut saw I will grab it up and probably get rid of several other hand saws that I own. The main thing that I can saw about that saw that you found is that it indieed is old. Probably in excess of 100 years old.


-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View Dan's profile


3630 posts in 3077 days

#9 posted 04-29-2011 09:21 PM

Rick – I believe it was Gregn who suggested one of the uses was starting the cut. My reply was just a copy of a question and answer from the Disston Institute. I think you got our post mixed up.

If you clean the blade with a sanding block you may be able to uncover a saw etch. That would help you ID the saw. If you do this make SURE you use a sanding block and not an abrasive pad, folded paper to steel wool. Using anything other then a sanding block could sand the etch off.

A lot of times you can find just enough etch left to ID the saw. It can be fun trying to get it to a somewhat readable condition.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3195 days

#10 posted 04-29-2011 11:24 PM

I remember reading somewhere that someone had found some period advertising that had mentioned the nib being for removing sawdust from the kerf.

Don’t remember the source but sounded plausible to me.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View D_Allen's profile


495 posts in 2981 days

#11 posted 04-29-2011 11:46 PM

Maybe it gives the blade a special tone when played!
Yea, I know…I’m showing my age!

-- Website is finally up and

View swirt's profile


3411 posts in 3169 days

#12 posted 04-30-2011 06:49 AM

Without seeing more of the saw, I would guess that the roundedness on the toe is from damage that was then removed. I’ve run across several saws that were damaged on the toe from striking the floor to many times to just bent for some other reason. Being spring steel it is almost impossible to get a heavy bend out at the toe, so damage to the toe is often ground off. The toe on yours looks just irregular enough to make me think it was just damage that was removed.

From what I can see the, the thin taper of it makes me think it might have been a “ship point saw”
or it may have just seen a lot of sharpenings over the years which left it thinly tapered.

-- Galootish log blog,

View swirt's profile


3411 posts in 3169 days

#13 posted 04-30-2011 06:56 AM

I remember seeing the sawdust kerf cleaner theory floated… I think it was on Popular Woodworking somewhere. To me that never made sense. How would a single nub hidden in a curve clear sawdust any better than a whole row of saw-teeth, is the question that pops to my mind. ;)

The nubs are terrible at starting a cut, tried it a few times and decided that theory was hooey.

The idea of it being a bump to keep a sting from coming off while holding a blade guard on seems the most plausible to me.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3312 days

#14 posted 05-14-2011 05:19 PM

okay fok´s I think the answer is here I havn´t read the article yet
but from the drawings at the front the same as those in the mittle of the article
I think this can bee were the answer is

take care

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3271 days

#15 posted 05-14-2011 10:03 PM

Thanks Dennis – The article was a bit wordy, but it eventually got to the point I was looking for.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

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