The Sad Saw, Part 1

I started out on the road to hand tool woodworking with an inexpensive pull saw from the big box store, then I restored a Disston D8 and had Dr. Phil at Bad Axe sharpen it.  Now I’m Hooked on Hand Saws(TM).  I won’t bore you with the saws that have recently feathered my saw nest, but I decided that I needed to learn how to sharpen saws myself.

Currently all the saws I have are razor sharp, so I needed something to practice on.  Again, eBay to the “rescue”.  I got this gem for under $20 with shipping.  This is the picture from the eBay listing, but I added the red line.

The price was right.  It’s a Diston with brass fasteners and a nice handle that looked to be in good shape.  The blade, no so much.  I actually didn’t notice that the toothline was so far out from being straight.  It’s worse in person.  The tip is also bent slightly.  The bent tip isn’t a huge concern because my plan was already to shorten the saw an inch or two — I want to make a “panel saw”, with a fine tooth rip pattern.

Here you can see the disaster that passes for a toothline.  The heel and toe are resting on the surface, there is at least 1/4″ rise in the middle.

Before the saw arrived I was thinking that I’d re-sharpen and re-shape the teeth, but after looking at the saw it really needs to be re-toothed.  I’m thinking that I’ll scribe a straight line from the heel to the toe and shear it off, then file in new teeth.  But first I think I’ll sleep on it.

I don’t know how well you can see this, but about 2″ back from the toe there is a distinct bend in the blade.  It could probably be straightened, but I’m pretty sure I’ll just shorten it.  If I shear the toothline so it’s straight the tip of the saw will come to a point anyway, shortening the length will mean less metal to remove along the working edge.

I really like the shape of the handle.  It’s not in terrible shape, although it has it’s share of nicks and dings.

So, after work tonight I disassembled the saw.  I striped the handle with lacquer thinner and steel wool.  That got a lot of dirt off, and the tiny bit of finish that was still on the handle.  Then I sanded out the worst of the nicks and chips, and gave the handle an overall sanding with 220 grit.  There is a little loss of detail in the carving, but it’s not as extensive as the picture makes it look.

And finally I dropped the handle in a bad of “danish oil” to soak for a few hours.  I’ll pull it out later and let it dry overnight before putting some varnish on it.  I used a similar procedure on the handle for the D8 that I restored and it really seemed to bring out the color in the handle nicely.  Tomorrow, time permitting, I’ll start on the saw plate.

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8 thoughts on “The Sad Saw, Part 1

  1. Oh yeah! Thanks for the reminder about how you finished your handles. Sounds like a plan I need to follow for mine. That is a pretty sad saw.

    I learned a trick over to weekend to determine if the steel is good. Put your hand through the saw handle and hold the saw resting you fingers where the nuts are. Now that you’re holding the saw parallel to the ground, take your finger and drop it on the end of the saw blade and hold your finger tip there. It should sing. And the longer it sings the better the steel. I’ll make a post about it with pics to help explain.

    • M Stone

      Careful, that isn’t necessarily a test of the steel, but the tensioning of the saw. During WIA Ron Herman demonstrated tensioning by performing that test as you describe, the the saw sang. Then he took the saw out of tension by bending the saw plate like a strongman at a circus, making the whole room of attendees flinch. Same test, and there was only a dull, short thud. He did a demonstration cut and the tip of the saw vibrated back and forth, dragging in the cut. Then he put it back in tension by hammering, on an anvil, along the length of the saw, just behind the tooth line. Singing saw was back and no whipping in the cut. So you can have a good steel that won’t sing because it is not properly tensioned. Now, what I don’t know is if you can have a saw that is poor steel, that will sing because of it IS in tension. That would be a question for Mr. Herman.

      • Good you’ve seen the trick! And yes, we were debating .. good steel or good tension. Sounds like it might be both. Which class did you take from Ron? I haven’t taken one from him yet.

  2. Interesting, I’d like to see that demonstrated. If he was hammering the saw against the anvil so that it made a “ping” sound that would be stretching the metal — slightly thinning it. If you do a bunch of selective thinning like that you eventually make a bowl. It certainly would take the flop out of a piece of metal, but it would take a careful touch to keep from distorting the sawplate.

    I tried thumping the blade and it didn’t make much of a sound. If it seems to flop when I’m sawing with it (assuming I can get teeth cut into it) I may try tensioning it by hammering.

    Great info, thanks!

  3. Jim T (our instructor) told us that the saw refurbisher in town (Port Townsend) said that it take over 300 well placed hammer blows to retension a blade which is way he would be taking his saw to the the refurbisher if it needed that. :o)

    • M Stone

      “Sharpening Handsaws with Ron Herman” very imaginative, right?

      One of the best things, it was the last day of WIA and Ron had spent the night before drinking with the rest of the presenters. Ever seen anyone with hangover use a screechy file? Funny and sympathy inducing, all at the same time.

      Ron did say that tensioning a saw should be done by experienced people, but he didn’t say why. He didn’t explain the consequences of doing it wrong.

      Popular Woodworking did produce a Saw Sharpening DVD with Mr Herman. I bought a copy after taking the class so I could refresh my memory / technique when I needed. It is very good, for one thing, Mr Herman tends to cut through the mythology. For instance, you don’t need to turn the saw around in the vice, you can just file from one side and then you only have to deburr one side. But, he doesn’t go into tensioning on the DVD.

      • I’m just marking out the new teeth now. I bought one of every size file handle, none of them fit the files I bought properly. How can that be?

        One of life’s mysteries, like “what happens to the matching sock in the dryer”.

  4. I experimented once with straightening a saw with poor steel using a hammer. My feeling is that it would be difficult to get much tension in a saw with poor steel. I think the higher carbon content would be necessary to get decent tension that will hold.

    If anyone wants to try it and report back, I would love to hear about it.

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