Nativity in Black

Often when you find saws, the nib on the leading edge is missing, or gone completely. Also if you shorten one, a new nib should be added back. I’ll go over my process for creating them, and a few tips I find helpful to elevate the final look. I will not get into their function. Lots of speculation out there and I don’t think anyone has found a definitive answer.

As a rule, nibs are found on straight back saws only.  Picture the very popular Disston No. 7. One has to wonder if Henry Disston, when designing the first skewback, Choice 80 used the opportunity to simplify the process by leaving it off? Regardless, I’ve found nibs on at least one (warranted superior) skewback design. I suspect, however, it was added later by a saw smith with a sense of flare.

The good new if you’re already filing saws you most likely have the tools needed. I find used files work fine with the smaller files working best. I also use a set of jewels files however I’m told historically they were made with just the triangular saw files.

The next thing you’ll need is a template. The simplest thing is to use a saw with good nib. Lay it on top, use an “ultra fine sharpie” or metal awe to trace the slope and nib.

Once done, I start the process with a triangular file to shape the bottom right angles of the nib. Then work back to the shoulder. After that, it’s just a matter of fine tuning till your happy. Keep in mind nibs most often were filed by hand and do vary from saw to saw and even within models. So don’t over think it and just make something esthetically pleasing to the size of the saw.

Look sharp: Watch that the area your nib touches the baseline DOESN’T dip below it. The one edge of the triangular files has a tendency to dig as you shape the side of the nib. Looking at this nib you will see from the shoulder to the tip is on the same plane.

Finishing touches: Take a look at the area you just filed. The filed edge will be blunt and wider then the rest of the top edge. The original top edge, either through use or design was tapered to some degree. Using a flat bastard file; like the one used for jointing, gently file the edge to match the rest of the saw. Once done it’s nice to use a little darkening agent commonly sold for touching up bluing on gun barrels to darken down the area. Then blend with the rest of the restoration.

For those wondering about the “Nativity in Black” get with the program! It’s a reference to a Black Sabbath song from their first album N.I.B.

Rock on!

Joe Federici
restoring saws one nib at a time.

The circle of value

Or is that life?

The only pragmatic way for a SawMonger like myself to go about restoring saws is to work in batches. It allows for no one part of the process to get overly monotonous.

However, the start of the process, sanding plates takes the prize as the dullest, energy sucks part; while at the same time, being mindless. Yes we all strive to excel at unskilled labor. Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy.

However as I sand (trying not to hunch my back) sanding over my workbench. I take  solace in knowing I’m part of the circle of value for these old tools.  There is joy in the fact I’m retuning the high value, pride, and respect they deserve.

Evidence to this point can be seen in the owners marks on both the handles and spines of countless vintage saws. Looking at them you can trace the value of the saw through the quality of their marks. The latest being done when they had no vale, owners initials carved with dull pen knife or rusty ice-pick.  Juxtaposed that to the aesthetically placed metal stamp of the original cabinetmakers. Old catalogs remind us that these once great saws cost for many a full weeks wages and their marks reflected not just protection from theft but their pride in ownership.

One of the pleasures I have in restoring them is the knowledge that I’ve help to reinstate that pride in ownership. As most of the new owners I hear from are please as punch and wouldn’t dream of carving their name in them with a rusty nail.

And with that close of that thought, I move to the next grit of sandpaper. Paying attention to the nuances of the plate, and the story they tell.

Joe Federici
head down, nose to the grindstone

Even the wright’s of yore had a day off

This past weekend was the WXPN XPoNential Music festival at Wiggins Park located at the Camden waterfront in NJ. I’ve been attending the festival with friends for about 7 or 8 years. It’s changed locations over the years but what I love about it has stayed the same;  the low-key family vibe. Coolers and food are allowed. No hostile pat downs or rifling through your things. They even allow readmittance which is nice in an outdoor park if you forget something or it starts to rain.

This year’s weather was hot (as expected) but better then past years. WXPN the local non- commercial (commercial) radio station put together yet another great 3-day line up. Highlights for me included The Lumineers, Dawes, Delta Rae (who cover of The Chain was worth the price of admission), Dr. Dog, John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders, (including a cover of  5 years by Rhett Miller, another off the charts performance).and Rhett Miller and the Serial Lady Killers. A perfect high energy ending to a great weekend.

If you live in the Philly area it’s a great value and a lot of fun.  I’ve been working on the saw business most weekends and the festival was a welcomed break. I did however sneak in time sanding plates before we left and started on future blogs while basking in the rays. Who says that work crack-berry does have some positive aspects.

Joe Federici
Music Lover

museings of a monger

Ok so we’ve established I look at a good deal of saws and I must enjoy working on them. Mix that with my love for details,  interest in history, and tools of all kind and you begin to see my neuroses.

Example A

Check out the chisel marks left when cutting the inlet for the back on this Spears & Jackson back saw. I’ve been working on dating it but it’s safe to say it was made in Sheffield England around 1850.

Let’s think about that. These delicate flakes of English beach were made about 162 years ago. True English beach these days is all but gone. Considering the tight and straight grain and the price of a saw like this when made new.  The wood used would be both, quality and well seasoned. It could easily have come from a tree 300 years old, and sprouted from the earth around 1550. That puts the wood at 462 years old!

Are we stoked yet?

That’s over 300 years before electricity was common place and the common working conditions would included daily contact with diseases like Smallpox, Cholera, Typhoid, and TB to name a few.

Whooph! that’s a lot of math and hopefully illustrates some of the fun history that goes along with these crazy old saws not to mention owners marks and other mysteries you find on handles, backs, and plates. It’s a treasure trove for a procrastinator like myself.

Not to leave commerce out of this post; after all this little beauty will be for sale once restored. To get a price I asked a friend and fellow saw lover, Andy aka Brit from the LumberJocks board for a guestimate on price. He loosely figured the price to about half a joiner / cabinet makers weekly wage or 3 shillings. . . .quite an investment by today’s standards.

Ok, back to work.

Joe F.
Bubble gun historian

The search doesn’t end with the saw

One thing I’ve learned very quickly sharpening saws is not all files are the same.

Oh they may be labeled the same size but that’s where it ends.

In the old days Simons and Nicholson files were made in the US then Canada and at some point overseas.  Them moving production isn’t the issue at hand it’s more about the production quality dropping.  The outcome is non-uniform sizing and improperly hardened files.

Files are hardened in batches and to some degree it’s impossible to have every file be the same hardness but you’ll find as you use them some files last forever and others last ½ a saw a real issue if you’re buying files individually.  Short life can also be compounded if the lack of production is mixed with inconsistently shaped throughout a run.

Take a look at the three sides of a triangular file. Each one needs to come to a clean right angle and be consistent through the box, or boxes you buy. Without the consistence, when you switch to a fresh edge, your file will not seat properly in the gullet producing misshaped teeth. If this happens mid sharpen your back to square one. My advice: stay positive, re-Joint, re-shape, re-sharpen.

examples of common problems

Edges chip while in use. This can be caused by over or under hardening of the edges.

Flat edges. The file edge on the left does not come to a sharp right angle like the one in the right side image. This is the same file and if you were shaping or sharping the a saw and switch between these edges it’s sudden trouble.

 best practices when buying

  •  The simplest is to buy from someone you can trust. Email me. I’m happy to recommend a few online venders.
  •  When buying more than one file, check files edges for sharp right angles. If the box looks bad, send them back. Hardness can’t as easily be checked, but if the seller is reputable, they will stand behind it.  When a file is done is a subject for another time, but I find when they loose there bit on the metal it feels like the file is sliding, similar to a burnishing effect.
  •  Last but not least! Buy vintage. This option is not for the faint of heart.  Finding old file caches is as much an art as saw collecting. I was lucky enough to find one local to me (see picture at the top). Mind you, these caches normally come with strings like a crotchety store owner, ridiculous prices, bad hours, or a combination of all three.

However, if you’re buying vintage tools, you most like enjoy the challenges




Look at me! I’m a SawMonger

With all that’s been going lately, working on saws, getting the sites up and ebay It doesn’t leave a lot of time for backend things like inventory.  My idea is to number each saw and document some basic info, brand, size, price, condition and hopefully tie that in with the sales so when I get email requests I’m not making customers wait.

Fast forward to the weekend and I enlisted the help of a friend to input the data while I rattle off the info. We got through about 40 saws and while doing the evaluation (I use 1-10) on a grooves backsaw I found a stamp: Ironmonger.

How great is that.

I’ve been searching for title to use; owner just doesn’t suit me, sawwright is good but it’s big shoes to fill. Roy Underhill being the yoda of “wright’s” plus I’m not big on wearing newsboy caps and suspenders.

Looking at the definition it’s chiefly British and refers to a dealer in or trader of a commodity. Not a perfect fit but I’m more about the esthetics then the practicality or rules, so it works.
Joe Federici


Sheffield Saw Works— Whats in a name?

One aspect of selling and dealing with saws is the rich history. I spend a good deal of time searching the web, emailing friends, and posting on boards looking for background on the many saws I have. Some are simpler then others, like Disstion. Others can be a little more tricky like H.M. Finch.

Recently I restored a saw made by Sheffield Saw Works and not knowing about them I email a friend from England that also belongs to the lumberjock boards. He quickly pointed me in the direction of E. C. Atkins.

 What I found so great about was the use of an established British name used as a ploy to sell saws made here in the US. Seemed very P.T Barnum-ish to me.

Then researching a little deeper I found that both Men were born and spent time in Connecticut.

Coincidence?  You decided


lets get this party started

If for some reason you’ve stumbled onto my site. Hello and welcome. My name is Joe Federici and Positive Rake is a place for me to share things I’ve learned while running a small web business as well as, tips, trick, and other inspirations from my life.

stay tuned . . .



Disston uses large stone wheels to taper grind there saws. When the stones became worn down they were used to build bulk heads on the Delaware river.