Cutting Corners

Recently I’ve been working on a few older split nut saws and in the process of restoration, I noticed the top corner of the Disston No 7 in hand was docked. My first thought was that the plate had been replaced at some point, as the odds are better you’ll win the lottery than having the holes lining up when swapping out a handle or plate.  The results are you need to add/alter the holes or possibly, I was thinking, dock the plate to adjust the fit into the handle.

Note to Jr. pickers: be sure to check the plate fit at the handle; it’s easy to overlook a replaced plate.  Often on saws with replacement plates they sit proud of the kerf in the handle.

Handle removed I realized no alterations to the holes had been made and I was 99% sure this was the original plate.  But to quench my curiosity I went to the vault and pulled a few more of similar years and found they all custom pair of Spanx to close up that unsightly gap.

And your asking yourself. Why haven’t I read about this you ask?!?

Now you shall.

For starters we all know saws made in the 1800’s have some of the most intricate handles made, so the idea that the cut is an oversight doesn’t sit well with me.

I emailed with a few friends and went to the board for an answer.  The net sum resulted in similar suspicions but no real answer.

The strongest theory is it helped reduce cracking of the handle.  When you look at the force generated in use due to handle shape, hang angle and depth of kerf the pressure at the top corner would be the highest.  This would result in the top corner of the plate cracking the handle.

Split nuts use small diameter shaft and often bend over time due to the force of the plate. This bending almost always results in a shift backwards towards the hand.  If the corner was left on the plate it would surely crack the handle over time.

Another reason could be that pre-industrial revolution saws were often made piecemeal by independent craftsmen specializing in one aspect of the process.  A smith or ironmonger made the plates and the handles were crafted by the saw maker or another specialist. All these craftsmen working independently were missing the glue provided by mass production, namely the standardization of sizes, and may have add a “little extra” for the final craftsmen assembling the saw

A somewhat weak case, yes.  But I put it out there none the less.

So what changed in the early 1900’s that allowed for tighter tolerances negating the need for Spanx paving the way to a perfect kerf–to-plate ratio?

Are you racking your brain wondering how is it possible that magnificent cover top D-8 with the let in handle is crack free, plus it features a “let in” handle, that surely must tempt the gods!

Here’s a big hint

Simply put, BIG NUTS.  In particular the 181,648 patented by Disston on 08/29/1876 differed from those before them, as they attached with cap screws instead of split nuts.  This was followed up by patent 375,350 on 12/27/1887 by Charles Glover of Hartford, Connecticut. The Glover patent screws would eventually become the de facto standard. Lots more can be read here about the evolution of handle fasteners.

Henry Disston and Charles Glover Patents

This is just one mans take based on working with saws but the larger size screws make better quality fasteners, holding tighter, resulting in less plate shifting and therefore less cracking in the handle.  With those worries behind them this paved the way for plate fit.  I’m sure tons of other benefits went along with this evolution, the least of which is the industrial revolution, but that’s a tale for another time.

Joe Federici
saw whisperer

What’s in a Name?

When it comes to owners marks and other flaws in tools, I find people fall into two camps. They sand and paint everything until it looks new or they touch as little as they can to preserve it.

I tend to fall into the latter, focusing on just what’s needed to preserve, but not alter the look. You find some owners marks are done with great care while others are hastily burned in. As someone who restores saws, I don’t love them all but unless they hamper use they stay. In the process of collecting and buying I ask about names and marks and every once in a while you get a surprise. Such is the case with this S. L. Allen mark found on this early 1900’s Disston D-8. I credit the connection to the current owner and collector of farm implementation made by S. L. Allen Co.

Samuel Leeds Allen and the formation of Moorestown. Although there were property owners as early as 1680 the Village wasn’t founded until 1682.

Not recognizing the name I did a little digging and realized although the name wasn’t familiar we’ve cosmically crossed paths for years. Samuel Leeds Allen was born in Philadelphia went to Westtown School  It was there he developed a love for Sledding, or “coasting” as it was commonly called. He went on to graduate from Friends Select and founded the S.L. Allen Co. in Moorestown, N.J. to manufacture agricultural machinery.

The Allen home built in 1841 named “Breidenhart” which means “broad hearth stone” or “hospitality.” The gardens were laidout by Charles Miller the designer of Fairmount Park. Breidenhart Castle was purchased in 1920 by Eldridge R. Johnson, inventor of the Victor Talking Machine.

Raised Quaker his future marriage was held at the Moorestown Meeting House, now part of Moorestown Friends School. A school and Meeting House I attended (authors note: under protest) while I attended the school.  Samuel patented over 300 pieces of farm equipment that were sold worldwide, however, he’s most famous for the flexible flyer. The story goes the sled was developed in part to a concern over year-round work for his employees.

Patent for the Flexible Flyer

The sled was a side project started while attending Westtown School and finished with help from his daughter at there home “Breidenhart” in Moorestown. The modern “castle” estate was built on property acquired from the Stokes family and hill across the street retained the name “Stokes Hill” and was used both by he and his daughter Elizabeth for sledding, or “coasting” as it was commonly called.

Ads possibly depicting stokes Hill pictured on the right

Growing up in the 80’s near Stokes Hill, sledding in the winter was top of mind.  The minute snow was forecasted, and on snow days the hill was busier then grand central in NYC. Being a tinkerer and love for speed and danger, I tried just about every known object including the hood of a Volkswagen bug and many home made toboggans in the quest for maximum speed.  My friends and I, like drag racers, closely guarded our favorite techniques, mine being Johnson’s paste wax.  The same paste wax I use on saw plates today!  Later in high school it was popular to meet up after dinner when the hill would be frozen over producing it’s fastest runs.

I started working at the kitchen in the Lutheran Home, which was just down the street from Stokes hill and who’s administration building I now know was Samuel “Breidenhart” castle. It must have been an impressive stretch of land as today there are over a dozen houses between the hill and home.

Although my hobbies and interests have changed, I still ride by the hill when the conditions are right.  I see a lot more plastic in kids hands but the flexible flyers are still prevalent.  I did see they are still being made in the US by a long time sled manufacturer, Paricon in Mane.

So as I pack up the D8 for it’s trip to the west coast my thoughts drift to its possible use and Joy it brought. The saw was made in the early 1900’s and at that time his company’s manufacturing would have moved to it’s final location in Phily. This being about 25 miles from his house in Moorestown and less then 5 miles from the Disston plant located near the Tacony–Palmyra bridge.  By today’s standard, that was considered around the corner, however, at the time it was a difficult commute considering the bridge wasn’t built till 1929!

One thing’s for sure, I have no idea where my sled is but I plan to borrow one and make plans for a late night run on Stokes

Joe Federici
King of the Hill

Road trip’en with a vandweller

One of the things I really enjoy about saws is the journey and people you meet along the way.
Enter Dean a tool reseller and collector from NH.  I struck up a conversation while attending a MJD show this spring in Nashua NH. Two minutes into the conversation Dean declares with a smile, “Daddy has a saw problem.” I laughed as we continued to talk shop, how the tool market goes up and down, why we both enjoy it and so on. Later after shaking hands over an 8” H. Peace dovetail saw (I just can’t seem to part with), a plan was hatched to see his stockpile of saws as well as his collection of unique tools he’s been collecting since the 70’s.
With the price of gas and lack of vacation days I formulated a plan parlaying vacation with a summer Friday. I started the trip camping in Clarksburg State Forest with friends camping and kayaking the Dryway section of the Deerfield River in Monroe, Mass. The Deerfield has regular releases throughout the summer and this weekend coincided with the river festival so it was nice running into friends from other parts of  New England and Canada.

Another plus this time of the year is the weather. It was highs in the 80’s dropping into the 50’s at night. A lifetime away from the 100+ temps called for in the tri-state area. Combine that with the cooler water on the river and it’s about as perfect as one could ask for in the summer.

Come Sunday it was time to switch gears and head north to the promise of saws. Having time to kill and a love for driving back roads beckoned and I followed.
Once you cross into VT Sugar Shacks are dotted along the road and it jogged my memory that I needed maple sugar (great alternative to cane sugar). The next shack had a sign for sugar on snow, a perfect snack for what passes for a heat wave in their part.

Sugar on snow is normally offered in the spring when syrup is made and snow is still on the ground. In talking with the shop owner, he rented a shaved ice machine this spring due to poor snow fall and expected school trips. It turned out to be such a hit he bought his own and started offering it year round. The snow cools the syrup producing a gooey taffy. A pickle is traditionally served on the side to cut the sweetness.

Next roadside stop was to picked up some veggies for dinner and couldn’t resist fresh strawberries that were just in season here. With shopping done it was time to start thinking about camping for the night. Normally when traveling by myself I pride myself on finding picturesque “questionable camping” but looking at the VT Gazetteer I found a local state campground and being Sunday it was empty. Plus the gods to reaffirm my decision left wood or maybe it was campers; either way a fire was in order along with dinner and a quick shower.


The next day I meet up with Dean who already had a table full of saws ready. YES!

I’ll save my evaluation process for another time but simply put, I check the plates first then handle and try and rate it 1-5 for resale. In this case I was looking at 100+ saws so I made piles: collector, user, parts. The important part is don’t get ahead of yourself and skip checking them over just because it’s a brand. As a self respecting Monger I can’t help to get excited when find a Richardson or Harvey Peace but the name alone doesn’t make a sale or cut wood.

The process continued for the better part of the day with Dean bringing more saws from his barn and me looking them over. When the pile outside was sorted I moved into the barn and went through more. Dean really has collected a wonderland for all tool lovers; moving things around and finding hidden treasure.

With the day winding down it was time to put pen to paper and get down to brass tacks. Dean pulled out the saws he felt were premium value, we discussed, and an offer was made. Cash is king, followed by a handshake. Business done we loaded up the van, I got

a quick rundown of future shows, and I headed home.
The trip back although long was uneventfully. I travel to the Berkshires a few times a year and the trip home is always a little somber.

The green mountains give way to green fields as I cross the Connecticut River and as the miles pile up so does the asphalt heading back to suburbia.

Once home in Gollum fashion I sorted and ogled over my new collection. The “My precious” of the bunch is a Harvey Peace P-47 “Perfection” Back Saw.  It’s made for a right handed sawyer, which I’m not, but till a left one comes along (I’m told they were made) this will do fine.

Joe Federici
Saw Ogler and Vandweller

Tools under the Big Top

I’m still catching my breath from lugging a pair of Noden Bench legs up 5 flights of stairs. I’ve been looking for a replacement to the rubbermaid does-all table that handles everything from food to assemble. If you’ve not seen a Noden adjust-a-bench, it’s the cadillac of adjustable benches and a heavy handed solution to my needs, plus after looking into pricing last year the cheap-o rubbermaid table would do.

That is till now.

You see, I along with 75+ others attended the Martin J. Donnelly Antique Tools auction in Avoca NY last weekend. This is the second MJD auction I’ve attended but the first I’ve actively participated in. MJD holds a few a few auctions a year in set locations. The Avoca auction takes place at the Donnelly family property. They set up number of big tents that house the 3100 lots that were auctioned off.

Yes I said 3100 lots— auctioned in 3 days!

I’m told it grew from a single day event to the current 3 day auction with previewing starting on Wednesday followed by the auction Thursday – Saturday.

For a newbie like me it’s a steep curve but I was lucky enough to have a friend who deals in vintage tools, more on that later. One quick note, a “lot” or “box lot” can be a single, or more items in a cardboard box, bin or other containers.

As if viewing 3100 lots isn’t enough, there were local tool guys selling as well. Because saws can be a little tricky to buy, in the past I’ve done most of  my buying at the tailgate sales pre-auction. These tend to happen early morning, often before sunrise.

Now I’m early to rise but even I would concede buying tools pre-natural light is just a little nuts. We’re talking middle-aged men standing around with flashlights. That said “the early bird catches the worm” and it rings true in this case.  This trip proved that point and I beat out one of the real pros of the tail gate, Patrick Leach of the infamous Superior Works tool  list.  The normal pecking order is Patrick first all other follow. I say that not as negative rather Patrick’s been doing this for many years and developed a technique that’s a cross between friendship meets bulldozer, nuff said.  Regardless I’ve worked in NYC for over 20 years and I’m hardly a push over. My fast finger landing on a Langdon Mitre box with saw and not just any size but the highly popular and rare size 1. Needless to say I was happy and headed back to the van ( Red van center image above) to unload and collect the needed things for the preview.

Most of what I’ve learned about buying at auctions I did so by watching others and conversing with one of the true ambassador in the word of vintage tools. I would think the 3 of you neither family or friends (I’ve twisted arms off) reading already know of Josh Clarks and get his weekly tool list. If however you’re not it’s worth the time. Josh runs. Hyper kitten a URL I’m sure a catnip company will buy for a few million but until that time it’s the home base for his tool list.

Luckily, I was interested in a small percentage of the lots since I mostly deal with saws so my job was a bit easier. To save time, I previewed online before getting there and made a list of lots to check. Once in the tents, clipboard in hand I got down to the tedious job of previewing each lot on the list, made notes, and a final max value to bid. If you take one tip from me, it’s this:

“The difference between an Oh yea! and Oh shit!, after winning is in direct proportion to the time you put into the preview.”

I came home with a few oh shits and it’s simply because I didn’t check things over or dig through all the boxes in the lot. With all the rain at the event, tables were often covered and with the side tarps on the tents light was low. You just get rushed with everyone crowded around in the tents and tired by day 3. Note to self—slow down, bring good light and check, check, check, everything.

Once done with the days previewing, I registered, made something to eat then headed to auction tent as it started to rain harder. This would then turn into a theme for the weekend.  I found Josh and two friends, Tom Dugan from Owings, MD and Jim Cook from Newton, MA had smartly relocated to seats in the center of the tent to keep dry earth around us for future winnings. Yellow tags are given to mark your seat this helps when a quick dash to check a lot or bathroom break is needed. See center picture below—Tom with glasses (center frame), left of him Jim, right is Josh.

Ready, set go!

When you considering the volume of lots and the nature of auctions you can imagine, things move quickly. They set up a few monitors so you could see pictures of the lot being sold. This works well to jog your memory or for people like me that are more visual. The auction format starts at a set amounts and works to a final bid. They allow online, absentee bidding and to save time generally start around that bid. It’s also important to factor in the 15% premium that goes to paying the auctioneer and organization.

That dry space around us quickly becomes premium property as for most of the smaller lots, after winning, runners are used to bring them to you. For the larger lots, a card with the picture is given out.

The absentee bids do affect things. Often when they are the high bidder its likely because they’re a collector not worried with resell or missed something by not inspecting in person.  Saws are a perfect example. You can’t tell by looking at a bucket of handles if the plates are straight.

As the auction progresses you look around, everyone falls into a rhythm. We following along with the MJD program, personal notes in hand, and auction number strategically place at the ready to wave. I was also lucky enough to be sitting with friends, who created an alliances so as not to bid against one another.

Who would have thought something can be learned on survivor!

All the larger buyers have tricks to stay organized. Some bring banana boxes to start packing as they win, others pre-print out tags for each lot they plan to bid on. Like the dog track, all big players write winning bids down in the margins to gauge sale prices for the future.

Some dealers came for a single day, others all 3. Talking with friends, the pig roast dinner Friday night is not to be missed, along with the group campfire that night. It’s a great way to meet other dealers and hear tons of great stores of barn finds and other treasure stories.

Saturday morning we had another good soaking but I braved the rain to get “Vincent VanGo” loaded. Not really expecting to buy a table, I needed to move things around and the van, like always, swallowed it up like a black hole.

Van packed, there was time for a last minute check on a few lots I was interested in. Chiefly a nice collection of panel saws going off mid day. As it turned out the price started beyond my figure. Absentee bidder strikes again. With my hopes dashed,  I settled up with the front office.  I made one last check on Vincent, said my goodbyes, thanked Josh, Tom, and Jim for all the help and hit the road for the 5 hour trip back.

The Aftermath

Tired and hungry after a weekend marathon of auction intensity I unloaded the van onto a makeshift sawhorse bench, met up with a friend for dinner then off to bed.

The next morning bright eyed, came the daunting task of finding room and containers for storage, then sorting. I have limited space for storage and found simple plywood boxes around 35 x 9 x 12 work and stack well. A quick look at the pile proved a few more would be needed.

With fresh boxes made it’s time to sort the gold from the pyrite. This is both exciting and depressing at the same time. For the most part, I was happy but did end up with quite a few warranted superior saws and a few mix matched handles to plate that under closer inspection I should have easily found.

All and All the long weekend adventure was a lot of work, but fun. I got to see some really interesting vintage tools, meet some great collectors, dealers, and get a little time in around the fire with friends: AKA moonie counsel.

On the horizon inventorying the new saws.. .

Joe Federici
One tired Monger