3+ days of Peace, Love, and Tools

I’m happy to report my 5 day vacation, tool auction, and vee dub trip turned out be another great adventure with good memories and a few good saws. I know for many the idea of sleeping in a van for 5 days and traveling over 1000 miles may not sound like fun, but done correctly, it’s a blast. Sadly, I’m not sure for how many more years road tips will be viable as petrol rises daily, but thankfully the memories last a lifetime.

This like all my trips started by loosely planning the route weeks before and packing the van with food supplies in the day leading up. The day of the trip as always was a struggle at work. Like many, I’m just a cog in the wheel till vacation day, and then magically I’m the center of the universe. Lucky for me I’m used to this and the misguided guilt is easily shrugged off as I headed out the door for my commute home.

Once there I did a mental last minute rundown, grabbed some last minute items, and was out the door.  The excitement helped push through the always frustration and congestion of the route through New England. I arrived around 10:30 into the quiet parking lot just outside downtown Nashua, New Hampshire.  Since bed is in my backseat I quickly got situated, set my alarm, and was down for the night.

I’ve been going to tool auctions for a little over a year but the idea of buying just one thing really seems to stick in people’s minds and I’ve quickly become known as “the saw guy.”. . . As in, “Hey, you’re the saw guy, right?” or just “Hey, saw guy!” However what I really like to hear is, “Next show I’ll put the saws aside for you; come find me and I’ll give you first look.”

Now for those of you new to the world of tailgate sales, or for the UK readers, “boot sales,” they take place the day before or morning of the main auction.  Setup can be as simple as selling from a truck to elaborate trailers and tents.  I liken them to the parking lot before a Dead show. It’s a prelude to the main event but also a micro event in and of itself.

The right of first pick I’m sure harkens back to the Middle Ages, but I’ll leave that idea for now and get back to my point— it has some real advantages. You get the cream of the crop, an expression that I’m sure predates the 1969 album by Diana Ross & the Supremes. Either way, you’re getting the best stuff and hopefully building ties for future deals.

The downside is you forfeit your right to haggle; plus, remember my reference to the Dead show, the wolves are at your heels. It’s not the easiest time to make a deal and often you rush in checking things. I try heeding the guide, “The smart man buys what he knows and passes on the rest.”

That said, I was honored to have first pick from three of the sellers I’ve bought from in the past and yielded 3 nice saws. One gabby handed picker tried to pull a fast one by pulling one out of my pile but the seller and I quickly had words with him and finished up. I’ll add that although at times it seems like the Wild, Wild West, provided you’re over the age of 8, you’re expected to know right from wrong.

Sellers come in waves. This is especially true on weekdays due to job restrictions and travel. You have the early birds getting there before sunrise, then thing slow down as sellers show up slowly the remainder of the day.  Having some experience, once things settled I walked back to the van with my haul, made some coffee and nosh, and made room for the saws; experience has taught me that sleeping next to saws leaves marks.  . . .Coffee in hand, I took some time to shake hands and catch up with buyers and sellers  Most of the big names were in attendance and it’s always interesting to see what others are buying and selling.

By this time Josh Clark, whom you may remember from my Avoca adventure, was setting out to sell a treasure trove of tools and other goodies collected from various box lots and other finds throughout the year. His display system consisted of blue tarps and bins upended while people scurried around making piles. The sound of popping lids draws in the buyers like moths to a flame.  Not wanting to get trampled in the frenzy I socialized on the fringe with Freddy Roman, fellow tool lover and all around craftsman aficionado. Freddy was also nice enough to help with Josh’s organized madness. Later we all went to the local brew-pub that’s become a pre-preview ritual to the Friday auction.

Once back at the hotel we gathered our things and started checking the Friday auction lots of interest. The word “lot” can be a little vague; they use low-sided boxes like the ones used for a case of soda cans and the item or items are placed inside. On the outside there is a label with item number, picture, and short description. In the event the item is too large, a placeholder in the form of a laminated card is used. These larger items are generally placed out of the way and all together. Lucky for me just being interested in the saws, I quickly looked through the 20 or so lots I was interested in. Once done I followed along with Josh and Freddy, trying not to annoy them while still getting answers to the dozens of tools I had no idea what they do. They were both good sports about it and by 10PM I was dead on my feet and retired back to the van for the night.

Friday I set the alarm for 6AM and decided to sleep in, then poked around the tailgate just to see any new vendors. In general as the weekend wears on, the quality drops as things are picked over. That said, I still found some very nice saws; then with my coffers about full, I made a quick trip to the auction. There were a few lots that interested me. As it would turn out I bought one that contained a really nice D100.

Saws in hand, I whispered my goodbye to Josh and friends inside the auction, walked over to settle up, then made a quick trip through the vendors to shake hands and say more goodbyes.

The highlights for me are always seeing the cool tools and the conversations I have with other buyers and sellers. I don’t have a local club so I welcome the opportunity to talk shop with other like-minded people. I met Don Rosebrook,  the author of American Levels and Their Makers, in the parking lot and found out that he is also a closet collector of saws. He had brought some perfect examples that were a real treat to see and take a few pictures of.  Among them were 2 Disston eagle-head saws and many other rare low production models, including 3 different types of star saws. Although not quite in the class of an eagle-head saw, I did pick up really nice examples of a new 16 and 120. There was also one of the nicest No 12’s I’ve ever seen.

I should point out that the following day, Saturday, is the main day at the auction when most of the higher end items are listed. My interest in saws tends to center around usable examples over the collector; so, although I enjoy looking and watching, it’s not the best use of my time.

The drive to Watkins Glen was far but mostly highway and uneventful. However not content with the simplicity, I complicated things by leaving my laptop plugged in back at the auction; so a 1.5 hour detour was added. The additional time got me into the campground after dark but I was sharing a site with friends so I passed the gate and parked.

Getting in around 10 made for a long day but I figured I walk the loop and briefly stop by some of the fires to say my hello’s to the Westies at Watkins. It’s normally one of the largest gatherings I make these days and it can exceed over 100.  Joel, who tirelessly organizes it, does a great job of blending some structure but at the same time leaving people to do their own thing. The gathering over the years has also become a popular event for our Canadian friends. I, for one, love seeing many of the models never sold in the US, like the Westfalia Joker High-top Campervan and transporter doka.

Saturday mornings are always reserved for the communal breakfast burritos. Everyone brings something to share and it doubles as a meet and greet.  Not being much of a breakfast person I slept in, then made coffee in bed! Something I LOVE to do! Then I chilled out while checking emails and organizing things in the van. Living in a van for 5 days with over 40 saws can get a little sticky if you don’t organize! The rest of Saturday was spent visiting with friends and seeing some sights in the area. Saturday night was a potluck, 50/50, and raffle. Joel does a great job of getting donations and insuring there are enough for everyone.

With the sun setting I met up with my homies at fireside to catch up on their summer adventures. I seriously think the world’s troubles could be solved around a campfire. Night rolled into day and Sunday everyone was packing up for their trips home.

A few of us were staying through Sunday and decided to go hike the gorge trail, which is a nice hike from the campground. Afterwards I met up with my college roommate who lives in the area. Mind you, it’s been 20 years since we last shook hands so it was great seeing him. Facebook is great for the kids but I like meeting up, old school. Living locally and having a rental property he invited us to stay there, just outside Naples Valley.  As the name suggests the area contains a number of wineries and vineyards. Driving through the town I saw everyone was busy getting ready for the annual grape festival the following week.

The next day we packed up. My friend Bob Mac, newly retired, was making his way home via the back roads, so we decided to forget the oatmeal and head into town for a proper breakfast. First step start the vans. Oh wait, key in, turn, nothing. Grabbed a hammer, tapped the starter and she turned right over. Note to self…time for a new starter.

After breakfast we both headed in different directions. My heading westerly turned out to be one long Kodak moment and made up for lack of views traveling into the area on Friday night from the auction. The views of the Finger Lakes in the fall are some of the best NY has to offer. What looked like miles of vineyard led into beautiful views of the lakes. As I headed closer to Rochester the farms gave way to a small town and I knew once I passed under Interstate 90 I was close. The town of Williamson was established in 1802; driving through many of the farms and buildings, downtown looked to be original, just the type of place to find some great saws, plus fresh apples from the many roadside stands.

My van kind of stuck but as I pulled in, David met me in front of his shop with his chow mix in tow. Like many of the collectors and sellers I meet, he walked me over to a table of saws and said, “Start here.” Happily I looked through what I would call an eclectic selection of the very old, mixed with off beat makers. I didn’t find a lot of good users but did find a few interesting early saws, possibly American but more likely English. Once settled up, we exchanged info and I was itching to get started on the long trip home. It was only possible for me to swing a few days off so the following day it was back to work.

The trip home was largely uneventful. The starter in the van remained working and I’ve since had it replaced. Once home I left the van packed, gathered clothes, and cleaned out the fridge in the van. I couldn’t resist taking a few saws to my apartment to get a better look at the etchings.

The rest of the week turned out quite busy at my day job so it wasn’t until the following week I found the time to empty the van properly and find storage. As I’m sure you can imagine it’s almost impossible not to get distracted as things catch your eye.  In the end I was quite happy with the new additions to the restoration pile, as well as a few for my collections.

In the next week I’m heading out to meet the sheriff of saws on eBay and heavy collector and historian of early American saw makers, Mike Stimple.

Thanks for visiting

Joe Federici
Consigliere of Sawtown

The Other Beach

Last weekend while manning my vice at the show I was asked about identifying the wood used on handles.

Let me state for the record, I am not a traditionalist type woodworker that recognizes species by just looking at the bark or leaf. Mind you, it’s on my bucket list, a few lines after I move to Alaska and follow in the footsteps of Dick Proenneke.

That said, the woodworkers of yore must have foreseen the modernization of lumber production and narrowed down the woods used to just a few.

By and large the most popular are English beech and apple, both of which are easily recognizable when you know what to look for.

Beech is also commonly spelled beach by poor spellers like me. I’d also like to point out it’s kind of silly in the advanced state of humanity that we haven’t dropped one of the two. Regardless, BEECH is the more common wood used for hand saws and early backsaws. I’d also guess that it is most common for early hand tools in general, like moulding and other types of planes.

The color tends to run from a bluish off white when it’s first cut to a light honey as it ages. It has some very distinguishing features that I’ll call “flecks”. These can also look like specks or spots when quarter sawed. You’ll note the one picture is a block of beech and from the base of a Stanley transition plane.  As noted on one of my earlier posts, I spoke with some tool collectors that used them as fuel for an annual fire at the NH tool meet. Not until Stanley started buying them back to release them on the bicentennial did they gain any value. Even today I normally buy mine at tool meets for around $15.00, but I’m told they are often for less.

I find I can get around a dozen or so horn repairs out of longer No 8 style, so even if I pay a little extra it’s no big deal.  A few tips, don’t lead off with, “I’m going to cut this up.” Also, standard rules apply for buying wood tools: look for cracks and warped soles. If you’re lucky enough to find a few, check the grain.  Depending on when Stanley made them, some use threaded inserts. You can back them out with a flat head screwdriver.  Otherwise, you’ll be sharpening your saw shortly after.

Apple is the other popular wood used in handles and it was mostly used by US saw makers.  You’ll find most of the backsaw handles made by Disston and the other big guys after the mid 1800’s.

The color is redder than beech and closer to what you might expect from cherry or other fruit woods like pear. The grain structure is also finer and often has a bit more wave to it.  Finding a vintage source for apple is a bit tricky and I don’t find using old handles for repairs works well. It’s also a little creepy, like feeding chickens to chickens. It’s just not right. So far I’ve been happy with my results of current apple wood to vintage stock. I’ve also found pear works well too. It’s a little tighter grain and for some saws it’s a perfect match.

Other than these two you’ll run into a few other species used – walnut or rosewood being the next in line for popularity. Those two are a little easier to pick out. Walnut was very popular on the early 19th century lower grade or commercial grade as I think of them. I find a lot of the cone nut saws from Wheeler Madden & Clemson or even Disston used them.  Because of the dark tone, matching back to currently harvested trees isn’t too bad.

The issue will be closing the grain before putting on some type of coat. There’s a multitude of ways to achieve this; sanding sealer and grain fillers are just some I’ve used. I’ve had good luck with Behlen brand, that’s now owned by Mohawk, and using grain fillers from LMI who sell and supply to Luthiers.

Really good finishing is an art form in itself. If possible, it’s best to talk with a local supplier, club, or friend. The tips and tricks from the guys refinishing furniture and instruments are gold. Google to your heart’s content.

I can’t say a lot about rosewood as I’ve not done any repairs with it yet. I’ve had a few Victory saws but they had complete handles. I would say the issue with the grain would be similar to walnut.

As always, if you run into a snag feel free to leave a comment or email me.

Joe Federici
Steward of Saw Craft

Measure Of Success

Success is all too often associated with money, and we all need it. But my goal when starting Second Chance Saw Works was enjoyment in what I’m doing, with hopes that it would lead to a better product and a market would follow.

With that in mind the show was a big success and I want to thank all the people who took the time to stop by. As ANYONE who knows me, I enjoy talking and tend to be passionate about things I enjoy, like saws. Being the new guy and latecomer to the event, my location originally was outside. But thanks to a little arm-twisting from Allen and Mario (boys in blue seen below) of Philadelphia Furniture Workshop, I got a location tucked inside which was nice due to the forecasted rain.

The show was both Friday and Saturday and I was told the turnout Friday was quite big with over 500 people. Saturday started off strong with lots of people interested in seeing the mill operate. I spent most of my time by my area so I didn’t get to check out all the offerings. Most people seemed to gravitate to tools; the selection offered by Lie-Nielsen is second to none.

At some point I struck up a conversation with Johnny, whose last name was “Apple” (per his nametag) which sounds a little suspicious. He works at Hearne Hardwoods. I watched him throughout the day demonstrating just how strong the new Festool light was by throwing it up about 15 feet in the air and watching it bounce off the concrete floor. I witnessed this at least 25-30 times and was struck by the thought that his own moxie might win out over the engineer’s design. I can happily report that when I left the light was still working. He also went over the use of their board rules (seen below) with number gauges to figure out size, something I’ve read a little about but never had the chance to use.

Due to the short notice I didn’t have a lot of time to gather things but did bring a few saws and my filing gear. One bonus for me was getting great ideas for future blogs; I’m always looking, so feel free to ask. Also exciting was getting invited to speak at one of the future meeting of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers. Who knows, I may even try my hand at teaching. As they say, more TK. . . .

Joe Federici
Saw Monger-at-Large

Meet the Monger at Hearne Hardwoods

I realized this is very short notice but if you can make, or plan to attend the event please stop by. I’ll be outside setup near the mill.

Lie-Nielsen holds a few hand tool events throughout the US and I’ve been invited to attend the free one at Hearne Hardwoods. To read more about the event click here and directions clock here.

If you live in the Philadelphia area and haven’t visited H.H you really should make the trip now or in the future. They are one of the largest specialty lumberyards in the world, with over 100 species of domestic and exotic hardwood lumber in stock. Their facilities include a lumber showroom, woodworking classroom, milling & molding machinery, and a 67” vertical bandsaw sawmill capable of resawing almost anything. The mill alone is work the trip.

With the short notice I’m not sure what I can cobble together but for sure will bring my workmate/vice-stand and a few saws. I won’t be offering sharping there but happy to talk all things saws for those of you interested.

Hope some of you can make it otherwise next year I’ll do a better job of getting the word out.

Joe Federici
Your Saw Advocate

Blue– it’s the new Black

I’ve gotten a few compliments from friends and customers about the rebluing of backs I do in my restoration of saws and figured I’d share the process I use.

The basic idea behind the blued backs is the same as gun barrels, to prevent rust and add a little protection. This is achieved by “hot bluing” where linseed oil was applied to hot metal.  The process works well; however, over time it’s been shown to wear. Personally, I’m a fan of the process but not wanting to reheat the metal I find “cold bluing” that uses chemicals works great and at this point I’ve reblued a few dozen backs.

The process is not complicated so I’ll do my best to keep the directions simple.  The terminology however can be. I’ll call the back ridge where the toothed plate is installed the “Back.” The saw plate where the sharp teeth are is the “Plate.” The chemical we’ll be applying is often sold as a “rebluer” for guns or a “darkening agent or blackener.”

The process can be done with the plate still in the back or with the back removed. I would say if you need to take the plate out for other reasons, like smithing, do so before you darken it; otherwise you can tape it off.

To start off, remove the handle and expose the back. Chances are with the handle removed you’ll find some left over bluing.  STOP! Think about how old that is, most likely over 100 years. Kind of cool, no? Keep your nuts in order! Insert a few jokes related to nuts!

I find poking holes in two rows, screws next to nuts in a piece of cardboard works well. Anyone who took small engine repair in high school can thank their shop teacher.

If you’re going to remove the plate for smithing or replacement, do so now. If not, you can tape off where the plate meets the back. Wait and do that after you clean and sand.

Sanding, scraping, or soaking, everyone has a process they like. Most of the time I’m removing the plates and find it’s easier to sand them apart. The plate normally gets more attention as the smoothness helps its function by reducing friction.

The smoothness of the back however doesn’t affect function and therefore doesn’t need to be overly polished. I usually sand with 220, 400, and 600, and if the rest of the saw is really clean, 800. If you didn’t remove the plate, tape off the edge of the back and sand the plate. Don’t get hung up on the final grit, it’s more about the aesthetics. You engineers, relax; put your slide rulers and calibers away. Keep in mind that if you’re not taking the plate out of the back you should sand the plate and the back before you reblue. If you’re removing the plate, the sanding of it is not an issue and just needs to be done before assembly.

With the back prepared you need to remove any residue or grease before applying the rebluing or darkening agent. Take note: if you find scratches and aren’t happy, go back and sand again; most scratch marks are caused by skipping grades of sandpaper. As my 5th grade shop teacher would point out, dull 100 grit sandpaper is NOT 200; it’s just a waste of your time.

If you’ve ever painted metal or done body work, you most likely have used paint prep and know the importance of doing so. For most types of bonding with metal, cleanliness is important; skipping this step is not an option. If you don’t own paint prep, acetone works fine; you just need to watch streaking, and wear gloves and a mask. When you’re wiping down the back, if your rag is getting dirty, you need to get to a point when it’s clean. The issue being that any oil or liquid will affect the lay-down and chemical reaction. The wiping down with paint prep is just to remove residue from sanding; it’s not part of the cleaning process.  Double check both ends of the back as they often get overlooked. Go back and fix any issues and wipe down again; when you’re happy, it’s way easier to address scratches and such now.

Ready to rock! Double check the tape for those of you with plates still attached. Also, check that the back is dry and streak free from your paint prep step. Get your rags or cotton balls out, plus the rebluer or darkening agent of choice. See notes below on supplies. Also note some will stain your skin.

The idea is to wipe on the darkener in one smooth stroke. Try not to blot or wipe back and forth. I’ve experimented with dipping and it works great; however, it uses a good deal of liquid and I find if you’re careful, wiping works great.

Most rebluers or darkeners I’ve used quickly react with the metal. I normally wet a cotton ball but a clean rag will work fine as well. The chemical reaction is quick enough that you’re just wiping on, not scrubbing. If you start to see streaks or other discoloration, resist the urge to wipe more on. The streaks are most likely residue left from your paint prep step.

Finish the one side and use a paper towel or clean rag to wipe off any extra. The finish will look dull, rainbowed, and darker than you wanted; that’s good. Flip the back over and do the other side. Remember to do the ends, then wipe off any excess.

With both sides done, use some 0000 extra fine steel wool. I buy mine by the roll and cut to length. Note I said CUT. Ripping steel wool reduces its effectiveness and creates more metal fragment and dust; work smart.

Buff the applied area until the shine comes up and you’re happy. Buffing does remove some of the applied finish so if it’s a little dark, just buff it a little longer. If after buffing you find things don’t look good, you can apply a second coat. Keep in mind that the chemical reaction lessens with each application. Also with the second coat, you should wipe off and dust first and feather on and off if you’re just looking to work a small area.

At this point if you’re cursing my name, relax. The back can be lightly sanded with 400 and the process repeated. Most backs I do require a second touch up coat; you shouldn’t be going for 3rds.

At this point you should be ready to reinstall or “Knock On” your newly blued back or grab sandpaper and start over. Let me know how it goes and if you’re having trouble with the directions.


Joe Federici
Saw  Magnet

List of supplies

Darkening agent: also used for rebluing guns and aging of brass. These are just a few brand markets that often require hazardous shipping fees, so buy local when you can:
• Antique brass darkening solution by WIS Distributors
• Birchwood Casey PSP Gun Blue
• Jax brand Iron, Steel and Nickel Blackener

Sandpaper: Brand of your choice. I normally use wet dry.

Cotton balls or rags:
I get my cotton balls at the dollar store and a bag lasts me a few months.

Rust remover:
Brand of your choice. If you find you don’t want to dip the entire back to prevent etching of the metal I find soaking a cotton ball and leaving on the metal works well.

Brand of your choice. I use one with replaceable razor blades

Dental pick:
Works well for cleaning an etch if need be. Be careful.

Steel wool:
The finer the better. I use Liberon (oil free) grade 0000 steel wool sold through tools for working wood and on-line.

Other Safety items:
Gloves, mask, and safety glasses, all of your choice. Also be smart about things; read labels and know which chemicals, like acetone, are nasty stuff; so cover any skin it will come in contact with and don’t use it when not necessary.