About Joe Federici

Woodworker turned saw nut and now offering restoration and sharpening services. The blog is related to the process and background behind this and my life.

Feel the Love

L&S_backsawAs the saying goes, finding a job is a full-time job. Add to that the economy plus balancing the saw business and well my time has been in short supply. That said, I’ve been picking up some freelance pre-press/graphic production work and although the sales have been light, the sharpening has been steady. And most importantly, I’m still happy and enjoy the little wonders I find when working with old tools.

One such is this backsaw. I don’t normally take in UK saws as I deal more with users and I already have more then I can currently work through. The owner, however, was looking for a 16” user and I figured it was an early brass backed saw. Who among us isn’t enamored by brass in tools? It’s like moths to a flame.

L&S_stampHaving a closer look, you can see a few tell tail signs of an early maker:

  • Big sweeping cheeks on the handle
  • The use of Rivets and two versus three on a saw this size
  • Scalloped edges on the stamp
  • Dots between Love and Spear & German and Steel
  • The use of German over spring or Cast

L&S_cheekSo with a little web searching I found some clues pointing to be pre-Spears & Jackson collaboration from the late 1700’s. Way cool to think something is that old!  This fueled the fires and a quick trip to the S&J website yielded the following:

In 1760, John Love, a drapery maker, changed directions and started a steel making company in Sheffield. This was in large part due to the rapidly growing production of metal production due to the abundance of raw materials. Love was joined by Alexander Spear, a wealthy merchant from Wakefield (local to the area) and the newly formed firm was named Spear & Love.

L&S_hornOver the next few decades the company focused on the production of saws and business grew. In 1814, with the firm now run by Alexander Spear’s nephew, John Spear, an apprentice named Sam Jackson was added. Jackson proved a capable assistant and in 1830 the company was renamed Spear & Jackson. You can read more here.

So with that I snapped a few pics and emailed a friend who’s knowledge of UK saws far exceeds mine.

David emailed back the following “They (Love & Spears) don’t appear in the 1781 Sheffield Directory.  They do appear in Gales & Martin’s 1787 directory as “factors and steel refiners” on New Street.   They next appear in Robinson’s 1797 Directory as “merchants, factors & steel refiners” on Scotland St. But they do not appear in Baine’s 1822 directory.”

Love & Spears are at least from 1787 to 1797, give or take a little bit. It’s interesting that they’re not listed as sawmakers, but rather as merchants and factors, who have other people make things for them.

I know the line between tool collector and user is often made of barbed wire, but we can all enjoy geeking-out over the craftsmanship and the history.

L&S_handle Whenever I look at a saw from this point in history; late 1700 to early 1800’s, I first think about the maker or company as it’s hard to strip value from any tool, it’s part of what I do. But when I stop, and realize most saws were NOT made by the stamps namesake but rather nameless craftsmen, I can better focus on the details. Details like the ultra fine lower ogee that starts with a small lamb’s tongue and terminates at the London style handle with a clip. Yes, I’ve seen more ornate versions of both, but in many ways, it speaks to balance of design. We often hear the cost of these saws could cost the original owner a week of wages, so it’s important that form follows function. Although in later years, details are ornate and come at a cost of broken handles. One detail I love and often overlook is the area where the back butts the handle. The chamfer, chamfer stop, into the beak. The transition in particular from the chamfer into the stop is just so simple and perfect with that micro transition as it terminates into the hook. Perfection.

Now I’ll do my best not to ramble about the history but when you think about England and America around the time this was made, well, it’s mind blowing to think this saw is A. here and B. still in once piece. . .

Just to recap some history. In 1774 the colony had established there own governmental institution but still recognized the British Crown and empire. The British responded by sending combat troops and well, in short, we told king George III to go piss off and the American Revolutionary War AKA American War of Independence ensued between1775–1783.

So to think this saw was made between the tail end or shortly after the war, then travel to ground zero in the Philadelphia area is just wild. We know Love & Spears were in business on or before 1787 in England, while here in the US The battle of Monmouth was fought on June 28, 1778, a turning point for George Washington after loosing his foothold on Philly. The win turned the tie of motivation in our favor. The location also happens to be within miles from where it was found. Coincidence? Who knows, but so very cool!

And with that I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and offer food for thought on all thing tools.

Joe Federici
Enjoying the mystery

Got Wood?

HH03Let me start off by saying thank you to everyone who stopped by my bench at the Hearne Hardwoods open house. This was my second year going and I tried to be a little better prepared and brought tools to sell as well as a kit for those of you with questions about filing.

Being my second year I had a better idea what to bring and how to set up. I also expanded my time and went both Friday and Saturday after talking with Mario and Allen of Philadelphia Furniture Workshop who felt Friday was the busier day.

HH02Getting there on Friday prior to the opening also allowed me to set up and walk around a little. For those of you outside the area or just haven’t had the time to visit Hearne, driving up it looks like most lumber yards with a large pole building but after a short walk around and side said building you quickly realize the amount and selection of flitch & log sets they have.

HH01For those of you that did stop by and talk, a few of us talked about a hardware store saw for “Chandler & Barber” that I was filing as time permitted. At the time I hadn’t had time to look into the hardware store.  As it turned out, Chandler & Barber was one of the largest and well know hardware stores in the Boston area.

HH05Hardware was their back-bone, but like Sear and Woolworths, they branched out over the years. Owners Alexander Chandler, editor of Hardware Record Magazine , and D. Fletcher Barber owned and operated the hardware company located at 122-124 Summer Street in Boston during the mid-1800’s through the 1920s. The manufacturing of these saws would have been contracted by one of the larger saw manufacturers and looking the saw over I would say Disston or C.E. Jennings.

HH04Before signing off, I also want to thank the many of you that have sent me saws for sharpening.

Saws, for the time being, have become a large part of my income and I appreciate the new and repeat business. For those of you who follow me in ebay, you will have noticed I’ve switched over most of my saws to buy it now. I’ve done this for a few reasons, the main one being it’s just the fairest way to do business for both me and the future owner. No shill bidding for buyers to worry about and I can get a fair price for the work done. Plus for those who feel the price is high I’m always willing to take offers. For those of you looking for the best deal I normally sell the same saws on my personal site at a slightly lower then ebay price. I do this as my site saves me the MANY ebay fees and I pass it on.

Rest assured I’ll always keep a few saws on auctions for the diehards.

Till next time,


Joe FedericiA fool for fall!

another ending

biketripNHAnother tool season, like summer, is coming to a close. But here in the northeast, September treats us to many warm days and cool nights perfect out door activities and my favorite time of the year.

September starts with my annual trip to the Gauly river.  A few weeks later I’m off to MJD’s auction in NH. I have a little more time on my hands, so after the show I met up with a friend and we spent a week on the motorbikes camping and riding through RI, MASS and NH.

But enough about that as most of you are saw guys like me!

It would seem we have the lustrous and larger then life Patrick Leach to thank for an ever earlier and earlier arrival of the buyers and seller.  So with that in mind, I arrived Wednesday and found tables all ready as I back the van into my usual spot.

NHparkinglotThe pickings in the fall are always a little lighter then spring but I wrangled a few nice saws and picked up a really nice craftsman built saw vise perfect for full size saws. Something I hadn’t come across in the past. Then I found another one the following day!  The second being of furniture quality and quickly found a home with my friend and deft tool repair craftsman John Porritt.

John, being a life long artisan and trained cabinet maker, has a great knowledge of early joinery and being a fellow saw lover he fancied the vise and somehow it followed him home but not before a great discussion on all things woods and the history behind “yew” wood used in English and Welsh longbows and the reason it is found in churches. All very cool, note to self: plant some around the shop before the next siege!

Friday’s auction, often called “the dealer auction”, wasn’t heavy in saws but did offer a lot of great items that I’m sure have found their way into the hands of many of you. I’m, however, more of a lot lizard and enjoy trolling the yard, digging and conversing with others. Those of you that know me, keeping my mouth shut while sitting through an auction is torturous.

FriAuctionSo back out in the parking lot, but not before I grabbed a few napkins (for drive) I walked over to Don Rosebrook’s amazing collection of near mint saws and saw accessories. It’s a real treat just seeing so many pristine examples of saws Don has collected over the last 10+ years. This year he brought some interesting sales displays, one being a large Disston sign in the shape of a D8 rip saw. The handles was cast and I’d say it weighed over 20 lbs. Far outside my price range but just awesome to see. The saw used was from around the glover patent when the medallions were still sunken. I personally think those are the nicest years.

disstonsignThis year I also brought some saws and a few other odds and ends to sell. Mostly straight warranted superior saws that would make good users that I had picked up the year before in box lots. Changing gears and selling was fun and I enjoyed talking and meeting locals who came Saturday to walk around the parking lot. Saturday is also the main sale for most of the collectors and larger buyers. Prices seemed to be good and that was nice for all of us who resale. I finished packing up my things in the AM and made plans to travel back towards Boston to meet up with a friend and now customer Freddy Roman. I had met Freddy the prior year through Josh Clark. Freddy makes reproduction and custom designed period furniture. I’m sorry to say I just didn’t think of taking my camera with me into Freddy studio. The minute I got back onto the expressway I smacked my head.  Regardless, check out his site.  The shop was filled with projects in various stages of completion. Freddy had contacted me about buying a rip saw plus having me look over and sharpen a few of his saws.  Before leaving he followed me back to the van to check out my latest finds.  The gentleman packing up next me gave me a Disston meat saw that hadn’t sold and I exchanged for a saw in my inventory.  Freddy took a shine to it, so I was more than happy to pass it on to a new home.  Meat saws have never held much interest to me unless it’s a maker I fancy.

triprouteThe business portion of the trip concluded, I checked in my friend Bob Mac and set an ETA for meeting up. Having spent a few days in the van and now switching gears to the bike required gathering my previously gathered, but yet to be packed clothing and gear for the next week, then fitting into and on the bike. This being the second time in the last few months we’ve bike camped, we both have our preferred kit.

RIjamestownOnce together we discussed routes and figured out our general daily route then printed up a trip tick of sorts and a tank map. Route set, we finished loading gear and a final check of the weather. I won’t bore you with the finer details of the day to day and just say it was great time and the weather was better then I had ever hoped. I’m am an avid camper so for those interested would happy recommend any of the sites we camped at if you’re traveling in those areas.  By far the two nicest were also close to each other. In the past, most of my time sight seeing and camping in NH has been around the Whites, but the lakes and surrounding area of Winnipesaukee were spectacular. Pawtuckaway and Bear Brook State Parks both offered some of the best views and cleanest campgrounds I’ve been at in recent memory. I’m sure this being off peak times played a big part, but just the same, if you’re in the area they are worth checking out.

tripMAI’ve listed them in the order we camped and corresponding to the map pictured above.

Shawme-Crowell State Forest MA
Wompatuck State Park MA
Pawtuckaway State Park NH
Ammonoosuc Campground NH
Bear Brook State Park NH

tripwhites01The time we spent in North Conway and around the whites is always majestic, and it was nice taking the road up mount Washington as thus far it’s always been on foot. The k bike also enjoyed a few roads less traveled and handled the 15 or so miles of dirt as if it were a dual sports.

tripwhitesWith that I’ll say cheers till the next post. Last weekend was the open house at Hearne Hardwoods and I want to thank everyone who stopped by and double to those that bought a saw or other item. More to come on that with next post.

Joe Federici
saw wrangler

The Jobber of Fine Handsaws

Hearne Hardwoods open house I hope everyone had a really great and productive summer.  In the northeast it’s been a bit of a wet one, so for my friends in the boating world it’s been a good one for sure.

Early in the summer I was in New Hampshire for a repeat trip to see a good friend and fellow seller. Dean’s place as always is a treasure trove of cool and unusual saws. Recently I’ve been on a Joseph Flint kick after first picking up a well loved example in upstate New York last year.

J.FlintWhat first struck me was the medallion in the handle was reversed; something I guess as a left handed sawyer I just naturally noted. Now I should point out, this being a well-used example, it’s quite possibly something a previous owner did; regardless, I filed it away under “that’s cool”. Since then I’ve been on the hunt, and although I’ve bought a few other examples including a Shurly Dietrich which he was involved in, none have had a reversed saw screw medallion.

Clapp&TreatBut I digress; so to get back on point… While at Dean’s I picked up another J. Flint and a really cool hardware store saw made for Clapp & Treat Hardware and later Outfitters. More will come on that, as I just finished cleaning it up and will try to post a picture.

For those of you in the Philadelphia area, Hearne Hardwoods is having an open house again this year. The dates are Friday, October 4th and Saturday, October 5th. This year I’ll be there both days, so please stop by and say, “Hi.” Like last year I’ll have my workmate and vise and will be happy to answer any questions. Last year I had a lot of fun meeting local craftsmen and talking shop.

Critical PastMy friend Mark of Foley Filer and past post emailed me a great link to some vintage black and white films taken of the Disston plate. The quality is quite good and it’s cool to see how some of the plates were toothed and the handles were carved and shaped. You can buy them for as little as $4.00; Mark reports they view quite well even with the watermarks.  The site is Critical Past and if this link doesn’t work just search Disston and you should get 5 clips.

In other news I’ve recently moved the shop back to South Jersey and doing my best to change over any paperwork or websites to my new mailing address. My email and such remain the same, but if you’re interested in getting a saw sharpened or worked on, my new mailing address is:

P.O. Box 446
Moorestown NJ 08057

In addition my turn-around should be a little quicker as I’m a fulltime saw mechanic, while seeking local employment, happily now back in the Philly area. Life is full of change and I’m looking forward to new opportunities. In looking over some older advertisements from the mid-1800’s I found references to a “Jobber”, which I rather liked and felt fit me as I currently meet both definitions.

Joe Federici
Jobber of Fine Handsaws

End of an Error

SAABGT850As I posted in the last blog I bought a new car but I’d be seriously remiss if I didn’t take a second to share the passing of truly one of the best cars I’ve ever owned. I recently bought a new car, 2013 Jetta Sportwagen tdi, and with it traded my 1998 SAAB 900 SE.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a car guy and like most of us I’m loyal to my brands. So why the change of heart? Well I spare you the long rant but mostly it has to do with the GM takeover and quick dismantlement of EVERYTHING Saab owners appealed to. As happy as I am that GM and American car manufacturers are doing better, it doesn’t help those who loved everything Saab offered – a truly unique car that married luxury with utility performance safety. Let us not forget Saab may not have invented the seat belt but in 1958 was the first to make them standard. So now I’m getting comfy with the new ride but with a tinge of sadness.

Ok enough about cars (for now). Let’s talk saws. When you’re looking for like- minded individuals you need not look further than the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association. I think it was Matt Cianci from the saw blog who turned me onto a member while looking for information on a saw maker. When I got a bit deeper into saw-dom, I found most tool guys were members regardless of their geographic location. So this being my second year in the fold I really wanted to make one of the bigger national meets. As I’ve already been hobnobbing with a few board members, I made plans for the June spring meet.

The drive out from Jersey is about 12 hours so I decided that leaving around sunrise was my best bet and it worked well. Vincent Van Go may not look it but travels quite nicely provided you’re not looking to break land speed records.

Once there I quickly found the reserved parking area for the boot sale on Thursday. Funny enough, when I pulled into the area, rolled down my window to ask the first fellow van dweller in the parking lot, it was none other than the infamous leader of the “I’ve got a saw problem” 12 step plan.

This man really needs no introduction if you’ve spent anytime reading about saw identification. He most likely has the largest collection of American backsaws in the United States…Phil Baker. I’m sorry I didn’t spend more time talking with him but it was just nice to say hello and thank him for all the great research he’s done. I did learn he’s an avid tennis player and plays almost everyday. Good for you, Phil.

Left: a late start to the AM sales. It's not often you find table setup AFTER sunrise. Right: a possible one of a kind patented saw with removable teeth.

Left: a late start to the AM sales. It’s not often you find table setup AFTER sunrise.
Right: a possible one of a kind patented saw with removable teeth.

So despite the long drive I was there only for a short time, and for those that know me, I’m not much on waiting around for paint to dry. After finding a flat spot it was into the lobby to meet up with friend and co-hoarder of saws, Mike Stemple, for dinner. As it turned out we were joined by a few friends. Mike knows just about everyone in the club so it’s always fun hanging out with him.

sawsDinner was followed by a little show and tell saw-style. Mike and David Latouche both have a wonderful collection of early American makers and really excel at researching history on the makers and also the interrelations between all the makes.

It’s truly a small world when you realize that most of the early makers were transplants from the same area in England. Then after coming to the trained a few future makes that because the seeds for most of the US makers. The scale of the US being so small at that time you’d think it be easy to research makers but do to a lack of good records it can be very slow going. So most of what’s available is advertisement and basic business and tax records.

parkinglotThe threat of bad weather, possible tornadoes or hail, thankfully turned out to be heavy rains overnight. By the morning things had cooled down with just a light drizzle. The rain slowed down the early morning sale but by noon the sun was out and most tables were set up.  For me the boot sales are always my favorite, not just because I resell but also it’s a really great way to meet people and gain a little info. Who doesn’t love finding tools or things and learning about their use or the history that goes along with them?

This being a different region it was interesting to see such different makers as well as lots of farm type equipment. The standard makers like Stanley and Disston were there as well as some makers I don’t tend to find around these parts: E.C Atkins and even a few C.E. Jennings saws and early Philly makers.

Sadly the sales wrapped up early as many members were attending a local tour of the La Porte County Museum and Hesston Steam Museum offered through the club.

Friday was the indoor sale and trade displays. I didn’t get the opportunity to see them but I’m told this year’s were really impressive to say the least. I headed back in the morning and had another thankfully uneventful trip back to the northeast.

Although it was a short trip it was great seeing everyone and making a few new friends. I’m sorry I missed the “friends of Phil Baker” picture that Mike orchestrated and emailed me afterwards. Any saw problem clubs there are I really should be a member of.

As always, if anyone is looking for restoration or sharpening services, I do my best to keep turnaround to less than 2 weeks. I’ve also been trying to post a bit more through my direct site and on ebay  as “buy it now”. I know many of us are not fans of the auction site or auctions and I do my best to balance things so everyone is happy. . .

Cheers and I hope everyone’s summer is going well

Joe F.
Saw Mechanic

TLC sAw Stlye

JohnsonswaxThe summer is here and I hope everyone is enjoying it. Your friend and saw monger has been busy! Finishing up the spring meets in the area, getting things posted for sale, and recently buying a new car! Something at 44 is one of the few firsts left. .

I know the blog posts have been few and far between; excuses, excuses but I’ve had a few requests to talk about TLC saw style. The good news is once they are restored and/or in good condition they don’t require a lot of special care. So with that in mind I thought I’d share a few tips and best practices I follow.

Let’s start with storage. Rule numero uno: Don’t store the blade bent! It’s the best practice you can follow and not really hard to avoid with a little care. Some guys like pegs and others fancy tills. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Pegs lay one handle against another and you may need to dig and shuffle with multiple saws that can lead to dings or drops. Tills are another option and come in all types, designs and complexity. Again the key is the blades aren’t bent while in storage.

Mike Wenzloff once said to me, “Wax is a saw’s best friend,” or as I like to say, “Friction is a bitch.” Either way rust isn’t smooth. If you bought a saw from me it had Johnson’s Paste Wax on it. I average about a tin a year and just finished one a few weeks ago. I can’t give you a number but it’s easily over a hundred plates. The other benefit of wax is rust prevention.  However if you feel wax just dulls all that elbow grease and your goal is shining chrome polish, some aluminum foil followed by a buff with a clean rag works as well. It sounds crazy but talk to anyone who’s restored a bike with pitted chrome and they’ll tell you it works. You may find that fine steel wool works in place of the foil, but I find for rust prevention that wax wins and can still be applied after the polish.

Rust prevention here in the northeast is really the biggest issue. So with that in mind it’s important to recognize most wood has some moisture left and this will significantly cut down on the life of a sharpened saw. One thing I’ve found that helps tremendously is to brush after use. So listen up kids to the Saw Doctor, “Ignore your teeth and they’ll go away!”

sawbrushFun aside, I’d recommend a quick brush off at the end of the day. No need to do it after every use UNLESS it’s a high point dovetail; in that case it can help with a tightly set saw.

I first learned to use a brush when sharpening and once in hand just kept finding great uses for it. It took some searching but I found a US maker that uses “real” bore hair plus a size that works well for cleaning my rasps. If you’re interested, they are for sale on my personal and eBay sites.

Lastly the handle and saw screws…It goes without saying that wood is not indestructible so follow general best practices. Don’t use them as a hammer. Also when cutting with a backsaw pay attention to your depth of cut. Don’t smash the handle into wood trying to get the saw to cut deeper. STOP! Wood does not cut wood well. Reread my blog about saw screws. I find my fair share of broken screws, so easy on the torque, tiger. There’re just defenseless screws.  Lastly feed that wood. Most of you are woodworkers so I’ll leave the finish up to you. Wax is a simple solution; boiled linseed oil is another popular choice. I tend to use shellac and wax as it doesn’t darken the wood or react with other finishes.

Just to recap as I can ramble…

Store saws flat so blades aren’t bent. They can be vertical or horizontal.

Rust prevention is key. Wax, oil or polish all work.

When done using your saw wipe it down and brush loose dust off the tooth line.

Check the handle for play every now and again to see if it needs tightening. If working with a backsaw be mindful of the depth of cut and don’t smack the cheek into your kerf. It’s bad form!

I’m sure a lot more good tips are out there so for sure pass any good ones along and I’ll post for others to enjoy.


The new wagon AKA Sawyer getting a little TLC of it’s own.

Joe Federici AKA the Saw Doctor reminding you:
“If You Ignore Your Teeth, They Will Go Away”

another arrow in the quiver

set_blogWhile working on a saw I realized I forgot another great way to recognize set. Often I find older sharpened saws have a good deal of fleam. Once jointed its very easy to see the angles on the leading edge of the tooth and use it to determine the direction each tooth was set.

In the photo above the saw sits in the vise: handle to the left (I’m south pawed). Looking at the above photo note orientation and angle of the leading (front) edge of the tooth. This indicates it was bent towards me. By “me” I mean the person seated at the vise. I would also call that bent to the right. So referring back to the previous post this plate would be Right Left Right.

Just another arrow in the quiver.

Joe Federici
Saw Pundit

Ready. . . Set. . . Go!

42x_01 So we left off talking about shaping teeth and the next step for most people is setting the teeth. I say most people because there’s a school of thought that proper set cannot be achieved until the teeth are sharpened and a test cut is made. From that you determine how much set is needed.

But before we dig in, it’s important to understand what set is and its purpose. In short it’s the bending of teeth in opposing directions to prevent the plate from binding as the saw moves deep in the kurf. The amount varies depending on the plate and both the condition (wet or dry) and type of wood (hard or soft) used.

As a rule, if you can wiggle the saw in the kurf you’ve got too much set. The opposite is true if the saw is hot to the touch after cutting. Generally the wetter and softer woods need more set, the seasoned harder woods less. Set also effects efficacy, a properly set saws will improve you cutting action. Other factors including different tooth angles as well as tapering of the plates from the factory come into play. We’ll get more into figuring out the correct amount below

First things first, when to apply set—pros and cons of setting before or after sharpening.

The pro to setting the teeth before sharpening is you don’t need to worry about scuffing or denting the sharpened teeth. The set when pushing against the teeth often crushes the beveled edge of a sharpened tooth. This is less so on a cross cut, but worth keeping in mind. Also the set does adjust the angle of the tooth and although the angle is small it will affect your final fleam. I’m sure this could be argued but I’m putting it out there anyway. The con is you’re forced to set by the numbers or eye. You can test cut to determine the proper amount.

Setting after you sharpen is less popular but the pro is you can cut with the saw and determine the proper amount. The con is if you’re not really careful and take precaution it’s easy to scratch or dent the teeth. Also you are adjusting the fleam angle. If this method seems to your liking, check out Pete Taran’s website for more info and some tips on softening the tip of the set to prevent it from marking the teeth in use.

In general most saw mechanics including myself often find older saws have more set than needed for modern properly dried woods. I’ve never read much about why but my theory would be many saws were originally used for construction and softer wet woods like pine tend to need more set. Also power setters like the foley tend to set heavy handed.

So pick your poison and set before or after you sharpen. In the end both techniques work. I have some links on the subject below if you’re looking for more detailed information.

In the last 100+ years styles and quantity of sets made may rival the total number of saws made! If you’re an avid tool hunter you know what I mean.  To get some idea of the many sets made check out the Saw Set Collector’s Resource. Which one is the best is highly debatable, not unlike the best saw.  I’m sure to some degree they all work and it largely comes down to preference. Also I have no intention of opening Pandora’s box and for any pictures or references I will use and speak to the Stanley 42x. It’s by far the most popular vintage set and I’m sure at some point will be reproduced.  Note: you may have read one of my earlier posts about having replacement springs made and for sale In addition I also recondition and sell complete sets; check my ebay or regular site for more info.

I’ll stay out of the debate on pros and cons on brands and styles of sets made and rather talk to the basics. As stated earlier there is a wide variety of brands and styles but most I’ve see fall into three basic categories.

handset_02hand hammering or pry bar style.

The hammer – the duct tape of hand tools!  Hammers do a great job of tending teeth but really work best for circular blades and larger tree saws. I don’t have a lot of experience using them for setting but it’s a viable option.

handsetThe bar style is found in all different sizes and has slits of varying width to accommodate different plate thickness.  I often find they look like pine trees. After the mid 1900’s they were mostly used on larger tree saws where plier styles didn’t work as well.  The pry bar style is one of the earliest styles made and varies in look but all work the same. A bar with a slit is slid over the tooth, held perpendicular and used to bend the tooth. Each tooth is bent one at a time by eye. The bar will have slits in different widths to accommodate a variety of saw plates.

bandsawsetBench top power and manually operated setters.

Most I find in this category were made for band and circular saw blades and favor blades with repetition (think large bandsaw) and the exact amount of set has a little wiggle room. Early examples were sometimes foot activated and later models like the Foley used electric motors. I will throw out some general caution if you’re considering using a power setter on your 100+ year old Disston; they work quickly and use a good deal of force.

42XHand operated plier style setters.

I would venture a guess that over the last 100 years hundreds of different styles and models were made. But despite the wide diversity most work the same. The user holds the set either vertically or horizontally over the plate and squeezes the handles. They also vary in size; the larger ones were designed for circular, lumber, and large bandsaw blades. The issue is these larger sets have big hammers and as such work best with bigger teeth.

All three of the types listed will work in varying degrees but I’ve always used the plier style as do most of the people I’ve learned from and talk with. So try a few, or buy one and let’s talk about identifying and applying set to a tooth.

This first part of identifying the direction is something most people and articles overlook. It’s easy to dismiss this step but failure to do this properly will almost always result in a broken tooth or teeth. If that happens take a breath and read my previous post “the shape of things to come”. 

When I first started sharpening I would figure out the direction of set AFTER I jointed and shaped the teeth. It’s understandable to do that and most writing on the subject will do it that way. However it’s way easier to see it BEFORE you joint or shape the teeth. On some saws like backsaws with small fine teeth it’s a real time saver.

markingsetBecause of this I’ve gotten in the habit of checking set when I sit down at the bench with a fresh saw. I stick a piece of painter’s tape on the edge of the vise and draw arrows that look like this ^ ^ ^. Under them I write LRL (LEFT RIGHT LEFT) or RLR. That way when you’re done doing all your shaping, regardless of how much jointing you’ve done, you’re not hunting for the set and running the chance of breaking a tooth. I can tell you from experience it’s not always visible to the eye.

Ok so now that we’ve figured out the orientation of teeth it’s just a matter of applying it with the tool. There really is no substitution for practice but the key is to not overset and to apply consistent pressure throughout the process. The correct amount is not purely mathematically. It’s a mix of many factors and for the most part you want to use as little as possible.

settingA good rule of thumb is to increase the thickness of the blade by 20% for dry hardwoods and 25-30% for softwoods. If you’re using a Stanley 42X that’s going to put you around the 2nd or 3rd hash mark.

Location, location, location: You want to apply the tip of the set (I call this the hammer) as close to the center top of the tooth as possible. Depending on the rake of teeth, centering the set on the tooth can be a bit tricky. The backside without the etch I find requires a double check of the smaller teeth.

setJust to reiterate you are skipping every other tooth as you work one side, flipping, and working back. I’m left handed and I work with the handle to the left. After shaping I lift the plate as high as needed to clear the handle of the set in the vise. I start at the tail and work my way to tip. I then flip it, put it back in the vise, and work in the other direction.

A regular saw vise works fine for panel saws but smaller dovetail saws can be tricky to set. The handles on saw sets that require being held parallel to the vise may not have the clearance needed. In these cases I use a tall thin leather lined machine vise. I’m sure other work-arounds are out there as well. Please post any as I’m always interested in learning to build a better mouse trap. Another option would be to use a horizontally held set. It’s not a monumental problem, just something to keep in mind so I’m calling it out.

Another issue when first learning to set is loosing track of where you are. Take whatever precautions you feel necessary. For smaller teeth I tend to wear cheater glasses. You can also mark the teeth with a dot. Also if you stop and loose track I find a flashlight or tilting the plate to the light will allow the light to catch small marks where the hammer contacted the plate. Lastly, if you wax the plate, any leftover wax will hold the marks.

In the event you do mess up, stop. Don’t just keep going like nothing happened. Chances are if you reverse the set the tooth will break. If you’re a gambling man go for it. Otherwise the best option is to joint it down and start over. See the post on jointing for dealing with broken teeth.

Depending on the set most have some type of adjustment that gauge the amount of set that’s applied. I really can’t comment on the wide variety out there; rather I’ll just say experiment before you use it. I’ve provided some links below. I’m a fan of the 42x and will stick with that. The 42x uses an adjustable wedge with a scale that when adjusted allows the tooth to be set or bent more or less. The system is straightforward and adjustments are made in the head/top of the tool. I will add that although the gradations are the same on all 42x’s think of them more as a gauge and not a precise measurement.

Ok so those are the basics of setting and the 42x. Just to recap some of the more important things.

  • The best time to check for set orientation is at the start of the sharpening process before you joint the teeth flat.
  • After shaping the teeth assess the amount of set. With rip saws you may find none is needed.
  • If you’re not sure about the amount to apply, set the first few teeth, flip, apply set, and then check with a gauge. The rule of thumb is to increase the thickness of the blade by 20% for dry hardwoods, and 25-30% for softwoods.
  • When applying set, you want to position the hammer at the top of the tooth. Apply even consistent pressure to each tooth and keep track!

Helpful links:

Saw Set instructions

Saw Set Collector’s Resource

Saw Set directions

Hopefully this this helps as a starting point and fills in some of the gaps I found when starting off. Please feel free to leave any comments and I’ll do my best to update things for the future.


Joe Federici
Saw Mechanic


A sawyer’s study of cadence

Jean-François_Millet_(II)_014Sorry to drop off the grid.  . . with spring comes the yard work along with my hobbies and saws hasn’t left much time to pontificate on life.

March and April always getting me thinking about biking weather. I’ve spent a good deal of my life around bikes, first BMX then as a roadie.  Cadence, or the rhythm of motion, is just something I notice or maybe, I should say, pay attention to.

In road cycling, it’s something you’re continually working on and refers to the spinning of the cranks as it relates to the energy and effort put forth.  Perfection is near impossible and the pursuit leads to a lot of hyperawareness, case in point this blog. . .

In cycling, the goal is to balance maximum forward speed using the least amount of energy. The speed is easy enough to understand but the expenditure of energy, often measured in watts, is a little more tricky since it’s human, not petrol powered and comes with the another factor: fatigue.

So the right cadence is one that allows you to cover the distance in the given time and uses the least amount of energy. That’s about the depth of cadence as it relates to cycling that I’ll get into other then to say the proper gearing is often less resistant and more rotation than one might first think.

So with that in mind, understand that many of the conventional recommendations for ppi (points per inch)/ tpi (teeth per inch), also knows as pitch, for sawyers do not take ones body size or the amount of energy (watts) used to cut a given amount.  So in the 130 years since “Grimshaw on Saws” was written, the size and physique of people has changed quite a bit.  For one thing, woman for sure were never include in the recommendations, but “Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who”.  Rather my point is, when selecting a panel saw, perspective is needed when applying the recommendations.  Understand it’s just a stepping off point and for the smaller framed sawyer, the right size may be outside the guidelines.  I’m 5’8”, 160 lbs and I really like a 6 ppi rip saw for most jobs. The same is true with cross cuts.  I often favor a 10 ppi for most work including thicker boards.

 A few caveats to all this cadence talk. . .

First is set and it’s a wee bit of a wild card.  Nothing will rob efficiency like a poorly set plate regardless of the configuration.  Over set plates hog out wood great, but that extra wide kerf takes energy.  Extremely tight set causes some wicket friction and the plate could easily get hot enough to fry an egg.  In general, if the saw was last set by an automatic setter, like a Foley power setter, you can bet the farm it’s over set.

Saw plate length I’m sure there is a rule of thumb but most average people should find 26″ works fine. However if you shop in the “big and tall” section or  your friends regularly address you as “shorty”, you may want to look at longer or shorter plate length accordingly.  I’ll be honest, I quite enjoy a shorter saw for cross cutting.

Tooth geometry is a religion, or should I say cult, all of its own.  Rake, fleam and slope all play a part, but for the purposes of cadence, I feel they shouldn’t really play a big part.  Most people filing saws use standard geometry for cross cut and rips saws.  Backsaws vary a little more, but again, not hugely from conventional geometry.

I don’t have a conclusion, rather, this is all food for thought when considering the next saw or the saw(s) to use.  I guess like all things, with practice comes insight. So when considering the next rip don’t just grab the 5 or 5-1/2 maybe try and 6 and see how it goes.

Thanks for reading and I hope everyone gets out and enjoys the spring. I just returned from the tool show in Nashua, NH.  Had a great time seeing all my New England friends.  This weekend I’ll be hanging with some VW friends and the first weekend in May is the Cheat River Festival.  I’ll do my best to keep the posts on a regular schedule.

One last note: I’ve been actively trying to add some saw related products to the site and recently added bent handles brass brushes, perfect for fine detail cleaning and also my new favorite saw filing aid, the hog bristle brush.  Both of which are made in the US and available direct through my website or my ebay store.

Joe Federici
Saw Mechanic


The missing fine print on using a Foley retoother

Foley_01I was asked by Dana Horton to talk a little about the use of a foley retoother, as most of the time when buying one the previous owner has never used or seen the manual.

Luckily the PDF manual can be found on-line in large part thanks to Mark Stansbury and his Foley site. So to streamline things I’m writing this as an overview and covering things the manual doesn’t. If you own a retoother, the one thing I’m leaving out that is important is adjusting the cutting heads. I think the manual does a good job going over it, but if you have issues feel free to email me.

Foley made a few models over the years but the two most common are the early 30/31 and later 385. The model 30 and 31 are the same with the exception that the later 31 was sold standard with the electric motor. The later 385 design also works about the same with some updates to the carrier system using parts consistent with the filer sold at this time.

I currently use the 285 but have owned and used the 30/31 quite a bit. Note that all the models up until Foley merged with Belsaw use the same carrier and ratchet bar system; so when buying a retoother it’s important to get ALL the parts. Very often the ratchet bars are missing or the seller also has a filer and only has one set of carriers for both. From experience I find you’re better off just passing on incomplete sets as most are missing the same part, the ratchet bars.

Foley_02If the toother you bought is complete you should have the retoother, 3 carriers: straight, crown, and backsaws and 5 or more ratchet bars. The standard bars included with most are: 13-7-4, 8-4.5, 9-5, 10-5.5, 11-6. The optional bars sold individually were 12-6.5, 14-7.5, 15-8-4.5, 16-8.5. The last two containing 15 and 16 ppi were the hardest for me to find. The ratchet bars are marked for points per inch that the bar would cut teeth for.

The ratchet bars fit in all the carriers the same. The carriers have 3 slots that the tabs on the ratchet bars slide into. Once together the carriers then slide into grooved wheels on the machine. Next check that the rake angle is set correctly for your needs. The machine will cut from 0º-30º by loosening the “T” handle or knobs depending on the unit. Don’t expect the angles to be perfect. If you use the unit enough you can mark your corrected angles on the gauge.

Foley_03Note: It’s REALLY important to tighten the knobs. The unit creates a lot of vibration and in most cases any mistake made will destroy the plate.

With the rake angle set the next step is to set the feed rate.  Locate the feeder paw in the center of the unit and lift it upright. Now look at the cutting head just below and manually rotate the flywheel so the head is in its highest position. This allows the carrier clearance, and you to check the feed rate. At this point no saw is attached to the carrier.

Foley_04The ratchet bar can be set for 2 or more pitches (space between teeth AKA points per inch). Looking at the leading edge of the bar there will be 2 or 3 numbers. The first number will be higher, the second lower and so on. The numbers corresponds to the PPI it will cut and the placement in the order denotes how many teeth the paw skips between passes. The first number is achieved when the paw grabs every tooth. The second is skipping a tooth and the third number is skipping 3 teeth. To adjust the paw, rotate the knob directly at the end. This allows you to reduce or increase the distance with each full rotation. With the carrier installed slide it up to the paw, flip the paw over, and manually rotate the wheel. Adjust the knob to correspond to what’s needed for your PPI.

I want to stress it’s really important to hand rotate the machine to check you’re grabbing the correct number, then test run the machine to make sure the adjustment is good. A little play is needed so that it doesn’t jump a tooth. Note that no saw is in the carrier while this is being tested. How the paw grabs the tooth is something that needs to be checked EVERYTIME you change the bars or carriers. It’s also important to adjust the rake angle BEFORE you adjust the paw as the angle affects the travel. Failure to set the paw properly will result in the retoother jumping between the smaller and bigger PPI on the bar and you will need to start over.

Foley_05With the paw set, lift it back up and now slide the carrier out. The handle always, always, always goes to the left. The only exception would be a pull stroke saw. Keep in mind the handle is often removed or you may be toothing a new backsaw plate so it’s easy to mix up and the results will always suck. …BTDT. When I retooth new backsaw plates I use a sharpie and put an “H” where the handle will go. I also mark every carrier bar “ <————— HANDLE” denoting proper position.

The saw plate is held fast by three tabs and wing nuts. The plate with or without handle is loaded and centered on the bar. A simple gauge (that should be included with sale!) is used to align how proud the toothline is held on the carrier. As you can imagine, the prouder it sits, the more is cut off. The bigger the teeth, the prouder it sits. Once adjusted tighten the wing nuts.

Be real mindful here. Vibration is something this machine makes in spades. If the clips aren’t seated well, they can slip allowing the nuts to loosen, and then any number of things can happen and none will result in a smile. I wouldn’t go so far as to use mechanical aids to tighten them as the other issue is they aren’t real heavy duty; just double check and wiggle the tabs to check they are seated.

Once happy I like to manually slide up to the cutting head and manually rotate the cutting head to see how much will be cut. The gauge used is very basic so it’s good to check you’re not taking more than necessary.

At this point we’re ready to rock and roll. Pull the carrier back out so the machine can run a bit before it starts cutting. I like to use a gel type cutting fluid on the edge of the saw. When ready flip the paw down. Do one more manual rotation; maybe flip the power on and off just to check that it’s grabbing correctly, then let her rip. Once the saw completes cutting, turn it off. Flip the paw up and slide the carrier out.

Foley_06There are a few caveats on running the toother. As stated earlier the toother makes a good deal of vibration. On top of that, the carrier is long and fairly lightweight. This amplifies the vibration and in extreme cases, like cutting rip teeth with 0º rake, the unit can skip a tooth. I find if I use both hands to help support the carrier it reduces the vibration quite a bit. I’ve also experimented with a wooden block to act as a guide. Whatever you can do to minimize vibration through the cutting process is good. Also in the event things go south, stopping and restarting the toother in the middle of a cut is not possible. If you stop you will need to start over; it’s best to joint the saw flat and start again.

The force of cutting, along with the condition of the cutting parts, will cause the plate to bend. Because of this I use two identical retoothers, one for backsaws (less abuse) and another for panel (more abuse). Either unit in good working order produced a slight bend that’s easily fixed. However if the cutting head chips or dulls the effects vary but most often results in extremely bent plates that require smithing.

As you can see there are plenty of pitfalls and I’m leaving out resurfacing the anvil and hammer, AKA the cutting parts. This comes with its own set of trouble. However, all of these things aside, a properly adjusted retoother is useful and makes short work of retoothing when needed; I don’t hesitate to use mine.

If you’re in the market to buy one, I strongly recommend downloading and reading the section about setting and checking the cutting parts. When going to look at one, use a scrap piece of printer paper. A properly adjusted unit should cut a “V” in the paper when the flywheel is manually rotated. If it doesn’t it’s out of adjustment. Also take a flashlight and check out the cutting head. If you see chips, the head will need to be surfaced. You can read more about that in the manual.

Hopefully this gives you an overview and a little respect of the process. If you have other questions, feel free to ask.

Joe Federici
Saw Mechanic