The Disston MashUp — No. 76 “Centennial”

The Disston No. 76 “Centennial” handsaw was introduced in 1876. Although it isn’t super rare, I’ve only come across one in my travels, hitting a good deal of markets and barns alike.

So what’s the deal with this mash-up? As you might imagine, it was released to celebrate the Centennial and rather than a new design, Henry took some features from the current line to create a one-off limited run.

The tell-tale skewed backplate is from the D8 or the short lived No. 80 Choice. The handle is from the larger 28” No. 7 cut from apple rather than beechwood. The larger 28” No. 7’s used a rounded top hook along with a larger recessed handle that accommodated a two-handed grip for rip cuts. The lower placement of the label screw is borrowed from the new No. 16.

I was interested to see if it would feel more like a 7 or 8 when cutting and agree with Disstonian. The plate shape is much like the D8; however the hand position is farther behind the cutting edge like the No. 7’s. This made it feel more like a No. 7 than a D8. I’m 5’8” so a 28” saw is a bit more then I would tempt to use but it tracked well and I was very happy with it. Most of the references I could find were for rip saws and I think it was only offered in the larger sized handle.

The one I sharpened and sold was early in the run before the Glover patent was used. The No. 76 was produced till the 1920s and like most Disston saws the later model handles may have switched wood and made the hand shape slightly boxier.

That’s it for now. Have a good Holiday and please check out my ebay site for other interesting saws. I try not to push sales here but Papi’s got bills!

Joe Federici
Purveyor of saw goodness




No 9 to No 99— A Disston with panache!


Disston-99_05Ok, what can I say . . . it’s been a while.

This past year has seen a good deal of change in my life with a move to south Jersey from living just outside NYC. The shop and business survived the move but my free time for the blog has been misplaced.

December however is the poster child for reflection and pointless resolutions, so why not jump on the wagon early with a post from the saw monger.

Disston-99_01And who better to help me out than Mike Stemple, one of the first and most popular posts I’ve had. He also enjoys among other things sending me hopeless saw handles that I pull my hair repairing. This one however is in very nice condition for a change and just about ready to head back! Sorry for having it so long, Mike.

I’m sure many of you will recognize this saw from the triple medallions; it’s a Disston No. 99. I see them from time to time but this one is extra special for a few reasons. It was previously owned by Carl Bilderback who’s better known for his Panther head repairs, as well as all things Atkins. I’ve seen some examples at the Mid-West shows and I’m told as a whole it’s quite impressive.

The other special thing is the age; this No. 99 is a very early  “SON” example. The lone handle is mine and also early, but made after his first son joined the company as noted. I found it years ago in a bucket and paid $10 at a tool show. Although you can easily see a few differences between the two handles, the most noticeable is the lower ogee clip area where the tag is. It’s possible these differences were creative distinctions or designed model changes, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The No. 99 was produced from 1865-1918 and, like the evolution of many things, I’d guess it started life as an offshoot of the popular but simpler No. 9 from around the same period. They share a distinct handle with the curved lower ogee and clip. The No. 9 was a good early seller for Disston, but like any company they needed to up the ante. Wa-la, the 99 was born. It used “Extra Refined London Spring Steel” which Disston made sure to point out in printed catalogs and advertising, emphasizing that it was hand selected and above all others! Disston was nothing if not a good promoter; but joking aside, it’s easy to see the detail and care in both handles.

The No. 99’s that Disston produced in numbers easily get the bling award with triple medallions and aforementioned higher end spring steel. The top and bottom warranted superior medallions were throwback designs featuring earlier style eagles and the middle was the current Disston medallion. I say “throwback” for a few reasons. Looking at the center keystone medallion and using both disstonianinstitute and past experience, this iteration of the style falls around 1870-72 but the other two look earlier to me and are often found on late 1860’s saws. We know manufacturers often find uses for older parts and this might have been done to use up older label screws on his secondary lines. Or it’s possible they were brought back into production for these handles.

Disston-99_03The No. 99 changed over the years and the disstonianinstitute does have a few examples of early and late but as luck would have it, these two are much closer in years and this provides some good info. As pointed out above, the first thing you note is the differences in the lower part of the handle, the low ogee curve. In my later handle you can see a distinctive rolled clip has been added. Take a second to check out the pictures. As someone who’s made a few handles and repaired a few more knows, the guys making these had some mad skills, as the kids say.

You’ll also note my handle has a bit more meat in areas and the overall size is slightly larger. This could be due to the size of the saw; larger rip saws often used bigger handles. With the evolution of saws, handle refinements in general were simplified and areas that cracked were strengthened. I don’t have the plate so it’s hard to say.

In regards to the simplified, strengthened later handles, we often associate this as a bad thing, as the outcome is often less interesting; but in real world use, the later models have way less broken horns. Note the lower clip on Mike’s and it has cracks; it’s not bad but you can see how delicate the area is. The later models also have thicker horns.

Disston-99_04So how many years between the two are there you ask? I’d say looking at that center keystone design is the best way to date them. The first clue is the “SON” and SONS” The keystone SON design has a short window from around 1865-71 and overlaps the SONS in 1970 then continues till Disston patented his own Glover style screw which started showing up in 1876. Looking at them both, you can see the earlier one has the single outline of the keystone while the later has the double. They also both have the smaller “A” at the end of PHILADA. Other differences can be found but I’d say mine is closer to that overlap and about 5-7 years apart.

So that’s where I’ll end this one for now and just point out if this type of historical look at tools interests you, consider joining one of the may tool clubs in the area. They are only as good as the members. I try and stay current on three of them, the biggest being the Mid-West Tool Collectors. The Ohio Tool Collectors may be smaller in members, but for lovers of all things saws there is a never ending supply of new articles on the topic. This is in large part due to the editor and his house of saws that will soon have this 99 in it. The last would be my local club CRAFTS. I don’t make nearly enough meetings but I’ve never left the parking lot sale empty handed!

Happy Holidays & Peace in the new Year!

The saw Monger

The best screw wins

screwsOnce again I’ll start by saying sorry for the long holiday in the blog. The job searching is slow going and working full time in the shop doesn’t leave as much time at the end of the day for collecting my thoughts. On the upside, I’ve enjoyed some projects like adding cruise control and a spline lube to my K75 motorcycle.

BMWThis has been one of the colder winters I can remember here in the northeast but I welcome the warmer weather as I write this. Spring is a time for renewal, doubly so as the coffers are getting low. I look forward to finding some new treasures and the adventures that go along with them.

I did make it out to the midwest tool show, Cabin Fever, in January, and this year it truly was cabin fever as many of the members traveling from Ohio and the midwest were having their own winter wonderland. The weather is always an issue for this show but it did cooperate with cold temps while the snow held off till later in the day.

toolshowA good selection of tools was available and I was lucky enough to pick up a nice Atkins 400 and few Disston workhorses. In addition to the show I got the chance to catch up with friends. Mike had just picked up a really rare and early Disston backsaw that needed some handle attention.  I don’t often get a picture of me with others so I made sure to get one with the boys, Mike and David.

Mike asked for a quick turn on the repair for an up and coming show so the picture I have isn’t the greatest, but I was really happy with the final repair, as was Mike.

I’ve talked a little about this in the past but I wanted to revisit the one part of vintage saws that’s often overlooked – the screws. Most of us just divide them into two categories pre- or post- split nuts. That’s fine for conversational talk but when you get a little more technical, the time right around the end of the split nut, and what we currently find on saws, based off the Glover patent and later, commonly called a Chicago screw by some, was very active. Hand saws were being produced in high numbers and all the makers were looking for a better way to hold the handles to the plate.

The years preceding the split nut, say. . . mid-1870’s and pre-Glover mid-1880s, produced, in my opinion, the best looking and split the line between collectable and users among the best. Handles were often still quite detailed with hand shaped horns and wheat carving.  In my sale descriptions, I’ll call them “pre- or post- Glover patent.” From time to time I get questions as to what’s that about or in reference to, hence this post; so read on.

There are a number of good sources for patent dates and information, but to simplify things I’ll be using DATAMP or the Directory of American Tool and Machinery Patents. I’ll do my best not to plagiarize the hell out of them, but just understand that this is not new research or ideas that I’m taking credit for.

They have a number of good lists of patents and info. A complete list of the 9 saw patents can be found here but I’m just going to touch on a few of the more notable.


The Munger Patent: Iff you look at the top of the bolt (male side) you can often see the ring where it attaches to the shaft. The shaft of the screws also tend to be very thin in comparison to the others. I tend to find them on Peace and Wheeler Madden and Clemson saws.

David T.Munger Dec. 21, 1869 Waterbury, CT
This was issued after the Washborne’s patent (what’s commonly known as split nuts). Construction differs in the use of a perforated disk that’s secured to the shank around the edge of the head and looks similar to the later Glover style screws at first glance. Looking closer you’ll note the threaded shafts are thinner, and looking at the screw top you’ll see the round center of shaft where it was connected. This patent is marked on several manufacturers; I mostly find them on Peace, Richardson, and WMC.


Disston Patent Saw Screws: These can be tricky to tell when on the saw but once removed note the casting marks. Also note the square section on the bolt (male side) where it attaches to the head.

Henry Disston Aug. 29, 1876 Philadelphia, PA
The heads of the saw screw and nut are slightly domed and their outer edges beveled so that they flare outward toward the face. Additionally, the screw is received by a threaded socket in the tubular shape (female side of the saw screw). The tubular projection (female) may or may not be long enough to engage the saw blade. Disston expressed a preference for those which are long enough to engage the blade. The overall purpose of this patent is to allow the handle and the saw nuts and screws to be finished and polished prior to assembly. Remember that split nuts would have been sanded with the handle and installed before finishing the wood. The beveled underside of the edges formed their own seats in slightly undersized shallow holes in the handle. This allowed the saw screws to be subsequently tightened without altering appearances.

Saw nuts based on this patent were cast, unlike the Munger patent of 1869, which makes them more expensive to produce. Additionally, the shafts were relatively thin, so were prone to twisting off. In time, they would be superseded by Glover’s patent (375350).

So taking these two patents into consideration you can see the groundwork for the final design of the modern saw screw, aka Glover patent screw we all know. The Glover patent screw is an improved Munger design, just making the male side of the screw out of a single piece of metal like the Disston patent, but turning it from a single piece, as well increasing size and a few other improvements.


The Glover Patent: The de facto standard chances are if the saw was made after 1890 you’re looking at a Glover saw screw. They do change in size a little bit over the years but over all they are beefier. Note the ridge on the lower section of bolt (male side) the ridges were used to hold it when threading and also helped prevent them from spinning.

Charles Glover Dec. 27, 1887 Hartford, CT
The final chapter: The primary focus of this patent is the two-part construction of the saw medallion (“label screw”). In a sense, it can be seen as an improvement on Munger’s patent (U.S.P.N 98180), which had no provision for preventing the shaft from twisting independently of the head if the swaged joint failed. This improvement was found in the Disston patent. The large surface of Glover’s medallion, in conjunction with the squared shoulder where it is seated into the handle, allowed it to resist turning.

The medallion (figures 2, 3 & 4) and the saw screw (figure 5) shown in Glover’s patent drawings both feature the internally threaded construction patented by Henry Disston in1876 181648. This form displaces the through screw and “split nut” arrangement which had been the norm. Glover’s saw screw differs from Disston’s by being formed in a die rather than being cast and having longitudinal ribs on the shaft rather than a square section to resist turning. Also, though not specified in the patent, the shafts of Glover’s saw nuts were of stouter construction. Glover’s form eventually superseded Disston’s.

Saw medallions with the Glover patent date have been found on saws from a wide variety of manufacturers and would eventually wind up in the hands of Disston after he dissolved the National Saw Company.

So with this in mind, the next time you’re out at the flea market searching for lost treasures, take a second glance at the brass nuts on some of the smaller makers, like the WMC, Peace, and Richardson Brothers, and I’m sure you’ll find some pre-Glover gems.

Joe Federici
Jobber of fine handsaws

Winter Wonderland

ChristmasShopI’ll start but saying Happy New year to everyone in Sawville and hope Santa treated you well for Christmas. The winter months in the world of tools slow down but I’ve been lucky enough to have a few saws streaming through the shop for sharpening and restoration so my hands haven’t been too idle.

December and January are always slow on the auctions and boot sales so I was happy to get a call from someone I met earlier this year at the Hearne Hardwoods open house.  He had a number of older saws that he was selling off and at the time we met he was just looking to get rid of any that had been left by the previous pickers who had gone through the collection. His small shop was located not far from Trenton. I knew the seller that had gone through the collection so at best I figured I’d find some interesting wall hangers and saws for parts.

After a quick tour of his shop we headed over to his storage area and dug through one of the largest collection of carpentry day or travel type boxes I’ve seen. Rick explained that for years he’d hit the Golden Nugget flea market and bought them when the prices were just a few dollars. He’d sell off the tools but liked the boxes. Over time, like most stuff with drawers, they filled up. Saws for so many years had low value, and well, they just piled up. Now that pile was on a tarp in my wagon and as promised I took all of them, the good and the bad.

canofsawsOnce back home I sorted them into trash, parts and possible restoration/keepers. As I had figured, most were in the trash and parts piles but Rick had some really nice wall hangers for the few of us that enjoy the history and look regardless of the function. Rick was a retired carpenter but also did some turning on the side and in the mix was a bowel of various saw screws and hardware that was fun to go through. I’m always in search of spare Munger patent screws as many of the early Peace and WMC saws used them, and due to the design they don’t take excessive torque well.

After the dust settled I set to work pulling handles from plates. Note to self, I need to find a local scrap yard as my collection of bent plates must be near 100 pounds at this point. As predicted, I did find a few interesting wall hangers for the shop and I’ll share a few of them.

The first is an unmarked, I would guess English, table saw that looks to have last been filed rip.  At first I was thinking this was possibly the remains of a panel saw that’d just seen a few decades of use, and at some point the lower cheek started to get in the way so the handle was cut to be open. However, as I now write this and look at the pictures, I still feel the plate has been cut down but the handle was mostly likely always open. The old English beech handle with split nuts remains tight and I would guess at some point as the saw grew shorter a nib was added, then broken off. The beak and top hook of the handle have that classic FAT yet shapely look like a plump woman in a Renaissance painting.

tablesawNext up is a well loved early Disston. I’m guessing this is a No 9 but I thought they used apple handles. This one however looks to be beech or at least not a fruit wood, but it’s been heavily coated with finish so it’s a little hard to tell. Regardless, it’s a wonderful old Disston from a time before aid of machinery. This sucker was hand shaped with files. The No 9’s are also an interesting model in that the handles changed shapes and some examples look more like the No 7, while others have the double lobes of the later No 12. I’m not sure if the plate is original to the handle but a faint etch can be made out. I also found a small secondary one closer to the handle of which “Warranted” is about all I can make out.

DisstonNo9plateI’m a sucker for hardware saws so this was a keeper regardless of the condition. It’s amazing the info one can find online and a quick Google book search found me this ad from the 1880’s, Humphrey, Dodge & Smith Jobbers and retailers in hardware. Look at the saw screws that are a distinctive dome style that with repeated use have sunken into the apple wood handle.  It’s interesting to note that most saws filed this deep into the plate would exhibit a shaved cheek from the handle hitting the wood with each stroke or a broken lower ogee. This one seems to have had some care taken by its previous owners.

HumphreyDodgeHumphreySawI’ll finish with this one and as someone who’s done their fair share of repairs I love the use of recycled bits, fit, and finish. I find a good deal of Spears & Jackson saws in my travels. For the most part I think the early ones had inferior steel to the US counterparts but handles, fit, and finish are always quite nice. The wood alone in this handle is nicer than most I find in similar years made in the US. However, what kept this one from going under the knife and off to the scrap yard was the repair. The saws may be from the UK but that handle repair is all America. I’m left wondering what the 5 stapled in the metal represents. Also note the fit of the screw heads; this was done with care by someone who felt if they were going to take the time, regardless of the job, it would be done right. Surely worthy of a place on the wall.


S&JsawI’ll pick out a few others for a later date. . .

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2014.

Joe Federici
Jobber of fine handsaws

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

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