Shape of things to come

Shape_01I haven’t spent a lot of time on the blog talking about the process of filing as I don’t consider myself a particularly good writer, rather I have a good friend who edits my incoherent thoughts and the web already has a few good sources. I think the most popular is Pete Taran’s, “Saw Filing–A Beginner’s Primer”. No single text can cover all the finer points so I thought I’d dive into some of the problem areas that are often not covered.

I’ll start with a common and frustrating problem — broken teeth.

Shape_02Regardless if you’re starting today or have been filing for years, a broken tooth or worse yet, breaking one when setting, is just one of the things you deal with from time to time. There is truth to the fact that you tend to find more broken teeth on the higher end “London Spring Steel” due to the extra-hardened steel but most often the cause is resetting a tooth in the opposite direction after it’s been set.

IMGP0194But however it happened you’ll need to joint the teeth even with flats on the tops. This would be SOP for starting the process of sharpening any saw regardless of the condition.

The difference with a broken or chipped tooth is that the amount of jointing will vary depending on how low the tooth breaks. A small chip may just be an extra few swipes of the file but if the tooth breaks below the gullet you’ll need to repeat the process, making two passes or joint flat and cut new teeth, the latter being more tricky and time consuming.

Here’s a tip on selecting a file for jointing. Many use an 8″mill (shape) in a smooth cut (grade) and this is a good overall size that works well with a lot of the jigs, commercial or homemade, to help file the teeth square to the tool’s face. The goal is to flatten and not round the tops of the teeth while jointing. The simplest jig is a scrap of hardwood with a kerf in the block that allows the file to be held with a firm friction fit. The file should sit proud of the block at least ½ the thickness of the file.

Over time I’ve found a larger 10″ or 14″ file slightly coarser, bastard or second cut, works better, faster and with the larger size I don’t need the jig.

Another pitfall to watch for is not jointing enough. MAN UP and make a few passes. Don’t worry about taking 1/8 off a 5 or 1/16 off an 11 point. Unless the saw has been recently sharpened, chances are the teeth and gullets need some help and you can’t do that with a flat that will be gone in 2 swipes of your file.

Shape_03Also note, if you’re adjusting rake angle by more than a few degrees it’s really important to make sure the file is seated in the gullet otherwise the file wobbles resulting in hooked teeth. You’ll run into this hooked tooth problem more with rip saws as people tend to use a wider selection of angles than cross cut.

The easy solution when changing rake angles significantly is to joint way down on the gullets. This is relative to the tooth size as a smaller file is easier to control in hand. One common example is changing a rip saw from the old standard of 8º to something a little more contemporary like 0º on a 5 points per inch saw. In this case I would joint down to around ½ the size of the teeth and really pay attention to holding the angle correctly.

Ok, enough on the jointing. With the teeth now flattened you can shape them. I find when shaping teeth after a deep jointing I like to work in stages. I’ll do 3 or 4 passes on every tooth but leave some flat at the top. It’s really important to let any short teeth go and resist the urge to file them! Look a few teeth down the line. If you’ve got a short tooth coming up let the tooth before and after go. Finish getting the rest close so there is just a hair of the flats left. If you know you’re going to be jointing again, do get fussy at this point. That said it’s good practice if need be.

Shape_04Now bite your lip and joint the saw again till those short or broken teeth are the same height. The point of jointing and shaping twice allows not only to correct the short or broken teeth but also to even out the spacing or pitch and gullet depth.

One thing often neglected when reading about filing is the importance of consistent gullet depth and keeping them even to the tooth height. I find two things help.

First don’t get fixated on JUST the flats when you sharpen. Drop your head and look at the baseline of your gullets. Is it as straight as your tooth line?

The other tip is a technique that’s often used to prevent cows and calves, or big and little teeth, a hurdle many Jr. Smiths face. The fix is to file each tooth a set amount like 2 strokes then move to the next tooth, leaving some flat on each tooth. This way they all come into shape at the same time. The added side effect I find is your gullets are more even. I personally prefer this method most of the time. The exception is a really short plate or if the shape of the teeth is very good from the outset.

Keep in mind if you’ve got a really bad saw where the pitch or space between the teeth is inconsistent you’ll need to adjust the spacing.

With practice you’ll find there are limits to how far you can push and pull a tooth by filing the front or back BEFORE you run out of flat. Depending on the inaccuracy of the pitch you may need to joint a few times. Above all keep in mind you just need to resist filing the tooth past its flat.

Shape_05At some point everything will be even, the teeth will be the correct shape and the gullets perfect. Stop and have a beer!

I’ll leave off here and talk a little about setting and sharpening another time.

Joe Federici
Saw Monger & Advocate

when it’s ok to play with your nuts

Screw_06One lesson any mechanic or handy man will clearly remember was the first time they snapped a bolt by over tightening it. This is often preceded or followed by stripping or cross threading. Mine was a reverse threaded peddle in a bike crank.  Lessons to this day I heed as I wade my way through life.

I think over time, for those of us who enjoyed turning wrenches, it started with bicycles, gravitated to dirt bikes, and eventually cars. Learn early the concept of torque; it’s a kin to heat in the kitchen. You want as much as possible but too much varies from problematic to deadly.

So my point with all this is PLEASE BE CAREFUL when working on these old saws. Consider that most splits are 100+ years old and it’s impressive they’ve held up so well.

Most of the threads would be made using a screw plate of hardened steel and the soft brass would be turned into the plate similarly to how a dowel plate works. The threads used were simpler than later Glover style saw screws.

screw_05With that in mind it’s important to use proper fitting drivers. This is preindustrial revolution hardware you’re dealing with. One size for sure will not fit all. For more information on making a split nut driver see previous post on making them.

So before you bear down on the next screws make sure the fit is good. When tightening, remember your goal is to prevent the handle from moving. Tighten it some, then check and tighten more if need be. If It loosens that’s not the end of the world. If it snaps, it might be…

However, if the latter just happened there is still hope. Been there, done that comes to mind. Provided the break is clean below the threads you’re looking more at a candidate to be silver soldered or brazed. The difference being is the metal used as the filler and the point at which it melts. Since brazing requires more heat than soldering, acetylene gas mixed with air is commonly used. However if you can use a butane torch this is a low cost alternative. That said, more research is recommended as this is not my area of expertise.

Screw_01That’s about as technical as I’ll get with it as I’m lucky enough to have a friend mentioned in earlier posts, David Latouche. He routinely brazes metal for work as well as teaches on the subject. Double bonuses, he agreed to help fix a few saw screws as well as go over the basics.

To start it’s important the area being brazed is clean. It’s also important to check or figure out how the two pieces properly fit back together. Good glasses or magnification can help. You’re looking to match the score marked on one side to the other. The better the fit the easier it will be to stabilize it when heated.

Because David routinely brazes he already has a work area set up with fire bricks used in ceramic kilns and a small container of mild acid/etch type cleaner called “pickle” that we used to submerge and clean the pieces before brazing. The solution was strong enough to clean the oxidation at the break but mild enough that it didn’t affect the patina on the outside. That said the heating process often results in raising the copper in the metals to the surface resulting in a pink hue around the area. The amount largely correlates to your skill and the break in general.

screw_02With the parts clean it’s time to get down to the business at hand. The breaks on mine were easy enough to line up. I then applied some flux and cut a very small piece of solder. David uses a simplified version of a Third hand tool to apply pressure and hold the parts together while applying heat.

After watching him fix one I was ready to try my hand. I’ve done my fair share of copper pipe repairs and soldering so it’s not completely foreign to me. The big difference being is how you heat the area and apply the flux. This was a bit trickier than soldering or sweating a pipe. Brazing done correctly uses the heat to wick the solder into the joint where the flux was applied. The flux attracts it and therefore the location and amount are more critical.

screw_03The goal is to get the area up to temp without heating the entire piece. Once the piece is done it’s dropped into water and checked. It’s still soft and if needed can be bent a little. Often you’ll find split nuts bend quite a bit as the plate shifts in the handle over time.

When done I’m happy to say we fixed all three, 2 label screws and a split nut, and they will now see a second chance in a future restoration. At this point the weather outside had turned a bit nasty with snow and ice on the roads so I gathered my things and headed home.

What we’ve learned:
• Always use the proper size driver when working with any fasteners.
• Apply enough pressure to tighten but not so much to strip or break.
• Always apply torque progressively smoothly.
• Fear not; often broken screws can be fixed.

Screw_04Next blog will be on my recent trip to Amish country and the nation’s capital.

Joe Federici— saw advocate

°Remember Jr. Sawyers, be mindful when playing with your nuts!

elephant tracks

finished plate_01

The finished two

In the week between holidays I took some well-deserved time off to enjoy the holidays and just be.  For me that included a list of random errands I normally can’t get to M-F, after which I headed back to my shop to get a little work done, starting off with some milling about before settling down to the task I felt most important at that time. This consisted of finishing up friends’ and customers’ saws for restoration, including some finish glazing, a plate replacement, and some sharpening as always.  I think sharpening and plate sanding are something I always have at the ready.

Plate replacement requires the use of the retoother most times, as well as setting up space for sanding, so I find it best to batch my work. I normally have a few backsaws of my own ready and depending on what’s in the shop or my mood I’ll process a few. In this case I had a really nice double eagle 14” that needed a new plate as well as an 18″ brass backsaw of my own that was waiting for a new plate after completing a handle repair.

So with that in mind I pulled out some of the plate I cut, or should I say I helped cut, a few weeks ago and got out some vinegar and a plastic tray.


The darker of the two plates is how the metal comes from the supplier blued to prevent rust.
The top plate is after soaking for a min or two.

I left off with the finished plate cut to size. The next process is removing the blueing that is applied to prevent the rust. This can be done a few ways but so far I’ve been following a process I got from Isaac of Blackburn Woodworking. First I degrease the metal with regular dish soap, then dry well. It’s important to get all the soap off and dry well. Next soak in regular white vinegar; the vinegar will do a good job of removing the blueing.

I’ve found a few best practices that help.

I use regular white vinegar I buy from the supermarket by the gallon. I pour this into a plastic container. The vinegar cleaning strength isn’t high and does seem to cut through the soap. Note: if you don’t clean or dry it well, you’ll get streaking causing a rainbow effect. This can’t be helped to some degree; you’ll be left with a blue haze that needs to be sanded off; your goal here is to reduce that work.

Another method that comes by way of Dominic Greco is citric acid powder. Dominic cuts and sells spring steel and his own share of plate clean up. He uses a 10% solution of powdered citric acid he buys in bulk on eBay and adds HOT water for maximum efficiency.  Footnote: use rubber gloves and for every 10 degrees of temp increase, the effectiveness of the solution increases accordingly. Once it starts to cool, you’ll see it’ll take longer to de-blue the steel.  Dominic also offers a number of free handle patterns for those interested in making their own. Check out his site for more info, Two Guys in a Garage. One last note: citric acid is also used when canning so you’ll find it where those supplies are sold.

Ok, back to the plates soaking in the container of vinegar. It’s important the liquid contacts the plate so try not to stack the plates; after a minute or two pull your plate out. I use a maroon medium grit scotch pad to rub it down. You can dunk it again for a little bit, then wipe off.  I’ve had some instances where leaving it in too long started turning the plate black so don’t go nuts watching a clock, but be mindful of the time.


Sanding through the grits. do your best to work clean and wear rubber gloves.

Because I do a few plates a month, I pour the vinegar back into a plastic bottle for future use. Next is the fun part; read between the lines, PITA, and for those of you with tennis elbow, something maybe not worth attempting. Sanding the metal plate follows many of the same best practices as sanding wood or anything for that matter. Work clean, don’t skip grades, and above all, apply even pressure. Work smart not hard.

Seems simple enough and it is; the work is just doing it. I normally start with 220 grit, then 320, 400, 600, 800, 1200, and finish with 1500. I’ve been known to go up to 2500 but that’s a lot of work and in the end I don’t find it’s worth the time or cost as sandpaper above 1200 gets pricey. Without getting off topic, I’ll just add that my goal is to try and match the plate to the restoration. If it’s an “all out polish the brass” restoration, then maybe go the extra distance. If you’re more for the au naturel look, then maybe stop round 600.

Just to reiterate about sanding, be mindful of keeping your area clean. I find laying down Kraft paper where I work makes it quick to note when things get dirty. I sand using a homemade wood block with cork applied to one side. With no etch to worry you, block sand both sides. Again, be mindful that the dust from a coarser grit will scratch the plate; watch out when flipping. Lastly, sand in one direction to avoid scratching as you sand. Before finishing with one grit, use a raking light or tilt the plate to the light to check for deeper scratches that need to be removed before switching to the next grit.


finished plate. The one on the left was used for the brass backsaw in the first image. The dark plate is the starting point.

So that’s about it on sanding. It’s a skill most of us don’t do well or appreciate enough. I think my first shop class in school was around 5th grade. I had already worked on stuff with my family but I remember in school that sanding was checked before you were allowed to apply finish. You presented the project to be checked and if areas needed work, the teacher would mark an X with pencil.  I could do another blog just on the direct correlation of pressure behind that pencil in proportion to the effort put forth; but suffice to say, I still think of elephant tracks and smiley faces whenever I sand something. Taking the time to check your work for marks, going slowly, along with working clean, all go a long way.

At this point you’re now ready to switch out the plate on your saw. I tend to redrill and tooth with the back on but that’s somewhat a personal preference along with installing the back. I’ll save that for another time.

Joe Federici
The fastest arm in the East!

Reference this!

Well, this past weekend was a little disappointing. I had hoped to make it to what’s been a rare Spicer auction and visit with some family, but it would seem that it just wasn’t in the cards.

I emailed with a friend to commiserate; knowing I’m a car guy, he said that also means you know when you’re screwed as well. I blew the low side power steering line, or lower pressure return line from the rack. I’d had the high side done a month or so ago, and the mechanic, a high school friend, warned me about old cars and hoses. My ‘98 Saab has been a flawless performer so I can’t really complain. I also got lucky; the distance was within the AAA tow range and by dealing with a friend, the repair was also completed by weekend’s end.

So I guess I’d better work on filling the karma tank back up and rest in the solace. There are always more tools at the next show.

With the holidays behind us and facing the winter stretch, I thought I’d recommend some good reference books. This by no means is complete and I welcome any recommendations. Most are reprints and can still be found online or at your local auction or tool reseller.

Simonds_1919First off is the nicely reprinted catalog: The Simonds Saws & Knives, 1919. Although the world loves Disston, like the Yankees or Cowboys, there are other quality makers. Simonds, being one, had the honor of besting Disston at sales of hand saws for a few years in the early 1900’s. The truth is the Simonds’ patented steel does have a wonderful feel. They also tend to be a better value than Disston. Keep an eye out for the No. 61 (straight back), 361 (skew back) or No. 5, just some of the more popular saws from their “Blue Ribbon” series. Also check out the Simonds Saw page by Brian Welch. The reprint and paper quality is much higher than normally used. They are still available and I’ll be offering them shortly along with the Disston 1876 price list. They do also pop up at auction on eBay.

HandsawCatalogAstragal Press offers a number of books for those of us interested in antique tools and early trades and technologies. For the saw lover they put together: The Handsaw Catalog Collection. It’s a 136 page collection of 4 popular saw makers’ catalogs.
Akins 1919
Disston 1918
Simonds 1910
Spear & Jackson 1915

The overall quality of reprint is quite good although I thought the images were a bit small. I don’t come across a lot of S&J saws but have used this a few times when identifying them.

TNSC_catalogIf you’re into the secondary makers (like me!) The National Saw Company, Newark, NJ is one of the best references out there. The National Saw Company was formed to market and sell the remaining inventories from Richardson Brothers, Wheeler, Madden & Clemson, Harvey W. Peace, and Woodrough & McFarland. All were once independent operations that Disston incorporated into their line. As the story goes, the NSC was formed to run out inventories of remaining stock. The 192 page reprint was published by the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association in 2006. Sadly the print quality is low but I’m sure that has to do with the orginal copy. These also pop up at auctions on eBay from time to time.

Disston the brand America loves, the Cowboys & Yankees embodied in steel, and as such there are a few reprints as well as free PDF’s downloadable on the Web.

Disston_19141914: Henry Disston & Sons Incorporated: This was reprinted in the late 70’s and if you can find a copy it’s quite nice to have as it covers most of the golden year models 7, 8, 12, 120 and so on as well as a wide variety of saws, squares, levels, gauges and so on. The 237 page orginal was pocket size but the reprint is larger, around 9” x 6”.

Disston_1876For the early years I really like Henry Disston & Sons’ Price-List, January 1st, 1876. The 6.5” x 10” 86 page softcover book was reprinted in 1994 and I thought until recently was out of print. It’s a great reference for the early golden years of saw making. This is just after split-nuts when the glover patent screws were in use. It also has examples of custom etch 200 series of saws that can be tricky to identify. I should have new copies to offer of this in the next few weeks but used copies pop up from time to time as well.

I’ll put this in the “if it’s free, it’s for me” column. Wheeler, Madden & Bakewell as well as the later Clemson were all part of Monhagen Saw Works 1860. The company in general was very incestuous with owners breaking off and starting other companies.  I defer to Mike Stemple on all matter Bakewell. 1860 – Monhagen Saw Works – Price List does cover most of their early saws pre-Clemson, who was brought in after Bakewell left. The overall quality is marginal but still helpful when researching. Download a free copy from the link here; then click on the adobe acrobat icon in the upper right.

MonhagenSawWorksAs far as compiled research on saw manufacturers, there are two definitive works by Erwin Schaffer. The first is entitled Hand-Saw Makers of North America. This is currently out of print but a PDF version can be ordered. I would however (in my opinion) say it’s WAY overpriced as the scan quality isn’t great, and after printing the PDF I found image quality hard to read.

HSMONA_Evr SchafferUsed copies are also getting out of hand with copies costing around $100. HOWEVER, and you read it here first, an updated version of the book is in the works. The publisher, after talking with yours truly, has been coerced into updating and reprinting. This is a joint effort that’s being headed up by members of the Mid-WTCA. Erwin Schaffer’s second book with the help from Don McConnell was entitled Hand-Saw Makers of Britain. Last time I checked this book was still available.  It’s also important to note that since the writing of both these books the popularity of saws has grown quite a bit, but neither of these books is the last word on the subject.

HSMOB_Erv SchafferI’ll hold off on internet resources as there are many great sites and collections. I’ll just add two that go along with this topic. Often my first stop when identifying British or non-US makers is Ray, who started and runs the site, as well as the members are extremely helpful when flushing out dates and filling in the blanks on research. I’ll also add to check out his reference list and other articles in addition to the bulletin boards. The other useful reference is a list of reprints available online from Old Tool Heaven.

As always, thanks for reading. I’d like to wish everyone a Happy new! May all your dovetails turn out perfect in 2013. As I post this I just took delivery of some new old stock of both the 1876 price list and the Simonds 1919 catalog. check my website shortly if interested.

Joe Federici
Always buying, Always selling, and Always sharpening.



Ready Set Go

Stanley_42X_01As you may have read here or other places, the Stanley 42x is one of the best sets ever made and is still quite popular with saw sharpeners like myself. Made from 1929 to 1950, it was designed to work with hand, back, panel, and small circular saws up to 18 gauge and thinner, having 14 points or less. I’m sure in the years to come Lie-Nielson or another will reproduce them, but until that time, if you’re looking to get one, it’s going to be used.

In the 21 years that the 42X was made, other than some small changes like crinkle paint, not a lot changed which cuts down on some of the confusion that happens with multi-year runs on tools. Keep in mind when buying in the vintage market, price is often in direct proportion to its appearance rather than its true working condition and can be an issue for the buyer looking to use it rather than shelve it. I’ve had more than one in my hands with broken parts that looked great in hand. So this blog post will hopefully give you some tips to look for when buying. Most are common sense things but helpful for those of you new to set. I will not really be going over the use of a set but check out Peter Taran’s article on it.

NOTE: Peter applies set at the end of the filing process which is not typically what most people do. The conventional process sets the teeth after shaping and before filing.

So let’s take a look at a Stanley 42X set and some of the working parts. The head houses all of the adjustments so we’ll start there. Looking at it you’ll see two adjustment screws that adjust the amount set applied to the saw tooth by the hammer inside the head of the set. The top larger knurled screw needs to be loosened first. This allows the smaller lower knurled screw to adjust the wedge up or down and allows for more or less set to be applied. There are some lines etched onto the side of the wedge. Smaller lines are less set and longer lines allow for more set. When buying, check that both screws aren’t cross-threaded; also look at the lower section of the wedge with graded marks. There should be a notch or groove that the lower screw fits into. I’ve seen sets where that lower section is cracked off.

Stanley_42X_02The rest of the moving parts are inside the head and the critical one is what I call the hammer that pops out when the handle is squeezed. It’s what contacts the saw plate and pushes the tooth. Holding the set in hand, look from either the top or bottom, squeeze the handle and check it. It’s super important it’s chip free. The leading edge should be angled at about 15º. Repairing a bad one is very hard as the length and relationship need to stay the same.

Stanley_42X_03Lastly check for play and overall condition when squeezing the handle. You don’t need a tremendous amount of tension but the springs can wear out. But fear not; I’ve had the springs remanufactured in the USA by a local spring manufacturer and you can read more about it here.

Ok, so now that we know what to look for, let’s talk about Stanley’s guideline of 14 points or less. Stanley designed the 42x to work with teeth between 4-14 points per inch leaving us a few points short. The issue being the hammer used to push the teeth is too large to work properly with higher toothed saws.  Worry not; you can modify the hammer to work with finer plates.

What I and others have done is to disassemble the set and modify the hammer. First remove the screw on the side of the handle. Next wiggle the front section of the handle out. Watch as the handle is under tension. Also, there are parts inside the head; you want to work over a towel or bench so if something falls you can easily identify it.

With the handle out of the way the inner assembly should slide out from the head. You find two cylinders that have springs that fit around them. See pictures.  What we’re interested in is the inner part with the hammer at the tip. Looking at the tip we need to taper the top leading edge from the sides. We DO NOT want to alter the front 15º angle and we don’t need to worry about tapering the lower part of the hammer as it will not contact the saw plate. You just need to taper the top 1/16 or so.

Stanley_42X_04You can either use a grinding wheel or hand file. The important thing is not to overdo it nor adjust the front angle. Once happy with your results, reverse the process used to disassemble. NOTE: with things apart it’s an ideal time to replace springs, clean and grease springs. No need to be heavy-handed with grease; just a light coating please. My personal favorite is Phil Wood Waterproof Grease; for me it’s the duct tape of lubricants.

Stanley_42X_05There are lots of rules on how much set to use. Some find micro gauges a must for getting it right, but I’m more the craftsman than engineer and would quickly point out that micro gauges were not found in cabinet shops in the early 1900’s. I’m sure you’d been hard pressed to find them at the Disston factory in the early 1900’s. Rather they, and I, work from experience. For dry seasoned wood you just look for enough that the blade doesn’t bind when cutting. Often saws I’m working on are overset from a previous owner and after shaping may not need additional set. The important thing is you do need some before you sharpen. So if you’re starting off by jointing down to the gullets you’ll need to set the teeth before you sharpen. If need be after you test cut, more set can be added.

Hopefully armed with these tips, you can make a smart purchase and get setting. I’d also like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas or the Holiday of if you choice.

Joe Federici
The Saw Monger





Facelift— saw style

As I’ve pontificated on in the past, one thing that drew me to saw-dom is the interest in repairing older saws and I soon found I rather enjoyed it.  Shortly after, Second Chance Saw Works was formed on that idea.

One area of interest I quickly gravitated to was repairs of backsaws and more specifically replacement of toothed plates. I find many a backsaw is doomed to live a life on the wall because the plate is bent or possibly bowed due to it being knocked on too deeply over the years. I think the size also lends itself better to a small shop like mine. Lastly, a Foley hand saw retoother followed me home at some point, so I already had the ability to tooth plates. Heads up if you’re thinking of buying one, they breed like rabbits and I now have a few of them!

Bows can often be fixed by resetting the plate but kinks in short thin plates often do warrant the time for the positive results one wants, but replacement is a better option.

When I first got started I bought my plate stock precut but ran into long delivery times and issues with getting them cut to a size that worked best for me. More recently a friend and fellow saw collector offered to help cut some with a local stomp shear he had access to. Although I don’t tend to replate a lot, the opportunity to cut my own and reduce shipping and wait time made the investment in inventory worthwhile. I figure I can also offer supplies to others if needed. I would also add that the opportunity to use large ass, dangerous equipment with no sissy OSHA regulations was a bonus.

I use mostly .025 and .032 plate and do find some thinner and thicker, but .025 works for most 1900 saws. The .032 was popular for larger 18″ and also some of the early UK saws.

Once supplies were ordered a time was set to meet up at my friend David’s shop. Being saw collectors we had a quick show and tell. David’s got a wonderful collection of early American and UK saws. I brought a sad but still very historical older Disston that turned out to be a rare No. 14 that was given to me at the NH show by a friend. I felt it was a fair trade for his help, plus it’s now in the proper hands with David.

Once done, saws were put away and we headed over to his friend’s shop. Now I was having a bad camera day and really didn’t end up with anything good but suffice to say this place was cool.

I’ve always been fascinated by metal work and fabrication in general. Like many who enjoyed bikes, I’ve always wanted to weld my own lugged steel frame. It’s on the bucket list for sure. Walking into this darkened metal shop/studio you instantly get the feeling anything IS possible. Immediately you’re presented the distinct boot end of a 60’s era XKE in the process of restoration. While checking it out we dug a little deeper to find a large hydraulic or powered shear. David being used to the environment got down to business locating supplies while my eyes darted around taking it all in.

We had a fixed schedule so I quickly got back to the job at hand. The shear is designed to handle stock much larger and thicker so we rigged up a landing area for what would be mostly 14 x 4 pieces of plate. Next we figured out the best way to feed the uncut roll and got stomping.

  Blued spring steel is sold for many uses at various widths but the sizes I needed are mostly sold for shim stock. We started with rolls of 8″ wide by 10′ long. I mostly wanted 14, 16, and some 18 and 12. The leftovers yielded some 8 as well. When I was buying precut plate, 12″ lengths were commonly cut to 3” that yielded a shallow plate after toothing.  I’d rather start with a 4″ plate, which gives me some flexibility.

When all was done even with a few mix-ups, we cut well over 40 plates that should last me for some time, at a faction of the cost, plus extra width of the plate for a little flexibility. All and all, a productive few hours.

Once done we cleaned up, said our goodbyes and it was back to my shop. Having the plate cut is really only part if the process. Before it can be used it needs to have the blue removed, sanded, polished, as well as toothed.  I’ll leave that process for another time.

Joe Federici
The International Saw Monger of Mystery

The perfect split

Although I lean more towards Glover style then split nuts, I have to admit that, if done right, split nuts look way nicer and dress up a saw handle while not distracting the eye from that wonderful early English beech. That said, dealing with them 100+ years after installation can be problematic at best.

When I first became interested in saws, I bought a Lie-Nielson split nut driver and found it works well for 75% of them. That’s not bad, but as the numbers grew I found that one size does not fit all. Around the same time, I found a user-made split nut driver that I reground the tip to fit some troublesome split nuts; from that point on I found user-made drivers just worked best for me.

Most of my drivers start life as a cabinetmaker’s style flat head screwdriver. If I can’t find them inexpensive enough, a 1/2 chisel will get the job done; just keep in mind chisel steel is much harder and often requires a little more effort to work.

The process starts by hand filing or grinding to the correct width desired, then filing a slot or split in the middle. The slit can be made with a saw file or an angle grinder, if you’ve got steady hands! Once done, fine tune the front edge so it fits well. I have drivers in a few sizes and file them down as needed. If they get too thin or the center split too wide, I just grind down and start over.

Ok, drivers made, let talk a little about usage. I wouldn’t go so far as to call these tips and tricks, but rather “best practices” when dealing with stubborn fasteners.

Clean the slots. The more contact made the less likely you are to have the driver slip and gouge the brass or wood. I find a dental pic or something like it works really well. Get yourself some cheater eyeglasses or magnifier of your choice.

Lubricate the area. You’ll find that tarnish on the brass can act like glue and hardware will rip soft sections of the wood surface if not removed carefully. I try and stay away from penetrating oils as they also penetrate the wood and leave stains. If this does happen, have a look at my post on wood bleach. I find mineral spirits work well and evaporate without staining. Note: please test, as mineral spirits and its purity do vary.  I use a brush and dab it on; I’ve also used an old hot sauce bottle as a shaker. If they still look sketchy, carefully scratch around the edges of the nut with an axe or exacto knife.

Concise direct pressure. Once you’ve applied the lubricant of your choice and cleaned the area, it’s really important you do what you can to get the driver seated in the slots. If your driver tip is too wide or the center split isn’t big enough for the screw, make adjustments and check fit again. Stop and take a second to check things. On nuts that are buggered up, this step makes all the difference. 90% of the nuts I find have been man-handled and buggered up. In most cases that’s not because the nuts are too tight, it’s because the drive didn’t fit, causing it to slip out of the grove and scratch or gouge the soft brass. Once you’re happy with the fit, you want to bear directly down and turn. Depending how tall you are, stand on a block of wood to add some leverage. You don’t want to be on a high worktable. The keys here really are to keep the driver at 90 degrees to the handle and to apply direct downward pressure. Slowly turn the driver and feel the metal and resistance. It’s not unlike loosening or torqueing a bolt on a car. Every good mechanic can tell you a story about stripping or snapping a bolt. It’s only through these experiences you truly understand friction.

However, if all this talk of grinding and filing is of little interest, there are ready made split-nut drivers available in a range of designs.

Lie-Nielson. What can I say, his stuff is top shelf and the split nut driver he sells is no exception. If you’re a LN guy, no question you’re buying a quality product. Like I wrote earlier, it fits about 75% of the the nuts I’ve found.

Tools for Working Wood.  I’ve seen but not used this driver head. Joel designs tools under the name “Gramercy Tools Works.”  It’s a great idea that centers around cutting down on the cost and also multiple tools. It’s a split-nut tip that fits in any 1/4″ hex shank drive.

Wenzloff & Sons.  I’ve also not used their key chain style driver but would think that depending on how much work you’re doing it would be fine. I know Mike well enough to say he doesn’t produce or sell junk. Mike has had some health issues that effect delivery but what I’ve bought from him has always been top notch. He sources or makes 90% of what he sells.

So let me know how it goes and if you’ve got tips, tricks, or photos to add; e-mail me and I’d be happy to post.

Joe Federici
Purveyor of Saw Goodness

The Other Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Federici
Steward of Saw Craft

Calgon take me away!

The Monger is calling it a short week and heading to the Gauley River in West Virginia. It’s become an annual pilgrimage to one of the best rivers in the US that only release for a short time in the fall.  So knowing my mind would be on all things rocky and wet I’ve pre-blogged and with any luck you’re reading it.

The first time I read about wood bleach it was suggested as a solution for aged dirty wooden folding rulers.  I guess I filed that bit of trivia away till I started restoring hand saws and a friend was looking for a solution to some oil stains on a backsaw.  I passed along the tip and he had wonderful results.

Since then I’ve used it quite a bit both to lighten weathered, darkened handles and to deal with local stains. The use is quite straight forward but I’ll offer up some suggestions.

Wood bleach or oxalic acid sold under a few brands  and the box in the picture is from my local hardware store but a quick google search will show its readily available.

Read the label for any warning.  I’m not a chemist or a health expert, but I wear gloves when working with it; use your best judgment.

Depending on your needs you can mix small batches in a plastic cup or larger ones in a bowl.  I use an old plastic tupperware container and brush for application.  Again follow directions but I’ve found 2 tablespoons to 8 ounces of hot water works best.  Double if you need to submerge the handle and use a rock to hold it down.

Most wood I find reacts in a few seconds.  I leave it on for a minute or so, wipe off, reapply if need be.  Once happy, rinse with water and let dry.  I’ve tried with mixed results to reapply after drying.  Some woods will lighten a little more but the first treatment has the biggest effect.

If your issue is a local spot like in my picture, I find it helps to “wet out” the wood with water before applying the bleach.  This allows a more even application over dry wood.  Once done, wash with water and let dry.

My pictures aren’t the best (we’ve had a lot of rain this week) but you can see the results on this Disston No. 12.

The last and best piece of advice, experiment first!

Saw advocate – at large
Joe Federici

New life for an old set

Every good Saw-Monger knows the key to a good set is not just the tool or the settings, but rather it’s the consistency of pressure applied to each tooth.  A big part of that I’ve found is the tension created by the two springs inside.  Weak springs require a death grip and that may work for the first few teeth but by the return trip back your pressure will be half what it was.

If the set has little use, you’re fine, but keep in mind the Stanley 42X was produced between1929 to 1950 and to this day remains the most popular set made.  So even if you got the last one to roll off the assembly line, you’re still looking at 60+ years old.  Now take into consideration that most have seen many years of service and still hold a high value to this day due to their popularity, you can see where I’m going; fixing rather than replacing is the wise choice.
This seems simple enough.  One of the selling points is the ability to remove the anvil die.  Once apart, the springs are right there; so all you need to do is to replace with a new set.  I’ll save you a lot of time, as I drove to about a dozen hardware stores and searched Google to death before deciding to bite the bullet and contact a local (US) spring manufacturer, Murphy & Read Spring Manufacturing Co about making replacement springs, based on measurements taken from a good 42X’s plus a little to compensate for age.  Murphy & Read Spring Manufacturing Co. was established by Alexander Murphy and John Read in 1917 and located in Philadelphia, PA.  Read was trained as a locksmith in England but was unable to find work in his native country.  He immigrated to America as an indentured servant to a butcher.  He later met Murphy, also a locksmith, and they started a small service company specializing in locks, keys, and springs.  In talking to them, it’s quite possible with their proximity to Disston, they may have produced springs for them and Stanley in Connecticut.

The production time was about 3 weeks and, although I’m no expert on springs, the consistency and finish seem excellent to me.  I’ve been working with them for about a month now and can happily report they are working perfectly.  For someone like me who potentially can be setting 5 or 8 saws a week, it’s a lifesaver, or maybe in this case, a hand saver.  Plus, considering the cost of a replacement vintage 42x, the springs are way cheaper.  If interested in getting a set, I have them for sale on both my site, and ebay.

a few pics of the finish springs.

Joe Federici
Saw Advocate