As 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.
The 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.
Lastly 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.
You 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.
There 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.
The Saw Monger