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

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&Jhandle

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