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.
And 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.
The 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.
So 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