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

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