Monday, 17 November 2008

An Old Saw Gets a New Life...

As mentioned eight days ago, I bought a vintage 1917-1942 Disston Philadelphia 18" No. 4 backsaw from www.technoprimitives.comSurprisingly, it arrived today. Mark Harrell, the owner and technician of TechnoPrimitives quoted me three weeks for delivery. Needless to say I am more than impressed with the speed of his service.

When I purchased the saw I asked Mark to take some photos of the processes he puts these saws through so I could display them here. He complied, so here is the story of the rejuvenation of this saw.

This is the saw in its original, found condition.

Yes, I didn't think much of it either, but Mark assured me he could bring it back to life.

The first thing Mark did was disassemble the saw

Once he got it apart, he went at the blade with Rusterizer and a 3M pad.

Once the majority of the surface rust was removed, the blade was given an initial polish using different grits of sandflex blocks.

With the blade de-rusted, he turned his attention to the handle, stripping off all of the decayed finish with a dremell.

A good rub down with #0000 steel wool put the handle in shape for finishing.

I couldn't get the image sharp enough to read the label and this is a bottle I'm not familiar with, so I have no idea what he used to treat the handle.

Next, the blade is jointed by hand, ensuring that it is straight and true.

The saw is then given its initial sharpening using a 1960's vintage Acme Saw Filer. I had the blade filed cross-cut, 11 ppi for use mainly in my Stanley 150 Miter Box. The Rake is 18 degrees, the Fleam is 20 degrees and the Gullet is 5 degrees.

With the machine completing all of the grunt work, Mark then went over each tooth with a hand file.

The saw was set by hand.

Once Mark was satisfied that the blade couldn't be any better, the handle was as close to as-new condition as he could get it and the sawnuts had been polished, he assembled the saw and ran a few test cuts.

This is where Mark's coverage leaves off and mine takes over.

I have purchased a fair number of tools from online auctions and online dealers. You can pretty much tell the type of person your dealing with when the package with your latest purchase arrives. If the item arrives unwrapped and dumped in an envelope, you can make a safe bet that the guy you bought it from has no respect or appreciation for what he is selling, he just wants the money.

That certainly isn't the case here. The saw was wrapped in bubblewrap, then wrapped and sealed in heavy weight kraft paper, then wrapped and sealed in a corrugated cardboard box. Every nook and cranny within the box was stuffed with more cardboard. It was wrapped so well, it took me 15 minutes to get it out of the packaging.

Once it was out, though, I discovered that it was well worth the work.

The saw is a beauty. I didn't have much time between classes today to try it out much, but it did whip through some cedar I had sitting around. It is not so long as to cause me to struggle with its balance, but it is long enough to get a decent arm swing going. My only complaint is minor, being aesthetic in nature. Whatever Mark used to finish the handle left it dull and lifeless. I put a couple of coats of wax on it but it didn't come up or pop the grain. It is no big deal, though. I'll clean the wax off and give it a couple of coats of hand rubbed shellac and it will be fine.

All and all, I can't complain about my $160.00 purchase plus shipping. Given the amount of work Mark went through to bring this old saw back, proven by the photos, I'd say it was worth every penny.

These old saws were produced when labour was cheap and technology was expensive. Trimmers needed quality tools to make their livings with, something they couldn't do with the junk that is produced today now that the labour/technology thing is reversed. A good backsaw was a trimmer's bread and butter because up until the late 60's, early 70's there wasn't much trim that went into a house that wasn't cut by hand. 

While my old man was a trimmer and cabinet maker, I was trained as a framer. I grew up with an 8" Beaver 26" wide cast iron table saw which my old man bought in the early 50's for use on the job sites, not long after I was born. The thing was nothing but a pure boat anchor, but that top was as flat and true the day we sold it as it was the day he bought it. He told me he paid $350.00 for that saw, which was one hell of a lot of money back then - at least a month's salary. Today you can buy a bigger saw for about the same price which now is less than a week's salary. I sold that old Beaver about 35 years after my dad bought it and after 35 years of hard use. Just thinking of the abuse that saw took bouncing around in the trunk of my old man's 49' Merc is enough to make me cringe. Since selling it, I have gone through two replacements, neither one of them worth half that original Beaver, and I only worked the trade part-time, more as a hobby than a living.

This last photo is showing both this new/old saw, and the saw it is replacing. It seems ironic, to obtain a quality saw, I have to replace a saw purchased 15 or 20 years ago with one originally purchased sometime during the first half of the last century. The late 1980's vintage is a Disston as well, one that would cause Mr. Disston to roll over in his grave if he ever realized the thing had his name on it.

While I first discovered TechnoPrimitives on eBay, what convinced me to trust them enough to purchase from them was an article by Chris Schwarz over on his WoodWorking Magazine Blog. In it, Chris describes how Mark brought an old carcase saw back to life for him and I figured if Mark's work was good enough for Chris, then it was good enough for me. His article is entitled, "Highly Recommended: Saw Sharpening from TechnoPrimitives".