Monday 15 December 2008

Designing a Box - Part 2...

It has been a busy week or so, but I’m finally getting back to this box design.

To reestablish the premise in this exercise, I want to improve my furniture design skills and to do that, I’m going back to the basics. I am attempting to design a basic box that has no specific purpose, researching the rules of furniture design and testing them as I go along.

In the past post I discussed the Golden Rule of Ratio, or Phi, and tested the concept using some simple outlines drawn to scale. The result was respect for the rule while not committing to using it exclusively. Testing it in this application, it didn’t allow me to focus in on one dimension, but it did allow me to narrow down the choices.

Now that I have a few basic sizes to work with, I need to determine what to add to the design and what effect those additions will have on the results. There are two additions that must be considered; where the lid meets the body of the box and a base for it all to rest on.

I have seen some very well constructed boxes but never one with an invisible joint where that lid meets the body. Even in the finest of cabinetry, a well-hidden joint like this becomes distorted over time and it becomes noticeable. Where that line appears affects the proportions of the piece and its placement must be considered in the original design of the box. That much I know. Where that placement should be is something I have to determine.

If there is a rule regarding whether or not a piece should have a base, I can’t find it. I do know that I like the look of bases on just about everything. To me, a base gives “grounding”, especially when it is a little wider than the piece itself. How much wider is something that has to be decided but most important to me at this point is the height. Is there a rule that works that will tell me how high the base for my box should be? Let’s find out.

The Fibonacci Sequence

Researching this rule I discovered that it is a process of “creating a series of dimensions that are related by the Golden Ratio”. Hopefully, I will have more exacting results from it than I had with the Golden Ratio itself.

The Fibonacci Sequence first become known in 1202 in a math book titled, Liber Abaci which has been translated into either, The Book of the Abacus or, The Book of Calculation. Do you ever wonder about the authenticity of something like this when the translators can’t even agree on what the title means? On top of there not being a consensus on what the title of this publication means, it turns out that the author, a Mr. Fibonacci, worked under a number of aliases, being; Leonardo of Pisa, Leonardo Pisano, Leonardo Bonacci and Leonardo Fibonacci. Hey, I trust him already, don’t you?

The basis of this rule, while complicated to understand, is quite simple to execute. From my previous test I have come up with two different proportions that I have decided to work with; 14” x 8.5”, the one closest to the Golden Ratio, and 14” x 10 1/4”, the one I think best represents an emotion, in this case power.

For the first one, the Fibonacci Sequence would be as follows:

8.5, 14, 22.5, 36.5, 59, 95.5

This may appear to be a random listing of numbers but it is derived from adding 8.5 to 14, which equals 22.5. You then add 22.5 to 14 and come up with 36.5. The 36.5 is added to the number that came before it, which is 22.5, which gives you a total of 59. Add that number to the number that came before it and you get 95.5. Clear as mud, eh?

For my other choice the series would be:

10.25, 14, 24.25, 38.25, 62.5, 100.75

These numbers can be applied to a design in a number of different ways, even using them as the numerator in a fraction to develop a series of measurements based on one of the overall measurements of the piece.

So now that I have these numbers, what am I supposed to do with them?

The answer, in this particular case, is nothing. In this example only the ratios are relevant as the only dimension that we can use is the actual height of the box.

For these calculations we need to start with a consecutive sequence of three Fibonacci numbers as we are looking to divide the height by 3 for the three sections of the box; the base, the body and the lid.

Using the base three numbers of 2, 3 and 5, I come up with a value of 10, or (2 +3) + 5 = 10.

Dividing the height of the box, 8.5” by this value,10, gives me a decimal value of .85.

Now I have to multiply this value by the first value in the sequence and you end up with a value of .85 x 2 = 1.7”. This is to be the height of the lid.

Now, multiplying that same value (.85) by the second number in the sequence, and I get - .85 x 3 = 2.55”. This is the height of the body of the box.

One more time, I multiply the same value by the third value in the sequence and I get -  .85 x 5 = 4.25.

If this works, the three values should add up to the height I started with. 1.7 + 2.55 + 4.25 = 8.5. Son-of-a-gun – it totals correctly.

So what these calculations tell me is that the lid should be 1.7” high while the base should be 4.25” high.

That same set of calculations for my box that has a height of 10 1/4 works out as follows:

Dividing this height of 10.25 by the same sum used previously (10) and I get 1.025

Multiplying 1.025 by 2 gives a value of 2.05. When multiplied by 3 I end up with 3.075 and multiplying it by  5 results in 5.125.

Checking my math, 2.05 + 3.075 + 5.125 totals 10.25, so my math is correct.

These calculations tell me that for this higher box, the lid should be 2.05” high while the base is a whopping 5.125” high.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t hold up much hope for this rule resulting in a pleasing display in this particular application, but lets see.

I think I can safely say that if your building a chest of drawers, Mr. Fibonacci’s trip into mathematical hell might be worth the adventure, but for my little box, I believe it is only partially right. The proportions for the lid line work very well for me, but on both there is just too much base to give the box a balance.

For this experiment, I’ll give the Fibonacci Sequence 50% out of a possible 100%.

Shaker Influence

As I cannot find a specific rule that is purported to be the “Golden” one for determining the height for a base on a box, I’ll have to turn to accepted examples from the past and figure the ratios they used to base my calculations on.

I don’t know anyone interested in furniture design that isn’t impressed by a piece of Shaker. The craftsmen of this style truly knew a thing or two about proportion and design so searching the web I came up with this example.

This particular pine painted blanket box, circa 1820, is a dovetailed example that was probably made in New York. It has a hinged breadboard lid and stands on a finely dovetailed bracket base. It is 24 1/4” high, with a width of 45 3/8”.

I chose this example because its dimensions do not conform to the Golden Ration. If created using that rule, at this height it would be just shy of 40”. Obviously, the designer of this piece made it considerably longer than he should have.

In the hopes that this particular image wasn’t distorted in any way, I brought it into AutoCAD to take some measurements from it. Using the known height, I scaled the traced image to gain other measurement, the main measurement I was after, of course, being the height of the base. Achieving that I could calculate how that height value relates as a percentage of the overall height of the piece. I recorded a height of 7 1/4” for its base, and based on the known overall height of 24 1/4”, I calculated that the base is 30% of the total height of the piece.

In the case of my box designs, using that value of 30%, the 10.25” high box would have a base roughly 3” high, while the golden rule example, being 81/2” high would have one 2.55” high. Lets see how those figures work out.

In both of these I left the lid line where the calculations of the Fibonacci Sequence told me to as I do like those proportions.

In this case, the Shakers knew what they were talking about. The base is in complete agreement with both the golden ratio developed proportion and the one that exceeds it.

The Golden Thirds

The base of this box is 30% of its overall height, which is relatively close to being one third of that overall height.

There is actually a rule out there called “The Golden Thirds”, or “The Golden Mean” which states that if you must divide up a plain, divide it into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. If you are going to place something on that plane, place it at least on one of the lines of that grid, preferably where the gridlines intersect, but if not at those four points, then at least on the lines.

So lets see what happens when we start to analyze what my Shaker friend did when he was calculating the dimensions of this blanket box.

As stated, according to the Golden Ratio, this blanket box should have a width of 39 1/4”, the result of multiplying its overall height of 24 1/4” by 1.618.

The designer, instead, gave it a length of 45 3/8”, or, in other words, he extended its length by approximately 15%.

Now going by the Golden Thirds, the base should be 33% of its overall height, or just a hair over 8”. The designer, however, only made it 7 1/4” high. This means that not only  is the box 15% longer than the first rule calls for it to be, but the base is actually 10% lower than the second rule says it should be. Did the cabinetmaker that made this box not understand these rules, or did he ignore them for a reason? Lets find out.

In these four illustrations, the bottom two have used the rules covered to set the height of the lid as well as the height of the base. The two in the top row have used the rule to set the heights of their lids, but the bases are set according to my Shaker friend’s calculations.

Tough call, isn’t it. I can see a distinct difference in the proportions of the bases, especially in the box with the exaggerated proportions.

Starting with the obvious one, the one at the lower right, I believe the base is way out of proportion for the height of the box. The lid is fine, but the base, which is set by the Golden Mean, is just too much.

The one to its left, with its overall proportions calculated using the Golden Ratio and its base height set by the Golden Thirds, has a better balance between the two and tends to support the rules.

The two at the top, however, whether Golden Rule proportioned or my exaggerated proportions, have a better balance between their overall dimensions and the dimension of the base than the other two, their bases being calculated from the Shaker value.

The result of this is that I think I have developed a new rule here – “The Tin Rule”. This new rule states that a base should have a height that is 30% of the piece’s overall height. Let’s see if that one holds up for a number of centuries like the others have.


Thus ends this part of the experiment. I have learned some more interesting things about design and rules.

  1. The Fibonacci Sequence works well when there are a fair number of divisions in a piece, but when there are few, like on my box, it is not that helpful
  2. Having used this rule to determine the height of the lid, however, I have to acknowledge that it can be of some use, but only when used with caution
  3. The Golden Mean Rule works reasonably well in applications like this, but again, I’m not sure I would rely on it completely
  4. Good design is not finding one rule and sticking to it, but combining different rules to achieve balanced proportions
  5. Finally, my Shaker friend taught me that if you are going to distort one rule of proportions, you had better be prepared to distort the others

One other thing I have learned researching the in’s and out’s of furniture design -  designing furniture is really no different than any other type of artwork. All these rules that I have come across researching this topic are the same ones that all graphic designers, architects and artists get drilled into their heads their first year of learning their crafts.

So it is back to researching the next phase of this experiment – shapes. Catch ya’ next time.



Thursday 4 December 2008

Designing a Box - Part 1...

Given that the weather here is a constant -2˚C (around 28˚F) and we haven't seen the sun in weeks, it is not conducive to working in my shop, which, in case you were unaware, is currently located on the balcony of my apartment. Thankfully, we are moving into a new residence and I will be able to return to sawing, chiseling, and in general, whacking away on wood by the end of next month.

As I currently cannot spend time being intimate with a hand tool, I had to figure out something to keep my brain functioning and keep myself moving forward in my quest to master the art of putting two pieces of wood together so they stay that way. I could; of course, while away my hours cruising the web looking for more technical information, but the creative juices are humming so I must find a “fix”.

Before I get carried away in this writing and forget, did you see the latest video has posted? I don’t know anyone who isn’t fascinated by carving, whether actually doing it, or just looking at it. Keith’s latest video documentary has Brad Ramsay, of Irion Company, showing us more of his magic with a gouge, this time explaining how to hold it, motivate it and direct it. Definitely an informative filled 4 1/2 minutes.

All right, back to what I plan on doing with my next month.

Creating furniture, whether on a small scale like me, or pumping out whacking big armoires, all require an understanding of design. I have spent a lifetime in design, in one form or another; either in photography, graphic design, architecture and interior design, and have spent a lifetime studying the basis to ensure those designs have been commercially successful. The one thing I have never done, though, is put any formal thought into the in’s and out’s of designing furniture. This abundance of arrogance or lack of understanding has been proven time and again as I have never been completely happy with any particular piece of furniture design I have come up with. While I have never been completely happy with any piece of design I have done, I have noticed that I’m even less enthralled with my furniture pieces. Thinking about it, I feel this is because I have never taken the time to properly understand the design principles that furniture design is based on. I am not alone and I am sure this phenomenon of never being happy exists in all endeavors. I really don’t know any designer who is ever happy with what he or she has produced. This, I think, is a good thing. When you complete a design of something or other and you can find no fault in it, nor find a way to improve it - sell your pencils, your done. That second guessing of yourself and that pushing for something better is what keeps a designer motivated and striving for something a bit more “perfect”.

So here is what I have come up with as a way to challenge myself over the next month and improve my furniture design skills at the same time - I’m going to design a box. That’s it. A box. You can call it a Tea Caddy, or a Jewellery Box or even a Keepsake Box, but the bottom line is that it is just a box. I plan on using this simple object as a test to see where formal knowledge about design will take you. As I complete one element of design theory I’m going to take what I learned and apply it to this simple six-sided object to see if the theory works or not. Where will it take me, I have no idea, but I expect to have a hell of a time with it and enjoy the journey. So let’s get started.

The first “rule” is one that anyone who has even glanced at a woodworking article about design will recognize - “The Golden Ratio Rule”. Now there is a whole mathematical equation behind this basic rule and even a special name for it - “Phi”. Now I have never been one to get lost in the technical side of things, and given I have a difficult time balancing my chequebook, this is definitely not the one I’m not going to start getting technical with, so let me simplify it for you.

The Golden Ratio Rule, simplified, means; to give something a pleasing balance to the eye, its height should be 60% of its total width, or visa versa. (For those that appreciate the exact, this is a “rounded off’ value. If you must, the full value is 1.6180339887498948482)

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? So lets see if it works in practice.

Below are eight shapes, all based on one dimension – 10”  (I told you I wasn’t good at math). Two employ the Golden Ratio Rule. Click on it to enlarge it and remove the distractions and see if you spot which ones employ this rule.

When you read my answers, the first calculation is always the width and the second, the height.

  1. 100% x 100%, or 10” x 10”
  2. 100% x 75%, or 10” x 7.5”
  3. 100% x 60%, or 10” x 6” (The Golden Ratio)
  4. 100% x 35%, or 10” x 3.5”
  5. 35% x 100%, or 3.5” x 10”
  6. 60% x 100%, or 6” x 10” (The Golden Ratio)
  7. 75% x 100%, or 7.5” x 10”
  8. 100% x 100%, or 10” x 10”

Analyzing each shape, here are my observations.

Numbers 1 and 8 definitely do not work for me and I will admit that my opinion is tainted in this case from experience gleaned from other design applications. Squares, while used often in modern design, have no sense of line or balance on their own. They are just, well - there. To work, a square must rely on its surroundings to give the shape proportion. As this is a box all on its own, my opinion is that a square one just won’t work.

Number 2 is one I could live with, although it appears to me to be a bit bulky. If these dimensions were to work, there would have to be some accoutrements added to force it to appear, for lack of a better word, sleeker. Staring at it, I did have to acknowledge that its height is out of proportion with its width, yet it does project a certain power, which is what I like about it.

Number 3 does work, so the rule does have teeth. The balance between its height and width is right on the money. The one thing that struck me about it, however, is that it did not evoke any feeling in me. There was no jumping up and down, screaming, “That’s the one, that’s the one!” The dimensions do not offend the eye, but they didn’t tantalize it either.

Number 4 appears too squat for me, like there is something missing. Its squat appearance, to me, is less than gratifying. It just does not draw my eye to it, and when my eye does pass over it, it keeps on going, as the shape holds no interest.

Number 5, with the same dimensions as number 4, but standing on end, looks like it will fall over in the slightest wind. At these dimension ratios, there is no stability horizontally. This shape, for me, defines the reason why I have never seen a pretty telephone pole – too skinny – too tall. You could modify this shape to improve it, like give it a prominent and wider base, and that is something to be considered.

Number 6, another sized to the Golden Ratio, but this time vertically, works, but to me, it is a toss-up between it and number 7. Number 6 is well proportioned, but it does seem to me to be slightly narrow, and therefore, a tinge unstable. It is not near as unstable as number 5, but not as stable as number 7. Again a wider base would be a huge asset to it.

Number 7, the same dimensions as number 2, works for me vertically, but has only borderline acceptance horizontally. While it is wider than the one that employs the Golden Ratio, to me it has more “presence”, more “power”. Proof of this is in the viewing. When your eye wanders from one to another within the vertical samples, it keeps coming back to this one and is held there longer than with the others. Unlike numbers 5 and 6, it does not need anything added to it to give it stability; its dimensions give that all on their own.

Another thing I noticed while viewing these shapes is that many can be categorized as “masculine” or “feminine”, especially the vertical ones. Numbers 1, 2 and 8 are seriously masculine. There is power in their dimensions, and they do not require any further additions to project that feeling of power. Number 4, with its low dimension ratio, appears to me to be very feminine. It projects a “softer” connotation than the others. You could also add number 5 to the feminine category, but really, it is just too damned skinny to be anything but a bad choice. What I find a bit fascinating, though, is that the Golden Ratio ones, numbers 3 and 6, are neither masculine nor feminine in stature. Could this be one of the reasons the Golden Ratio has been a rule of thumb these last two thousand years?

So there it is. The first “test’ of a rule. With these simple forms, all based on one similar dimension, I have convinced myself that the Golden Ratio Rule should always be considered. As with any “rule”, however, you have to know it to know when to break it. From this simple test of it, I have learned a couple of things about it.

  1. While there is strong evidence this ratio works in the vertical, it does not seem to me to stand-alone when it is rotated horizontally.

  1. A shape conforming to the Golden Ratio is gender neutral. While some may think this observation is a bit of a stretch, the reality is, there is gender in shapes, and proportions go a long way in defining them. Applying this observation to my simple box is going to cause a quandary because the essence of this exercise is to produce just a simple box that is pleasing to the eye yet has no defined purpose. If this box were to be a man’s Jewellery box, a higher ratio might not be a bad idea. If it were to be a woman’s, however, a lesser ratio might be in the cards. This means that, to properly determine the ratio, the final usage of the item and the gender to which this item is meant for, must be determined first.

The final conclusion that I came to is that the Golden Ratio must be considered in the design as it does have a great deal of merit. I just won’t be chiseling it in stone anywhere soon.



Sunday 30 November 2008

Why Are British Mid-19th Century Tools So Much Prettier...

Why are mid-19th century British tools so much prettier than North American ones of the same era? I have been asking this question for months wherever I can around the web and I haven’t received a qualified answer yet.

When you don’t get an answer to a question, you tend to develop your own, and that is exactly what I have done here. If you agree - good. If you don’t agree - even better, but tell me why. The one thing I hope you won’t do, however, is take offense.

First on the agenda is a disclaimer. I am not a historian, although I do read a great deal about the people and events during this particular timeframe. The following opinions are based on those readings and from my limited understanding of people.

On Stephen’s blog, The Full Chisel, I posted a comment to his entry, “Think of Old England”, in which I asked this specific question – “Why are British tools so much prettier than the ones available from the same time period in the United States and Canada?” This resulted in a number of further comments that spilled over onto WoodCentral and the discussion continued, and continued, and continued. I didn’t participate in this discussion, but I did read the aftermath. Where you guys learned all this stuff is beyond me. What a wealth of information. The problem I had with it all, though, is that it didn’t answer my question – Why are British tools so much prettier than the ones available from the same period in the United States and Canada?

What all of that discussion focused on was the importers' and manufacturers’ end of the equation and any good capitalist will tell you, manufacturers fill a need, they don’t create it. You can manufacture and import whatever you want, however you want, in any style you want, but if the public ain’t buyin’ it – you ain’t sellin’ it.

There was consensus of opinion reached through all of this discussion, though, and that is, British toolmakers in the mid-19th century produced pretty tools, while the American manufacturers in that same time period produced utilitarian tools. This fact, that we all agree on, tells me, and this is where I will probably get into trouble, that the British craftsmen of that timeframe held the tools of his trade in greater esteem than his counterparts in America.

Before I go further, let me qualify my position about where Canada fits in to this discussion. When it comes to tools, throughout our history, Canadians generally used American made tools rather than British made ones and we still do. We did so even in the middle of the 19th century when we weren’t even Canada yet, but still a British colony made up of two relatively separate sovereigns. To give you an example of how we Canadians like to suck on the straw from both ends, the United States declared war on the British on June 18th, 1812 and established the front for this war as being the borders of both Upper and Lower Canada. On June 19th, 1812, Mr. John Jacob Astor, an American and owner of The South West Company, which was headquartered in New York, negotiated with the governments of the two Canadas to be allowed to continue his trade for furs across the borders even though war had been declared. He was quickly given permission. One of the items Mr. Astor traded were tools made by American manufacturers. Here in Canada, we were British, unless, of course, it cost extra.

So now, if I may, I’ll rephrase the question, “Why did we, in North America, not desire pretty tools?”

I think the answer to this question can be found in the different types of societies found on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as how their respective craftsmen choose to view themselves and their positions within those societies.

From what I have read about cabinetmakers on both sides of the Atlantic during this timeframe, neither was making money hand over fist. While the daily earnings of the British craftsman were higher than that of his counterpart in the United States, he also faced a much higher cost of living, so the two equaled out, I think, surprisingly well.

In Britain, a tradesman was held to his post by the aristocratic social order and as a result he held his craft in higher regard than his equivalent in the North America. That is not to say that, as craftsmen, the British version was better than the North American, or the reverse. It is just stating, in my opinion, that, as individuals, the British craftsmen viewed their “lot in life” differently. I believe the greater emphasis British tradesmen placed on their trade Guilds, Unions and apprenticeships support this position 

In the United States, there was a completely different kind of social order. There, a man’s position was based more on what he became after he was born, rather than what he was before he took his first breath. The emphasis was less on what type of labor a man did for his living, and more on what type of living a man did with his labor. A good example to support this is residential architecture in both countries during this timeframe; the one referred to as the “Victorian Era”. During this era homes in North America were build with gingerbread fronts, fretted millwork, and large and ornate porches. Even smaller, less expensive homes were built with much of this decoration. Homes in Britain, during this same timeframe, were built, by comparison, rather restrained and remember, "Victoria" was their monarch. While North Americans painted these homes in elaborate color schemes, the more austere homes in Great Britain were painted any color you could want – as long as it was white. Another strong example of the differences in the perception regarding their trade, while unions were strong in North America, apprenticeships by the 19th century had lost a bit of their charm and Guilds were almost non-existent.

Within these differences regarding each man’s opinion of his self worth, I believe you find the answer to the question of tool styles. The British craftsmen found self-worth and self-respect within his craft. His craft was who he was. To support that opinion he insisted his tools be accented with different woods, metals and decorative materials, more ornate and therefore, more impressive, and he was more than willing to pay for those additions. To the North American craftsman, on the other hand, his tools were a means to an end and therefore he insisted on them being as utilitarian as possible and, of course, acquired as cheaply as possible.

I think the answer to all this is that, while the men were equal, they’re trades similar and the performance of their tools comparable, the societies that they lived and worked in caused them to differ in their perception of how those tools should look. To one, looks were important in recognition of his station in life, to the other, the look of his tools had little to do with his station and everything to do with his life.

Comments, please.



Tuesday 25 November 2008

What Do You Think Of The New Veritas Tools...



Sunday 23 November 2008

The Right Plane for the Job...

You have to hand it to Kari over on The Village Carpenter. When it comes to tools, she really knows her stuff. In a comment she left me she mentioned that Lee Valley produces an updated version of the Record 43 Plow Plane that she owns. She felt it might work for me rather than the Stanley #50 I was considering purchasing.

I live exactly 1.2 miles from Toronto's downtown Lee Valley store and given that I call the place "my own little porn shop", I thought I knew everything there was to know about every plane, saw, nut, and drawer slider that this company offers. Wrong again.

When I first read Kari's comment, I thought she was telling me about the new Veritas Skew Rabbet Plane and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why she would think that plane would work for the application I needed it for. I have no idea why I thought that, no idea at all. This incorrect thought kept popping in and out of my head all day long until finally I sat down to investigate what she was talking about. Ahhhh. Now I get it.

What Kari was turning me on to - ok, let me rephrase that. What Kari was suggesting to me is the Veritas Small Plow Plane. Having checked it out, she is right, as it is exactly what I need. Working on small projects means working with thin stock, and this plane comes as a set with 5 blades; 1/8", 1/4", 3/16", 5/16" and 3/8", all for $279.00 CAN, including the plane.

This plane has now been added to my Lee Valley Wish List which, my wife was shocked to discover, now scrolls for two pages.

Thanks Kari.



Thursday 20 November 2008

Stanley #50 Beading Plane

I have my eye on a Stanley #50 Beading Plane, not necessarily for the bead capability, but to use to plow out rabbets for shelf supports and drawer bottom channels. If anyone has any information regarding this plane or a different way of doing these chores, I'd really appreciate hearing from them.



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".