Handsaws are a vital part of any hand tool shop. They are like the main artery in a body, without them the shop would not be around. I like to have multiple saws ready and available for use at any time for any job or task. These could get expensive if I had purchased all of my saws brand new. This is a reason I like to search around and find used saws to restore. They are cheaper and I get to put my hands on them (most of the time) before buying. So where can you find used hand saws? They are almost everywhere! A good place to start is going to a local antique store. Sometimes, however, the dealers want an arm and a leg for a saw so this might not be the cheapest place. I always like going to find saws at yard sales and estate sales. At these places you can haggle the seller down usually on price and come out on top. I try not to spend more than $10 on a saw, unless it is special or extremely old. Another option is looking at online auctions like eBay. I’ve seen handsaws all over the scale for prices so you have to know your saws fairly well. One thing I like about eBay is that a lot of sellers put together “lots” of handsaws. When you win one of these you will usually get more than a few handsaws to play with.
What To Look For
As you are looking at purchasing a handsaw, you need to know what to look for. The first thing to look at is the teeth. This is a basic pass/fail for me. If it has missing/broken teeth it is almost not worth it the purchase. On a side note, I double check to make sure it is not a saw of any major value before leaving it behind. If it has any missing/broken teeth you have to joint the blade and file in new teeth. This can be very time consuming and if it is your first saw this can be a very daunting task. Nonetheless, it can be done and that is why I double check its age. The next thing I look at is the blade to see if it has any kinks or signs of hammer marks from kinks being removed. I had a saw once that had a kink removed (visible hammer marks) and after using for a month or two it folded right where the kink used to be. Poor sawing technique or weak area in the blade, not sure which, but that saw did not last. Another slight aspect to look at is the handle or tote. Cracks or damage to the tote can be repaired, but if you are looking for a quick user saw keep in mind you might have to make a new handle. As you move to looking at the handle, occasionally you can I.D. the age of the saw from the medallion. Disston saws have an entire webpage (disstonianinstitute.com) talking about their medallions and I’ve found this useful on a couple occasions.
On To The Restoration!
Where do you start on a restoration? Obviously the easiest and lesser time consuming spot, the handle. Gather some sandpaper from 60 grit to 220 grit (higher if you wish). Start off by removing all the old stuff and lacquer that was sprayed on at the factory. Remember, sand in the direction of the grain. After making quick work removing material with the 60 grit I try to finish off with 120 and then 220 to get a great feeling handle. For a finish you can use almost anything you like. I use a Watco Danish Oil. Usually 2-3 coats are applied due to the handle being dried out from non use. Finally a coat of paste wax finishes up the handle and gives it an ultra baby butt smooth feeling.
After getting the handle finished I like to move onto the hardware. This makes for a quick transition between the handle and the blade. I usually use a scotch brite pad and it takes most of the crud away. A brush is always handy to have on hand in case you need to get into the lettering area on medallions. 1000 grit sandpaper puts a nice finishing touch on the hardware and takes most of the scratches out of the metal. Granted the hardware probably won’t look brand new, but it does look shinier, and everyone loves shinny things!
Set the handle and the hardware to the side and get your scrubbing arms ready because you will need every ounce of energy for this. Working on the blade is the final stage of this restoration and also where everything comes together and the feeling of accomplishment is felt. You will need 120 or higher grit sandpaper to start, a block of wood, rags, and even some water if you use wet/dry sandpaper. One thing you have to remember about this stage…DON’T MESS UP THE ETCH! Destroying the etch is very easy to do (trust me on this one) and once it is gone, it’s gone. So how do you not mess it up? It’s easy as long as you ALWAYS use the block of wood and some higher grit sandpaper, say around 500. If the dirt, rust, and debris doesn’t come off and the etch is still in tact, move to a lower grit. Just keep an eye on it and if it starts to fade, stop immediately. For the rest of the saw it doesn’t matter if you use the block or not. Actually, using your fingers will get deeper in the metal in some areas and clean a little better. Go through the different grits until you get up to 500 grit. At this point the blade should be looking shinier, cleaner, and ready for reassembly.
Handsaws are an important part of a handtool shop and buying used saws can help keep the cost down. With just a few easy steps to refinish the saws you will be able to buy and get the saws into use right away. As for sharpening the saws, that is a whole other story and article/video. First you need to have a saw vise!
Until next time……