As you may have already read here on my blog, I bought six tenon saws on eBay this summer. I have been in the process of restoring them for the past few weeks and wanted to take the time here to document a restoration from start to finish. This might take several blog posts to accomplish and will be quite picture heavy, but hopefully you will find the information helpful should you ever restore a saw of your own.
Disclaimer*** If you have an incredibly rare saw that has historical value, or if you prefer to put a rusty old tool on the shelf or on the wall to look at it and save its patina, read no further. This post is not for you. If however you have an old or vintage tool that you would like to breathe new life into and put it back to good use, read on.
Second Disclaimer*** I am not an expert. I spent a lot of time searching the web for tool restoration techniques and found all sorts of methods and procedures. Along with all of that is a lot stuff that just makes sense to me. I am writing this post to show what I am doing and share the methods that worked best for me. Hopefully my posts are useful to others who want to restore some old tools.
There are many outstanding saws available in today’s woodworking market place; Wenzloff & Sons, Lie-Nielsen, Bad Axe Toolworks, and Veritas to name just a few. So why am I using the vintage stuff? Well two reasons really, first being that the new saws are expensive. I don’t mean to imply that they are over-priced, frankly considering that a good saw is a lifetime tool, they are quite reasonable. But we are still talking about $175 – $400 per saw.
Secondly, I just find something rewarding in taking an old tool (something that someone finds in their shed and thinks is rusty old junk) and restoring it to a state of usefulness. Some of my saws have multiple owner’s stamps. One saw has owner’s marks for both a R. Cunningham and a P. Cunningham. Perhaps this was a father and son? I think that it is kind of cool to think that several generations of woodworkers have used these tools before me. Who knows what these tools have seen and done previously? Am I anthropomorphizing my tools again?
Here is the saw that I am going to restore:
I bought this saw on eBay UK for £5.00 and paid an additional £5.50 for shipping. That works out to approximately $16.27. A bargain if you ask me.
The spine is stamped:
Cast Steel Sheffield Warranted
From what I can find online, this dates the saw to between 1859 and 1876. It was made by Turner, Naylor, & Co. using the trade mark “I. Sorby” They apparently only used the “Castle Hill” between 1859 and 1876. It is older than I originally thought, my uneducated guess had been 1890-1910. In case you haven’t already seen it, Backsaw.net is a fantastic resource for this sort of information,.
Here are a few more “before” photos:
Overall, I think that this is a beautiful looking saw. The tote looks hand carved and nothing like modern mass-produced saw handles. Sure it has some dings and a few chips from the horns and the hook, but they are minor and I think that they add character more than they detract from the look of the saw. I was nervous about the split nuts, they look quite delicate and easy to break during removal. Anyway, enough about the saw… on to the restoration.
The First Step – Remove the Tote
You will have to make the call whether or not you want to do this. Old brass split nuts are delicate and you should not remove them if you not have to. The brass is very soft and can easily be striped of its threads if you are not very, very careful. In my case, the saw was covered in rust and grime and the tote needed to be completely cleaned and refinished. I knew that I would not be able to restore the saw in the way that I wanted to unless I completely disassembled it. Also, if done right, my hope is that I never have to remove the tote again in my lifetime.
To remove the brass saw nuts you will need a few things. To clean out the slots in the split nuts I used a common dental pick. You can easily find these from any place that sells gun cleaning supplies. You could always use something similar if you don’t have a one of these, but I think that they are a worthwhile purchase. Mine get used a lot.
The next thing that you will need is a split nut driver. Fear not, you don’t have to buy one, they are easy enough to make. I took an old flat head screw driver and modified it. First I flattened, cleaned, and smoothed the two faces on some sand paper glued to a granite block. Then, using a round file, I filed an arch into the end of the blade. This gap is necessary for the screwdriver to bridge the bolt where it pierces the split nut. It sounds complicated but it’s very easy when you see the picture.
The last thing that I needed was a needle file set. I don’t recall where I got my set as I have had them for some time. They were very cheap and for most uses they are complete junk. However, for filing really soft metals like aluminium, brass, gold, or silver, they do well. Here’s my set:
First you need to clean all of the dirt out of the slots in the split nuts with the dental pick. Sometimes even after cleaning them out, I find that they’re not deep enough or well-defined enough for the split nut driver to bite into or get any purchase. If that’s the case, then select one of your needle files that will cut on its edge and very carefully try to deepen the slot. Once I had done this, I used the split nut driver to loosen the nuts. I found that the brass was very soft and that I had to use a fair amount of downward pressure to not deform and ruin the slot.
Once I had removed the three split nuts, tried to push the bolts out from the nut side. They were quite stuck in place, seeing as they probably had not been removed for about 145 years. I can’t overstate how soft this brass is. You do not want to tap on them with a steel hammer as they will deform or break. I used a small hardwood dowel as a punch and, with a small hammer, lightly taped the bolts out of the tote.
Here are the saw nut that were just removed:
Once the saw nuts are removed, you can separate the tote from the saw plate. Go slowly and don’t force it. These things have been stuck together for a long time and there is likely considerable crud holding them together.
All right! I got it apart and nothing is broken.
In my next post, I will address the method that I used to clean the saw plate and spine.