Tool Restoration – I. Sorby Tenon Saw – Part 4

This is part four of my restoration of an I. Sorby tenon saw.

For part one, you can read my earlier post by clicking here.
For part two, you can read my earlier post by clicking here.
For part three, you can read my earlier post by clicking here.

The next step is to re-finish the saw handle (or tote).  One of the things that I really like about these old saws is they have character.  I like the little nicks and dings and the previous owners stamps.  They show the history of the tool.  I don’t want to make this saw look brand new as it would remove all of that.  I do however want to remove all of the old cruddy finish, the dirt, and the grime.  As you can see below this tote even has specs of various coloured paint all over it.

The saw tote has a lot of dirt, grime, and even paint on it.

The saw tote has a lot of dirt, grime, and even paint on it.

This tote has chips missing from the lamb’s tongue, the hook, and both the top and bottom horns, but nothing too bad, and nothing that looks out-of-place on a 140 year old tool.  I am not going to repair or replace these.  That said, I do want to clean it up and add an oil and wax finish to protect and beautify the wood.

Here is the saw tote as it was when removed from the saw.

Here is the saw tote as it was when removed from the saw.

To remove the old finish, I gave the whole tote a light sanding.  I started with 120 grit and followed that up with a second sanding at 220 grit.  This takes a considerable amount of time.  Maybe I’m just slow, but I bet I spent nearly two hours cautiously sanding the tote.  I was careful not to sand to deep.  Again, I didn’t want to remove all the dings and owner’s stamps, just get it cleaned up and ready for finish.

The tote has received a light sanding to remove dirt, grime, and old cracked finish.

The tote has received a light sanding to remove dirt, grime, and old cracked finish.

The reverse side cleaned and sanded to 220 grit.

The reverse side cleaned and sanded to 220 grit.

Once I had the tote cleaned and sanded, I used my air compressor to blow any remaining dust off.  Its now ready for finish.

I have been using Watco Danish Oil lately and have become a big fan of the product.  It is easy to apply and when followed up with wax, leaves a nice finish.  My only gripe about it is the cure time.  I live in the coastal pacific northwest, it doesn’t get very hot (mid 60’s most of the summer) and the humidity generally stays around 90%.  I have found that in my cool damp environment, Watco takes about three days to cure.  From what I have read online, some people in drier warmer states like Arizona say that it cures in a day or less.  I’m not a fan of the heat or the desert, so I’ll keep my cool weather and green forests and wait three days.

Watco Danish Oil is a blend of oil finish (like boiled linseed oil), varnish, and thinner.  In what proportions, and with what other extras, is their proprietary blend.  You can make your own similar finish if you want to using about 1/3 boiled linseed oil, 1/3 varnish, and 1/3 mineral spirits or naphtha.  You can experiment with these and find what works best for you.  I find that Watco is inexpensive enough that I’m happy sticking with their off-the-shelf product.  Watco is not designed to leave a film on top of the wood.  It soaks into the wood and cures there.  This means that it does not create a barrier like polyurethane does and therefore does not offer as much protection.  What Danish Oil does offer is a deeper finish that does not look plasticky and is very easy to touch up any time.  A light sanding and another coat of Watco will quickly refresh a finish.

An important thing to understand about oil/varnish blends like Watco, is that they don’t cure through evaporation.  Other types of finishes, like shellac, or some lacquers cure when the thinner that caries them evaporates leaving behind just the finish.   The oil and varnish portion of Watco cures through oxidation and this takes time.  As I said, where I live, that can take up to three days.  The good news is, since it is not a film finish, I don’t have to worry about dust settling in the finish and I can continue woodworking even when I have parts curing in the shop.

Before I start with the finish, I need to have some sort of stand to hang the tote on while it dries.  I found that a #2 square drive hex bit works great.  The square bit fits perfectly into the bolt holes on my tote.  I drilled a hole in a scrap bit of 2×4 and put the bit in it.  I also used this method when I was refinishing all of the knobs and totes of my Stanley bench planes.

A number 2 square drive bit in a block of scrap wood works great for holding the tote while finishing.

A number 2 square drive bit in a block of scrap wood works great for holding the tote while finishing.

One last thing before I move on to the finishing.  Now that the saw tote is all cleaned up and sanded, I think it looks too pale. The darkening of the tote on a 140 year old saw is only natural and I think that it wouldn’t look right if left blonde.  I didn’t want to stain the tote and then finish it, so I found a tinted Danish oil.  I looked at all of the types available at my local hardware stores the selection was about the same at each.  One store had a colour sample brochure for Watco and one of the versions listed was their red mahogany Danish oil.   I thought that it looked the best of all of them, but none of the stores carried that colour.  I found it on amazon and ordered it online.

Here’s the tote ready to be finished.  I applied the finish with a horse hair glue brush.

After sanding, the tote is ready to be re-finished. I applied the Danish Oil with an acid brush.

After sanding, the tote is ready to be re-finished. I applied the Danish Oil with a glue brush.

It really soaks up the finish, especially on the edges which for the most part are end grain.

Watco Danish Oil being applied to a saw tote.

Start brushing on the finish and keep adding it.

Keep adding finish.

Watco Danish Oil being applied to a saw tote.

Keep adding finish and keep the surface wet.

Watco Danish Oil being applied to a saw tote.

The tote soaks up a lot of finish.

This old tote sure sucked up a lot of finish.  I found that no sooner had I brushed it on, than I needed to add more.  My goal was to saturate it until it wanted no more.  It took a little while but eventually the surface stayed wet.

Watco Danish Oil being applied to a saw tote.

The saw tote was saturated and kept wet for 15 minutes.

As time went on, I added more finish less and less frequently until the surface remained wet.  I then let it sit like that for 15 minutes.   Oil finishes need to be completely wiped off the surface before allowing them to dry.  If you leave a wet surface the oil will gum up and wont cure properly.  So, once it had set wet for about 15 minutes, I wiped the excess finish off.

After about 15 minutes wipe of all excess finish from the surface.

After about 15 minutes wipe of all excess finish from the surface.

Above, you can see how the tote looked once wiped down.  It looks rather red in the above image but the colour mellowed as it dried.  I put a lot of finish into this tote and I wanted it to cure before I applied the next coat.  I let it sit for five days before I continued.  Here’s how it looked five days later:

A saw tote after the 1st coat of Watco Danish Oil

Five days later the finish had cured.

The second coat will soak in much less and takes less time to apply.  I have found that the trick to getting great results with Danish oil is to sand in the subsequent coats.  I sanded in the second coat using 400 grit wet/dry paper.  I cut a small piece, dunked it in the finish and applied it.  The fine sanding further smooths the tote and the fine wood dust mixes with the finish filling any small scratches or divots.

Danish Oil finish being sanded into a saw tote.

The second coat of Danish oil is applied with 400 grit sandpaper.

I sanded in the finish, letting it soak in as I went, and then wiped of any excess from the surface.  I let the tote dry for two more days.

A tenon saw tote that has been refinished with Watco Danish Oil Red Mahogany color.

Here is the tote after the second coat of finish has dried for two days.

Reverse view of a tenon saw tote that has been refinished with Watco Danish Oil Red Mahogany color.

Here is a view from the other side.

It’s looking better , but it still had a rather dull appearance.  I’m not looking for gloss, you wont get that from a Danish oil, but it should take on and even sheen or luster without any blotchy-ness.  The third coat of finish is applied with 600 grit wet/dry paper.  I applied the third coat and let the tote dry for three days.  Here’s how it looked when dry:

A tenon saw tote that has been refinished with Watco Danish Oil Red Mahogany color.

The third coat is sanded in with 600 grit sandpaper and allowed to dry for three days.

The even sheen is starting to show.  One more coat should do it.  As before I applied the finish with 600 grit wet/dry paper, wiped of the excess and let the tote dry for two days.  Here’s how it looked:

A tenon saw tote that has been refinished with Watco Danish Oil Red Mahogany color.

The fourth coat was sanded in with 600 grit paper and allowed to dry for two days.

I think we have a winner.  I’m happy with this.  The finish has built to a nice luster and because of all that 600 grit sanding, is smooth as silk.  Little particles of dust may have stuck to the finish as it was drying, but as I said earlier, it doesn’t matter because you sand them away with each new coat.  To remove any remaining dust nibs or imperfections, I buff the tote with 0000 steel wool before applying finishing wax.

A tenon saw tote that will be waxed after finishing with danish oil.

After four coats of Danish oil, the tote is ready for a buff and wax.

I used Minwax Paste Finishing Wax because that is what I had on hand.  I use it to coat the tops of my table saw and jointer and also as a protective coating (in combination with jojoba oil) on most of my hand tools.

To apply the wax I first scraped around the edges of the can with a screwdriver to loosen up some of the wax.

Scrape a little wax for easy removal from the can.

Scrape a little wax for easy removal from the can.

Then I took some of  the wax from the can and placed it in the middle of a piece of paper towel.

Put a small amount of paste wax onto a piece of paper towel.

Put a small amount of paste wax onto a piece of paper towel.

I made sure that I had a double layer of towel around the wax and then balled it up to form an applicator.

Ball up the wax in a double layer of paper towel.

Ball up the wax in a double layer of paper towel.

Heat the wax to start melting it into the paper towel applicator.  I used a lighter to do this but a candle would work just as well.

Warm the wax over a lighter or candle.

Warm the wax over a lighter or candle.

The wax will start to melt and soak into the paper towel.

The wax will start to melt and soak into the paper towel.

The wax will start to melt and soak into the paper towel.

Keep heating the applicator ball to be sure that the wax is ready to apply.   Be careful!  If you get the flame to close to paper soaked in hot liquid wax, you get a much bigger flame.  You don’t want this.

Heat the wax a little more to make it easy to apply. Don't get the flame to close or the whole thing goes up in smoke real quick.

Heat the wax a little more to make it easy to apply. Don’t get the flame to close or the whole thing goes up in smoke real quick.

Once the paper towel applicator ball is wet with hot wax. apply a coat of wax to the tote.  It goes on nice and easy and fills any of the remaining dings and divots in the tote.

While the wax is still hot, quickly apply a coat to the whole tote.

While the wax is still hot, quickly apply a coat to the whole tote.

I keep wiping the wax until I have a nice even coat.  You don’t want to get it too thick or it wont buff up well later.

Apply the wax until you have a nice even coat.

Apply the wax until you have a nice even coat.

After you have applied the wax, wait a minute or two for it to dry a little.  The tote will have a slightly dull appearance at this point.

Once the wax is applied, it will leave a slightly dull finish. Wait a minute or two before buffing.

Once the wax is applied, it will leave a slightly dull finish. Wait a minute or two before buffing.

After waiting a couple of minutes, start to buff the tote with a clean piece of paper towel.

Buff the wax off with a clean piece of paper towel.

Buff the wax off with a clean piece of paper towel.

The tote starts to take on a slight shine.

The tote starts to take on a slight shine.

I then switch the paper towel for a piece of scrap cloth and finish buffing the tote.

I switch to a piece of cloth to finish buffing out the wax.

I switch to a piece of cloth to finish buffing out the wax.

And here it is… the finished tote.

Here is the tote completely restored.

Here is the tote completely restored.

I love the way it came out.  The red mahogany Danish oil gave it just enough warm brown tones to keep that vintage look.  It still looks old and shows a few battle scars, but the sanded-on coats of Danish oil, combined with the steel wool buffing and the paste wax make it as smooth as silk to hold.  It’s exactly what I was hoping for.  I couldn’t be happier with the results.

Wow… this was a long post!

In my next entry I will re-assemble the saw and file in new teeth.

About Jonathan

I am a woodworker and hand tool restorer / collector. I buy too many tools and don't build enough - I need help!
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One Response to Tool Restoration – I. Sorby Tenon Saw – Part 4

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