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Recycling an Old Hand Saw

COMMENT ADDED 7-08-04 - This was an incredibly fun project to do - I would highly encourage any fan of old saws to tackle making some of their own!  It was so much fun, I've gone and bought myself a whole gaggle of old saws that I can mine for steel and saw nuts....
Note: Notes formatted in this fashion were made later. in hindsight when I had a chance to reflect back on what had gone right or wrong.  I thought it would serve both myself and anyone else reading this better to learn from my mistakes and comment on them, than just to pass over them.  This seems like the easiest way to accomplish that.

I seem to be on a hand saw kick as of late...  I've done a piece on restoring an old hand saw to useable again, so I guess its only fitting that I do something on what you do with saws that are too far gone or otherwise seemingly worthless.  It is such a waste to throw a handsaw away because its getting too narrow, or the handle is uncomfortable, missing or broken, or you have too many (is that possible?) and just want to get rid of some of the lesser saws you have.

The original saw

This is an unremarkable "Warranted Superior" saw I've had in my possession for some time, and never used much:

It's too narrow along its entire length for my tastes, the handle is uncomfortable - it has no redeeming qualities in my mind, past having some good steel.  I thought once (briefly) that I might restore it, but there isn't really enough blade left to bother, and you have to consider that it never was any sort of valuable saw, nor will it ever be.  Before you go throwing something like this away, consider the possibilities...  old hand saws make great scrapers, and you can shape them however you like.  The blade can also be cut up into scratch stock.  I'm planning both of these for another old saw I own that has steel too hard for itself - I break more teeth on it every time I try set it (some teeth are hard, some bend too easy - very poor steel for a saw), so it never will make a good saw, but will make for good scraper and scratch stock material.  This one has good steel for saws, so I will convert it into smaller saws.

What to make, and where to get the pattern?

Compass and keyhole saws are narrow bladed saws used for cutting radiuses, and are an excellent choice for this project. I will be making 2 compass/keyhole saws, a larger and a smaller version.  That will still leave me about 7 inches of blade from the donor saw.  On the carving details I did for our kitchen, I had to use a router for the stopped grooves where I inlet some contrasting pieces of wood.  A hand plane doesn't work too well for a stopped groove - where an old fashioned saw called a "stair" saw would work excellently.  Many wood stairs are built by inletting the step and riser into dadoes/grooves in a board stringer that is mounted directly to the wall, with none of the 2x12 stepped stringers that are so common today.  Before the days of the router, a craftsman used a stair saw to accomplish these cuts.  

The blade of a stair saw is also adjustable for depth simply by loosening the saw nuts and moving the blade within the body of the saw (you can use the body of saw as a depth stop), allowing for sawing to a consistent depth.  The blades, therefore, require each bolt hole be slotted to allow for this adjustment.

But where to find the pattern?  All you really need is a photo shot straight on. There are several outlets available on the web.  EBay is always a good source for photos, and you can look at,, and often there are craftsman that might post their work on the web too.  Here's what I found for this project:

These are the three patterns I started with.  The bottom is a photo of a Disston stair saw with a 6" blade courtesy of (I hope they don't mind me borrowing it for this - they have an excellent site that is a must see for every hand saw enthusiast), and the top photos are from saws sold on eBay. I'm not sure of the maker of the top right saw, but I believe it to be either E.C. Atkins or Disston.  There were many, many saw makers during the latter half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth to select from.  The top left is a classic design (french?) of a stair saw with a 5" blade, probably made by the original user...  kind of like what I'm doing.  The swoop of the handle is common among coach maker's planes, too, so it may have its roots there.  

Another option for patterns is to freehand them - but with so many beautiful saws out there already, with so much experience behind them, I thought this time I would just use existing saws as patterns.  On the next saw handle I do, while I do plan on using an existing handle as a pattern, I plan on embellishing it, and exaggerating some of its features.  But that's for another project.  The only embellishing these saws will get is from some chip carving I'll to add to them.

I didn't find the pattern for the fourth saw until later:

This image is also off of eBay.  Why didn't I find it with the others, before I started?  To be truthful, I wasn't sure of the size of the saw blade I would have left over from the first one.  I waited until I knew, then went off in search of a handle to fit the size blade I had remaining.  This last one was by a saw maker from the mid 1800's some time that I hadn't heard of before, and of course I didn't save the information.  So if there is any tip here, it's to save the info - it would have been an interesting tidbit of info to keep with the saw.  

I found where I got the image - here is the text that came with it:  "An early Albany, N.Y. saw maker. William B. Gregory worked circa 1850-1857. His factory was called the "Albany Saw Manufactory". Beech handle with split saw nuts. Original blade is generally bright stamped "Wm. B. Gregory & Co., Albany, Cast Steel, Warranted" (see photo). Part of mark is weak, but this is the same mark as reported in the "Directory of American Toolmakers"."