Handsaw Penance

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time salvaging boards from our old barn to build tree forts.  We had a pail of tools that we kids were allowed to use–it contained nails in random sizes, a couple claw hammers, a crow bar, and an old Warranted Superior backsaw.  These tools got dropped out of trees, stepped on, and left out in the pasture overnight, but somehow most of them survived for many years.

When I got married and moved away, I took a few household tools with me.  On a whim, I took that old backsaw, too.  When I started working wood in earnest, I realized how pathetically dull the saw was, so I looked up a local saw sharpening service and took it in, mentioning that it needed to be both sharpened and set.  When I got it back, the toothline looked odd. They had set the teeth in a wavy pattern, or maybe a bad imitation of a skip-tooth pattern.  “Heck,” I thought to myself, “I could do a better job than this.”  I ordered a triangular file and a saw set the same week.

My poor, abused backsaw getting one more sharpening.

Thus started my handsaw penance.

Mercifully, none of the teeth broke when I re-set them.  I tried sharpening them, but the teeth came out in different sizes, so I downloaded a template, printed it off, and taped it to the saw plate.  Shaping the teeth was still difficult, but when I was done, the saw cut better than it ever did when I was a kid.

Aesthetically, the saw still looks terrible.  The nuts are a mess from when I first tried to remove the handle.  A piece of the tote near the spine is split off.  There is light pitting and other rust marks all over the plate and spine.  One day I was cutting dadoes with the saw, and the sharp edges of the tote kept digging into my hand, so I pulled out a rasp and file and eased all the edges, leaving the tote distinctly two-toned.  Yet despite all the rough handling, the saw still tracks well, and I’ve been using it to cut tenons for my new tool chest.

I don’t really enjoy saw sharpening, but I suppose I tolerate it partly because I feel like I’m making up for my youthful abuse of tools, especially hand saws.  And I’d like to think this backsaw’s days of being dropped out of trees are over.

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5 Responses to Handsaw Penance

  1. Don says:

    A nice read – having a tool from your childhood, especially one you have refurbed and can make good use of now is a special thing. Everytime you use it, I suspect you’ll get a small glipse of your youth. Hopefully, it will serve many more years to you as a viable adult tool than the abuse it suffered when you were a kid. If it were me, I’d keep it from rusting and wood from rotting, but never refinish it.

    • That’s more or less my plan. I’ll sharpen it a few more times, and then it will be a little too short to serve as a proper tenon saw. Then I’ll hang it up on the wall as a reminder of how much a decent tool can do.

  2. Pingback: Reclaim, Restore, Redeem

  3. pcNielsen says:

    My grandfather showed me how to do this once when I was in junior high and bought a miter box for $8 at a garage sale. I’ve tried it once since with moderate success, but need to give the miter box some proper attention again soon.

  4. Pingback: A New Tenon Saw to Match | The Literary Workshop Blog

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