How likely are we to find early hand-saws identified with a given maker or having definitive characteristics to be able to assess when and where the saw was made? It is relatively clear from available writings, that from 1590 to nearly 1700, smiths in England were making saws (using wooden patterns) for sale. It isn’t until 1660 that we have evidence of a known maker and his group of smiths producing hand-saws. This is George Sitwell located at Pleasley Forge. Moxon (1680) recommended carpenters and joiners buy their saws from ironmongers in Foster Lane, London, and three others in other sections of town. He also instructed them to choose “steel” rather than “iron”. This confirms the early dependence on smiths for handsaws and increasing trend to saw sales in ironmonger shops!
London was a location of substantial sawmaking in the late 17th century and continued significant production to about 1800. Birmingham began sawmaking in about 1720 and continued production to about 1810. Sheffield established their steel industry in 1650. Saw-making was evident from about 1750 and continues to some degree to the present day. Due to the general work of smiths and their tie to the Company of Cutlers, which was established in Sheffield in 1624 for example, discriminating saw makers from cutlers is not possible. By 1787, the Sheffield Directory still only had 10 saw makers listed. Events in London are likely to have been similar to Sheffield and Birmingham. This illustrates how slowly saw making was established as a separate trade in England.
Saw blades were not marked with the type of steel until 1780 or so. A hand-saw blade stamped “Spring” and “London” meant it was of “London” quality (the best) and the steel was “spring” steel The “London Spring” marked saw was soon recognised as a top quality hand-saw.
It wasn’t until 1823 that the first integrated factory for saw making was established in Sheffield by William Greaves (Sheaf Works), and until 1843 that sawmaking became a speciality along with other toolmaking in Sheffield.
From the preceding information, it is evident that it is unlikely one would find hand-saws with an identifiable makers’ mark much before 1750. Finding such early hand-saws is additionally difficult because hand-saws were often “used up” by their owners due to the relatively high cost of the steel blades! (“Used up included cutting the narrow residual blades into scraping blades!). Due to increased systematic production and the resulting lowered cost per handsaw, the availability of handsaws generated in the 19th and 20th centuries is, of course, better.
Appeared 1997 – Toolshop Auctions Catalogue