Tools for sale 

Introduction to Saws

Philip Walker

Saws form an important category of cutting tools which seem rather overlooked by collectors. The major reason for this relative neglect is probably the scarcity of good historical examples to inspire interest and to establish a sound comparative framework for appraising and dating other specimens. The scarcity of examples is perhaps only to be expected with a tool the essential part of which is a thin plate or strip of metal that can easily be rendered useless through cracking or buckling, and then, once abandoned from regular use, soon succumbs to corrosion.

Saws, of a sort, have been in use for a very long time, if one regards any tool which cuts by abrading with a row of teeth as a saw, then they have been around since the Stone Age. This is evidenced not only by single stones with roughly serrated edges but by pieces of wood or other material into which a row of small flints have been set. Some would say that these tools cannot be saws since they cannot clear their own path and thus be able, for example, to saw a plank off a balk of timber. But if I were a Stone-Age man who had spent the last fortnight trying to detach a greenwood pole from a tree by bending it backwards and forwards, I would call such a tool a saw and be glad of it.

Later in the Copper, Bronze and Iron Ages, metal blades with, either teeth set out sideways, or back edge thinned down, so that they could clear their own path, were developed. The problem was preventing the metal from buckling if an open blade was pushed. It really mystifies me that this has been such a problem when there seem to be two simple and effective solutions. One, pulling the blade towards the user, is still adopted by the Japanese and others. The other method, holding the blade in tension, is preferred by many of our European neighbours. This is usually done by fixing the blade into some sort of wooden frame which stretches it by means of wedge or twisted cord.

Either of the ‘tension’ methods enables much thinner blades to be used, with the resultant saving of labour and wood (sawdust). Since anyone (even a Briton, ancient or modern) who has tried two-man cross-cutting knows that you must only pull, never push, or who, having broken fret-saw blades, knows that they must be kept taut, it surprises me that so much effort has been put into devising ways of pushing an open blade. Of course, if the obvious methods had been relied upon, we should not have even the finely made, skew-backed, taper-ground, incremental-toothed, 5-screwed, etched-plate, carved-handle, handsaw to add to our collections.

Appeared 1996 – Toolshop Auctions Catalogue

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