One never knows! (On restoring an old handsaw)

These days, people often seem startled when I explain I like going somewhere without planning the outcome. A flea market is a great example for this. When I visit a flea market, all I know is that I always like the atmosphere. I don’t expect to take something home, in fact: I often leave empty handed. While poking and rummaging through the items on display, there is always this sense of ‘maybe’ or ‘who knows’, sometimes I feel lucky and surprised when I find some treasure.

Old and dirty handsaw

This time it was an old tool, a handsaw. Abused, rusty, dirty and shabby but not broken. As a woodworker I felt two conflicting emotions when I picked up this saw: anger and awe. My estimation is that this saw was produced in the decennial after world war II, during the 50’s or there about. The post-war steel industry needed to restructure and re-think their activities which meant changing from weapons production to tools manufacturing. The saw in my hand at the flea market most probably went from the original owner to the next and probably even several times, as the saw tells me: not all of them were real ‘old school’ craftsmen. I drew that conclusion from the neglect and abuse which was visible: cement and paint blots and blunt teeth from biting nails (no teeth were broken or missing). But I also recognised the beauty underneath: skew back plate with a etched logo, hardwood comfortable shaped and beautifully signed handle, brass nuts.. A tool that must have brought pride to the owner who bought this in the first place. All these thoughts were tumbling through my mind in a matter of seconds.

And then I looked up into the eyes of the flea market seller. A senior gentleman, trading odd bits and pieces, looking at ‘that thing’ in my hands.. “Eight Euro” he claimed. That is an other part that I like about flea market: haggling and bargaining. I returned my eyes to the saw and I’m sure I must have had a sad look in my eyes because without my calling for a lower price, the price went down: “Six Euro”, I heard.. I looked up and said I’d give Five Euro straight which sealed the deal.

Smoothing the handsaw handle

And so I went, an old shabby saw in hand, waiting for some tlc – tender loving care.

My first step was to carefully remove the brass nuts and take off the handle. I put those aside for later and focussed on the steel blade first. I roughly cleaned the blade with a steel brush but

the cement would not loosen, so I tried to scrape that off (to little or no effect). To remove the rust, I decided to buy a large can of table vinegar which I rubbed in with steel wool for 5 to 10 minutes, also to little effect. But that was expected, it took years to build this amount of rust and I should not expect to remove it simply in half an hour. So I wrapped the blade in the newspaper and put it in a plastic garbage-bag, then I soaked the newspaper completely and wrapped the bag close and left it for the night to infiltrate the rust on the blade.

Fresh first sawcut

After 24 hours, I was able to remove all rust easily with steel wool, carefully trying to keep as much of the etched logo as I could. And it paid off: I found out I bought a Swedish brand: “Stridsberg & Biork” 275P. I was not able to find much about the history of this firm, but it seems to have been founded in 1868 as a saw- and knife manufacturer. Shortly after, the production was moved to another location (Trollh√§ttan) in 1879 where a watermill was used to help forge the blades. (all fixtures and machines together with all workers and their families were shipped off on two leased boats to the new location)

Anyway, time to focus on the saw handle next! Blotted paint and greasy hands had done their part, this saw definitely was worn out on construction sites during some time of it’s life! I sanded carefully to remove most of the dirt, stains and the old varnish.

I tried to keep as much of the ornamental engravings in the wood as possible. Once clean, I coated the handle with three layers of shellac. The brass nuts and bolts were next for some careful polishing until shining like new. Once all that was done, the saw could be put back together and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!..

Before I could hang it in the saw till to my other saws, there was one final step to do: sharpening and setting the teeth of the saw. I did this carefully with a fine saw file, making sure to clamp the saw securely over the full length of it’s blade. Once sharp, I could do the final step: setting the teeth. I used an old saw-set and made sure to set the teeth with minimal set, just as I like it.

‘She’ saws snappy and crisp, just beautiful and ready to the task and I will rip a lot of wood with this fine saw!

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