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Hand Saws
Miter mak’r…

November 16, 2012

I love old hand tools.(Hell, I like the new ones too!)

But the antiques and vintage lot always seem to have a bit more of a story to tell. Maybe that comes with age?

This past summer, my Uncle (Wipper) asked me if I wanted an old miter-box he had in his work shop. It wasn’t seeing any use for a decade or two and belonged to an older family member before that. I didn’t find a name on the miter box/sled but the saw is a vintage Disston. My best guess for the miter box is either a Craftsman or Millers Falls.  Not quite an antique but my guess is maybe 1960’s, 70’s? If you know the make on this one please chime in and leave a comment.  The saw plate is 26-in. long and there’s still 3 7/8-in. under the back.

Since returning to the city in September, I’ve been waiting to scrape away a bit of the rust and see if this ‘ol dog was still  ‘workable’. Since finishing off the wood working portion of the new book, I actually had an hour last night and a half day today to start the miter make-over. My goal isn’t to completely re-build this thing but more to see if it can be restored to working order and put it back to good use here in the wood shop.

Vintage tools are great to find, but sometimes they’re better left alone.  This one has some bad rust but it looks like the blade is still straight and with a bit of work, it should be a daily user. A good cleaning and then some oil will determine if any of the parts are broken or seized.

To begin, I remove the saw plate and clean the rust off. The saw nuts are tight but with a little elbow grease they come loose. Once the tote is removed, you can see the line of surface rust that needs to be removed. Enter the realm of green death.  I call it green death but it’s a rust remover that seems to work pretty well. I’ve used it before on vintage hand tools and it works. The label says for chrome but it does the job on steel as well. The rust remover is applied and using an abrasive pad, the plate is well worked over.

Ten minutes later, the green gel is left to dry and then the saw plate will be well rinsed with water and quickly oiled. I use Jojoba oil on all of my hand tools.

Besides a few deep pock marks in the steel, the plate came out pretty well. From here I turn my attention to the tote. It really isn’t anything special as far as the shape goes, but I scrape away the old finish still remaining and ease some of the grip areas to better fit my hand.  A rasp, file and finally a bit of sand paper and the tote is ready for some oil.

With the aesthetic elements complete on the saw itself, I dismantle the miter box and give it a good cleaning.

From there, the oiled parts are covered and the body is painted with black enamel spray paint. A quick coat outdoors and I let it dry for an hour before re-assembling.

With the miter box painted I turn my attention to the most important part of the equation. The saw blade. It hasn’t been sharpened in decades and the teeth are in pretty bad shape. To begin, I joint the teeth will a mill bastard file. This gradually brings the teeth down to the same height and I do my best to level out the run over the length of the blade.

Once the blade is jointed, the teeth need to be shaped. This is done with the blade in a saw vise and beginning from one side of the blade, the teeth are formed. I file every other tooth down one side of the blade and then turn it in the vise and do the opposite side. This step isn’t sharpening but only reshaping the badly worn teeth of this old back-saw.

The saw file is held at 15 degrees off of the center line of the saw blade. Once the teeth are shaped the blade is lightly jointed again and the entire process is repeated but this time using a lighter stroke and I’m concentrating on sharpening and not just shaping.

The photo above shows the blade after one side was shaped. The blade is rotated in the vise and the opposite side is dressed.

After the saw is sharp I set the teeth. This is about an 11 TPI (teeth per inch) and I adjust my saw set to the required setting and working every other tooth, I move down each side of the blade to finish the job.

After the saw teeth are set I reassemble the parts and take a few test cuts- success! The saw cut fairly quickly and left a pretty decent kerf behind. I’m far from a saw sharpening expert but this is definitely an improvement.

The miter box is re-assembled and a few more test cuts are made.

A few hours spent restoring this vintage miter-box and saw was worth the effort. Vintage tools can often be found for little or nothing and with a bit of time spent cleaning and tuning, you can have yourself a working hand tool in no time at all.


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