FAQ's

Q. What is the purpose of the bump on the end of the saw blade?

nib

A. It's called a nib, and discussions about its purpose, or lack thereof, have taken on the qualities of theological debate. One side says the nib had no practical purpose after 1693 A.D., but it may have before that date. Another side says nibs have always been ornamental and nothing else. A third group says the nib had an absolute purpose when it was invented, but, beginning in the 18th century, no one remembered what that purpose was, and further, we cannot agree what that purpose was either, but here is my theory.... The reason for the nib debate is the same as that for arguments among biblical scholars: there were no security cameras to document the events as they took place, and all records were generated long after the principal actors were dead.

Disston and Sons published an explanation in their Lumberman Handbook stating:

The "Nib" near the end of a hand saw has no practical use whatever, it merely serves to break the straight line of the back of blade [sic] and is an ornamentation only.
Carpenters have used the nib to hold a string that ties a blade guard over the teeth (probably a "found" use for the nib, not its reason for being). Some have started a cut by notching the wood with the nib (saw teeth do a better job of that). Speculators have speculated that saw makers tested hardness of the steel on the nib. Some have said early handsaws had an auxiliary handle near the toe to guide the flexible saws and prevent them from bending. The nib is said by them to be a vestigial handle which had become ornamental. At last count there were 117 recorded reasons, uses, or causes for the saw nib. I have heard nearly all and am not particularly committed to any of them. Please do not email your pet theory about saw nibs unless it is really funny.

Q. very old 1920? marked $ 2.50 under the name - any idea what it could sell for today? thanks for your response.

A. No response. (I don't appraise tools.)

Q. Why is there an 8 stamped on the blade on the same side as the etching, toward the toothed edge, about halfway between the teeth and the handle, about an inch in. nib

A. The stamped number 8 is the number of tooth points per inch. The most popular crosscut handsaw was 8 ppi. 5.5 ppi was the most popular rip saw. The number of points per inch could range from four to twelve.

Q. Wondering if you could please give me any information on a saw I found in Auckland New Zealand with Toronto Canada etched on the blade.

A. Disston had a factory in Toronto from 1910 until at least the 1950's. The saws were the same as the Philadelphia models. This allowed Disston to sell in the British Commonwealth without paying tariffs. Disston also had a factory in Australia which opened in Sydney in 1926, probably closing in the 1950's.

Q. Did Disston & Son's make a one-man crosscut saw for cutting logs? My saw's blade is 42 inches long, and it has a handle shaped like an oven mitt. Etched on the blade is:


GREAT AMERICAN 1879
TAKING OUT THIS SAW DAY IN DAY OUT
WE CHALLENGE THE WORLD TO PRODUCE ITS EQUAL
CAST STEEL WARRANTED
[and the Disston symbol]

A. Your saw is a crosscut saw for felling small trees. They made probably a dozen models from 3' to 5' in length. They made them as well as two-man saws. They sold from the earliest days of the company until the 1950's. Tooth styles varied depending on what was going to be cut. Great American is the name of the tooth pattern. There were over a dozen different tooth patterns for crosscut saws before the advent of gasoline chainsaws.

Q. I have a Disston and Sons D-27 saw. You don't feature it on your website. The handle is rather odd, having neither top nor bottom horns, and completely lacking any ornamentation whatsoever.

A. The D-27 is a pruning saw, designed to cut tree branches. The reason it's not on the website is simply because the "Institute" concentrates on handsaws and backsaws for carpentry and woodworking. Tree saws are a subject of study that would be well-served with its own website, and it's not my area of specialty. D-27 Pruning Saw

Q. I have a saw that looks like a really large hacksaw, labeled Disston and Sons, USA. Overall length is 29 inches. Saw blade length is 24 inches and the blade is 1 inch wide.

butcher's saw A. The meat saw was manufactured by Disston from the 1850's until 1955. Yours is late because it says USA on it, so it was probably made after 1930. It is a commonly-found tool. They regularly get labeled Civil War-era surgeon's amputation saws on ebay, but those are not common, and 99 out of 100 of the saws you find are butchers' saws, not surgeons'.

rare civil war vet saw nutz Q.What do you think of this?
Description (revised)
HERE ARE 2 BRASS MEDALLION; 1 PHOENIX BRASS MEDALLION AND 1 H. DISSTON AND SONS PHILADA JUSTICE SCALES BRASS MEDALLION; BOTH WERE FOUND ON A CIVIL WAR SITE. THESE MEDALLIONS ARE PROBABLY FROM SAWS THAT WERE USED BY SOLDIERS' AFTER THE CIVIL WAR THANKS FOR LOOKING! immage 600-c1

A. Any ebay auction for a Disston saw item with "Civil War" in the description is bound to be misleading.

Q. My saw has an etch with the words "Nineteen-Forty Special". The blade is 26" and overall the saw is 29 1/2". The handle has 5 bolts including the medallion, and there are 8 ppi. I did not see anything about this saw on your website and was wondering if you could tell me anything about it.

1940 Special etch

A. The 1940 Special is here. There is not much to explain, the etch says it all. The handle has a dark orange wash under the finish, so I can say only that the handle is an unidentified hardwood, most likely beech. As you will see if you scroll up to read the article on that page, the company put the saw out to coincide with a planned celebration to mark the centennial of the company, but a strike put a damper on the whole affair.

Q. I have not seen this item before. It is an unusual vise, clearly marked Henry Disston and Sons.

No 1 vise No. 2 vise A. You have what is called a saw vise. It was a common tool, used to hold saws for sharpening. The C-clamp attaches the vise to a table or bench top. The No. 2 pivots forward and back, and the No. 1 does that as well as swing left or right on a ball joint. Both are about 9 or 9 1/2 inches wide.
   Other manufacturers made these as well, some being a foot wide. The wider the vise, the fewer times you need to move the saw as you progress with the tooth filing. As antiques they generally sell for less than the cost of shipping them, although a few dealers try to get top dollar for them. The one I use is a Wentworth pattern with an 1870 patent date. That cost me $10. I have another no-name that is similar to the Disston No. 2 in design, for which I paid a couple of dollars. I think it's steel instead of cast iron, and it's painted with enamel, probably of much later manufacture. Most cast iron tools were jappanned.

Q. Do you know of a place that sells replacement handles for my saw?

A. No one sells new Disston handles. Parts for saws come from other saws, like one that's badly rusted but with a good handle, for example. Watch flea markets, auctions, or ebay to see if something comes up.

Q. I am just getting into the collecting of Disston saws. My concern is what is a safe way to clean the rusted and stained saws I have. I don't want to endanger any of the original Disston logo/label on a saw, what is safe to use. Also, what is the best way to clean the Disston emblem on the handle?

A. The important thing to do is use a sanding block if there is rust to be removed. Holding an abrasive in your hand, whether sandpaper, steel wool, a rag with rubbing compound, or whatever you choose, will erode the steel unevenly and you are likely to wear away the etch.
  Heavy dark rust I remove with 320-grit wet/dry sandpaper, followed by 600-grit. Light rust, just 600. Go very slowly and gently over the etch. If the handle is off the blade, I use water. If not, I'll use mineral oil (messy). If there is just a haze of rust from sitting in storage, I use 0000 steel wool and Johnson or Butcher's wax. Let it dry and rub out with a cloth.
  If the rust is deeper than the etch, the etch will disappear with the rust. You can't help it when it gets to that point.
  If your saw was made before 1890, be careful with the saw nuts. It's probably best not to try to remove them. The shaft of the bolts on these early saws is thinner than on later saws, so the brass is apt to strip or snap, and the nuts won't go back on. Leave the handle on the saw and clean the blade where it shows.
  Go easy with the brasso. If a saw is 100 years old, it shouldn't look new, and the brass should not be bright and shiny. It doesn't have to be dirty, but if you've ever seen a British antique dealer's restoration of a tool, you'll know what too-clean looks like. The item no longer has any character or appearance of its age.
   Here is a link to detailed articles about both cleaning and sharpening saws. My approach to removing rust is slightly different from Pete's, but he's rehabilitated as well as manufactured a lot of saws in the past.
  Just remember to come back to my website when you're done.

DIS Q. I have a Henry Disston D-8 For Beauty, Finish, and Utility, this Saw cannot be Excelled. It's better than the one on your webpage. I can send you a photo if interested.

A. It's a graphic, not an accurate rendering of my saw.

Warranted Superior Q. Was "Warranted Superior" a Disston brand?

A. Many saw makers going back to early 19th century England made medallions with the Warranted Superior (WS) label. It pre-dates Henry Disston (1819-1878) by at least a generation, possibly more. Use of the phrase is not limited to saws. A quick online search shows it was used in advertising for manufactured goods such as shoes and Remington pistols. Warranted and guaranteed have the same meaning, which is the maker's word that his product is superior. The claim is only as good as the word of the maker, if you think about it.

Most English WS medallions have a crown and most American ones have an eagle. Later Disston-made WS medallions have the words "Warranted Superior," a circle of dots, stars at the three and nine o'clock positions, and appear with or without an eagle. Some feature a keystone instead of the eagle. The illustration of replacement medallions in the Disston 1906 catalog shows an eagle, the 1911 catalog has a keystone, and illustrations in the 1914, 1918, and 1923 catalogs feature a blank space in the center of the medallion. None are stamped with the name "Disston." Later medallions on some of the Keystone-brand saws (1935-1954) have eagles. An example of this is shown, left.

Most of the larger American manufacturers made saws with both branded medallions and WS versions. The purpose would have been to differentiate between the products on which they put their name and lower-priced tools on which they chose not to put their brand name. The irony is that, in America, the Warranted Superior label often was put on the companies' inferior products. Many top-grade English saws have WS medallions while others have brand-name medallions.

When you find an American WS saw, there may be a slightly less than 50% chance that it was made by Disston. Disston had a very large portion of the market, but it was not a monopoly. Atkins, Bishop, Jennings, Woodrough & McParlin, and Simonds (1900-1926) were a few of the large saw manufacturers that made saws with some form of a WS medallion with an eagle. Atkins' secondary line was actually labeled "Phoenix Warranted."

Q. I have a 26" D-8 saw that is 12 points per inch and is marked with a 12 on the blade. The medallion shows that the saw was made between 1917 and 1942. You don't list any 12 point saws in that length. What gives?

A. Most of the "catalogs" quoted on the saw pages are actually product guides for retail customers, entitled "The Disston Saw, Tool, and File Manual." These were updated annually from about 1919 until 1955. Prior to that, there was a publication called "The Saw: How to Use It; How to Keep It in Order," which served the same purpose, to guide retail buyers in the purchase and use of Disston products. That publication goes back to the 1880's.
  Another source for the information is dealer catalogs, which were much more specific in their information, but, unfortuanately, are not as easy to find.
  More to the point, the retail buyer's guides don't list every saw that was made. They give a general idea of what was sold, but sometimes the saw range grows bigger one year and gets smaller the next. So the information derived from the guides may have some omissions or inaccuracies.
   Also custom orders were possible. If a customer wanted a 12 point crosscut, a 4 point rip saw, or some other saw that was not in stock, he (or she) could ask the hardware dealer to special-order it.

Uppert

 

 

  Q. My Disston saw is unusual in that it has a brass plate on the bottom, of the handle and is stamped "Uppert" in the wood. You don't feature it on your website. Is it a special model? Patent

A. The brass is a repair to the handle after it was broken. As for the name, Mr. Uppert didn't want anyone to mistake his saw for their own so he carved his name in the handle. Disston didn't stamp handles except for a brief time in the late 1870's and early 1880's when they put patent dates on the handles of some saws. In the case of the handle on the left, HAAS was the owner, and from what I hear, you didn't want to get caught using his tools.

Q. In your FAQ section you show a photo of a saw handle w/ the name "Haas" carved in it. My mother's maiden name was Haas. Do you have any other details about that saw & it's owner that you could share with me?

A. I'm sorry, but I don't have any information on where the saw came from or where it is now. The photo was forwarded to me by an individual who was selling the saw on ebay several years ago.

 


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