Learning to Remove a Bow: My new, old favorite crosscut saw


Here’s my favorite user crosscut saw.

You astute sawyers out there will immediately recognize that the nib and medallion are incongruous with the handle. I didn’t pick up on that at first. The saw first came under my view as I was helping a friend get ready to run an estate sale. A number of gigs made me pass on buying it, even at the $3.00 affixed price.

*the blade had a bow in it.
*the handle was boxy, uncomfortable and had one rusty steel/nickel-plated nut.
*I already had a good nest of user saws and didn’t want to have to join SBA (Saw Buyers Anonymous).

Well, long story short, the estate sale ended and my friend was bundling up the pitiful leftovers for a one-way trip to the dump. Perched atop the pile was the lonely saw that no one wanted. So I salvaged it, free of cost. Saw-buyers anonymous will have to do without me for one more month.

In my mind I justified it as an opportunity to learn a new skill, that being how to remove a bow from a saw plate. In retrospect, the brass nuts and bolts as well as the steel were well worth the free price let alone the $3.00. And if I was really thinking about it, I could always replace the handle with a vintage tote or even make my own. But to be honest, the “can I really fix the bow to make this a good user or will it become clutter in my shop?” devil was sitting on my left shoulder sparring with the “learn new skills!” angel on my right.

In any event, after rescuing the Disston creation from an ignoble landfill death, I cradled it homeward to take it apart.

The medallion dates the saw to between 1896 and 1917 ( Philada). The weak, but somewhat readable etching proudly proclaims this to be a No. 8. Then there’s the handle.

Hmmm. Obviously the handle was an aftermarket replacement decades after the saw’s manufacture. The owner had drilled new holes to accommodate the crappy tote.

New skills a cometh
My prime resource for sawsmithing a bow came from this Smalser article.

The hardest part was getting a feel for how hard to hit. You don’t have to smack it with the fervor you use at the carnival “whack-a-mole” booth. There’s a Goldilocks’ knack to it—not too hard, not too soft. I also found a good tip here that details what pattern to use when hammering.

I don’t have an anvil. Only a postage-stamp bit of space on the new vice I bought at said estate sale.

So I used that (the anvil, not the postage stamps), my 5lb sledge and a 20oz ball-peen hammer.

Psychologists say that we learn best from our mistakes. So that means I really learned a lot about how to remove a bow.

First off, don’t do jack to the saw plate until you’ve smithed it. I made the mistake of sanding it to a fair shine, then hammering it. Therefore, my second mistake (hammering too hard with the peen) is even more obvious in the form of dimples.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised that I did indeed get the bow out.

From boxy to hand friendly
Next it was time to do something about the uncomfortable handle. I studied my comfortable vintage handles and noted that rounding over all the squarish edges would go a long way toward making things tolerable.

For inspiration, I read Andy’s blog on reshaping a handle. Inspiration aside, I need more practice to translate the fine tutorial into the motor skills necessary to achieve a vintage look.

In retrospect, I did overdo the use of the rasp. It didn’t feel that way at the time. But my rasps are new to me for this purpose and I didn’t grasp just how deeply they were cutting. Next time I’ll use them sparingly then switch to 80 grit sandpaper to do more of the shaping. That method, in fact, worked well to give the back of the handle a naturally-looking rounded profile. I used sandpaper strips in a “see-saw” motion across the back handle.

It doesn’t look as refined as what the 19th century Sheffield tote specialists produced, but the handle fits comfortably in my hand.

Sharpening and using
Next I jointed the teeth and shaped them. That was followed by sharpening the teeth at 15 degrees of rake and 20 degrees of fleam.

My test cut showed that there was plenty of set so I left it as it was.

Whenever I add a new saw to my nest, I make a point of using it alone-forsaking all others.

That way I get a good feel for it in various cutting conditions. In hard- and soft-woods, plywood, MDF and foot-long doggie chews (“honey can you cut this in half for me?”), it cuts cleanly and tracks well. And it is sharp. I really enjoy the quality of the steel. The 7 ppi also delivers a good balance between the speed of cut and the fine finish it leaves.

All in all, my newest, old saw has become my favorite crosscut tool. At first I promised her that I would hunt down a vintage handle to make our relationship all nice and legal. But, my modification worked, and both the handle and its light color (only 2 coats of BLO) make it easy to quickly identify and retrieve it from the saw till. So why buy the tote when the sawing’s free?

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About The Write Biz

By day, I'm a mild-mannered copywriter who harnesses frontal-lobe creativity (right brain) to help B2B marketers generate leads and sales. By night I pick up hand tools to create wooden masterpieces...and give my black lab Bella the "red dot" laser to chase after.
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2 Responses to Learning to Remove a Bow: My new, old favorite crosscut saw

  1. I would take two dimples from a ball peen if I could get a saw plate straight. I’ve tried it twice on $1 yard sale saws and I’ll have to find a few more before I get a plate straight.
    ralph

    • Ralph, the $1 buck yard sale finds are the perfect practice items. If it doesn’t work, you’ve at least got brass screws and a handle for parts. Don’t give up. Review the articles I suggested in my post and keep trying. It’s a valuable skill to have because you’ll be able to pick up some quality saws at a fraction of the cost and tweak them to good working order.

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