Not long after I finished rehabbing my Disston #4 backsaw, I stumbled across this little beauty on eBay.
Some of you might be wondering ‘why would he need two 12″ crosscut backsaws?’ Truth be told, I didn’t. But at 11 ppi, my Disston leaves a rough cut relative to the Noble’s 15 ppi. Or at least that’s the rationalization I made to place my conscious-free bid. Mostly, I was curious to experience the differences between the manufacturers. So I ponied up the $15.86 including shipping and my new treasure made the trek from Hagerstown, Maryland to my workbench.
Here’s what she looked like out of the box:
Disston #4 and J.H. Noble No. 1 backsaw differences
It was interesting to note the differences between the two saws:
- The Noble is lighter than the Disston.
- The Noble has a thinner saw plate. I don’t have calipers to measure it, but it’s obvious.
3. The Noble handle is smaller and daintier, compared to the Disston’s bigger hand hole and mass.
J.H. Noble history
[this space left intentionally blank because I couldn't find any information on the company]
The rehab-highlighting twists
Rather than recount the basic rehab steps I did on the Disston #4, I’ll just showcase the unique differences on this rehab.
A stuck nut
At the base of the screws, there is a square-shaped outcrop of about 1/8″. This is supposed to “lock” in the square hole that the screw seats in. However, the handle was so old that the saw bolts rotated in their socket when I tried to unscrew them.
To hold the screws in place, and to allow my screwdriver to loosen the nuts, I applied pressure to the bolt heads using one of those rubber hand towels that you use to loosen the lids on jars. This solution worked beautifully!…on two of the three screws.
The last one—and there’s always a last one—wouldn’t budge.
I put the rubber towel on the garage doorstep, then the saw handle then my foot on top to apply downward pressure while turning the screw counterclockwise. No dice. Then I tried holding the nut in place using vice grips (with the brass covered by the rubber towel so as not to damage it). That also failed. For the love of Mike what does it take to get this thing unscrewed?
Well, I’ve always believed that when the going gets tough, the tough turn to fire.
So I got out my cigar lighter and heated the nut to expand it so that I could unscrew it using the rubber towel. In addition to giving me traction on the brass nut, the rubber towel also prevented me from burning my fingers on the hot metal. It took two tries and firm pressure but in the end, this worked. Of course I singed a bit of the wood but I like to think that it gives it character.
A loose nut
When it was time to reattach the handle to the plate, I found that the top bolt-nut assembly was a teensy bit loose, making for some play where the handle met the backsaw spine. That drives me nuts when I’m sawing so something had to be done.
I tried tightening the screw firmly, but found that it was already fully seated in its mating nut. To correct the play, I sanded the bolt end to shorten it a smidgen. I kept fitting it as I sanded a little at a time so as not to over shorten the screw.
Finally, I was able to tighten down the nut so that the handle fits snuggly with no play at all.
Taking off the back
When I rehabbed my #4, I didn’t take the back off. So in the interests of learning something new, I decided to remove this one. It would also allow me to fully clean the saw plate.
Doing this proved a bit tricky. I turned the saw upside down and secured it in a vise between wood blocks. I left the spine protruding out the end so that I could hold a block of wood against the spine to tap/firmly strike with a hammer.
This worked well in removing the spine.
For this project, I tried something new (for me) to remove the rust—citric acid. I didn’t like it. It left a grayish film and the idea of acid eating at the saw didn’t appeal to me. So I fell back to using sandpaper lubricated with WD-40. (Note, I don’t use WD-40 anymore. Sandpaper all by its lonesome works just fine for me.)
Replacing the back
Reaffixing the spine required some finesse. First the plate was secured in a vise. Then came a little finesse.
The spine opening is its widest towards the saw’s heel. I cocked the spine at 45 degrees (low end toward on the heel, high end toward to the tow), and tapped it lightly until it caught on the rear of the saw plate. Then I rotated it downward toward the toe of the saw plate, tapping lightly as I went to secure the spine. It was critical to properly locate the spine at the heel before beginning this operation. Too far back and it wouldn’t seat properly. Too far forward and there would be a noticeable gap between the handle and the back of the spine.
Finishing the handle
I would have preferred to have kept the original patina on the handle, but the finish near the saw nuts was shot, leaving a rough surface. So I sanded everything down to bare wood, buffed it on the grinding wheel, applied three coats of BLO and three coats of poly followed by three coats of wax applied with 0000 steel wool.
The saw came with calves and cows, meaning the teeth were uneven due to previous sharpening.
Despite my improved skills, I’m still not happy with the sharpening I gave this. The teeth are so much smaller than what I’m used to, I need to learn the nuances of addressing them. I also think that my 2XS file may be too big for the task.
Still, I jointed the saw, shaped the teeth (the net effect of this operation is to essentially file the saw in a rip configuration), sharpened them (adding 20 degrees of fleam), then set the teeth using the lowest setting on my fine-saw set.
Here’s what she looked like after all the restoration.
Close-ups of the sawplate.
And a before/after reveal comparison:
How does it cut?
Very nicely! This little saw leaves a fine finish. It’s easier to start than my Disston #4 and cuts a thinner kerf.
And it leaves a finer finish, though it may not be obvious from the pictures.
The smaller (compared to the Disston) handle feels better in my hand and in use I feel like I have more control over the tool.
Truth be told, the thinner kerf and better handling characteristics have made the Noble my go-to carcass saw. I use it primarily with my bench hook to cross-cut small pieces.
I also use it to crosscut tenon shoulders.
All in all, this little saw has found a happy home in my backsaw till.
Picking up a second carcass saw could have been a shop-cluttering exercise in “collecting”. Instead, the difference in features and performance characteristics helped me define my backsaw preferences. It was worth the time to find out that I like a backsaw with a higher ppi, a thinner plate and a smaller handle.
That’s priceless information when it comes time to make, (or order one from Badaxe Toolworks), a shiny new saw for myself.