Restoring a Saw

Jun 16 2014

I needed a new tenon saw. I got one from eBay for $35. It’s a Disston back saw. 12″ blade, 12 teeth per inch. As near as I can tell, from the mid-40’s. Disston was one of the premiere saw makers from the late 1800’s through the 40’s. After that, the quality declined. Unfortunately, that seems to be a pattern followed by most classic tool companies. Anyway, I’m pretty sure this is a quality one.


Or at least, it was. The saw was a mess of contradictions. It was so rusted that it was almost a flat black across the entire blade. It was such a thick coating of decay that I almost thought someone had coated it with varnish or something. But the teeth were in great shape and the handle also looked good. The medallion stamped into etching on the side had almost totally worn away, indicating it had been used a lot, but not in a long time. My best guess is that someone owned it and used it and took very good care of it. And then, maybe that person retired or died, or sold it to someone else and it wound up sitting unused for decades. It was not abused, just abandoned. Then again, maybe it was just never used and the faded medallion etching was just due to it rusting away. (Realized after typing this that the “medallion” is the fancy round screw head on he handle, not the etching on the blade itself.)

I started by removing the handle and spraying some WD-40 on it, rubbing it in with some steel wool and letting it sit for a half hour. Scrubbed it a bit, sprayed some more, let it sit a while longer. But that wasn’t touching it in the least.



So, I got out the sandpaper. First some 120 grit, then 320. Not ideal for preservation, but the quickest way to get it into a usable state.


This generated a huge pile of rust powder, but in the end, it looked half decent. The goal wasn’t to get it shiny new, just workable. Put a light coat of oil on it to prevent further rust and later on I might give it a coat of wax for the same purpose, and to help it cut smoother.


As I said, the handle was in decent condition. It could have used some sanding and a coat of oil or varnish, but that would just be cosmetic. Just looking to get this thing functional at this point. I might go back and work on the handle some more later, but this is good for now.


Next up, sharpening. I put the saw in my Disston saw vise and sharpened all the teeth for a rip cut, with passive rake at the toe, moving towards a more aggressive rake a couple inches in.


Finally, used the saw set to … set the saw. This involves pushing every other tooth in the opposite direction. Actually, I think the set was half decent, but I ran through it just to make sure they were all uniform.


At this point, time to test it out. It cut fairly well on a rip, wouldn’t really cut at all cross grain. A 12 tpi rip saw with a progressive rake should crosscut half decently. So I went back in and gave it another round of sharpening. I figure the teeth may have looked good, but probably had as much rust on them as the rest of the blade. A single filing probably mostly just got through the rust. The second filing seems to have improved things a lot. I also removed some of the set with a couple of hammers. Now it rips perfectly and crosscuts decently.

Not bad for $35 and 2-3 hours of a Saturday afternoon. I now have a high quality vintage saw that will last me the rest of my life.

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Time Out!

Jun 14 2014

Well, first major goof on this project. Was going along OK. I got the rest of the mortises cut on all the long pieces.


Then started doing the tenons on the cross pieces. Got one done, nearly perfectly. Started on the next one. Here’s what I did:


Not sure if you can see what’s going on there. The tenon is supposed to be just about where that groove is. The piece is an inch thick, so I needed to cut a quarter inch up from the bottom of the piece as seen in the picture, up to where the groove starts. And cut about 1/2″ down from the top, to just above the groove. I got it backwards and cut 1/2″ up from the bottom – right through where the tenon is supposed to be. Basically cut the tenon right off before it existed. There’s no really good way of fixing this that I can think of. The tenon is already cut correctly on the other end of this piece. Otherwise I *might* think about filling the groove, flipping it over and putting the tenon on the other edge. But no. And I have no extra wood at all to replace this piece. I don’t even have two pieces that I can glue together to make the correct size in both dimensions.

So, I’ve gone and ordered another hunk of white oak. I guess I’ll have plenty to spare now. Hopefully the piece I’m getting is a decent match. From what I could tell in the pictures I saw, it seemed to have similar color, grain and flakes. I guess we’ll see. But this project will be on hold for a bit until that arrives. Actually, I have eight more tenons to cut, and can probably do some of the other work after that, so I may not be waiting around that much anyway.

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Mortises and Tenonses

Jun 12 2014

Time for something new. A mortise and tenon joint. Or sixteen. A mortise and tenon is one of the key types of wood joints. A mortise is a hole in one piece of wood, and a tenon is usually a cut down part of another piece of wood. The the cut down part goes in the hole and form a very strong joint.

I start by laying out where the mortises will be. These will be partially inside the grooves I cut in the long pieces. The tenons will be on the shorter pieces.


These are chopped into the wood with a chisel. They are 1/4″ wide. My first time chopping mortises, but it went pretty well.



There are four mortises in each upright piece. Two near the top and two near the bottom. Because they are at right angles to each other, they actually meet inside.



Then, onto the tenons. First layout, then cut.



The tenons went generally pretty well, but my marking gauge must have slipped a bit and the first one I cut was a bit off, causing that cross piece to stick out rather far from the front face. I fixed it by gluing a thin strip of wood to the front of the tenon, and paring a bit off the back. Now it fits perfectly.

The tenons go into the mortises…


And the tenons on the other side go into the other mortises, and voila! We have a frame!



So, eight more mortises to cut, and twelve more tenons, and I’ll have a three-dimensional frame.

Actually, there was another goof I realized today. In looking over the plans, I realized that I’d cut the upright posts 1/16″ too thick and wide. I could have made it work that way, but after examining it in depth, I decided it would be possible to plane that extra bit out and get it to the correct size. I did it on the faces that have the grooves, which meant I had to re-plough the grooves as well to get them back down to the correct depth. But hey, another excuse to use my Record 044! Why not? Anyway, that went just fine and now all my pieces are perfect.

By the way, this is not some design I’ve come up with on my own. It’s part of a course called the WoodWorking Masterclasses, taught by Paul Sellers. If you’re at all interested in learning hand tool woodworking, Paul is a great teacher. I learned so much from his blog and free Youtube videos, that I signed up for the free Masterclass series and that was good enough to make me sign up for the paid membership. The current project in the class is this craftsman-style lamp.


That’s what I’m building. There’s already 2.5 – 3 hours of video covering this project. And I imagine there will be another 2 – 3 hours before it’s done. It’s really in-depth. Just what I need. Actually everything I’ve done here so far is just what’s covered in the first video.

Anyway, with my schedule these days, I don’t imagine I’ll get through the rest of these M&Ts until the end of the weekend. But that’s cool. I slip down into my man cave, plug in an audiobook and hack away at some wood for an hour or two here and there. Great stress reliever.

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More cutting, planing, grooving

Jun 09 2014

Some of my other cut wood did warp a bit, as you can see in this picture.


Mostly just the 1/4″ pieces, and it’s not too bad. Once I cut these down to size, it will be far less of a bend on each piece and I left enough extra thickness so I can plane them flat with no problem.

But next up is eight more thick pieces. Cut these to length and went about planing the hell out of them.


The process is basically to flatten one surface. That becomes your reference surface. Then you flatten an adjacent edge, making it exactly 90 degrees to the first one. Now you have two flat, square sides. Then you use a marking gauge to mark a line to the exact width you want that piece and plane down to that line, cutting first if need be. Then the same thing on the final side. Now you have four flat sides that are completely square. Double check your length and squareness of the ends and you’re golden. These pieces are all about 1/4″ too thick but only about 1/16″ extra in width. So lots of shavings from the 1/4″ side.



These all get a single groove too.



Power tool users would use a table saw or a router to cut grooves like that. But I’ll tell you, using that plough plane is the coolest thing in the world. I’m actually sad that the grooves are all done for this project. It’s so fun to use that thing.

As a preview of where this is going, these pieces will fit with the original grooved pieces like so:




As you can see, the grooves match up, and two long pieces and two of the short ones form a frame with the groove all around the inside. And no, they’re not supposed to be the same width. That’s not a mistake.

Next up, I’ll be cutting some mortise and tenon joints to put all those together. Fun!

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Next Project

Jun 07 2014

Started a new project. A week or so ago, I got in some white oak. The thick board here is almost 1 1/4″ and the other one is about 7/8″. Left it down in the shop for a week to acclimatize.


Started yesterday cutting out the first four pieces to rough size and let them sit out for a day before doing any finer work.




And tonight I rough cut most of the other pieces I’ll need. I came pretty close on the amount of wood I needed. I’ll have some left from offcuts, but other than that, I had one small strip left from the original boards. Whew! Anyway, I’ll let these sit overnight too.


In the meantime, I got to work on the original four pieces, planing them down to exact size. It was my first extensive use of my new Stanley No. 5 1/2 jack plane, the big one there. I love it. Takes lace-like shavings off that oak.




Now time to cut some grooves. This is a Record 044 Plough Plane, made in England in the early to mid part of the last century. An elegant tool for a more civilized age. The one I picked up is in great condition and came with a full set of eight cutters in different widths. The cutters themselves were a bit beat up, but I’m reconditioning each one as I need to use it. Today I use the 3/16″.


There’s an adjustable fence that lets you set how far from the edge of the wood your groove will go. I’ve added an additional wooden piece to the fence to let it ride on the work piece more smoothly. This is optional. I set the fence so that the blade is 1/4″ away.


And there’s a depth stop which controls how deep the groove will be. It will ride on the surface of the work piece once the blade is down to depth, keeping it from going any further. I set this to 3/16″, so that’s how deep the groove will be.


Then, you just run the plane over the wood repeatedly until it stops cutting, meaning you have reached your intended depth and have a nice straight groove with an exact width and depth. I cut two grooves on each piece.




Something about this picture is just very satisfying.


All cut, with a huge pile of spaghetti shavings.



That’s it for today. I’ll let the rest of the wood sit overnight and then I’ll need to cut and plane those all to size and cut some more grooves.

By the way, the reason for letting the wood sit for a week in the shop, and then sit overnight after cutting, is for wood movement. Generally, this has to do with moisture content and internal stresses. Moving wood to a new environment, you want it to adjust to the new humidity and temperature. As it adjusts, it could bend, twist, warp, etc. You want it to settle down before cutting.

Also, after you cut a piece of wood, particularly a larger one, it can move. There may be internal stresses that are released when you cut it, causing it to bend. Also, the new open surface may let more moisture leave more quickly, resulting in some movement. So far, this white oak has seemed pretty stable. But I’ll let it sit overnight anyway.

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Finishing up

Jun 05 2014

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Part 6
Part 7
Part 8


Ready for the final step, some finish. Lately I’ve been building everything with poplar and applying a shellac finish. I’ve used tung oil, danish oil and poly finishes, and worked with pine, oak, walnut, cherry, maple, and probably some other woods. But I decided to stick to one wood, one finish for a little bit, until I get a solid feel for it, then move on. Jumping around trying to try one thing after another, I find they all just get jumbled in your mind. Now, I feel like I know how poplar cuts, planes, chisels, sands and finishes. It’s part of my experience. And I know how shellac goes on, how much to cut it, how many coats, how much to sand it, or steel wool it and exactly how it’s going to look and feel at each stage. Soon I can move on and get some experience with other things. But one more time with shellac.

Shellac is alcohol based, and I’ve thinned this with 50% denatured alcohol. This makes it go on thinner and smoother, though it may need more coats.








First coat done. After a bit, I’ll flip it over and apply a coat to the bottom.



Shellac dries really quickly, presumably because the alcohol evaporates so easily. In less than an hour, it’s ready for the next step. I sand with some 320 grit sandpaper and apply a second coat. Let that dry, sand again, do a third coat. It’s getting super silky smooth now. Sanding the dry shellac produces a white powder that quickly clogs up the 320 grit sandpaper, and gets all over your hands and clothes. It also smells like someone’s living room the morning after a big party, before anyone has cleaned up all the empty beer bottles. Dried, stale alcohol. No lie.


This particular piece is a total pain to sand, too. Reaching down into those compartments trying to hold a piece of sandpaper and hit all the surfaces… all the knuckles on my right hand are torn up.





After the third coat is dry, I hit it with 4-0 steel wool rather than sandpaper, then shoot the final coat of shellac on it. When that’s dry, another once over with steel wool. The shellac fills the pores and seals the wood, so it’s hard to describe how smooth this feels. But at the same time, it doesn’t feel like a thick build up on top of the wood, just that the wood itself is now super smooth. Also, the alcohol in each fresh layer of shellac dissolved the previous layers and joins with it, so you end up with one solid surface, not multiple layers like some other finishes. Because the shellac dries so quickly, you can really do all the coats in a single day. Apply, go away for an hour, come back, sand, apply. This is great, but I left the shellac out and open in a jar this whole time. I think a lot of the alcohol evaporated during the day, so the last coats were a lot thicker than the first ones. You can see that in some of the pictures above, where it got kind of drippy. Not a big deal. Just meant for more vigorous steel wooling.

After wiping all the dust away, I apply finishing wax. Before I tried applying it directly with a cloth, but you end up with big chunks of it stuck in corners. Others actually say to apply it with steel wool, which kind of works OK, but you end up with bits of steel wool kind of stuck to the surface in the wax. I tried this time doing something else I’ve read, to put a chunk of wax inside a cloth and squeeze it out. This worked great. The wax kind of liquifies as it comes through the cloth and you get a nice, thin, even layer on the wood.





When that’s done, I let the wax dry for 20-30 minutes, then buff it out with a clean cloth, and then a shoe polish brush. This gives it an amazingly smooth, shiny surface. And we are done! Finished, literally. This goes to my daughter.




After years of making software and sites that are obsolete or ignored after a few months or a year or two, or require constant maintenance and upgrades to stay relevant, it’s nice to know that I can make something and call it done and release it into the world and know that it will probably survive and continue to be useful for decades after I’m gone.

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Bottoming out

May 31 2014

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Part 8

With the main glue up done, time to start in on the fine details. I planed down all the protruding pieces of the dovetails and gave everything a thorough sanding.




Next, got to work on the bottom. I didn’t have a wide enough 1/4″ board, so I had to glue up a couple.



With the glue dry, I planed the bottom panel all flat and smooth, and cut it to size.


Then I gave all the edges a roundover with my faithful Stanley No. 4 plane and sanded it all silky smooth.



And finally, glue the bottom on!


And with that done, we are complete!



Of course, that means the construction is complete. Still need to apply some finish. Going with shellac and a finishing wax. Because that’s what I’m into these days.

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The Hole Boring Business

May 31 2014

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Got the other half of the handle shaped and I was happy how that turned out.



Now time to cut out the hole. Surely I had to resort to some power tools for that, right? Not when you have a vintage brace and selection of bits!



This works far better than I ever would have imagined. It looks like something you need to lean into and crank away forever, building up a serious sweat to get anything done. But really, with a sharpened bit, it pulls itself right into the wood with amazing ease. I go only until the top emerges from the other side, then turn over and go through the other way so it doesn’t blow out the wood on the back.



Then I get a coping saw in there and cut between the holes, then use chisels, rasps, files and sandpaper to shape it just right.




Finally, I go over all the edges with a few grades of sandpaper, making everything nice and rounded over and smooth. I’m super satisfied with how this turned out. Really feels just perfect to hold.




And finally, the glue up. Actually, in these photos, I’ve only got the four walls with the dovetails glued up. The handle and dividers are just sitting in there for support. When the dovetails had set, I went back and glued the other pieces in as well.



All that’s left now is planing the dovetails flat, making the bottom, sanding and applying finish.

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Starting to get a handle on things

May 29 2014

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Jumping quickly over the repetitive stuff, I cut two more stopped dadoes on the other side of the handle and put in a half-height divider.




So far, everything on this project has gone almost perfectly, which is scary. There’s almost always some major screw up at some point. I can usually work around it, but it hasn’t happened yet, so I’m just waiting for it. All that’s left is the handle and bottom. Maybe this will be one of those ones that just works out well all the way through.

I hadn’t settled on a design for the handle, so I got some feedback and help from the wife. Here’s what we came up with. I like it.


I transferred that onto the board itself, and now I’m ready to hack away all the wood that doesn’t look like a handle.



And now I go to town with my full arsenal – chisels, coping saw, rasps, files, spokeshave, sandpaper. I could have knocked this out in a fraction of the time with my bandsaw, but I’ve done this all without electron power so far. Not going to give in now.




One side done. Called it a night. Looking good. I’ll do the other side tonight, then I’ll need to figure out how to best cut out that handle hole. It would be a breeze with a scroll saw, but again, those pesky electrons. I’ll probably bore a couple of holes and then use the coping saw to rough it out, then finesse it with rasps, files, sandpaper.

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More Dadoes!

May 28 2014

Part 1
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Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8

I left of last time, the dadoes were cut in the end pieces to fit the center divider / handle piece, and that piece was gluing up. When that was done, I planed it down flat and squared a couple of edges. Then I cut the third edge to length. And in it slid.




Nothing to complain about here. Next, one of the sides of this will have two dividers. These will also slot into dadoes. So apart the box came again, lines drawn and cut for those slots. On the side piece, the slots go full length. But on the handle, they’ll stop at the same height as the sides. After marking them up, I chiseled them out and cleaned it all up with the router plane.



Next, the box goes back together again, and I slide the center piece in. This allows me to measure the size for the dividers themselves. I’d actually planned for 1/4″ thick dividers here, but remembered that too late.


Finally, I cut out the dividers, squared them up and in they slid.




And that’s it for today. The other side of the box will have a single, half-height divider in the center. So a couple more smaller dadoes to cut tomorrow. Then I’ll need to cut out the handle itself, and prepare a bottom board. I’m still playing around with various ideas for exactly how I want the handle to look, but that’s coming up soon, so I guess I better decide.

Part 5 can be found here.

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