Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Following on from yesterday's entry, the inevitable. After a closer inspection, it seemed to me that the Disston, at least, might be salvageable. So I had to try, didn't I? Apparently yes, I did.

First up, remove the nuts and handle. Look! Once upon a time it really was shiny steel. Who'd have believed it?

Tools of torture: scraper, wet'n'dry wrapped round a block, some white spirit (mineral spirits, North Americans) and paper towels (not shown). Newspaper or other bench top protection is essential - it gets messy.

First scrape off the worst of the rust.

Then work along the length of the saw with the wet'n'dry wrapped round the block, lubricated with some white spirit. I used 320g but really could have done with something a bit coarser for this one, if I'd had it.

Give it a wipe with the paper towel, and ye gads! Is that the hint of an etch I see before me? God bless Henry and his super deep etches. Any British saw's etch would be a distant memory by now.

Some more abrading - about 40 minutes all together - a whizz of non-woven abrasive over the nuts, white spirit to clean up the handle, a quick buff of beeswax polish on the handle and Renaissance wax on the plate and behold; the before and after shot:

I cheated like crazy with the nuts and chucked them in the cordless drill to speed things up.

The etch is almost completely legible. The bulk of Disstons that have swum into my ken have been Canadian. Of course the whole point of Canadian production was to get round import taxes into Commonwealth countries (previously known as the British Empire), so it makes sense to find them here. I gather the actual saws are identical to the US-made ones.

Clean and mainly shiny, yes. Sharp? Not even close. A run over with a file to top the teeth demonstrates the sort of problem teeth I'm up against here. Below that, just making a start.

It took two passes and several hours to get it at least sharp enough for a test run. In fact enough time passed that the light has gone, so we've gone to arty black and white again. Really it needs another go, but that can wait for its next re-sharpening. Besides which, I'd managed to generate a blister on my finger where it was bearing on the saw file, so saw filing is the last thing I want to do any more of just now, thank you...

The proof of a successful rescue is in the cutting. Just fine and dandy, slight curve to the plate not withstanding.

So now I'm thinking the TTS should probably have it back again; maybe I can provide tool rehabilitation in exchange for down payments on the Rogers Patent Mitre Planer? Yeah, should only take me about 20-30 years of rust removal... ;)


  1. I've read somewhere tools that are badly rusted and pitted can never be made really sharp again. Is that true? It appears your saw's quite sharp.

  2. Good work, Al! Another back up and running :)

  3. Great job, Alf.

    Cheers ;-)

    Paul Chapman

  4. Well, Alex, certainly rust isn't desirable on a tool, that's true enough. There may well be sound theory behind why a rusted tool can never be sharp again (and in that case, very likely way over my head), but practical experience suggests it's not a noticeable problem.

  5. Rust on the back of a blade (AKA minor pitting) will stop the tool ever being truly sharp, at least until it's removed/polished out.

    I suspect that's what Alex read somewhere.


  6. Not quite the same story, but I suspect a very close sibling of your saw happened in my hand for the princely sum of 3 New Zealand dollars at the local Sallie Army store. The etching, handle, nuts and general overall shape convinces me anyway.

    Sadly, split with nails (yep, plural) for repair and a bit chewed (I suspect literally) in places, the handle HAS to be replaced. Even so, despite the sob inducing damage, the handle insists on being held, which leads to reluctance to let go. Gosh, they really knew how to make a really good saw handle.

    I have no idea how to reproduce the double circular kerf that beds the plate. Seriously thinking of two halves glued together, one of which being slightly thicker with a routed rebate that echoes the curvy outline of the plate, then setting about the usual shaping process. Does that sound fair?

    Stephen Ruddock
    from New Zealand

  7. have you tried this:

    I use it on all my treasures I find on ebay, flea market etc.... and works quite well... does not seem to damage the etchings... at the end its a quick clean off with the wire brush and then its gtg =)


  8. Chris, I haven't, no, although I know many people swear by it. If I zap stuff, it's in citric acid which worries me less than electrickery. And then only when more hands-on methods would be ineffectual on the tool in question. Weird perhaps, but I rather like the "getting to know you" aspect of going all over a tool to derust it.

  9. Steven, sorry! Your comment got stuck in some sort of time warp and only just showed up. Absolutely nothing personal.

    Sounds like a plan on the handle, yup. Never done it myself. Mike Wenzloff used to do dubious things with a very thin tablesaw blade to replicate the curved slot, iirc. Which is probably what Disston used to do, after all.


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