It was a flurry of activity around here during the filming, editing, and organizing of our most recent online course. Back to the Bench: Restoring & Using Heritage Tools is a very practical look at finding old tools and getting them working wood again, quickly. We feel strongly that heritage tools are often the best tools for the job for both supremely practical reasons (high quality, bargain prices, etc.) as well as intangible values (they’re beautiful, they connect us with the people of the past). The use and enjoyment of antique tools, for me, is one of the singular attractions of hand-tool woodworking.
That said, I do love a good bargain. Being budget-conscious when it comes to purchases, I find it often emerges in conversation just how little I paid for an item (be warned). It’s a weird, convoluted sense of giddy pride. Or it might be an excuse for an unnecessary or redundant purchase – “Well, yeah, I have four of them, but this one was only $5!” I’ve heard that this kind of thrift evangelism is a Midwestern trait (is this true?), which is odd because the farthest west I’ve lived is Indiana, and that but briefly. I was first drawn to old tools not for aesthetic value or tradition, but because I could buy a box of them for a few bucks. Such was my budget. The options were: save up for months and buy one decent-quality new tool, or spend coffee money for a pile of rusty old tools and invest a little time in cleaning them up. This was a no-brainer.
Sometimes you come across a bargain-priced new tool that works great but has you gritting your teeth as you use it due to the sheer ugliness of the thing. Handsaws in particular have moved backwards on the evolutionary scale since the 1800s, becoming clunky-handled and anything but graceful. It might be of good-quality steel, with awesomely sharp teeth that slice through any hardwood with ease, but you wouldn’t be caught dead wielding one during a three-day Dutch Toolchest class.
There’s a reasonably simple solution: Rehandle the saw. In our online course, I go through the process of removing that ugly handle and shaping a new one, modifying the plate as necessary, and fitting the two together with split nuts. Even details such as removing the printed label from the plate and filing a saw nib are covered. This is a valuable thing to learn for both retrofitting new tools as well as doing necessary repairs on old saws you want to rescue.