The Millwright’s Apprentice

Tools of the Trade: Saws of All Sorts
13
Jun

Tools of the Trade: Saws of All Sorts

Now that we’ve moved past planes, it’s on to saws. This gets a bit tricky; in the 18th century there were multiple styles, quality levels, and sizes, each fit for a different use and budget. We’ll look at some original examples and illustrations and then take a look at how we use different saws in the Millwright Shop!

We’ll look at 6 different styles of saws common to the period. There were others, but these are the most important for the work we do in the millwright shop.

Pit Saws

These were used for sawing boards or timbers out of logs. The log would be placed on trestles or over a pit with one worker atop the workpiece, the other below. They’d saw in tandem, carefully moving through the whole length of the piece. The saws would either be open (like the one pictured above [1]) or framed (like the image below [2]). Both examples date to the 1760s, but the styles existed at least a century before that.

Whip or Two-Man Saws

These were used to cut logs or heavy timbers down to length. Again, operated by two people, these saws were pushed by one user and pulled by the other to cut across the log. This example is dated between 1750 and 1825.[3]

Frame Saws

These were used by one or two people for sawing larger pieces of stock and heavy ripping tasks. While similar, they were smaller and somewhat finer than the larger framed pit saws shown above. This example dates from 1775-1830, but this general style appears much earlier.[4]

Bow Saws

Depending on how fine the teeth were, these could be used for either roughing out stock or joinery work. The twisted cord pulls the two arms of the saw together at the top, which puts tension on the blade, ensuring a straight and true cut. This image is from 1742, but, as with frame saws, this style shows up much earlier.[5]

Hand Saws

Hand saws were used for everything from cutting stock down to size to timber joinery. They’re arguably the most versatile type of saw we’ve covered.This example is dated between 1740 and 1790 and represents a developing style in English saws.[6] Unlike the saws shown above, you likely wouldn’t have seen this style before the 1700s, though there are significant gaps in the archaeological record, so it’s often difficult to really say for certain.

Tennant (Tenon) Saw

Tenon saws were used to cut the shoulders of tenons for joinery. They had a thick spine on the back that holds the blade dead straight so that the user can accurately saw according to a layout line. This example dates from 1750-1800 and, like the handsaw, represents a relatively new style.[7] Moxon mentions tennant (or tenon) saws by the 1680s, but it’s difficult to say what exactly they looked like as he never illustrated one.

Each style of saw could be sold with a different quality of metal for the blade. Iron was the lowest quality—it didn’t hold an edge well and needed to be relatively thick to keep from buckling during use. Unfortunately, no original examples of iron saws are known to exist. Next, we have steel saws, which held an edge longer, were stiffer, and could be thinner than iron. These could also be carefully heat-treated, or tempered, to improve the flex and spring of the blade—for an extra charge, of course! Finally, we have “White’s Saws.” These were extremely well-made steel saws from the White family of London, who had been producing saws since at least the 1660s.[8] These were some of the highest quality and most popular saws available in Philadelphia in the mid-18th-century.[9]

In the millwright shop we use two styles the most: frame saws and hand saws.

We use the frame saw for work in any large stock, but most importantly, we use it to saw out rim boards.

These are all over 3-inch-thick white oak and need to be sawed very precisely to minimize the amount of work needed to clean up the edges.

We use hand saws for various other tasks, such as cutting stock to length, cutting tenons for large scale joinery, and ripping thinner stock. Take, for example, this plank for the Trimble Kitchen door, which was ripped to width with our handsaw.

As always, I would normally invite everyone to come visit us in the Millwright Shop, but it’s currently closed due to COVID-19. We will be continuing to post here on the blog, and we’ll be doing more Facebook Live videos, so be sure to follow us on Facebook. Stay safe and check back here next week!

If you’d like to take the next step and get involved in the shop once this has all calmed, please contact us at:

Email: info@newlingristmill.org

Find us on Instagram @newlingristmill1704

Look for us on Facebook @newlingristmill

Notes

[1] Pit Saw, in the Williamsburg Emuseum. Accessed June 5, 2020

[2] “Joinery work in building.” The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Ann-Marie Thornton. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0001.571 (accessed June 5, 2020). Originally published as “Menuisier en batimens,” Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 7, Plate 1 (Paris, 1769).

[3] Cross Cut Saw, In the Winterthur Digital Museum Collection. Accessed June 5, 2020

[4] Frame Saw, In the Winterthur Digital Museum Collection. Accessed June 5, 2020

[5] Anne Claude Philippe de Tubières, Comte de Caylus, 1742, Wood Cutter, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed June 5, 2020

[6] Mickel Hedges, 1740-1790, Panel Saw, in the Williamsburg Emuseum. Accessed June 5, 2020

[7] Tenon Back Saw, in the Williamsburg Emuseum. Accessed June 5, 2020

[8] Barley, Simon, British Saws and Sawmakers from 1660, The Choir Press 2014

[9] Theophilus Grew and Evan Morgan, “Newly Imported and to be Sold” The Pennsylvania Gazette, August 02, 1739. Accessed June 5, 2020. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/52777844/whites-and-smiths-handsaws-in/

Bibliography

Anne Claude Philippe de Tubières, Comte de Caylus, 1742, Wood Cutter, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed June 5, 2020 https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/398358

Barley, Simon, British Saws and Sawmakers from 1660, The Choir Press 2014

Cross Cut Saw, In the Winterthur Digital Museum Collection. Accessed June 5, 2020 http://museumcollection.winterthur.org/single-record.php?resultsperpage=60&view=catalog&srchtype=advanced&hasImage=&ObjObjectName=&CreOrigin=&Earliest=&Latest=&CreCreatorLocal_tab=&materialsearch=&ObjObjectID=&ObjCategory=tools&DesMaterial_tab=&DesTechnique_tab=&AccCreditLineLocal=&CreMarkSignature=&recid=1963.0080&srchfld=&srchtxt=saw&id=8dba&rownum=1&version=100&src=results-imagelink-only#.XtqyxTpKiUl

Frame Saw, In the Winterthur Digital Museum Collection. Accessed June 5, 2020

http://museumcollection.winterthur.org/single-record.php?resultsperpage=20&view=catalog&srchtype=advanced&hasImage=&ObjObjectName=&CreOrigin=&Earliest=&Latest=&CreCreatorLocal_tab=&materialsearch=&ObjObjectID=&ObjCategory=&DesMaterial_tab=&DesTechnique_tab=&AccCreditLineLocal=&CreMarkSignature=&recid=1957.0026.081&srchfld=&srchtxt=Frame+Saw&id=041c&rownum=1&version=100&src=results-imagelink-only#.XtsAHTpKiUk

“Joinery work in building.” The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Ann-Marie Thornton. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0001.571 (accessed June 5, 2020). Originally published as “Menuisier en batimens,” Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 7 (Paris, 1769).

Mickel Hedges, 1740-1790, Panel Saw in the Williamsburg Emuseum. Accessed June 5, 2020

https://emuseum.history.org/objects/56751/panel-saw?ctx=bec4a2720f9cca3f7f48a1c0e889184aacce64d6&idx=10

Pit Saw, in the Williamsburg Emuseum. Accessed June 5, 2020 https://emuseum.history.org/objects/50015/pit-saw?ctx=bec4a2720f9cca3f7f48a1c0e889184aacce64d6&idx=3

Tenon Back Saw, in the Williamsburg Emuseum. Accessed June 5, 2020 https://emuseum.history.org/objects/7883/tenon-backsaw?ctx=bec4a2720f9cca3f7f48a1c0e889184aacce64d6&idx=14

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