Saw Construction 2 - Folded
By D. Greco
As with the saw plates we sell, the folded backs
need a bit of work before they are installed. All of the backs are
supplied in even lengths and need to be cut down to length to work
with your individual saw handles.So really it's all a matter of
how long your saw plate is and how far the mortise for the saw
back extends into the handle. For this example I'm using an old
Disston backsaw handle I had on hand. But you should be able to
apply this technique with a newly made handle.
As I mention above the first thing you need to
know is that the back is almost NEVER as long as the saw plate. It
almost ALWAYS is cut down by a bit. If you are installing the back
into an existing handle you are one step ahead of the game. If you
are installing the back into a new handle, then you need to look
at the profile and determine how far the back will extend.
Let's take a look at the Disston D-4 backsaw handle template from
our library here.
As you can see from the image above, the saw back
extends into the handle. You need to take this into account when
you determine the length.
But like I said, for purposes of this article (and because it's
the only one I had on hand at the moment) I'll be using this old
Disston handle (shown below)
To get an idea on how much we are talking about I will usually lay
out the parts one on top of another and mess with their
orientation until I arrive at what I feel is the "right look"
If you look at the photo above you can see where I used a
black magic marker to outline the radius on the right end of the
folded back as well as the cut line for the left end at the handle
mortise. One thing I need to add here. When cutting these saw
backs down, I tend to err on the side of caution. I'd rather cut
it a bit too long and need to trim it rather than cut it too short
and possibly ruin it.
Cutting the steel or the brass backs is not terribly hard to do.
You can go all "old school" on them and use a hacksaw, or if you
have a metal cutting blade for your bandsaw, use that. Either way,
mark a line with a straight edge or square and try to stay to the
"waste side" of the line. While it will make less work for you,
don't worry too much about a super clean cut. the next step will
clean up the edge.
If you have a disc sander use the miter gauge to ensure you get a
nice perpendicular edge (shown above). Otherwise, you a file and
creep up on the line you marked.
Now it's time to address the rounded portion. And once again I
turn to my disc sander (no pun intended). But you can use a file
and accomplish the same job.
After you've completed these tasks I would suggest that you clean
up the edges with some 220 / 300 grit sandpaper. Because it will
be highly visible, I recommend that you pay particular attention
to the rounded area. Just remove the machining marks and you'll be
At this point we need to take a small side trip and look at the
saw plate. If you remember from the initial photo shown, these saw
plates are rectangular. And in order to fit on this (and just
about every backsaw handle I've ever came across) you need to trim
the corner of the saw plate in order to fit into the handle.
I used the holes for the saw nuts as well as the end of the saw
back to help me locate the position on the saw plate and then
establish where I should trim the corner down. I just marked the
holes with a pencil and that will give me an idea where the cut
The number one question I get from newbies is how to cut spring
steel. And I tell each and every one of them that it's really not
all that hard. You just need a Dremel equipped with an abrasive
cut off disk, a vise and a file to clean up the edge.
All you need to do is score
along the line. That means cutting but not going all the way
through. Just cut to about half the thickness of the saw
plate. Don't linger in one spot or you will burn the steel and
it will loose it's temper. Then you clamp the saw plate in
your vise and make sure the top of the jaws are right at the
scored line. Hold it and SNAP!
After you cut the make the cut you need to file the edge smooth
and then remove the burr from either side. I typically use a
sanding block on each side and progress up through the grits until
the scratches disappear. If you do not do this a burr can cause
problems when it comes time to fit it to the handle. Now that we have the saw plate
ready to go, lets resume our work on the folded back.
Look at the base of the folded back where the saw plate gets
inserted. What I call the "base" is the area where the two legs
come together and eventually the saw plate will get installed.
If you'll notice, there isn't a huge gap showing. When we form
these backs the press pressed the "legs" together so that they
are touching. We'll look into this later in the article. For
now, don't worry about it
Now is a good time for you to make yourself a super simple jig
that will allow you to work on the saw back and eventually become
an aid for installing the saw plate. You just need a piece of flat
2x4 or other scrap that is about 3" wide. It needs to be about 3"
longer than you saw back and just over an 1" thick. Use a table
saw to cut a groove down the center that is as wide as the folded
back. The goal is to have it hold the back with the portion where
the blade is installed facing up. Try to make just wide enough so
that the folded back just fits in. Either tack a piece of
wood onto the end or clamp one in place. This will act as a stop
when you start sanding the exposed portion.
Using a sanding block, start with 220 - 300 grit and smooth out
the base of the folded back. Once you get it smooth move up in
grit and it'll start to shine like a mirror.
Once the base is sanded
remove the saw back from the wooden jig and start sanding it.
The photo below is just after sanding with 320 grit sandpaper.
This brass takes a shine pretty easily and anything past 400
grit will make it look like gold.
Now we are ready to install the saw plate.
There is a small scraper included with each of the saw plates you
get from us. If you look closely, you will notice that one edge is
rounded over. Actually
it's not a scraper, it's a shim. We use the rounded
edge of this shim to open up the legs of the folded back and give
us room to insert the saw plate.
As illustrated in the photo above, you insert the rounded edge of
the shim in from the end at the rounded portion of the folded
back. You then use a small hammer to tap it in and open the gap up
Once you get the gap opened reinstall the folded back into the
wooden jig while being careful not to knock out the shim.
With the teeth of the saw plate oriented correctly (for a Western
style push saw) insert the corner of the saw plate into the gap
you created. Once you have the corner in use a wooden block to
forcefully tap (notice I didn't say BANG) on the edge with the
teeth and carefully force the saw plate into the gap.
Once the saw plate in in, remove the shim and try and work the saw
plate forward until the corner is closer to the rounded edge. I
usually shoot for about 1/8" in from the edge.
By tapping along the tooth line, gradually work you way down the
saw plate. You will slowly see the saw plate work it's way into
As the saw plate becomes imbedded it will become harder for you to
force more of it in. At this point you can use a hammer and
protect the tooth line with block of hardwood.
Try to shoot for an even amount of the saw plate to be embedded.
You don't want to go all the way in and bottom out. You also don't
want to only in 1/16". For this case I used 1/4". If you do it
right, then you are done.
Now what happens if you find that the saw plate is too far forward
or too far back? Well, you need to remove the back and start over.
But don't get all worried! This is the reason these folded backs
are cool. Provided you do not deform the folded back, you can
remove the saw plate somewhat easily.
You need a simple tool to remove the back. I
called it a wedge. It's just a piece of hard wood (like hickory or
ash) that is about 8" to 10" long and has a wedge shape cut into
If you hold the saw plate assembly in a vise (preferably a
machinist's vise like I have shown here), you can use this wedge
to direct the force of a hammer blow to push the folded back off
of the saw plate. I would recommend that you hold the saw plate
assembly "low" in your vise and apply the wedge right above the
jaws. This will minimize the deflection that the plate assembly
will see. You can also tap from either side of the saw plate.
With forceful taps (not BANGS!) the saw back will slowly work it's
way loose. As you move down the saw plate, loosen the jaws of the
vise and move the saw plate assembly up. When you reach the
bottom, carefully tap and allow the brass back to get to the point
where it's just about to fall off. But don't break it totally
Here is where you can go back to the wooden jig and attempt to
reinsert it as described above.
That's about it. If you have any questions please feel free to
email me at Dominic@tgiag.com
- Copyright 2014