18th Century Style Tenon Saws – Part 1

A few months ago I borrowed the book “Tools: Working Wood in the 18th Century” from my local library. This book was written by James Gaynor and Nancy Hagedorn in conjunction with Colonial Williamsburg. In that book was a picture of a group of tools, one of which is a saw by an unknown maker.


I have never been thrilled with my current tenon saw and have wanted to replace it for some time. Not having the money to spend on the style of saw I want, I decided to make one. Some time back I made a couple of dovetail saws as practice for the larger saw. When I saw this saw in the Williamsburg book, I knew right away that was the style I wanted to make. Based on the typical size of a dado plane, I estimate this saw plate to be about 19″ long. I think that might be a little long for me for routine tenon work so I decided to make mine about 16″.

So I ordered a piece of 0.025″ thick 1095 spring steel from McMaster Carr. The cheapest length of the steel was enough for three saw plates so using a pair of aviation snips I cut the spring steel into a 14″ piece for a crosscut backsaw, a 16″ piece for a rip tenon saw and a 19″ piece for a future saw TBD at a later date (maybe a 19″ long Kenyon style tenon saw). I filed the cut edges to remove the rough cut edges and the deformed steel resulting from cutting the steel with the aviation snips. The steel comes blued but I decided to sand the bluing off down to the raw steel.


I made the backs like the backs for the second dovetail saw that I blogged about some months back. I started with 14 ga. steel angle and used an iron bench vise to close the bend. These 1″ angle pieces were a little more difficult to completely close than the 3/4″ angle and needed to be finished with a hammer on the anvil of my machinist vise. Unfortunately this left some marking on the backs that I had to file out.


So I clamped the back to the bench and draw filed each side to remove as much of the hammer marks as I could remove with moderate effort. This picture is part way through the process and you can see some of the low spots and spots that have been filed.


The picture below shows where I stopped. There are still a few marks but they would be too much work to remove and require too much metal removal which would weaken the back too much so I decided it was not worth it to remove them. I also cut and filed the decorative curve into the front of the back and filed some small chamfers on the lower edge and around the curved front edge to dress it up a little and remove the rough sharp edges. Finally, I polished the back slightly on a stitched buffing wheel on the grinder dressed with emery compound.



2 thoughts on “18th Century Style Tenon Saws – Part 1

  1. Bob,

    I like the look of the saw you are copying, although I am not a fan of backed saws.

    I have also been inspired by pictures in books of unusual tools, and I like the way you determined the saw by comparing it to the plane.

    I once copied a patternmaker’s saw from the collection at Shelburne, I need to make another as I lent it to the State of Utah for an exhibit and it was never returned.


  2. Bob,
    If you keep posting good things like this you might just inspire me not to sleep for a couple of weeks. I can’t wait for the crunch to end at work so I can get some shop time.

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