Disston Saw

Restoring a 1890’s Disston D-8 Panel Rip Saw

Restoring a 1890’s Disston D-8 Panel Rip Saw

The other day I met an elderly gentleman looking to sell the contents of his garage and move south of the border. Amidst the automotive tools, china figurines and old license plates, this panel saw caught my eye. I knew immediately that evening would be spent on this handsaw restoration.


Would look like any old saw of it weren’t for than the thumb hole

The extra hole you see on the handle is for the thumb of your left hand for two handed ripping. I picked it up, and could just barely make out ‘Disston & Sons, Philada’ on the medallion. Disston saws are quite common here in Alberta, but 90% of the time they tend to be newer Disston Canada/Disston US/Disston HK Porter. Problem is, the saws look just as old, and it can get hard to assess the value and restoration-worthiness of the saw. I had never come across such an old Disston here, so of course I had to buy it. The blade was straight, although heavily rusted, and the handle was in good shape, no cracks and no nuts missing.

The first thing to do in a handsaw restoration is, of course, to take it apart (or try to). I restore old tools to put them back to use – not to put them on display. A tool collector will tell you to research what saw you have ┬áin your possession for rarity before taking it apart, so if that is your thing, it’s worth keeping in mind. The old saw nuts have very thin slots, so you need a thin screwdriver to fit. Be gentle, the brass strips easily.

Once you get the nuts off, keep them in a safe place and gently shimmy the blade out of the handle. I clean the blade with some alcohol to get the surface grime off, before getting to work with a cabinet scraper to get the majority of the rust off. Take it easy, don’t gouge the surface of the blade. Once most of the rust is off, I use 150 grit sandpaper to take care of the rest, followed by 1000 grit. Make sure you only sand in the direction of the blade, unless you want unsightly bright spots (and they will be highly visible, trust me). Go easy on the middle of the blade on the side of the medallion – old saws might have beautiful etches that are well worth keeping. Once I am done sanding I will usually give the blade a light polish using some metal polish, followed by a buffing with some paste wax, to protect the blade and lubricate the cut when I use it.

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The blade, all cleaned up

Don’t expect to get the blade to look like new – that will require a lot of sanding and will likely result in an uneven blade, not to mention losing the etch. The idea is to get the rust off to get the blade into working condition.

The etch on this saw says ‘The beauty, finish and utility of this saw cannot be excelled. Henry Disston’. The etch and the medallion would place the saw somewhere between 1890 – 1910. The thumb grip type is a rarer version of the D8 too, so quite a find for $10.

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The apple wood handle sanded down – notice the patina is not entirely gone

There are two ways to go about restoring handles (there are more, but two main ideas anyways) – simply clean up the handle and give it a coat of BLO, or sand it down and refinish it. The first method leaves the patina, while the second takes away a little from the patina. I prefer the second – I find it a better way to protect the handle, and I think the saw looks better this way. Also, 100 years of use results in patina that really doesn’t come off after sanding unless you go crazy with the sandpaper. Another purpose of sanding is to get the paint flecks off the handle, which old saws seem to inevitably have.

I sand the handles down with 150 grit, followed by a couple coats of BLO. Old saw handles tend to be quite thirsty, so give it several coats. The BLO really brings out the beauty of the wood. I then like to finish off with a coat of shellac, just my own preference – the BLO would be sufficient really. For the brass nuts and medallion, I just used some 1000 grit sandpaper to get the tarnish off. And here it is – a beautiful Disston D8, over a 100 years old, ready to be sharpened and put back to work in a woodshop. This really is a beautiful and well made saw.


Restored to glory and ready to work

I hope this handsaw restoration helps you out the next time you come across a beautiful saw suffering from neglect. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I will get back to you!


Posted by Prairie Artisan Woodshop in Disston D-8, Restorations, Tools, 2 comments