Friday, November 11, 2022

Old (Very Old?) Disston Panel Saw

This saw was part of an auction lot that I bought at a recent tool meet by my local tool collectors organization, PAST Tool Collectors.  Before the auction, I had looked at this lot and spied a saw with a Disston medallion and relatively straight (though pretty grungy) plate.

The saw as found - a 20", 10 ppi crosscut panel saw

I think there once might have been a nib where the pencil is pointing

After some rust removal, found 10 ppi marked near the heel of the plate

Above the ppi mark was stamped a "3" or "8".  Anybody know what that represents?

The handle with medallion and only one other saw bolt

Other side: the medallion has no nut keeping it on (bummer!)

As found, I could only see a little bit of the original etch.  I could make out the keystone shape, a hint of the scale inside the keystone, and the first half of "PHILADELPHIA".  And in my imagination, I might have seen an "8" roughly where the "7" is in the photo below of an etch from the Disstonian Institute.  Unfortunately, as careful as I was in restoring it, I've lost most of what remained of that etch.  Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!

What was left of the etch before my "restoration": pencil pointing to the keystone,
red arrows pointing to the letters P H I L A D

From Erik von Sneidern's excellent Disstonian Institute website, it looks like this saw might date from the 1880's.  I believe the etch would have looked something like this one.

Photo from The Disstonian Institute

I think the etch originally looked like this one based on the relative sizes of the keystone and the lettering, as well as the lack of serifs on the letters.  If I'm reading the web page properly, that etch was used in the 1880s.

At least the medallion was in decent shape.  OK, the threaded part of the medallion's post had (probably long ago) broken off, but the medallion design itself looked fine.  Fortunately, the medallion stays in place with a friction fit in it's hole.

The medallion (under my thumb) is missing the threaded part.
Next to it is the only other saw bolt and nut - the third one is MIA.

The medallion is a bit more definitive for aging the saw.  The Disstonian page dealing with medallions shows some from the 1878 - 1888 time period and these most closely resemble mine.

The medallion on my saw

Photo from The Disstonian Institute

On mine, there appears to be a period after "SONS", whereas there isn't one on the Disstonian photo.  But everything else seems to be the same, down to the stars at each end of PHILADA and the double lines for the keystone shape.

The handle was quite dirty and sticky, but it fit my hand like a well worn glove.  I scraped and sanded it, and applied three coats of BLO/turps and now it feels much better.  I don't know the type of wood, but apple was used frequently back in those days.

The handle as found

I suspect this lamb's tongue was once a bit longer towards my thumb and had broken off

The arrow points to where I want a good fit.  This allows the heel of your hand
to support the weight of the saw so that a loose grip is all that is needed.

The back end scraped; it revealed nicely quartersawn wood

I'd like to get a replacement saw bolt for the missing one.  The holes in the saw plate are about 11/64" and the existing saw bolt has a 5/32" shaft.  I have a couple of saw bolts that I bought a few years ago (from Blackburn Tools, maybe?), but they have a shaft of 3/16".  Also, the old saw bolt and nut have domed heads, whereas the replacement ones are flat.

The original and a replacement for comparison

I know I could drill out the saw plate for the 3/16" replacement, but I'd rather not.  Does anybody out there know where one can find a 5/32" replacement bolt and nut?  Or an original?

In the meantime, I've used an extremely ugly (for this use) hardware store 8-32 bolt and hex nut with thin washers.  It fits well and the saw plate is held firmly, but I'd much rather get something proper.

My apologies to the gods of old saws

Yuck!  Just fugly!

For the saw plate, I used steel wool and sandpaper, avoiding the etch.  But then I gave it a citric acid bath, thinking that would just remove rust and leave the etch alone (I was wrong!).  More sanding, avoiding the etch, followed.  I stopped at 320 or 400 grit. I'll never be able to see the reflection of my workpiece on the side of the saw plate, but it's good enough for me.

Here it is all fixed up.  I took a LONG time sharpening it to get it right.  That took longer than it should have due to a filing blunder on my part badly misshaped some teeth.  I took it for a test drive and it cuts extremely well.  The plate is 0.031" just above the tooth line and is a little thinner at the top of the plate.  I set the teeth to about a total width of 0.038"-0.039".

The plate still looks rough, but it's actually pretty smooth.

Let me ask for help again.  Does anybody know where to get replacement saw bolts that are 5/32" shaft.  Domed heads would be nice, but probably not practical.


  1. Did you try Mark Hamel? You might have some luck with Ed you runs the store over the Woodwright's school or MJD tool parts on eBay.

    1. Thanks for the suggestions - I may look into them. A prior internet search only found larger size new production bolts and nuts. It'd be great to find period correct parts.

  2. Nice restoration. I have a Diston that sat behind the seat of my dad's 56 Ford pickup. It ended sitting out for a year and looks like yours does. Plan to restore it and make it a 4 TPI ripping machine. To remove the rust I'm going to try Evaporust. Hopefully the etchings will survive.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Joe. I hope that restoration works out for you. If you can see some of the etch now, think about taping over it when using the evaporust. I've never used evaporust, but have had poor results with weak acids. I've heard evaporust only attacks rust (not raw metal) - would love to hear how it works out for you.

  3. 7749947349. Here is my number. Text me or call so I can have your address and I will mail you some period correct disston nuts and bolts. On me, I have a ton of them.

    1. Wow Kevin, that's an incredibly generous offer. I'll try to call you in the next couple of days.

    2. Kevin - (16-Nov-22) I've been trying to call and text without success. Will try later or tomorrow. Thanks for your patience.

  4. A proper fitting handle is key. So much easier to control and less tiring. Good luck finding period correct saw nuts but you never know?? I have tgued evapifust on a couple of small saw plates 22 inches, messy but leave a grayish finish. Effect on etch? Not sure??

    Bob, long overdue for an update

    1. He lives!! Long time no hear, Bob. I love the way this handle fits. Wonder if it was made for small hands (a kid's saw?). Luckily my hands are fairly narrow.

  5. Daryl Weir is a well-known master of saws, you may find some info regarding the number under the handle. He mentioned that best blades were stamped with a X in that place. I own a bunch of saws restored by Daryl and I must say they are just incredible and cut anything like butter. Daryl had a page about saw restoration but looks like it is offline now.

    1. Thanks, Lionel. I hadn't heard of Daryl before and just got finished going down a rabbit hole on the internet searching his name. Seems he's very well respected.