Reconditioning a Crosscut Saw: Ward’s Master Quality Part 1

Yep, I can definitely say that I have been bitten by the crosscut-love bug. It’s just too much fun fixing-up a rusty saw that probably hasn’t seen use in decades, transforming it back into a functional tool, and then working with it. The symptoms for my affliction (or, perhaps, addiction) include spending multiple hours in the workshop tinkering with old saws, fiddling with jointers, files, raker gauges and so forth, re-reading Warren Miller’s ‘Crosscut Saw Manual’ as well as the Forest Service ‘Saws that Sing’ guide, and using crosscuts in the field every chance I get. The only antidote appears to be spending even more time doing the above. So, naturally, when I found this beauty, I was eager to start another project.

What I immediately liked about this saw at first glance was the condition of the teeth. They have quite a bit of life left, and it’s not everyday you find a crosscut saw with teeth so “full”. More often than not, you’ll find saws that have been worn down significantly, sometimes to the point of not being worth the effort of restoring at all (into users). My saw has one busted cutter tooth, but the reality is that one or two broken teeth are not going to affect a saw’s efficiency in any manner noticeable to the average sawyer/s. With racing saws in a competition, well,…that’s a whole different matter.

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The other positive to this saw was that it came with an auxiliary or “helper” handle. For whatever silly reason, vintage crosscut saw handles – especially those in decent condition that have been refurbished – are often priced exorbitantly high when sold by themselves. Perhaps many people collect crosscut handles? Or maybe they want those nice, rustic-looking, western-style handles that were made by Simonds back in 1910 to adorn their shiny $200+ Simonds Royal Chinook. I don’t know. What I do know is that vintage auxiliary handles can be rather hard to find. When all was said and done, I had another old saw in my hands for a modest $55 ($67 including shipping)…and for what I got, it was one heck of a bargain.

I started working on the handles. The main D handle was peeling its old lacquer, it was cracked in two places, and some bits of the original brass hardware were missing, namely the center screw and medallion, as well as the screw and screw cap for the bottom hole. The bottom was fixed with a standard, 1/4 inch wood screw, which was bent, and a bolt. I removed all the hardware, then scraped off the flaking lacquer and sanded it smooth. What I should have done then was glue the cracks before applying the finish, but I got ahead of myself. I chose to stain the wood, using Miniwax English Chestnut. I ended up re-staining around the cracks after I glued the cracks and sanded off the excess. The handle was then coated with some LL Bean Boot-guard, which is essentially a beeswax and lanolin mixture, followed by a coat of linseed oil to rejuvenate the wood.

The end result was a beautiful, aged look, that reminded me a lot of Black Walnut. If you look closely in the photo below, you can just see the lines where it was cracked, but I really don’t mind those. I ended up using some salvaged handle hardware components from a badly neglected ripsaw to replace what was missing and needed. It’s an odd combination of nickel, including a Warranted Superior medallion, with the original brass hardware, but hey, it’s functional. My goal isn’t to transform neglected tools, such as crosscut saws, into pristine, showpiece wall-hangers…I refurbish them into dedicated, well-cared-for users. I find it far more aesthetically pleasing and rewarding to bring tools like this back to life after fixing them up myself.

The auxiliary handle required more effort. I was able to remove most of the hardware, except for the threaded rod and pin mechanism – the pin itself was peened so tightly that it could not be withdrawn and remained locked in place. A portion of the wooden grip was also broken on the inside, requiring a patch to hold the square bolt that would then screw onto the threaded rod. I used a scrap piece of wood, some wood glue, and a bit of sawdust (to make wood putty to seal around the edges of the patch) for that, making sure to give it a tight fit not only for the bolt, but also the steel bolster. With that done, I sanded the wood and gave it a few coats of linseed oil because it was quite dry and had started developing drying cracks.

Allow me to digress a bit into the wonders of plant biology in order to make a point about linseed oil application. If you think about how a tree grows, moisture and mineral nutrients are carried up the length of the plant in the sapwood to be distributed into the tree’s crown. The sapwood is sometimes referred to as the xylem, or alburnum layer, which contains specialized water transporting cells¹. These are known as vessels for angiosperms, or flowering plants (which contain seeds protected in an ovary), and tracheids for both angiosperms and gymnosperms, which are plants whose seeds are unprotected by an ovary. Gymnosperms include cycads, such as Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta) and conifers. Because of these cells, sapwood contains more water than the heartwood, or duramen layer, which instead contains preservative chemicals, and is in itself much more rigid than sapwood (whilst sapwood is more flexible).

These are the characteristics of living wood. When wood is cut, it is no longer living, but we can emulate this process by “feeding” the wood a preservative oil, which absorbs readily through the end-grain, much like water traveling up a living tree’s xylem. This oil remains in the wood, and in essence displaces the properties of water in living wood. Obviously, it will not grow (though it may expand), but it will retain the resilience and appearance of living wood. Oil also prevents the absorption of outside moisture, which can cause the wood to shrink and-or warp, because it is no longer growing with the support of the other layers inside the tree. Only a small amount of oil is absorbed along the outer, vertical length of the grain; so it does little good to slather great glops on the long sides of a board (parallel and with the grain), for instance, as most of it will drip off or remain on the surface of the grain until it is wiped off. A thin layer is all you really need. It constantly bewilders me when I see videos of people slathering plentiful amounts of linseed oil on a wooden handle, most of which is wasted, and sometimes even neglecting the end-grain entirely. Anyway, back on topic….

With the threaded rod and pin still affixed to the saw, I was left with two options: either carefully grind out the pin, or somehow cut it off with a hacksaw or with an angle grinder. I chose the first option, using a bench grinder to remove most of the protruding metal, and the rest I did with a standard mill-bastard file. When both ends of the pin were flush with the threaded rod, it fell out. I used a salvaged pin from a different crosscut handle to replace it. All the metal components were then scoured with a brass wire brush and some 200 grit sandpaper where needed. I finished with a light spray of WD-40 to prevent further corrosion.

Here are the finished handles. On the right is a vintage Atkins raker gauge/jointer that I’ll be using for this project.

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Now I can move on to the saw blade itself. I used some 500 grit wet and dry sandpaper and my soft Arkansas stone for this, as there wasn’t too much corrosion. As I was cleaning the left side, I discovered a faint acid etching that read “Ward’s Master Quality – Montgomery Ward”, along with their logo of a “M” and “W”. The etch can be seen in the right light, but unfortunately my camera doesn’t pick it up.

I did a bit of research and found that Montgomery Ward (1872-2001) distributed a variety of tools under subsidiary brands such as Lakeside, Eclipse, Ward’s Master Quality, and Powr Kraft. Montgomery Ward didn’t manufacture these tools, but rather contracted to independent companies. Lakeside was among the first of these brands, starting as far back as the 1910s. Products marked with the Lakeside brand were considered “first-quality”. The Ward’s Master Quality subsidiary started at a later date, presumably in the ’30s (though I’m purely speculating…I don’t have access to any of the 1930s Montgomery Ward catalogues). Tools sold under this particular brand were priced higher than Lakeside equivalents, so it can be said with relative certainty that these products were of the highest quality offered by Montgomery Ward. So though this saw is branded Ward’s Master Quality, it seems likely to me that Henry Disston & Sons, E C. Atkins, or Simonds manufactured it, as they were the leading saw manufacturers for decades. And after scanning excerpts catalogs from these companies, I noticed that the supplementary handle appears to be an Atkins² No. 202.

After jointing the cutters and rakers, I started cleaning out the raker gullets with a chainsaw file. This allows the shavings (or “noodles”, as they’re sometimes called) to curl and collect inside the gullet without being impeded by a rusty surface. In short, this step improves the efficiency of the saw. I then took a slim taper file to deepen the “v” between each raker tips, finishing with a crosscut file to gently round this angle. Because I planned on swaging these rakers, I carefully prepared the angle near the very tips by sloping it slightly outwards, leaving two tiny flat spots at the top of each.

Then comes the meticulous process of giving precise love-taps with the swaging hammer to each raker tip. I was a bit cautious when I started swaging this saw, because I interpreted the broken cutter tooth as an indicator that the teeth and rakers were tempered a bit too hard. Like my previous saw, I opted for a final raker depth of 12 thousandths of an inch below the cutter teeth. This is a good compromise between hard, seasoned wood, and soft, springy green wood. I may end up refitting the rakers after a few trial runs, but 12 thousandths is a good figure to start with.

Below is a photo of two different crosscut jointer/raker tools. The Simonds is really a 3-in-1 tool, having a center screw and two small flats for to hold a file for jointing the rakers and cutters, an easily adjustable raker depth gauge (it slides on those two ramps, held in place with two screws), and a pin gauge for swaging. This Atkins, on the other hand, doesn’t have the pin gauge, and the raker depth gauge can be a bit tricky to adjust. I’m more used to the Simonds version.

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I set the pin on the Simonds gauge to 9 thousandths of an inch. I did this by using one of the flats on either side of the pin, holding it against the two cutters on either side of the raker, and then taking a 9 thousandths feeler gauge to check the depth of the raker tip as I swaged. Once the feeler gauge could be moved without much resistance between the flat and the swaged raker tip, I set the pin to this depth until it just barely touched the swaged raker tip as shown below – the pin is now set to 9 thousandths, and this raker tip  becomes a reference in case the pin accidentally slips. I like to mark this “reference raker” with a bit of chalk.

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The photo above shows the angle at which I strike the prepared raker tip with the swaging hammer. I proceeded cautiously, though as I continued swaging, I determined that the rakers weren’t so hard as to be brittle…if they were, then someone previously re-tempered them in all likelihood.

After swaging all the rakers, I adjusted my Atkins gauge to 12 thousandths. I did this by grinding a flat on a small washer to fit below the filing plate; and, fortunately, I didn’t have to flatten one face of it to get my desired depth. It gave a perfect fit for a 12 thousandths feeler gauge between the top of the filing plate and the two rails.

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I’ve read that one can also use strips of paper to achieve the same effect, but I find that using small washers makes setting the depth a lot easier. I have another, with a flat already ground on it, which is half the thickness. Used by itself in the Atkins gauge, it will set a depth for 24 thousandths. Combined with the other washer, it sets the depth to 6 thousandths.

I must have lucked out, because this Atkins gauge is the perfect size for smaller saws. After filing down each raker an extra 3 thousandths of an inch, I carefully shaped the flat spots I created to merge with the inside curve of the raker tip. I used a fine, slim-taper file for this. Care must be taken to not file the very tips of the rakers, which would decrease their depth.  The second photo depicts a finished raker.

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I moved on to the teeth next, filing them at a fairly aggressive angle, and leaving a tiny flat spot at the top. You don’t want to file them to a point, because they will dull and shorten much faster. Whoever filed these teeth last shaped them to a point, and the bevel angles were not at all consistent.

When it came to setting the teeth (to 20 thousandths of an inch), I used a horizontal hammer-and-anvil method, wherein the anvil is placed against the saw on the opposite side of the tooth you are setting, and the hammer s struck horizontally and at a slight, downward angle near the tip of the tooth but below the bevel. This is the method I’ve used with relative success in the past, but it needs precise, accurate strikes, and a lot of pressure to hold the anvil against the saw. It’s a good way to get blisters at the best of times. Unfortunately, it is easy (if you’re tired or not focused 100%) to slip and either glance off the tooth entirely , or to catch the tip and break it off…which is what happened with one tooth as I was setting them. It was shortened by a millimeter, but thankfully the whole tooth didn’t break, which can sometimes happen, and is always a risk when restoring old saws.

Another problem I have with the horizontal method is that it is difficult to hammer with the same amount of force each strike. In one hand, you hold the anvil firmly against the saw and the tooth, and with the other, you hammer with short, flicking strikes using the wrist (more accurate than swinging from the elbow), whilst your elbow is tucked over the other side of the saw vice. More often than not, you cannot generate enough accurate force to set the tooth without having to strike many times. After taking the tip of one of the teeth, I knew there had to be a better way.

I had heard about the Anderson No. 5 setting tool, which is an elaborate device relying on indirect percussion, but these are very hard to find and are often quite pricey due to the homesteading trend. My search led me to the vertical hammer-and-anvil method, in which the saw is placed on a wide anvil, leaving 1/4 inch or so of the tooth overhanging the edge, and the tooth is struck vertically at a slight angle (around 25 degrees obtuse from 90). I tried this, which was much more accurate, but it still took many strikes to achieve my desired set.

And then I tried a variation of this method, which I had seen on youtube in a video posted by Jim Thode. He places a feeler gauge under the upper part of the tooth and against the anvil, with the bevel of the tooth facing down. The hammer then strikes the flat side of the tooth, just below where the feeler gauge is placed. This little variation is quick, requiring less force, and it minimizes the chance of busting the tip of the teeth. I used a 24 thousandths feeler gauge to achieve a set of 20 thousandths for the main cutter teeth, leaving the first 7 at the tip of the saw to a set of 15 thousandths.

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Now all that’s left to do is take the saw for a run :). I’m not too worried about the tooth with the broken tip, because, as time goes on and as this saw receives more use, it will be jointed with the others. Overall, I am quite pleased with how this saw turned out, and I look forward to taking it with me to clear system trails.

Till next time….

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Research ~

  1. http://facweb.furman.edu/~lthompson/bgy34/plantanatomy/plant_cells.htm Furman University, Greenville S.C.
  2. https://www.canbike.org/Atkins/#one_man_handles Sourced from Atkins Catalog Hardware Edition 1906, Atkins Catalog No 18 1919, Atkins Catalog No 19 1923, Atkins Catalog No 22 1941

 

2 thoughts on “Reconditioning a Crosscut Saw: Ward’s Master Quality Part 1

  1. Just restoring my dad’s old Montgomery Ward 1/2 man saw I volunteer in Oregon with High Cascades Volunteers And PCT Volunteers. Great article on saw restoration. Do you have any experience ordering grab handle replacements from Lehmans?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have never ordered from Lehman’s, but I have heard nothing but praise for them. From what I can tell, they are a distributor for the Crosscut Saw Company. I know many people dislike the CSC itself, because their saws are all flat (as in not) ground, shipping can be a pain, and returns are a struggle. That said, their tools seem to be of better quality. I learned how to file with a long jointer, spiders, and a dial gauge made by the CSC. I cannot speak for their supplementary handles, but many people dislike the two-person saw handles…the consensus is that they are “cheaply made” and heavily lacquered. That said, crosscut handles are ridiculously expensive on eBay, and not everyone has the tools or know-how to make their own. But because Lehman’s is a distributor, I would go ahead and make the purchase because they have a very good return policy.

      Like

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