Author: Jay T
Hand Saw Restorations – How to bring back the detail of an etch


Part of being a hand tool woodworker involves finding quality tools. While there are now some manufacturers making high quality hand tools (Lie-Nielsen or Lee Valley/Veritas, for instance) there are also a tremendous amount of vintage tools that make great users if you are willing to put in a little work. There were such a variety of different manufacturers in the early to mid 1900’s, that there is a plethora of different shapes and styles of hand planes, drills, and especially, hand saws.

One of the fun parts of saws is all the different medallions and etches that are out there, like this custom one

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Etches and medallions are two of the ways to help date a vintage saw, but medallions are sometimes missing or have been swapped out with incorrect ones. The etch, however, will always go along with the plate. The biggest problem is that as you remove the corrosion from a saw plate during a restoration, many times the etch loses its contrast. There are ways to bring back an etch to a certain extent that can help identify the saw and contribute to its appearance. In a thread on Lumberjocks.com, one member posted a link to an article on bringing out an etch using brass darkening solution. That is not a commonly found chemical, but there is an easy to find substitute—more on that in a bit.

When working on a saw plate, the results will mostly be determined by the depth of the existing etch. The one above came out very well, while this Phoenix panel saw had too much corrosion and wear so that the top of the etch, even with darkening, is barely legible.

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First step in bringing back an etch is to clean up the saw plate, being careful to not remove too much metal. For saws with very much corrosion, electrolysis, Evaporust or citric acid are probably the best choices. For this 26 inch Disston No 4 that was picked up with it’s partner Stanley miter box, it was more grime than corrosion, so I was able to use a Scotchbrite pad, some light oil and good old elbow grease.

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After a bit of work, here is what was showing for an etch.

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Legible, but not very easily, so let’s see what can be done to darken it up. First important ingredient is:

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Wipe the saw plate down with a rag or paper towel moistened with Rubbing Alcoholclip_image006 to remove any oil, grease, dirt or fingerprints. Keep turning to a fresh part of the rag and repeating until it comes up completely dirt-free. The metal must be very clean or the next step will not work. Now for the brass darkening substitute, I use:

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The whole process only takes 10-15 minutes, and the results are so worth it. After finishing, make sure to wax the plate for some rust protection or you will get to start the whole restoration process over again in the near future.

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After this, repeat the whole process. Alcohol, bluing, rinse, sand. You will notice that the chemical reaction is probably darker and deeper in color the second time. If still not satisfied, you can do a third application, causing the etch to come out even a bit more. Be careful not overdo the sanding, or you can sand the saw plate down too much and lose the etch completely.

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Don’t worry about the blotchiness, it will take care of itself as you move on.

After letting the bluing set for a minute or so, rinse off the saw plate with cold water and dry. Then, using some 400 grit sandpaper on a sanding block, either wet or dry, gently sand the saw plate. Since bluing is a chemical reaction, causing oxidation of the metal, the metal can be worked right away–it’s not like waiting for varnish to dry. Using a block allows the sandpaper to remove the bluing on the flat, while not touching the metal in the etch.

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This cold bluing solution ( Perma Blueclip_image006[1] ) is available nearly anywhere that carries hunting and gun supplies, either by itself or in a gun restoration kit. Look for it near the gun cleaning supplies. Using a cotton swab, spread the bluing solution liberally over the etch and surrounding area.

About Jay T


From a young age, I loved playing the the dirt, working with my hands and with tools of all kinds. Unfortunately, my parents would tell you that usually ended up with things being broken and destroyed. Fortunately, I had a very patient father who enjoyed spending time with his boys and teaching me how to use the tools correctly. All along, working with wood spoke to me much more than metal or machines. While many of my high school classmates took welding and auto repair, I was drawn to the smell of sawdust.

Along the way, there were some excellent teachers that showed how to build fine furniture, but the shops were all machine based. It wasn’t until well into my adult years that I discovered the joy of hand tools and was instantly hooked. There is just a more personal connection with the wood when using hand tools, It also allows a person to use all of their senses as part of the experience–something that is lost with noisy motors, hearing protection and machines that require to be hands off, lest you lose them.

As I explored deeper into hand tools, a whole new world of opened up. The tools from 100 years ago were made to not only work, but also have a certain flair and style. There are manufacturers out there making quality hand tools today, but those designs just don’t make my heart jump and inpsire me to want to improve my skills to be worthy of the tool. As I ventured deeper into this world, it became apparent that there is an enormous quantity of vintage tools out there, but very few that want or know how to use them. As a result, many of these tools have become neglected, sentenced to a rusty purgatory of old barns and garages.