Chris Schwarz's Blog

2 Great Uses for a Saw’s ‘Nib’

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If you own a saw that has a “nib,” a decorative nipple-looking thing on the toe of your saw, someone will ask you what it’s for.

The best answer is: It’s decorative.

But that doesn’t stop woodworkers from coming up with uses for it. Here are two good ones.

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1. As a place to tie on your saw’s “keeper.” When I travel with handsaws that aren’t in a tool chest I protect their teeth with some sort of wooden guard. Some of these keepers clip on. Some of them fit with friction. The best way I have found to secure a keeper is to tie it to the saw.

One string goes through the keeper and through the saw’s tote. The other string goes through the keeper and behind the nib. If the saw doesn’t have a nib, the string tends to slip off easily.

2. Use the nib as a makeshift compass. Carpenter Carl Bilderback showed me this trick. You first drive a nail or screw at the centerpoint of the arc or circle you wish to draw. Place the saw’s nib against the nail or screw. Place a pencil into the gullet of one of the teeth of the saw.

With one hand push the pencil around. With the other hand push the nib against the nail. After a few trials you’ll get the hang of it.

I’ve tried some of the less ridiculous uses for the nib (using it to score an edge to prevent splintering, filing it into a tooth for various reasons), but these are the only two uses that I actually would use.

— Christopher Schwarz

Want to learn to sharpen your handsaws? Check out this DVD from Ron Herman. There are many ways to sharpen saws; I have found Herman’s methods appeal to a lot of beginners. Check it out at shopwoodworking.com.

17 thoughts on “2 Great Uses for a Saw’s ‘Nib’

  1. ronb

    Just a morning thought. A nib is that tasty carrot on the back of an otherwise boring saw plate enticing us to pick it up. A quality tool should first beg you to pick it up amongst all the others and try it. It should second, out perform all the others so you will again and again pick it up instead of the others. :)

  2. tedgrandson1

    Nibs must be a “modern” decoration. None of my grandfather’s 125 plus years old saws have nibs, nor does my 60 year old rip handsaw!

  3. takeadip

    I have some early English hand saws with 2-3 decorative nibs, and I have seen early 18th century saws with a decorative hook on the top end. As Henry Disston himself said in the 1800’s it is a decorative way to end the top. It matches the very decorative designs of the early saw handles, beautifully sculptured. I agree it wonderfully serves the function of tying on the wood tooth guard. My saws are to sharp to use as a compass. You would easily cut yourself! But you are right that it is a common discussion point for many collectors.

    1. BillT

      The largest handsaw manufacturer in the U.S. (and probably North America?) stated that it was purely decorative. Looking at lots of very old saws going back to the 1500s, as depicted in various engravings, and also looking at various surviving examples of various types of tools, I have no problem accepting that as the most likely true and correct answer. Take a look at the handle of a quality saw from that same era. What’s with all those curves and points? And carved “wheat” patterns? What are the functions of all of these features? Answer: none – purely decorative. So with the nib.

      Sure, lots of craftsmen made use of the nib to tie a saw guard on, but just because they used it for that purpose does not mean that is why the manufacturer put it there. If that were it’s functional purpose, why then did they cease making saws with nibs as styles evolved and changed?

      1. gazpal

        “If that were it’s functional purpose, why then did they cease making saws with nibs as styles evolved and changed?”

        Design often follows function, but better options for guarding saw teeth came about and rendered the much maligned and under-rated nib obsolete. The vast majority of craftsmen used the nib as a tethering location for saw guards up until that time.

        Would you rather risk losing or blunting a few saw teeth or damaging other tools in your toolbox/tool tote during transit or keep them safe?

        Quite often the origin of a tool’s design is lost by the maker during the passage of time and when communication is handled by sales staff or management who’d not know the difference between a cutting edge and a handle unless poked in the eye with one.

  4. Bernard Naish

    I am convinced that the nib was to retain the protective keeper. Look at the other end of the saw. The handle. Here a ledge, nob or circular rebate was more often provided than not to take the cord or leather thong securing the protector. These feature are often not present on backed saws presumably because they were kept and transported in chest.

    The compass use is very interesting.

    Regards.

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