Chris Schwarz's Blog

Millers Falls No. 42 Coping Saw

My search for a coping saw that will hold its blade setting is starting to feel a little like an episode of “In Search of…” with Leonard Nimoy. The solution might be as elusive as the Louisiana swamp monster.

This morning I restored a Millers Falls coping saw that uses a locking mechanism that was patented Nov. 10, 1908 (saw nerds can click here). Tool collector and woodworker John Walkowiak turned me onto this form and I picked one up on eBay for almost nothing.

While many collectors are nuts for Stanley stuff, you shouldn’t kick the Millers Falls stuff out of bed for eating crackers. The company made some amazing tools, exceeding Stanley quality in some cases. (Would you care to mainline some Millers Falls? Cancel your appointments for the day and visit OldToolHeaven.com).

The Millers Falls No. 42 coping saw is a real precision tool. The workmanship on the tool far exceeds what you’ll find on a modern coping saw. The frame is a rigid bent wire that you can tension incredibly high. The wooden handle is a great fit in the the hand. It’s lightweight , less than half a pound.

But the real reason to take a look at this saw is the blade mechanism. It is a piece of work. The heart of the system is what the company calls a “threaded draw bolt,” which holds the blade at the heel. This drawbolt threads into the handle of the saw. There’s also a nut threaded onto the drawbolt. And this nut moves a “finger piece” , that flat nubby thing you can see in the photos.

Here’s how it works: You tension the blade by turning the handle , this pulls the drawbolt back into the handle. Then you advance the nut on the drawbolt until it engages some notches that are filed into the handle and the frame of the saw.

It locks well.

What about the toe of the blade? You can opt to have it locked in one position or have it swing free. A threaded nut on the end controls that.

The only problem with the saw (besides about 75 years of rust) was that there were no notches to lock the blade at 45Ã?°. A file remedied that problem and now the blade locks right where I want it. I took it for a test drive in some white oak and the tool didn’t lose its setting after 20 or 30 cuts.

This saw is a keeper. I don’t know if this mechanism would be something to imitate today , there is a lot of machining and knurling on this tool. It would be an expensive item. But if you see one at a flea market, I’d snatch it up.

– Christopher Schwarz

13 thoughts on “Millers Falls No. 42 Coping Saw

  1. John G

    The coping saw, Stanley, which I got as a kid 50 years ago and still use has square shafts through square holes in the frame so it can be set every 90 degrees and not twist.

  2. Wilfred

    I believe that Millers Falls tools are often superior to Stanley. The Millers Falls #9 plane is way ahead of a comparable Stanley #4. I have at least two of them. I also have, use and enjoy my MF 2-A drill, another MF egg beater, several MF push drills and some MF block planes.
    Chris, I don’t need any more tools, why do you keep throwing temptation in front of me?

  3. Steven D

    I remember following last spring’s blog and comments about coping vs fret saw. Several comments discussed the bow saw. It is always my choice. Maybe it is because I have never had a coping saw that didn’t fight me or it is because it is four saws deep on the hanging peg.

    However, I don’t remember the discussion ever getting to pro and con of the bow saw compared to coping. Aside from cost of a good saw or blade kit, what are the other down sides? Are there jobs better suited to a coping saw?

  4. Paul

    C/W
    The tool gods will smite you! Sacrilege commited against M42!
    A s a machinist, the file work is atrocious! However I commend your quest.

    A point to some of your repart’e, mainling?

  5. Dave Jeske

    Chris,
    This is a very well engineered design solution that would be hard to improve upon. Actually, you have an improved version over the patent. The patent does not show the locking feature on the tow end.
    Dave

  6. AAAndrew

    In response to David’s question about MF’s quality, I would have to second Chris’ comments. I have four smoothing planes, two of which are Miller Falls, one corrugated and one not. They are built every bit as solidly, precisely and well-designed as anything from the house of Stanley. For those looking for good, cheap hand planes, you can look beyond Stanley for the old stuff. (not too far) I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Sargent.

    And even some of the old (20’s-40’s) Craftsman stuff was quite well made since it was made most times by Stanley, Miller Falls and Sargent. Some good stuff.

    Thanks for the tip, Chris. Good thing you are a pretty ethical guy, otherwise, you would corner the market on these kinds of tools, set up shell sellers and then write your review. But I’m sure no one would ever have thought of that before. (roll eyes)

    From now on I’ll keep my eyes open for the locking mechanism on coping saws when I see them.

  7. Joe Kube

    Chris,

    I’ve been following this thread avidly because I too have been in search of a decent coping saw for some time.

    Now you’ve done it; The MF model 42 will now become a "collectible" to be snatched up and put on static display, never to see wood again.

    Since I cannot afford collectible tools, I guess I’ll have to keep on using Old Rubberneck and crossing my fingers when I look under the tables at yard sales.

    Joe…coping as best he can.

  8. Christopher Schwarz

    Mike,

    Do standard coping saw blades fit this saw?

    Yup. No problem there.

    – How would i identify a saw as a millers falls if i were to stumble upon one?

    Millers Falls tools are well marked. Also, they tend to have bright red parts — sometimes the handles. Sometimes the metal.

    – In a post a while back you mentioned you used the coping saw sold at Tools for Working Wood and liked it. Has that changed? I guess you wouldn’t recommend it?

    It’s a fine saw. It’s not perfect. That’s what all my recent drivel is about.

    Chris

  9. Mike N

    I’ve been cutting a bunch of dovetails this week so i’m finding these coping saw posts pretty interesting. It seems that the blade just springs out of my home depot special when i apply a little too much pressure. I need a new coping saw!

    A couple of questions for you when you have a moment:

    – Do standard coping saw blades fit this saw?
    – How would i identify a saw as a millers falls if i were to stumble upon one?
    – In a post a while back you mentioned you used the coping saw sold at Tools for Working Wood and liked it. Has that changed? I guess you wouldn’t recommend it?

    Thank you sir for creating/maintaining an awesome woodworking blog!

    Mike

  10. david brown

    Oh geez. Here goes the run on MF no42 coping saws. I was looking at these a few days ago and got distracted by . . . . work. I should have picked one up before the mad rush of Woodworking readers. lol

  11. www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlBNIl8h0unOwe7MhCP_Fy1QDQgqkWWNdA

    I’ve got just a very simple jeweler’s coping saw that works well enough for me.

    http://www.jewelrysupply.com/jewelry_making_supply_tools/saw_blades_frames.html

    The problems I have with coping saws aren’t so much in their ability to hold their tension but with the blades themselves. Since the blades are so thin and small, as you work with them they can heat up and begin to bend. This is especially true if you’re applying a lot of pressure to the blade, and does vary a lot with the material you’re cutting. I get the most mileage from them if I hold the saw loosely with only enough pressure to guide the cut.

  12. Gordon Conrad

    Chris,
    I have a Millers Falls 42C coping saw that is indexed on the bow end but not on the heel. It has a plastic handle that is not comfortable like a wooden one. I probably bought this saw about 40+ years ago and have used it to back cut some woodwork trim that I was installing around windows and doors. I don’t remember having any problems with tracking, but then again I was cutting pine.
    r/ Gordon

  13. David Smith

    Chris,

    This is so funny you brought this up. I found a Millers Falls Hand plane made in 1929 just yesterday. I forgot to write all the details down but it is in amazing condition and it’s a smoothing plane. I’ve been searching around to see what kind good or bad word this brand has on their planes. What do you have to say about them?

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